Are Tourism Businesses Using the Internet? An Initial Assessment of Digital Presence and Sophistication in Minnesota Communities
Acknowledgements: This project, part of a larger, long‐term assessment of community and business use of broadband, is supported by the Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids, Minnesota; the Carlson Chair of Tourism, University of Minnesota; Southwest Initiative Foundation, Hutchinson, Minnesota; University of Minnesota, Crookston, EDA Center; and University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.Hans Muessig is Program Director for the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) program in the Center for Community Vitality, University of Minnesota Extension. Tara R. Daun is a research assistant in the MIRC program.References: A companion paper Assessing the Digital Presence of Rural Minnesota Businesses: Basic Methods & Findings includes references for the data quoted here. It is available from the authors upon request and can be found on the MIRC web site http://www.extension.umn.edu/community/mirc.Are Tourism Businesses Using the Internet? An Initial Assessment of Digital Presence and Sophistication in Minnesota CommunitiesHans Muessig and Tara R. Daunhmuessig@umn.edu firstname.lastname@example.orgPercent of Tourism Businesses with Digital PrsenceCommunityTourisms Digital Presence by CommunityWebsitesIneffectiveWebsitesSocial MediaVerifiedGooglePlacesCommunity Number of Businesses % with Website % Websites Scored 0 % with Social Media % GooglePlace Activity Population (2010 Census) INTERVENTION COMMUNITIES Akeley 84 27.06 17.39 9.52 10.71 432Hoffman 106 31.13 21.21 9.43 11.32 681Starbuck 127 44.09 16.07 5.51 12.60 ↓1,302Sebeka 135 22.96 22.58 1.48 17.04 711Menahga 181 42.54 14.29 6.08 10.50 1,306New York Mills 210 34.29 19.44 6.67 7.62 1,199Jackson 288 46.18 13.53 10.07 14.93 ↓3,299Windom 350 42.57 14.77 7.71 14.57 4,646Big Stone County 403 43.18 21.26 9.68 6.20 ↓5,269 Lac qui Parle County 465 37.63 21.71 7.74 5.59 ↓7,259 Leech Lake 485 47.01 19.30 9.69 11.75 NA Cook County 490 53.27 9.20 15.1 24.9 5,176Thief River Falls 560 48.57 20.22 10.71 14.64 8,576 Swift County 587 40.20 16.53 7.67 7.33 ↓9,783Yellow Medicine County 598 37.63 13.78 9.70 7.63 ↓10,438 Stevens county 620 40.18 14.62 10.48 15.48 ↓9,726Chippewa County 677 39.59 17.54 6.79 11.37 ↓12,441 Worthington 914 43.65 21.50 12.04 12.04 12,764Benton County 1073 47.53 12.75 13.79 15.00 38,451Grand Rapids 1236 52.75 14.57 14.08 16.99 10,869Winona 1432 58.73 16.77 15.36 25.77 27,592Kandiyohi County 2173 46.62 15.24 9.57 15.83 ↓41,203 Intervention Group Averages 42.15 17.01 9.49 13.17 Controls Silver Bay 111 49.55 14.55 5.41 18.02 ↓1,887Osakis 184 34.24 3.17 6.52 11.41 1,740Warroad 192 54.17 16.35 25.96 10.42 1,781Slayton 250 44.00 17.27 9.60 12.4 2,153Lakefield 150 42.00 17.46 11.33 10.67 1,759Control Averages 44.79 13.76 11.76 12.58 DISCUSSIONIn an increasingly digital and mobile world if a business fails to adapt and establish a digital presence many customers won’t easily find them. This may put many of the businesses that rely on tourism at a competitive disadvantage that will only grow as the number of people who rely on the web, GPSs and mobile maps for travel information increases. Some tourism businesses clearly see the necessity of getting online. This is shown in the number of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts with websites. However, evidence shows that there is ample room for improving digital presence amongst all sectors and communities.APPLICATIONS AND IMPORTANCEThese methods may help other communities to analyze their own digital presence. In doing so, communities can target critical areas for improvement and further promote the local tourism industry. One MIRC community, for example, used the data to target which businesses could most benefit from Internet class. As research continues, we also hope to identify a series of best practices that will help inform Extension’s Center for Tourism programs to strengthen Minnesota’s tourism industry. Rural Minnesota businesses, including tourism, are handicapped by poor or non‐existent Internet service in their area. This disadvantage is then compounded by their lack of an effective presence on the Internet. Relying heavily on out‐of‐towners, tourism‐related businesses are even more likely to be searched for even before potential customers arrive in town. By providing a complete, professional, and high‐quality image online, businesses are able to be seen by a wider variety of people than before; they are able to engage with potential customers before they walk in the door and provide a level of engagement previously unseen. Businesses eschewing digital presence receive none of these benefits. 5/2012Not only did digital presence vary by type of tourism business, the digital presence of tourism‐related businessed also varied widely between communities. Surprisingly, some communities were more likely to use social media, while others relied more heavily on traditional websites.Looking at specific sectors related to tourism, it is clear that the lodging industry is the furthest along in establishing a digital presence with websites and verified GooglePlace listings. Lodging businesses were also more likely to have higher quality websites (fewer websites with a qualitative score of 0). However, restaurants lead in their use of social media.INTRODUCTIONAcross America, a digital divide exists between rural and metropolitan communities: Rural communities have slower, less consistent Internet service and fewer opportunities for broadband Internet connections. Rural businesses do not necessarily require adequate Internet connections to promote themselves online. However, having a strong Internet connection does not mean a business is promoting itself effectively. This study asks whether rural tourism‐related businesses are using the Internet to promote themselves and attract the customers they need to survive and prosper. Recent studies strongly indicate that customers are looking online for their tourism information. In fact, Google reports that at least 20% of the searches are location related. Over 70% of consumers research a purchase or travel decision on the Internet. Additionally smart phone use is skyrocketing. TripAdvisor reports that 44% of U.S. travelers use their smart phones a resource while traveling, and 47% use them at their destination to find restaurants, attractions, and other businesses. It is apparent that these new customer behaviors create critical new challenges in how tourism‐related businesses best market themselves.A 2009 statewide study by the EDA Center at the University of Minnesota, Crookston found that 72 percent of the businesses surveyed by phone said they had a business website. And it is widely reported that Google finds that less than half of Minnesota’s businesses have web sites. METHODS: ASSESSING DIGITAL PRESENCEIn order to understand if businesses are using online marketing, we examined the digital presence of businesses in 18 communities that participated in the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) program as well as 4 other “control” communities not participating in the program. Digital presence refers to any locally controlled webpages, social media, or GooglePlace pages devoted to an entity (i.e., a private business, nonprofit, or government office) within a community. Google, as the top search engine of the web, was our main tool for assessing presence. All businesses were searched by business name. Although this technique may not find every business, it does discover those most likely to be found by potential customers.Overall we assessed the digital presence of 13,931 rural businesses in the 22 communities (including 85 townships and cities). To do this, lists of businesses for each area were garnered through InfoUSA, using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Although we refer to this simply as a business list, government offices, community organizations, nonprofits, and educational institutions were also listed (and therefore assessed). The InfoUSA lists were also supplemented with business directory information from the websites of chambers of commerce and economic development authorities from each city.Websites: Each business on the list was searched first by name or, second, by name and location in Google. If a website was found, it was scored on a seven‐point scale for quality. A 0 was assigned if the site’s content failed to identify the community in which the business is located. If a website for the business was not found on the first page of the Google search for either of these searches, the business was reported to have no website. If a blog appeared, it was counted as a form of social media. GooglePlaces: We then searched for the same businesses in GoogleMaps. If Google has an address for a business it will attempt to locate that business on GoogleMaps, and the business automatically receives a GooglePlace page. A GooglePlace page is a very simple webpage that shows a business’s address, phone number, website (if one is known), physical location, and Google user reviews. If present, this Place page was scored qualitatively on a five‐point scale. Points on this scale mean that activity has occurred on the Place page. GooglePlace activity therefore refers to positive comments about the business, a relevant picture, a description of the business, hours of operation, or verification by the owner. For our purposes, the most important feature of this page is owner‐verification. A page is “owner‐verified” if the business’s owner officially claims and updates information on the Place page. This is considered an important measure because several MIRC workshops instruct business owners how and why to verify their GooglePlace page. Social Media: A business was considered as using social media if a controlled form of social media appeared on the first results page of a Google search. The word controlled is a critical distinction here since many businesses are automatically given a Facebook page without their knowledge. Such pages are considered uncontrolled if they have no posts, business information, or “likes.” We also scored social media use by checking whether a business’s website included links to any form of social media, including blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, or YouTube.This poster only presents the digital presence results. Analysis of the digital sophistication scores (our qualitative measurement) continues.Generalization: Because neither the 18 MIRC communities nor the 4 controls were picked randomly it is not appropriate to make statistical comparisons between communities. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned by looking how different communities and their businesses – tourism and otherwise – are using the Internet to promote themselves.RESULTSThis assessment found that across the 22 communities, an average of 42.8 percent of businesses had a website. On average, 9.9 percent of businesses in each community used social media. Slightly more businesses (13%) showed activity on their GooglePlace pages. The following table shows the results across the communities.