The article characterises the elements of the consumer communication process in tourism and specifies advantages and disadvantages of its use by tourist companies and tourism areas as part of word-of-mouth marketing. The empirical analysis of a tourist’s socio-demographic features’ impact on the tourist’s susceptibility to WOMM’s influence made it possible to state that this susceptibility is not gender- or material status-conditioned, and it is most strongly determined by the family origin of the tourist from this area which presently is their destination.
Key words: consumer communication, word-of-mouth marketing, whisper, prosumer, tourism destination, tourist’s socio-demographic features
Article published in: Proceedings in Conference of Informatics and Management Sciences ICTIC 2013, ed. K. Matiaško, A. Lieskovský, M. Mokryš, EDIS – Publishing Institution of the University of Zilina, Zilina 2013, part II, ch. 5, p. 119-124 (ISBN: 978-80-554-0648-0; ISSN: 1339-231X).
Many tourist enterprises and tourism areas try to attract the customer on the basis of arguments, facts and rational premises. While the information resources available to a 21st century tourist-consumer exceed not only their needs, but perception abilities as well. This results in situations that a sense of uncertainty of choice (already high) is growing among customers of tourist services and goods, and decision-taking is becoming particularly difficult. One of the most popular solutions in this respect is relying on opinions and recommendations of other tourists who have already used a product (visited a given destination). Tourists-consumers exchange, therefore, views and observations among themselves, and this C2C communication is used, or even initiated and moderated, by companies and other tourism supply entities, referring to his action as word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM).
The article explains the essence of word-of-mouth marketing and indicates its techniques used in practice. Then the elements of the consumer communication process in tourism have been characterised and advantages and disadvantages of its use by tourist companies and tourism areas as part of word-of-mouth marketing have been described. Finally, factors have been identified which form tourist’s susceptibility to WOMM, as part of which the influence of socio-demographic features of a potential product buyer have been empirically examined. The results of research into tourism traffic conducted in 2012 in Cracow on a group of 3126 guests visiting the city were used for that purpose.
2. Literature Review
A. The essence and techniques of word-of-mouth marketing
According to an expert on the topic, E. Rosen [15, p. 87] word-of-mouth (WOM) is a total of all comments, views and opinions on a given product, expressed by consumers with the use of any social channel, by means of a spontaneous, uncontrollable oral massage (also written at the moment) – both offline (traditional, authentic WOM) as well as online (e-WOM). Informal interpersonal direct communication is meant here, as messages are addressed to a narrow group of recipients with whom the source of information is in direct contact. In this way both subjective opinions of senders are transmitted and slogans given them by specialists.
Word-of-mouth marketing (contrary to whisper marketing), in turn, is a skilful and well-considered use of WOM by the producer/offerer in their marketing strategies to create increased interest in the product [3, p. 7], and, as a result, taking purchasing decisions by consumers. For this purpose, the entity most frequently initiates talks and whispers [9, p. 8] and moderates them (see more: ), thereby quite often word-of-mouth loses its natural, spontaneous form. Therefore, it is already rather B2C2C than C2C marketing [19, p. 3].
As part of word-of-mouth marketing it is necessary to mention, inter alia, evangelist marketing, in which it is intended to create trust in customers, who believe so strongly in a given good or service that they want to convince others to buy the product. The foundation of such trust is, above all, a high added value delivered to the customer, resulting in their satisfaction and loyalty [20, p. 49]. Another technique is viral marketing, which consists in using short information (with a humorous tinge as a rule) so that potential buyers transmit it “avalanche-like” among them; thereby the product awareness is growing. A similar form is controversial guerrilla marketing, in which goods and services are promoted by unconventional, emotion-arousing, attention-grabbing and memory-embedding measures (e.g. inscriptions made with spray paint on walls presenting a given brand, stickers) and contents (e.g. blood, drastic scenes). Information about a product is disseminated further in the form of whisper. Brand blogging, in turn, is based on creating blogs for customers on which they can share information. While Community marketing is based on supporting selected community groups (fan clubs, thematic Internet forums, etc.), which are interested in particular products (e.g. tourism). A similar form is social media marketing, using social media to communicate with potential customers, on which articles, films or images are put. Cause marketing also deserves some attention, entailing the support for social considerations to get respect and support of people who find a given issue important and will disseminate positive whisper [18, p. 478].
Summing up, there are many techniques relying on a network of interpersonal relationships, which may be used in marketing strategies of various entity types, including tourist companies and tourist reception areas.
B. Word-of-mouth process in tourism
Elements of C2C communication process in tourism are presented in Fig. 1.
Figure 1 Elements of the word-of-mouth process in tourism
The senders in consumer communication above all are persons who have visited a given place, region or country earlier and have been served by tourist and paratourist enterprises operating there, and then, as family members, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, co-workers, etc. they disseminate specific opinions about this community tourism product. As authentic word-of-mouth cannot be acquired otherwise but through tourist’s experience with a good, service or destination. If a product carries a story with it, which is important for the tourist, they will naturally repeat this story at each possible opportunity. They will tell about their experience with the product (see: [7, p. 35], they will boast about it, talk about it with others, exhibiting at the same time their social value (as a person who knows a lot) and impressing the environment. Another reason for automatic emergence of word-of-mouth is people’s tendency to advice persons from the nearest environment [2, p. 360], and at the same time relying involuntarily on opinions of others. The research proves that 66% of people exchange views with friends, 26% does it sometimes, and only 8% rather does not practice it [18, p. 479]. On the other hand, as many as 60% of purchasing decisions is a consequence of recommendation [13, p. 14].
A particularly important source of consumer communication is tourist-prosumers, i.e. active consumers who gather and thereby possess information on destinations they are interested in, tourist goods and services, and then share this knowledge with other potential tourists, but also with the producer/offerrer so that the latter, with their cooperation, could develop the product and in this way satisfy their needs better. The participation of prosumers in the market is based on an exceptional combination of consumption, interests and creativity [12, p. 280]. They have greater abilities of moving in the world of information, they try to find and compare data coming from various sources; they evaluate and recommend or reject specific tourist services or goods. They express their views face-to-face, but also write their opinions on blogs and/or, by means of graphics software, they change the adverts of favourite or hated products and put them on portals or websites. The word-of-moth transmissions, contrary to traditional advertising, are created by consumers themselves, however their initiator is a company/tourist reception area by, above all, its market behaviour and better or worse ability to satisfy the customers’ needs. The opinions may be thus both flattering and pejorative. A pretext to disseminate the former is, above all, satisfaction with the value of a tourist product. The tourist satisfied with the stay in the tourism area will provide their positive impressions at least to three other persons (sometimes even to six or eight ), of which, on average, each one will repeat the impressions to two more. It is easy to calculate that it gives nine persons altogether who, due to opinions of others, have a friendly attitude to the product and if needed will make use of it. It must be added that the greater the satisfaction, the more frequently the tourist talks about their trip and recommends it to a larger number of people. There is no doubt, therefore, that the delighted customer is an extremely influential medium and free carrier of information about the product value. A very dissatisfied customer (and thus angry and irritated), in turn, will intensively spread a bad opinion of the product and/or producer/offeror. If their dissatisfaction is insignificant, they will mention their experiences to a smaller number of people, however research shows that consumers are more eager to spread bad than good news [15, pp. 30–39]. Since pejorative experiences more frequently than positive constitute a stimulus for taking up an action. So an embittered tourist will, on average, inform as many as up to six (up to twelve) persons about their dissatisfaction, and each of them six more [9, pp. 235-236], which, on the whole, will give as many as 72 persons who, having heard a negative opinion, will try to avoid a given offerer/producer. It is worth noting here that negative opinions are often embellished, embroidered and exaggerated to emphasise tourist’s right and highlight the producer’s/offerer’s guilt [4, pp. 56-58].
The communication channel in consumer communication is interaction and mutual contact offline or online between the clients, during which a comment, review, opinion, or observation is made, and a direct conversation, discussion, polemics takes place or a product-related story is told.
The last element of the word-of-mouth process is a message recipient, i.e. a potential tourist who intends to take a decision as regards choosing a destination of their trip and specific service providers. It must be emphasised that the impact of consumer communication in the tourist market is particularly strong since as a rule the product has a high price (compared to average consumers’ income) and additionally is of a non-material character (there is no possibility of checking it or even watching before consumption), therefore its purchase is connected with a considerable risk. That is why potential tourists more eagerly consider opinions of those who have already used a given product that information presented in media [20, p.53].
C. Strengths and weaknesses of word-of-mouth marketing
Presentation of unique features of the product in the manner which will not only appeal to the tourist and encourage them to purchase, but at the same time will not arouse their irritation is becoming increasingly difficult for producer/offerer to achieve. A skilfully used and controlled whisper may be an invaluable element of a promotional campaign of a tourist company as well as a tourism area. The tourists who have used the product before may act, therefore, as excellent brand ambassadors when their knowledge and enthusiasm encourage others to make a purchase. Thanks to WOMM one may also create an additional customer value, making the product a symbol of social status. In a situation, however, when the opinion is negative, it can (particularly if left without an intervention) destroy reputation of the product and /or company or reception area, often built for years. It causes the decrease of perception of product advertisement credibility and discourages from product purchase [22, p. 38]. It is worth adding that media treat this pejorative word-of-mouth as good news and transmit a whisper received from its senders in news programmes, thereby the bad opinion spreads further, giving rise to crisis situations in businesses.
Additionally, certain actions should be mentioned which question the essence, thus credibility of word-of-mouth marketing, as an open, ethics-based action. They concern, above all, the form which takes place in the Internet – e-WOMM. Namely some companies and tourist areas, taking advantage of the fact that an information sender is anonymous in discussion forums and it cannot be checked whether the person expressing ideas is a representative of the producer/offerer, activate such forums themselves and present only positive information there. Some even pay selected consumers to create artificial noise around their products. Such Internet users – being at service of a specific tourist company or tourist reception area – join the discussion under various nicks, often creating some dozens of false identities each. As a result, hundreds of “embellished” discussions, polemics or comments appear. This artificial traffic is referred to as astroturfing (named after a brand of artificial turf popular in the US, used on game fields). A similar form, questioning credibility of word-of-mouth marketing, are flogs or blogs edited by a company (tourism area) representative interested in promotion of a given product or by persons paid by it. Sometimes the forgery may be discovered, but often it takes some time during which only positive information is disseminated. A flog is based on the “effect of relation frequency” principle which means that the more contacts (even those intermediate) someone has with a given person, the more likely they are to like the person and the more their views seem to be attractive, valuable or proper. By serving messages within short time intervals and encouraging the reader to pay regular visits, soon a flogger starts being considered a friend, which makes it easier for them to disseminate their convictions. A potential tourist who does not have an opinion in relation to a given product is, therefore, prone to accept the flogger’s views as their own, particularly when the former is considered an expert in tourism [11, pp. 319-320].
Despite those negative aspects, word-of-mouth marketing is treated by potential tourists travelling to a given place, region or country as a more objective and credible form of market communication than importunate advertising arguments. The source of its success is, therefore, a high level of trust in that sort of messages. It is confirmed by global research conducted by A.C. Nielsen in 2008 entitled: “Trust in Advertising”. It showed that 78% of consumers trust only themselves i.e. other consumers (prosuments). Thus, word-of-mouth marketing is perceived in the category of the most effective sales tool [23, p. 43].
From the point of view of a tourist company/tourism area this type of marketing medium costs nothing (apart from the necessity to provide the customer with the satisfactory value) [14, p. 249]. Additionally, it is valuable information on the consumers’ preferences, product’s advantages and disadvantages. Since it is the consumer themselves who is the most important source of opinion on the offer.
D. Determinants of tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing
There is no doubt that the affect of consumers’ opinions on tourists’ purchase decisions is very big [5, p. 447]. Its strength, however, is conditioned upon many factors, among which both external and internal determinants in relation to the recipient of whisper should be mentioned. As part of external factors, the following deserve attention: type of channel for transmitting information, trust towards the sender, type of product being assessed and a number of choice alternatives. And so, face to face recommendations and direct opinions of the family, friends and acquaintances are treated particularly objectively. The likelihood of making use of them, thus of buying or resigning from the product grows proportionally to the trust the tourist has in the message sender. According to research, the greatest influence on the decision making process have friends (28%), family (24%), persons recommending the product on Internet forums or chats (20%) and experts in a given field (13%). The opinion of others is taken into account above all when choosing luxurious (66%), occasional (13%) and unknown products (11%) [18, p. 479], and such, without any doubt, include tourism. Since, according to Travel Industry Association, friends and relatives are the number-one source for information about places to visit or about flights, hotels or rental cars. Of people they surveyed, forty-three percent cited friends and family as source information [16, p. 5]. The tourist more often uses also opinions of others in the situation when they have a wide range of products as in this way they reduce the number of options to be considered [6, p. 283].
The following above all must be included in the group of internal factor affecting the tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing: the risk of choice perceived by then, own efficiency, previous experience in tourism and socio-demographic features. Namely each person has an individual ability to manage risk and the greater, in their opinion, the risk is connected with the purchase of product, the more a tourist will rely on emotional messages of those who have already taken advantage of the offer. One’s effectiveness in turn reflects an individual’s optimistic conviction of their actions in line with the adopted objective, regardless of the emerging obstacles [10, pp. 346-347]. Therefore, the tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing decreases along the growth of conviction that they can resolve any problem. Also the more experienced tourist the potential client is, the more they believe in their abilities to assess the offer and make a correct choice i.e. they are less susceptible to opinions of others. Moreover, it should be expected that socio-demographic features, such as gender, age, education, place of residence, professional and material status, forming the consumer’s behaviour on the market, will also affect tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing. This thesis will be empirically verified in this article.
In order to determine whether, which and to what extent socio-demographic features of a tourist influence their susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing, results of research into tourist traffic conducted in Cracow in 2012 at the request of the City Office under the supervision of the Malopolska Tourism Organisation were used. Then the survey covered 3126 persons who visited the city – both one-day visitors and tourists staying overnight in Cracow (see more: [17, pp. 6–8]). The respondents were asked, inter alia, about the source of information about the city; they could indicate, among others, the family and friends (Y) as an answer. It is worth emphasising that the largest number, because as many as 56.88% of those surveyed, marked this answer – see Fig. 2 [17, p. 87].
Seven socio-demographic features of the surveyed persons (Xu) were used for the analysis, to which the following numeric values were assigned:
X1 Gender (female=1, male =2);
X2 Age (under 18 =1, 19-30 years =2, 31-45 years =3, 46-60 years =4, 61-72 years =5, above 72 years =6);
X3 Education (primary =1, secondary =2, vocational, incomplete higher =3, higher =4);
X4 Material status (very bad =1, bad =2, average =3, good = 4, very good =5);
X5 Professional status (pupil =1, student =2, houseperson =3, unemployed =4, professionally active =5, disability pensioner =6, old-age pensioner =7);
X6 Size of place of residence (small village =1, large village =2, little town =3, big town =4, very big city =5);
X7 Polish origin (no =1, yes =2).
Figure 2 Role of particular sources of information about Krakow among tourists visiting the city in 2012
The strength of dependence between the variables (Y) and (Xu) was examined by means of:
- as regards X1 and X7, features creating together with a variable (Y), 2×2 contingency tables – Yule’s φ correlation coefficient, based on an empirical value of χ2 statistics, calculated with the use of the so-called Yates’s correction,
- in the remaining cases – Cramer’s V coefficient, based on the empirical value of χ2 statistics.
- rapid development of transport and relative decline of the cost of travel, and
The following research hypotheses were proposed (seven times, for each pair of variables): H0 – tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing (Y) does not depend on their socio-demographic feature (Xu) and H1 – a given socio-demographic feature (Xu) forms tourist’s susceptibility to WOMM (Y). Assuming, according to the statistical rules commonly applied in economy, significance at the level of α=0.05 [1, p. 308], if test probability p was smaller than 0.05, it was necessary to reject H0 hypothesis and accept H1 hypothesis. Otherwise (p>0.05) there were no grounds to reject H0 hypothesis.
4. FINDINGS AND RESULTS
The value of test probability p for relationships between Y and Xu is shown in table 1. On its basis it may be concluded that tourist’s susceptibility to WOMM (Y) significantly determines 5 of 7 of its socio-demographic features (Xu), namely: age (X2), education (X3), professional status (X5), size of place of residence (X6) and their or their ancestors’ origin from the place they are to visit (X7).
Table 1 VALUE OF TEST PROBABILITY P FOR DEPENDENCES BETWEEN TOURIST’S SUSCEPTIBILITY TO WORD-OF-MOUTH MARKETING (Y) AND THEIR SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC FEATURES (Xu)
|Socio-demographic feature (Xu)||p|
|Material status (X4)||0.84853|
|Professional status (X5)||0.00401|
|Size of place of residence (X6)||0.00005|
|Polish origin (X7)||0.00000|
a Significantly important dependences in bold font
The value of Yule’s φ and Cramer’s V for significantly dependant variables is presented in Fig. 3.
Figure 3 Values of Yule’s $phi; and Crammer’s V for significant dependences between tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing (Y) and their socio-demographic features (Xu)
The obtained results suggest that the origin from the place they go to (Poland in this case) has the strongest influence on tourist’s susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing – more than 0.35. A bit weaker is the effect of age (X2 – above 0.30) and the place of residence (X6 – nearly 0.30). The smallest role is played by education (X3 – about 0.26) and professional status (X5 – about 0.28). It is worth adding that the specified socio-demographic features in nearly 45% are a reason for variability of tourists’ susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing. Based on the sign of correlation coefficient (+/–), it can be stated that tourists possessing roots in the country they visit (X7) are more susceptible to WOMM than others. This seems obvious, considering the ancestors’ admiration for the homeland they had to once leave and which was later perceived only as a dream. The emotions which accompany that sort of messages are strong enough to considerably affect as word-of-mouth the final decision of the tourist as regards the final journey destination.
An analogous dependence direction may be notice in case of age (X2) – susceptibility to family’s/friends’ opinions grows with age. Since the older an individual is, the more they are afraid (due to sickness, disability and many other reasons) of journey into unknown; something which has already been verified by friends or a family seems to reduce those fears.
While in terms of education (X3) and the size of place of residence (X6), there is a negative correlation, which means that more susceptible to WOMM are persons less educated and coming from the countryside and small villages, and the other way round. The situation may be explained by the fact that the more educated a person is, the greater their knowledge on travel options and travel conditions, thus a trip to an unverified place is not so dangerous for them to resign from it. Similarly, life in a large town teaches and accustoms people to manage in difficult situations; hence a trip to an unknown destination does not arouse such fears in them as in inhabitants of rural areas or small towns. In turn, as regards dependence between susceptibility to word-of-mouth marketing and a professional status of the tourist, it is best demonstrated by data in Fig. 4.
Figure 4 Figure 4. Structure of tourists making use of family’s/friends’ opinions when choosing a tourism destination by the professional status(X5)
Namely, the most susceptible to opinions of others are professionally active persons, which undoubtedly results from limited time they can devote to check tourist offers. A product recommended by a family/friends limits their risk of a wrong purchase, and confirms rightness of the choice made.
The consumer’s power plays an important role among mechanisms of modern market exchange. Since the consumer can only reward and punish the producer by choosing or rejecting a product (strong competition fosters it), but also has a power of reference i.e. they may recommend a given offer to others or discourage them from buying it. These two types of power are strictly connected with the third, i.e. expert’s power – the modern consumer (inter alia due to the popularisation of the Internet) has knowledge in many products and can use it (it applies to prosuments in particular). This mechanism should be skilfully used by producers of goods and services, also tourist ones.
The results of the empirical analysis conducted for the purpose of the present article indicate that the group most susceptible to reference power (possessing at the same time, like any other, the power to reward and punish) are tourists with roots from the destination of their trip, residing urbanised areas, mature, better educated and professionally active. Therefore it is they who above all should be recipients of word-of-mouth marketing. Simultaneously tourist enterprises (and other tourism area actors), gathering information on persons whose knowledge those tourists used in taking their decisions on choosing a destination, are able to select opinion-forming leaders (including prosumers) from among their customers. With these leaders, possessing power of reference, strict cooperation must be established so that they are still inclined to recommend a company and/or tourist reception area to other tourists.
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Renata Seweryn, PhD
Cracow University of Economics
Ul. Rakowicka 27
31-510 Krakow, Poland
e-mail: [email protected]