"Walk on the rural side": the “social trekking”
tourism as opportunity to promote territorial
sustainability and resilient rural development.
*, Sara Di Lonardo1
, Valentina Grasso1,2
, Daniele Vergari3
and Alfonso Crisci1
Institute of Biometeorology, National Research Council,Firenze, Italy
LAMMA Consortium, Sesto Fiorentino, Italy
Associazione Giovan Battista Landeschi, San Miniato, Italy
1 Aims of the research
The concept of sustainable tourism has grown out of the concept of sustainable development, with
the most popular definition has come from the World Commission on Environment and Development
(1986). They defined sustainable development as: “Development which meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”. Literature is filled
with numerous definition of sustainability. Many dimensions of sustainability have emerged; the
tourism dimension is given in the World Tourism Organisation definition: “sustainable tourism
development meets the needs of present tourist and host regions while protecting and enhancing
opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way
that economic, social and esthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential
ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems”.
Buckley (2009) characterizes Responsible Tourism as a tourism focused on social considerations;
“social trekking” could be considered as a subset of Responsible Tourism due to its social
commitment and linked for environmental component to sustainable tourism and ecotourism (Lane,
“Social trekking” is a buzz word describing people walking on prefixed tracks planned by tour
operators. Indeed, the tourism operators use widely a social marketing approach (Truong & Hall,
2013) adopting in their marketing mix the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) such as
sustainable management, maximization of economic benefits to the host community and minimization
of negative impacts, maximization of benefits to communities, visitors and cultural heritage and
minimization of negative impacts, maximization of benefits to the environment and minimization of
negative impacts (GSTC, 2013). The experience creates generally small itinerant communities driven
by an expert guide. These communities develop strong internal cohesion during the travel experience
and maintain that cohesion through social networks after the event. In this context, online social
media (OSM) are the main tools (Travel 2.0 specialized websites) for tourists who would share
Corresponding Author: Sonia Trampetti (email@example.com), Istituto di Biometeorologia, Via Caproni 8 - 50145
comments, evaluations, emotions throughout textual and multimedia contents regarding their personal
experience and the visited territories (Milano, Baggio, & Piattelli, 2011). Territorial touristic
hospitality is an intangible good depending by people's experiences (Kwok & Yu, 2013). A qualitative
evaluation could be expressed by the analysis of electronic word of mouth (eWOM) in OSM streams
by using opportune metrics. The aim of this work is to lead an explorative survey on tourists’
motivations and digital skill level to build a future methodological approach.
2 Theoretical framework
The work's framework and related surveys follows essentially two ways. The first one analyzes an
Italian trekker tourists sample and has the aim to reach the following information grouped in five well
1. IDENTITY: who are the people engaged in “social trekking” travels (age, gender, job class,
educational qualification and geographical origin);
2. MOTIVATION AND EXPERIENCE: which are the main motivations that have driven the
tourist to participation at the rural world and the grade of experience of participants at the
3. TRAVEL PLANNING: which are the main informative channels used to meet tourism
companies offering social-trekking travels worldwide;
4. MOBILE SKILLS: how is the ability of the participants to communicate inside or outside the
travel group during “social trekking” travels through ICT;
5. OSM ENGAGEMENT: which is the attitude of tourist to use online networks media before,
during or after the travel? which are the preferred platforms generally used by social trekkers
in social interactions?
The second part of the work is focused on the content analysis of the web pages and the main
OSM platform used in Italy: Facebook. Social Science uses this platform to lead analysis and
surveys (Wilson, Gosling, & Graham, 2012). A working hypothesis is that today touristic agents
use Facebook to communicate their social marketing mix in an effective way. Active tourists and
operators create many thematic web communities and each user is not only a passive subject but
becomes himself a source for promotion reinforcing the marketing mix with its own shared
contents, comments and approvals (i.e. clicking likes buttons) since the OSM allow interactions.
Ten Facebook Fan Pages have been selected (Table 1) and their public page attributes and post
contents have been achieved by using Graph API Explorer (Facebook, 2013). A specific set of
metrics have been adopted for page and post mining. For the first one, two specific Facebook's
page metrics are considered: the Fan and the “People Talking About” number. The ratio between
these metrics gives a quantitative assessment of page’s activity. The Post’s contents edited by
owner are classified in function to the type of content: (I) status if there is only textual
contribution, (II) photo, (III) video, (IV) status with web link inside. Other post’s parameter are
also considered as (V) the like post count, (VI) the shares post count and (VII) the comments like
count. For all ones extracted for each fan page timeline analysed monthly and seasonal (Dec-Jan-
Feb, Mar-Apr-May, Jun-Jul-Aug, Sep-Oct-Nov) summaries are calculated. Monthly time series of
post metrics have been built for each Fan Page.
3 Description of the methodology used
The first part of this work, leaded in collaboration with a “social trekking” agency based in
Tuscany, consists in an explorative survey based on a self-completion of an anonymous questionnaire
submitted by mean of Google Form Web Services. The survey has been disseminated through mailing
list and OSN reaching Italian trekkers communities. The questionnaire, in Italian, is freely available at
web link: http://bit.ly/10DwSwk. Questionnaire is composed by 28 items grouped in five blocks:
Identity (Q1-Q6), Motivation and Experience (Q7-Q12), Travel Planning (Q13-Q16), Mobile Skills
(Q17-Q23) and OSN engagement (Q24-Q28). The survey was aimed at having a sociological view on
the social trekker's sample (N=107) and investigate trekkers attitudes towards ICT, mobile devices use
and social media platform. The second part of the work consists of an analysis of the OSM use made
by social trekkers agency or groups, carried out on the wall of selected Facebook Fan pages.
Investigation has been both quantitative, on post metrics summaries, and qualitative, on textual corpus
of wall messages. The first analysis was made on the quantitative modeling of the monthly amount of
contents preferences (likes count) and sharing actions (shares counts) predicted by the typology of
message published by page administrator. The aim was to evaluate which are the most appreciated
contents on Facebook walls in order to identify effective OSM communication strategies to promote
“social trekking” tourism. The second group of analysis was made on the textual corpus of Facebook
pages given by the collection of all status post published. A text mining retrieval has been carried out
to identify the more frequent terms (words occurring more than 30 times) by using the R Text Mining
Package (or R TM Package; http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/tm/tm.pdf). Results have been
presented as word-clouds for each Facebook page for a keyword visual identification of the
conversation retrieved by fans on wall pages. More occurring terms represent a hint for an
hypothetical ideal marketing mix produced by users.
In the text analysis a special attention was dedicated to identify the geographical attributes of
conversations: a frequency analysis of geographical names was run by using GeoNames service
(www.geonames.org) in order to assess the territorial factor. The results of this geographic retrieval on
different Facebook pages’ wall have been presented using Google Earth visual platform
(earth.google.it) as Google Earth view is able to highlight the places more considered by users: a
potential way to visualize the “geographical fingerprint” of social network useful for stakeholder to
focus where the most tourism destinations are geolocated.
4 Main results
As resulted from questionnaire:
1. the majority of interviewed people are 40-50 year-old female (Fig. 1) (46% male, 54
% female) from North and Central Italy with an medium-elevated level of education;
2. most participants are experienced social trekkers (2-5 class) who move for
socialization and landscape feeling. Moreover, senior trekkers (5+ class) move for
leisure, nature and landscape feeling (Fig. 2);
3. the web is the main informative channel for interviewed people to meet tourism
companies offering social-trekking travels worldwide (Fig. 3);
4. the majority of participants (40-50 year-old people) uses mobile phone: smart phone,
Iphone and Android (Fig. 4);
5. 62% of the participants use Facebook while 14% of interviewed people use What’s up
Selected Facebook fan pages are medium-high user size (Sysomos, 2009) and show a good level
of Facebook Engagement Rate (>1%). Data from the second part of the work could be resumed in the
1. All fan pages show positive trends in many monthly post metrics considered. The
most strong increases are showed by metrics regarding multimedia contents (photo and
video) and action of interactions (shares and likes).
2. Engagement model for these Facebook pages gives some important indications: the
likes depending strongly by video contributions, followed by photos and link post. The
abundance of status posts reduce likes amount (linear models: F-statistic: 27.83, p-value:
). The same process seems to affect shares and comments amounts but for the
first the photo play a role more important than other classes. Verbose status post have
ever negative incidence on page’s activity.
3. Geosemantic matches of post’s message give a well view of the importance ranking of
localities visited by social trekkers along the more popular tracks. The pattern identified
depends strongly by considered Facebook Fan Pages and their influential users.
4. Text mining is useful to describe and identify tourism-related social network
communities, especially if they are linked to complementary geographical surveys.
Social network communities are very important for rural areas where social network
user’s activity generally are lower than in urban areas.
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Tab. 1 Page and Post metrics Fan Pages summary.
PasParTu Community 0 535 0.00% 21.1 6.1 144.3 26.6 3.3 0.5 - 2.8
Io viaggio Slow Community 6 560 1.07% 21.8 3.3 54.2 3.7 9.8 10.9 0.5 1.8
Cammina Francigena Company 42 3716 1.13% 38.2 21.2 221.3 10.8 27.8 6.8 2.3 5.0
Camminando Sulla Via
Community 34 2343 1.45% 40.9 24.1 237.6 35.7 32.2 0.9 1.0 14.7
Diari Toscani Travel/leisure 55 3391 1.62% 170.9 68.6 337.2 19.4 72.8 8.3 1.9 93.7
33 1393 2.37% 54.7 20.2 108.8 7.6 23.3 13.5 0.9 3.3
il Movimento Lento Travel/leisure 283 8109 3.49% 127.7 281.4 896.4 45.0 95.3 20.2 5.2 13.8
Associazione Europea Vie
Community 111 2165 5.13% 53.7 123.6 408.5 44.3 20.3 29.3 1.6 30.8
Walden Viaggi a piedi Tours sightseeing 85 1536 5.53% 70.8 16.4 168.1 19.1 41.5 21.4 3.9 5.6
45 703 6.40% 42.4 4.8 40.0 4.5 37.1 3.1 1.3 11.6
Fig. 1 Age classes of people who have answered to the questionnaire divided by sex.
0 10 20 30 40
Number of partecipants
Fig. 2 Motivation of participants by number of social trekking experiences (1 = beginner social
trekkers; 2-5 = experienced social trekkers; 5+ = senior social trekkers).
Fig. 3 The main “social trekking” informative channels used to meet tourism enterprises offering
social-trekking travels worldwide by sex.
Fig. 4 ICT use by age classes.