Imaginative travel: experiential aspects of user interactions with destination marketing websites
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In this thesis a discursive examination of backpacker attitudes towards and use of a New Zealand tourism website, based on their own accounts of their experiences of using the web for travel, offers a contribution to existing knowledge about human computer interaction. The study enhances current understandings of the processes through which backpackers interact with travel websites by including the social and personal context of their experience. Analysing interview data on user attitudes and behaviour, it argues the importance of taking into account the use-context of human computer interactions. Placing participants’ interaction with the newzealand.com website within themes of imagination, emotional engagement, and authenticity in experience allows an exploration of such context. It demonstrates that backpackers’ engagement with websites is shaped not only by their material circumstances but by their attitudes to travel in general, their assumptions and feelings about New Zealand as a place, and as a site for their own experiences. The research applies usability techniques and methods to observe and inquire into tourists’ experiential interaction with a destination website. The emotional, affective, reflective and behavioural aspects of tourists’ decision making processes are studied in order to show how websites, as a medium of communication, evoke users’ travel imaginings. In this way the study contributes to research into tourists’ web-related motivation and behaviour. In addition, by applying discursive, performative, and experiential lenses drawn from travel research to human-computer interaction, it augments current research techniques for studying the social effects of virtual technology and web related human behaviour. The thesis explores themes of representation of place and self in relation to backpacker experiences and frames them in terms of authenticity and trust. It argues that in navigating places, backpackers seek authentic experiences and that this notion of authenticity is mediated by their encounters with other travellers, locals, tourism providers, as well as books, television and the Internet. Websites as travel information sources shape how backpackers think about their tourist experiences; to do this effectively, what the site presents must resonate with the backpacker’s views on how they think those experiences should be.