The nature of gratuitous referrals in tourism: Local residents' perspective

Andrew Walls, Amir Shani, Paul D. Rompf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to investigate the referral patterns of local residents who are frequently requested by visitors to the community to provide information and/or direct venue referrals for travel-related services. Also investigated, were the factors influencing the selection of a specific venue being referred. It is posited that visitors delay many travel decisions until they arrive at a destination and extensively utilize local "experts" in their decision strategy. Design/methodology/approach - The current study expands upon previous research on visitor decision strategies for travel-related services once that are at a destination by examining the referral activity of 180 residents in the metro-Orlando area, a destination that attracts more than 47 millions visitors each year. A standardized questionnaire was utilized to collect data in two distinct areas of the destination, a central tourism corridor and a bedroom community. Findings - In general, at-destination recommendations from locals were found to be highly sought by visitors, regardless of the occupation of the perceived local expert. In addition, although the weekly frequency of requests to a local expert was typically lower in the bedroom community in contrast to the tourism corridor, they still existed in significant enough numbers such that they should capture the attention of enterprises providing such services. At the least, a partial alignment of an enterprise's promotional strategies and tactics to reach targeted visitor segments through "locals" becomes obvious. Overall, notable recommendation patterns were not uniform across type of service enterprise, and were highly evident for food and beverage and entertainment facilities, while recommendations for lodging facilities were found to be limited in this study. It was also determined that local residents were most influenced by organic factors compared to induced factors. Research limitations/implications - The results suggest that hospitality businesses should focus a portion of their marketing strategies and tactics towards the community in order to attain/drive positive word-of-mouth referrals. This implication is particularly relevant for restaurants and shopping venues. Finally, it is suggested that the most effective way for businesses to reach local residents is through direct contact and communication, rather than traditional advertising channels. Originality/value - The paper has both theoretical and practical value, and provides further confirmation that tourists delay/make many decisions post-arrival and that locals play an important role in travel-decision process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-663
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - 19 Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Communities
  • Decision making
  • Information exchange
  • Tourism
  • Travel
  • United States of America

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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