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Digital Divide in Tourism

Tourism is an important wealth creator at both global and local levels. An appropriate diffusion of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) in this sector can improve the social and economic impacts, from which many citizens and organizations in developed and developing countries can benefit. This article analyzes digital divide and proposes an integrated theoretical framework to explore the relevant factors that lead to unequal access and use of ICTs for tourists and destinations. It integrates the technical, social, and motivational aspects derived from different approaches to digital divide to demonstrate how these factors affect the capacity of markets and destinations to meet and interact effectively in a global tourism environment.

This article presents an integrated theoretical framework to investigate the relevant factors that generate unequal access, use, and engagement with ICTs for tourists, destinations, and businesses. It discusses how these factors affect the capacity of markets and destinations to meet and interact globally. The article proposes a framework based on a multidisciplinary approach derived from revising and adapting models on the digital divide developed in different disciplines (information sciences, economics, social and communication sciences, political economy, and education) to tourism. The model takes into consideration the macroenvironmental conditions in which tourists live and businesses and DMOs operate. The main factors and determinants driving demand-and-supply behavior are identified by integrating the economic, social, and motivational aspects described in digital divide models with the behavioral and intention-based variables defined in the studies on ICT adoption among tourists and tourism businesses. A set of propositions are then developed to guide the discussion and further investigation based on the proposed framework.

Tourists and destinations within developed countries and between developed and developing countries suffer from a multiplicity of technological divides (motivational, physical, informational, etc.), which lead to different levels of digital exclusion. Increasingly it is evident that high-tech tourists and regions or enterprises meet in an electronic marketplace and communicate directly through electronic channels, eliminating the need for spatial concentration of production and distribution. In contrast, medium- and low-digital-access tourists and destinations still depend on analog transactions and physical intermediaries to develop their vacation planning process and to transact. It is therefore surprising that the theories of digital divide have received little attention in the tourism literature.

The proposed framework can assist the analysis of the digital divide in the eTourism marketplace.

A number of considerations must be given to guide future investigation. First, as anticipated above, a set of (simple or weighted) indicators should be built to assess the positioning of tourism markets and destinations, by translating the impact of the three constructs, and then of each activated factor within each construct, on tourists’ behavior as well as on destination and local businesses development. Second, further research supported by quantitative and qualitative data is required to confirm or challenge the various aspects of the framework and to test the indicator set.

Only a comprehensive discussion of all types of digital divide, including motivational, material, physical, skills, and usage issues, will provide a comprehensive knowledge base to effectively reduce the digital gaps and support the sociocultural and economic inclusion of all tourism stakeholders.


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