Ingvar Tjostheim <Ingvar.Tjostheim@nr.no>
Kari Aanonsen <Kari.Aanonsen@nr.no>
Norwegian Computing Center
This paper presents the Norwegian Tourism Guide on the Internet, a result of a national coordinated project in the Norwegian tourism industry. The guide is one of the features of the National Information Network (NIN) in Norway. The paper describes how this project was established and who the partners are. Marketing and interactivity are discussed to relate the Internet guide to research in service marketing and communication.
The growth of the WWW on the Internet has created many opportunities as well as challenges for commercial businesses and industries. One of the challenges for a small- or medium-sized business is how to be found by the potential customer. This is underlined in a recent article about international marketing in Sloan Management Review (Quelch and Klein, 1996). The authors state that "the potential for 'information overload' is enormous" (p. 66). Even though the lack of rules on the net is critical to electronic commerce (Spar and Bussgang, 1996), this is not so critical for Internet as an information source. Stephan H. Haeckel, director of strategic studies at IBM's Advanced Business Institute writes (Deighton, 1996), "suddenly, and basically without warning, the Internet became a plausible and economical solution to a huge problem that has plagued business since 1960s: integrating increasingly heterogeneous IT systems between and within organizations. The Web now offers providers and seekers of information around the globe easy access to one another that proprietary systems cannot match--but can easily benefit from" (p. 159).
It can be hypothesized that the net is of particular interest for the travel and tourism industry. In many countries the tourism industry has a high number of international visitors. Thus, the international travelers have a need for information. In tourism research, some scholars go even further and argue that "gathering, processing, and evaluating information can be seen as an integral part of the travel experience" (Snepenger and Snepenger, 1993, p. 830). In Norway, the industry consists of many small- and medium-sized businesses. Quite often, the tourists or consumers buy an experience, a holiday-product produced by a number of independent firms. Normally, this is also true when the consumer uses a travel agent or a tour operator. Moreover, independent travel has a substantial market share. In Europe, approximately 30% of summer travel abroad in 1996 belonged to the non-prebooking category, according to the European Travel Monitor. Thus, travelers have an obvious need for information, and businesses, on the other hand, have an information or marketing need. According to Pitt et al., " many marketing managers have (not) yet given careful consideration to the full potential of the WWW as a marketing tool, particularly with regard to its potential to move the prospective buyer from being a passive surfer to an interactive customer" (Pitt, Berthon, and Watson, 1996, p. 1).
The purpose of this paper is (1) to present the NIN project and the Norwegian Tourism Guide, a Web site launched in January 1997, and (2) to discuss interactive marketing and interactivity as a basis for further development for the ongoing Norwegian project.
A national initiative for building a NIN (NIN, 95) in Norway was established in 1994. A number of application areas were chosen, the tourism industry being one of them. The goal of the project was to introduce and extend the use of computer networks within the tourism industry, particularly for connecting the numerous small- and medium-sized businesses around the country. The Internet was chosen as the main network, but the project is also following the development of other international network projects, such as the EU project TIM (Maartman-Moe et al., 1994), which are using point-to-point connections through Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) or Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networks (TIM, 1994).
The focus of the project is twofold: using the Net as a tool for cooperation and communication within the industry, and using the Net as a marketing and sales tool. We have started with the last focus and are now building a national framework on the WWW for marketing and selling Norwegian tourism products.
The project is run by NR, the Norwegian Computing Center, on behalf of NORTRA, the Norwegian Tourist Board. The main activities in this phase were to develop demonstrators and define concepts and strategies. During the preproject phase, we based the concept on three elements (Aanonsen, 1996): the organizational model for cooperation within the industry, the model for financing the system, and the technical solution. We chose distributed models for all three of the elements, to encourage participation of tourism businesses at all levels all over the country. During the implementation phase, user requirements became a significant part of the concept, and we included this as the fourth basic element of the solution.
To implement the solutions based on the elements we identified in the pre-project phase, we made three main strategic decisions: to distribute responsibility for information to the regional level, to base the technical solution on regional Destination Information Systems (DIS), and to establish an alliance with a national ISP. The reasons for these decisions and our experiences from implementing them during the first phase is discussed in Aanonsen, 1997-1; how these related to relevant marketing and organizational theories in discussed in Tjostheim, 1997. The basic element of the organizational model is cooperation between tourist boards around the country. The Norwegian tourism business is organized as a hierarchy with NORTRA on top, then five regional tourist boards covering most of the country, a number of local tourist boards or "destination companies" on the next level, and suppliers at the bottom. Each regional tourist board is responsible for information from the region and for organizing further distribution of responsibility. The goal is to create a network where the responsibility is as close to the information source as possible.
NORTRA and the regional tourist boards are cooperating in a number of ways to promote Norway as a tourist destination on the international market. An agreement between NORTRA and these partners is already established in such areas as brochure production and participation in fairs and campaigns. The cooperation on the Internet follows the same model, and the existing agreement will be extended to include this.
The regional tourist boards play a central role in the model for cooperation in this project. The responsibility for information about each region is distributed to these partners. The tourist boards produce presentations of their regions and provide general practical information. They also supply basic information about the suppliers in their region, which may include links to presentations from each business.
The regional tourist boards are also responsible for organizing the participation of local tourist boards and destinations within their region. These partners will be responsible for producing local presentations, including practical information about their destination. These partners may also take responsibility for the basic information about local suppliers and for linking their presentations to the framework.
Figure 1 shows how the partners function in the network:
Figure 1: The Partners in the Network
The project has also established cooperation with two main technical partners--an ISP and a provider of DIS (Sheldon, 1993). The national ISP contributes technical and marketing expertise for using the application on the Net. Initially, the national ISP intended to contribute economically to the project since tourism was also part of their strategy for establishing new business on the Net. This intention changed for different reasons during the first phase of the project, and the tourism industry is taking over the costs, ownership, and responsibility for the solution. At the regional and local level, the industry may chose any partner as ISP.
The other main technical partner is the provider of DIS. They are providing a system the tourist board can use for a number of their tasks, such as producing brochures and providing information to local tourist offices. The DIS also has extended routines for maintaining the quality of the information. Our main reasons for including this partner in the concept are to enable reuse of information and integrate Internet marketing in the set of tasks performed by a tourism organization. Our goal is both to increase the efficiency at the tourist boards and assure the quality of the information.
The main element of the financial model is splitting costs and income between the different participants. The national tourist board is responsible for the central parts of the system, for the content at the national level, and for marketing the Web site. Their income will be from regional tourist boards and national providers of tourism products linked to the application. Regional and local tourist boards will finance the regional part of the solution and get the income from providers within their regions.
The main motivation for choosing this technical model is to enable reuse of information from regional and local tourist boards. These partners collect and distribute large amounts of information through their brochure production and daily work at the tourism offices. To make this information available on the Web, a technical solution based on their DIS was chosen. This information is combined with Web pages that profile destinations and products. The system consists of a Web application with a structure of national and regional front pages, a set of menus and icons, maps, and search functions accessing a national database. The information in this database is collected from the regional databases, which are part of DIS.
The basic elements of the technical model are shown in figure 2:
Figure 2: The Technical Model
The content of the Web site is based on information from brochures produced by the national and regional tourist boards. The design, layout, and structure is created for the Web and includes links, search functions, and "clickable" maps. The destination presentations are mainly created from the editorial parts of the brochures, which are designed to attract the tourist. They contain presentations of main attractions, activities, history, culture, nature, and geography. Useful practical information for travelers will also be part of a destination presentation. Presentations of products and providers will contain general information, "yellow pages" with basic information about each provider, the provider's own presentation, and direct access to main regional and national providers.
The information for the "yellow pages" is stored in the regional databases. This is in many ways the core of the system. The regional tourist boards maintain these databases for a number of purposes. By using them for Internet marketing, the tourist boards are able to reuse information efficiently. Local providers will also be able to present information about their products through these databases. The regional tourist boards offers them differentiated presentations as either simple one-line entries, standardized one-, two- or three-page presentations, or links to their own Web presentation, by including their uniform resource locators (URLs) in the database.
The tourist can find different types of information through this Web application. The information is divided into presentations of destinations and presentations of products and providers. The user can navigate through the information in different ways, either by geography, by product type, or through the profiling material (Aanonsen, 1997-2). The figure below shows how these three ways lead to the destination and product presentations. These two types of presentations are also connected directly. The connection makes it possible for the users to find all products in one destination and to navigate from a presentation of a product to the presentation of the destination where the product is situated.
Figure 3: Navigational Structure
The Web pages in the application will normally consist of three parts, implemented as frames. A top field-frame will have "Norway" as a header, and four icons will be used for maps, search, languages, and home. There will also be a bottom field-frame containing five pop-up menus implemented in Java. The five menu headers are Discover Norway, How to get there, Accommodations, What to do, and Travel facts. The submenus can differ from destination to destination. At the national level, we have chosen the menu items shown in figure 4:
Figure 4: Menu Items at the National Level
A recent article in HBR (Deighton, 1996), titled "The Future of Interactive Marketing," is nearly entirely about the WWW or marketing on the Web. Other similar articles could be mentioned. However, the term interactive marketing function was introduced in 1979 by C. Gronroos, one of the most prolific service marketing authors (Fisk, Brown, and Bitner, 1995). He states that "Advertizing and pricing may be handled as separate mass marketing activities, thus constituting a mass marketing function. The other marketing function is the management of the buyer/seller interactions, and it can be labeled the interactive marketing function" (Gronroos, 1979). Later, the concept internal marketing was introduced (Gronroos, 1981), and the mass marketing function was replaced by the term external (traditional) marketing. In internal marketing, the employees are seen as customers within the corporation. The three components--internal, external, and interactive marketing--constitute the marketing model presented (Gronroos, 1990, p. 258) in figure 5:
Figure 5: The Gronroos Marketing Model
Interactive marketing has become a subset of relationship marketing, or to be more specific it has been included in the Nordic perspective on relationship marketing. (For further details about relationship marketing, see Aijo, 1996, and Gronroos, 1994.)
The Gronroos model above can be redesigned to show the connection between the three types of marketing, as in figure 6.
Figure 6: A Redesigned Marketing Model
The prime relationship in interactive marketing in the tradition of Gronroos is the physical interaction between the front-end personnel and the customers. However, interaction between sellers' systems or machines and customers is identified by several others (Gummesson, 1990; Fisk et al., 1995). Marketing scholars such as Gronroos build good conceptual models. However, for a more thorough study of interactivity, fields other than marketing should be used.
In communication science, among those who have studied interactivity is S. Rafaeli. This section presents insights from one of his articles (Rafaeli, 1988). "Formally stated, interactivity is an expression of the extent that in a given series of communication exchanges, any third (or later) transmission (or message) is related to the degree to which previous exchanges referred to even earlier transmissions" (p. 111) Thus, communication can be "placed" along a continuum of interactivity. For full interactivity to occur, communication roles need to be interchangeable: role assignment and turn taking are to be nonautomatic or nearly so. He argues that the following dimensions "do not capture full [our emphasis] interactivity even though they are referred to as such in the literature: bidirectionality, quick response, bandwidth, user control, amount of user activity, ratio of user to medium activity, feedback, transparency, social presence, and artificial intelligence" (p. 115). The essence in the distinction here is in the differences between two-way communication, reaction, and interaction. Responsiveness is a core feature of interactivity. Two-way communication is present when messages flow bilaterally. Reactive settings require, in addition, that later messages refer to (or cohere with) earlier ones. Full interactivity (responsiveness) differs from reaction in the incorporation of reference to the content, nature, form, or just the presence of earlier reference. Quasi-interactive (reactive) and full interactive sequences differ from non-interactive communication in requiring that sender and receiver roles are interchangeable with each subsequent message. Interactivity requires that communicants respond to each other. The content of the response may have one of the two forms: regular response--reaction to previous messages--or response--which itself acknowledges prior responses. The conditions for full interactivity are fulfilled when later states in a message sequence depend on the reaction in earlier transactions, as well as on the content exchanges.
A related issue is medium transparency or vividness. According to Rafaeli, "transparency, [is] the degree to which the user or interactant is aware of the presence of a mediating entity, [and] could be understood as a gauge of the salience of the medium's intervention in the communication process" (p. 116). Transparency is a measure of a passive quality; it communicates an inadequacy that is not under the communicator's control. Interactivity, on the other hand, is an active quality; it is incorporated purposely. Transparency is a quality of media that is related to interactivity but must be distinguished from it. Then what does interactivity do? Rafaeli answers that acceptance and satisfaction are the most obvious goals and effects of increased interactivity documented in the literature. Some less obvious ones include "effects on performance quality, motivation, sense of fun, learning, normativity and extremism, and sociability as overt behavior of users" (p. 123). Several empirical findings concerning these positive effects are referred to.
Since this study by Rafaeli, there has been a shift in focus towards mediated communication. The term telepresence was coined by Marvin Minsky (1980) in reference to teleoperation systems for remote manipulation of physical objects (Steuer, 1992). It refers to any medium-induced sense of presence, and is formally defined by Steuer "as the experience of presence in an environment by means of a communication medium." Steuer focuses on the properties of the mediated environment and the relationship of individuals to that environment. Rafaeli, on the other hand, emphasizes engagement or involvement (i.e., interaction as an active quality). According to Steuer, interactivity "is the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time" (Steuer, 1992, p. 84). On this basis, he presents the model shown in figure 7:
Figure 7: The Telepresence Model
Speed refers to the rate of at which input can be assimilated into the mediated environment, range refers to the number of possible actions at any given time, and mapping refers to the ability of a system to map its controls to changes in the mediated environment in a natural and predictable manner. Breath (or sensory breath) refers to the number of sensory dimensions simultaneously present. Breath is closely related to media concurrence and media richness. Depth refers to the resolution within each of these perceptual channels (Steuer, 1992). Depth is highly correlated to media bandwidth. Vividness and interactivity can also be viewed as content characteristics of the Web. The strength of the experience of telepresence is a function of the extent to which a person feels present in the hypermedia, computer-mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment (Hoffman and Novak, 1996).
Therefore, questions such as how the Norwegian Tourism Guide is used, if it is used as a tool for information gathering by travelers, and if users become repeat visitors are related to vividness and interactivity (characteristics of the Web), as well as to specific characteristics of the guide. Further studies of the Norwegian Tourism Guide should focus on these aspects. Search functionality and navigation by maps are important aspects that can be identified on a qualitative basis. However, user studies are particularly relevant to identify if speed is critical for users of the guide and to find (or fine-tune) the balance of speed and depth (and, to some extent, range). Depth depends directly upon the amount of data encoded and the data bandwidth of the transmission channel. The NIN project in Norway continues, and how it will develop will depend on many factors. The Norwegian Computing Center has an important role in the development of the project. However, it is industry based, and the end result of the project should be an independent tourism network.
The Web application: The Norwegian Tourist Guide.
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