Destination online travel reviews : An argumentative and textual genre perspective

Author: De Ascaniis, Silvia  

Contributor: Cantoni, Lorenzo


Information and communication practices relating to tourism, as they occur in the frame of the so-called web 2.0, constitute a peculiar context where communicative interactions assume specific features. Prospective tourists face several challenges when making travel decisions because of the very nature of tourism products, which are intangible and perishable, and because of the extraordinary variety of available options. The outcome of decisions concerning tourism products, thus, can hardly be foreseen and cannot be substantially changed; it implies a high level of uncertainty and a certain risk. In the case of experiential goods, the most influential source of information is Word-of-mouth (WOM). Web 2.0 – or ‘read and write web’ – is giving new significance to WOM, which encompasses a variety of media forms and types of websites, providing consumers with a number of opportunities to voice their opinions. This content is known as User Generated Contents (UGC) and can equate to electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). Consumers increasingly rely on eWOM to make a variety of decisions, thanks to their easiness of access and multiplicity of contributors. Online Travel Reviews (OTR) are the most accessible and prevalent form of eWOM in the field of eTourism. They represent people’s wish to share their travel experiences online, recommend a tourism product or complain about it. This dissertation adopts a communicative approach, to investigate how OTR contribute to and inform travel decision-making. To answer the question: “which kind of communicative event is an OTR?”, its communicative purpose, the strategies adopted to pursue the purpose, its textual structure, its content patterns and the contexts where it is produced (i.e. technological, cultural and individual context) were analyzed. A corpus of 138 OTR about destination Rome, collected from TripAdvisor, underwent a two stage analytical process. In the first stage, OTR were characterized as an emergent textual genre, which presents singular properties and differentiates itself from other travel genres and online genres. Congruity Theory has been adopted for the semantic-pragmatic analysis of the corpus. Congruity Theory is a theory of discourse relations, which combines rhetorical relations and speech acts in one single construct, namely the connective predicate (CP). CP are high level pragmatic predicates that characterize an utterance or the connection of two or more utterances in terms of the action that the author, with such utterance or connection of utterances, realizes towards the addressee. The CP governing an OTR was reconstructed, the pre-conditions as well as the entailments it brings about were pointed out, and dominant CP’s were distinguished from subordinate CP’s. The CP governing an OTR is one of advice, which the reviewer proposes to the reader to engage in a course of action – i.e. visit/not visit a destination -because of the desirability of the outcome. This reasoning chain corresponds, indeed, to the argumentation scheme of practical reasoning (or pragmatic argumentation). In a second phase of the research, the argumentative texture of an OTR has been specifically considered. The standpoint is constituted by the travel advice, and the argument is the reviewer’s opinion about the destination. This argument works, in turn, as standpoint for a lower level argumentative move, where data are provided by the reviewer to support her opinion; data can be, for instance, descriptions of attractions or reports of travel events. Through analytical overviews, the configuration of standpoints and arguments of some texts was reconstructed in detail, in order to visualize typical argumentative strategies. Finally, the three most representative argument schemes, that are the inferential principles at play in the argumentative process, were pointed out. The research has a number of implications both at the theoretical as well as at the practical level. It represents, in fact, a contribution both to the field of genre studies and to the research on argumentation in context. Theoretical results, then, may be applied to improve marketing strategies and to develop automated strategies, both for filtering ‘good-quality’ OTR and for selecting relevant ones according to information needs and travel expectations. (De Ascaniis 2013)

Link to the thesis here.