Student Researchers

Ishita Ghosh, Graduate Student
Young Shin Lim, Graduate Student
Eunice Eunjung Yoo, Graduate Student
Research Project for COMM 506 Introductions to Mass Communication Research

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


Due to its convenience and amount of information available, the Internet constitutes an important platform for information exchange between the tourists and tourism providers. In this regard, it is critical to understand the nature of tourism websites as well as its information quality in order to provide an important stepping-stone for the development of successful marketing programs and better information systems in tourism. While tourism websites are becoming increasingly important, there is a lack of empirical research to describe and explain the differences of information quality of tourism websites. In this respect, this study set out to compare the generalist tourism websites and specialist tourism websites with the focus on their information quality.


For tourism websites, what is the relationship between the level of specialization and information quality?

Hypothesis: There is a difference in information quality between website and generalist website.
Hypothesis 1: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its completeness than generalist website.
Hypothesis 2: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its structure than generalist website.
Hypothesis 3: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its personalization than generalist website.
Hypothesis 4: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its timeliness than generalist website.
Hypothesis 5: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its relevance than generalist website.
Hypothesis 6: Specialist websites provide better information quality in terms of its interactivity than generalist website.
Hypothesis 7: Generalist websites provide better information quality in terms of its reputation than specialist website.


In order to test the hypotheses, we conducted content analysis of tourism websites of seventeen US cities. The unit of analysis was tourism website main page for specialist websites and city overview page for generalist websites. 102 tourism webpage on seventeen U.S. cities, three generalists and three specialists for each city, were chosen for analysis. Independent variable was the level of specialization, and dependent variables were information quality (completeness, structure, personalization, timeliness, relevance, reputation). Codes were developed inductively based on the features of the tourism websites, and later matched to dependent variables. 


Generalist websites were more likely to report city information in the menu and body, maps in the menu and body, host-specific bandwagon cues, destination-specific authority cues, irrelevant ads with pictures, relevant ads without pictures, photo galleries with control, relevant merchandising with and without pictures, timestamps on the main page information, existence of reservation functions, recommended non-specific destinations, general search and finally, forums.

Conversely, specialist websites were more likely to report sub-menus, parking information both in the menu and the body, event information in the menu and in the body without dates, relevant ads with pictures, transportation information in the body, attractions information in the body, event calendars, events with dates, specialized search, visitor differentiation, slideshows with control, irrelevant pop-ups, and location specific attractions information in both the menu and the body. In summary, our results demonstrated that there are significant differences in information quality between specialist and generalist websites.


While extant literature asserts the superiority of specialized media only in terms of how their users perceive the media content, our study was conclusively able to establish that there does indeed exist differences in the actual content published by online media, at least with respect to generalist and specialist tourism websites. Some of these distinctions are intuitive, yet have never been confirmed on paper. Although none of our sub-hypotheses were fully supported, we did find significant differences between generalist and specialist tourism websites and have documented them in this study.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University