The Impact of Social Media on the Tourism Industry

Introduction

Social media can be considered a unique social phenomenon that has been affecting the world for the last several years. Supported by the rise of technologies and the Internet, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram shape people’s interactions, their relations, and precondition their choices and decision-making. The potency of this tool is accepted by managers and policymakers, and there are multiple strategies aimed at the use of social media to popularise some goods or services (Sheldon, 2008).

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Speaking about China, for the state with multimillion population, these sort of sites play a critical role in the lives of persons and shape their attitudes. Analysing the current social media trends regarding the China tourism industry, Fei (2016) champions the idea that this technology is the most effective tool that can be used by companies to attract clients in China today. The strategical importance of social media cannot be denied because of the appearance of new methods of working with clients using multiple platforms of this sort.

The significant role of social media for the Chinese tourist sector is also evidenced by the fact that more and more users join Weibo or other programs of this sort. The spread of the Internet and digitalisation of the society open access to information for various population groups that were previously excluded from the discourse (Fei, 2016).

For this reason, social media offers bout challenges and opportunities to tourist sites that switch to a social media marketing or e-commerce schemes. Fei (2016) assumes that regardless of the appearance of additional issues that should be considered, social media has the overall positive impact on the given sector and serves as a facilitator of travel and the industry’s work.

Provision of Information and Search Tool

One of the major role of social media in the tourism sector is the provision of information to clients. Chinese people are characterised by the high level of socialisation, which means that experiences of other individuals, their recommendations, positive or negative feedback might impact decision-making and the desire to use a particular service (Cheung, Lee and Rabjohn, 2008).

In this regard, platforms that provide persons with an opportunity to share their attitudes and discuss all existing options with other members of the community become the aspect impacting the sphere of tourism as it critically depends on feedback and image of various companies. Aleti, Ilicic and Harrigan (2018) admit that the role of Weibo and other similar social media grows every year because of the appearance of specific groups focused on the discussion of existing options and voyages offered by agencies. This factor explains the significance of social media for the sphere of tourism in China.

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At the same time, social media is used as a potent search tool to find a proper destination, collect information about it, compare prices, and discuss them with friends or people from various communities. It correlates with the informative role of social media and its direct impact on the choice of trips among available options. Surveys show that about 85% of all clients prefer to consult with people on the Internet and discuss the proposed option before making the final solution (China Daily Global, 2019).

Moreover, Cheong (2019) points out that specialists working gradually lose their ability to impact clients’ decision-making because of the growing role of social media as a central source of information that is used for considerations. Accepting the importance of credible data for the modern world, this feature preconditioned the high significance of these sites for tourism in China.

Increased Interest in Tourism

The growing importance of social media and its dominant role in the world as a central source of information corresponds to the stable growth of the Chinese tourism sector. In accordance with Ge (2014), it becomes a significant part of the state’s economy because of the opportunities for further development and expected incomes. One of the major causes of the increasing interest in tourism is the emergence of a newly rich middle class as its representatives can contribute to the evolution of the sphere.

The stable interest to travelling and exploring new places is evidenced by the fact that since 2012 tourists from China have been the main contributors to the development of the international tourism and in 2016 the state spent about $261 billion, or 21%of the global tourism spending (Digital Marketing China, 2016). Moreover, because of the local peculiarities, only 7% of citizens had a passport in 2018, which means that there is a potential for the future increase in the number of customers every year (Liu, 2018).

Multiple investigators admit the critical importance of this trend for the evolution of social media and its empowerment. Fei (2016) assumes that the gradually rising Chinese tourism sector affects other spheres of the country and its industries. To support the given trend, software designers and tourism agencies design their own specific applications that can meet clients’ demands to availability of data and its credibility (Kim and Srivastava, 2007).

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At the same time, the reverse process can be observed as social platforms available for Chinese people popularise the idea of travelling and globalisation and stimulate the desire to travel among the representatives of the rich middle class who have enough money to fill this need (Liu, Wu and Li, 2019). The combination of these factors explains a substantial influence of social media on tourism in the state.

Demographics

Another factor that explains the increased importance of social media for the Chinese tourism sector is the significant changes in the demographical composition of the state. The robust economy and the enormous speed of the economic development preconditioned the growth in the percentage of the urban population of China by 60% (Fei, 2016). Lin et al. (2018) assume that it became a turning point in the development of the tourism sector and social media correspondingly.

People acquired new opportunities for socialising and sharing their experiences with other groups. At the same time, they altered their mentalities towards the improved understanding of the globalisation trends and high value of different cultures surrounding them. It gave rise to the so-called second wave of Chinese outbound tourism consisting of travellers who want to discover the world and create international relations with people from various regions (Lo and Tong, 2018). The given shift in attitudes was supported by the improved financial state and accumulation of resources needed to realise this plan.

In such a way, new Chinese tourists acquired a set of features that promoted the growth of social media and its importance for the region. The need for communication, collaboration, and travelling in small groups was met by offering applications such as WeChat or Weibo, which became popular tools used by individuals to play they journeys and engage in global relations or discourse.

The combination of increased income, need for socialisation, and new values promoted the growing significance of the Internet and provided people with an opportunity to use social media to acquire the required information. Under these conditions, the empowerment of this tool also became a result of some social processes that took place in the country and affected its citizens.

Technology Adoption Model

Significance of social media for the tourism sector can also be explained in terms of the technology adoption and acceptance model. The framework introduces the idea that when users have to work with new technology, there are two basic aspects that impact their decision about the future use: perceived usefulness, and perceived ease-of-use (Taherdoost, 2018).

Taherdoost (2018) emphasises the fact that when both these elements are present in a certain innovation, it will become a popular tool for large audiences. At the same time, recognition of the clients’ needs and their acceptance is a fundamental aspect of any business as it helps t to find the way for future development (Taherdoost, 2018). In such a way, to become popular and affect individuals and their decision-making, technologies should be practical and easy-to-use.

Social media combine these elements and are accepted by people as the primary tool to search for information and analyse it. This paradigm is important for the enhanced understanding of why platforms such as Weibo or WeChat grow so fast and impact the tourism sector in China. Sites of this sort offer an outstanding opportunity to save time and engage in discussion regarding the planned trip or any other purchase. For this reason, the practical value and effectiveness of social media increase the speed of adoption and ensure its further rise in the country.

Information-Seeking

As it was already mentioned, regarding the tourism sector, social media is mainly associated with information-seeking motive. Ma, Hardy and Ooi (2019) admit that the rise of this sort of sites significantly altered the clients’ approach to finding information about available tours that can be trusted. Previously, the majority of tourists preferred to consult with agents to acquire information about the planned voyage, discover places of interest that should be visited and create the plan of the journey.

However, with the development of the Internet and social media platforms, individuals got new opportunities and sources of data (Bhattacherjee, 2001). Today, the bigger part of travellers come to the agency or select tours resting on the background knowledge they have due to the discussions in groups or recommendations of their friends or experienced people (Lee and Ma, 2012). This pattern affects the work of the tourism sector and preconditions the need for powerful advertising campaigns and a significant online presence.

Because of the information-seeking motive, firms that work in this sphere, encourage their clients to leave positive feedback about their services and their experiences by using social media. In accordance with McCartney and Pek (2018), the given feature is one of the integral parts of the modern tourism sector in China.

The tight bonds between individuals and traditionally strong impact of other people’s recommendations, the companies consider social media a potent tool for the further popularisation of their services and inclusion of new individuals into the process (Nitkoski, 2019). Moreover, the fast evolution of technologies and the availability of smartphones to various population groups result in the growing need for discussions’ monitoring to be ready to shape the functioning of organisations and be able to meet the basic clients’ demands to quality and content of offered trips.

Trustworthiness

The trustworthiness of social media is another critical factor that impacts its popularity in the state and preconditions the growing popularity of platforms such as WeChat among people in China. According to Ma, Hardy, and Ooi (2019), the given messenger is today used as a primary data collection tool by travellers who want to collect reliable data about their future travels. One of the factors explaining the topicality of this tool and its fast spread is the belief that all data found there is trustworthy as it is provided by other users (Pan, 2019).

Additionally, investigation states that users more often discuss aspects that interest them with people they know or with members of some communities focused on travelling and tourism (Pan, 2019). In such a way, because of the existence of multiple options on the same issue (trip, location, culture), clients want to use WeChat as a tool for their decision making.

Additionally, WeChat and similar applications help to save time and costs, which is critically important for Chinese tourists. Instead of looking through the Internet and trying to find some information related to the desired journey, users can discuss it in a chat with people who have some real experiences.

Rainie and Wellman. (2012) are sure that it explains the positive image of social media among clients in the tourism sector and guarantees the further evolution of these platforms as a reliable and trustworthy data collection tool. There is also a belief that agencies have limited opportunities to monitor all posts and interfere with the discussion of their offerings, and this factor guarantees that all users have a chance to create a complete and real image of the would-be trip.

Entertainment

Another important reason that explains the growing popularity of social media and its significant impact on people is its ability to provide people with opportunities for entertainment. Rowley and Keegan (2019) outline that the majority of users agree in the opinion that visiting this sort of sites or using WeChat is a sort of amusement for them.

It helps to relax after a working day or just communicate with people who might live in other areas but can be reached by using these platforms. In such a way, the entertaining motif is a serious facilitator of social media, and it contributes to the creation of the positive association between messengers and pleasant feelings (Ku, Chu and Tseng, 2013). It is vital both for users and for companies that try to employ this tool to promote their products.

The existence of the two motifs mentioned above, such as information seeking and entertaining, transform social media into a unique space that attracts individuals and also provides them with enhanced opportunities for socialisation and information collection. Shi (2015) states that in multiple cases, these two central aspects are combined. In other words, trying to get some fun or amuse themselves, individuals start to use social media and engage in communications about other countries and cultures that attract them (Sheldon, 2008).

It might also trigger the appearance and development of the desire to travel and use the tourist agencies’ services, which is one of the factors promoting the development of the sphere in China and driving positive change including the annual growth in the number of clients (SCMP Editorial, 2019). In such a way, the entertaining motif remains a vital element of the current digitalised environment peculiar to the discussed sector.

Relations Maintenance

At the same time, one of the primary functions of social media is the maintenance and creation of new relations. Skavronskaya et al. (2019) assume that this motif still remains topical for people in China regarding the peculiarities of their lifestyles and culture. A significant percentage of Internet users spends the bigger part of their days working to support their families or improve their living conditions (Zhang et al., 2014).

Under these conditions, social media and programs such as WeChat remain a single option to get in touch with close people, communicate with them, or find new friends. For a substantial part of experienced users, the relationship maintenance motive (including the creation of new bonds) is the primary cause of using social media and recommending it to other people (South China Morning Post, 2018). It means that the desire for socialisation drives the spread of these platforms and also preconditions the alteration in the tourism industry.

Relationship maintenance motive stimulates the appearance of new users who are either attracted by their friends and want to communicate with them or have a desire to find new people and avoid the feeling of being lonely. Both these causes are relevant for the discussed topic as they result in the appearance of fresh users who can be affected by social media and tourist agencies (TECH, 2017).

At the same time, communication between users presupposes sharing experiences and impressions about aspects that are attractive for people. Yang and Wang (2015) state that it might also include various trips and journeys as according to statistics, Chinese people are more aware of tourism and investigation of many cultures. Under these conditions, the prior goal of social networks, which is to support people’s relations, also contributes to the creation of the environment beneficial for the rise of the tourism industry.

In such a way, the existence of factors mentioned above and their association with social media cultivate its increased importance for all spheres of business. People prefer to make their decisions and choices resting on the information that seems credible to them, which means that the ability to discuss existing options with other people becomes especially valuable (Zhou, Zhang and Zimmerman, 2013).

Zhang et al. (2014) point out that today the choice of travellers is to a greater degree preconditioned by the information they find in social networks and feedback of other people. At the same time, it can be impacted by agencies by devoting attention to the promotion of a particular trip or service. Under these conditions, the decision-making or problem of clients’ choice is nowadays directly linked to social media and their effectiveness in promoting a particular activity.

For the Chinese tourism sector, it means that a significant part of promotional activities now moves to the Internet and social media. Analysing this problem, Fei (2016) states that WeChat is today a potent tool that can be used to affect people and precondition their choices. However, there are some peculiarities of its functioning that should be considered. Users still have a limited level of trust to specific advertising messages or groups; instead, they justify their choices by the positive image of some trips or voyages created by feedbacks of other users (Fei, 2016).

Under these conditions, social media is used to cogitate about some choices and make a final decision if there is a need for a journey. Fei (2016) also assumes that many users are not sure or do not have the final judgement about their would-be trip or vacation. That is why social media is an important aspect that influences the choices of travellers in China.

Stable Interest

It should also be admitted that there are no signs of the decrease in the popularity of social media. On the contrary, Melton (2019) notes that information-seeking motive and entertainment are positively related to the desire to continue using social media. Statistics show that every year the number of users increases: in 2019, 819,9 million users, or an increase of 5,6% if to compare with 2018 (McCarthy, 2018).

At the same time, only 59% of the country’s population use social networks (McCarthy, 2018). For this reason, there are numerous opportunities for the future rise of the segment and growth of the tourism sector that is connected with it.

One of the factors that precondition a stable interest in social media is the belief that all information provided by other people is characterised by the high level of credibility. One of the features of Internet users in China is their reliance on data provided by other people in thematic groups (Melton, 2019). It significantly impacts their decision making and shapes attitudes towards various factors. That is why the impact of social media on the tourism industry remains extremely strong, as people’s demands precondition the further evolution of the sector.

Social Media and E-commerce Regarding the Tourism Sector

The development of social-media is closely connected with the rise of e-commerce and its growing importance. For China, the given mode of trade is one of the fundamental sources of income today. The platforms such as Taobao, RED, Pinduoduo, generate a stable income and contribute to the development of various spheres of industry (Huang and Benyoucef, 2013).

For instance, the number of Taobao active users daily is about 299 million, it covers 700 countries, and they are involved in various business relations (Laudon and Traver, 2014). It means that there is a huge customer base that can be used by different agencies to promote their services. Regarding the tourism sector, e-commerce has significantly benefited the evolution of this area by introducing new opportunities for clients.

Online booking is one of the innovative approaches that shaped the travel industry in China. Customers are no more required to visit offices or agencies to buy a specific trip or book a ticket. The whole system is characterised by the high level of computerisation and individuals can use their devices to acquire the desired service, not leaving home.

In accordance with Fei (2016), it is one of the factors preconditioning the boom in the industry and its becoming one of the most fast-growing sectors in the Chinese economy. The combination of e-commerce and the growing importance of social media creates the environment favourable for the growth of the travel business in China.

Access to the Internet

The critical factor that also influences the evolution of the tourism sector in China is that there is an almost equal distribution between men and women who prefer to use these platforms to communicate or find information about the planned trips. According to McCarthy (2018), both males and females have access to social media and can benefit from it.

The given distributional pattern evidences that platforms such as WeChat or Weibo are employed by wide population groups to engage in entertaining or other activities (McCarthy, 2018). It becomes a significant facilitator of the travel industry as today there is also a shift in the distribution of wealth and men and women have a stable income that can help them to afford the desired trips.

In such a way, mainly young women and men are active users of social networks that are available in the country at the moment. This category is also characterised by the high level of interest to the investigation of the world and other cultures (Fei, 2016). They represent the new wave of travellers who are ready to pay for services and, at the same time, want to enjoy all benefits associated with social media. In such a way, this platform’s ability to meet all requirements of this cohort serves as the basis for the future rise of the tourism sector in China.

Conclusion

Altogether, the given literature review demonstrates the existence of the direct correlation between the evolution of social media and the rise of the Chinese tourism sector. The increase in the popularity of such programs as WeChat and Weibo provides users with new opportunities for entertaining and data collection. Moreover, the change in the level of income and the ability to use Internment peculiar to different population groups in the state today creates the basis for the effective functioning of travel agencies.

Correctly realising the importance of this tool for their business, companies operating in this segment provide users with information about available tours and try to promote existing offerings by initiating discussions and encouraging people to leave their feedback. Social media combine factors that are important for users such as the credibility of information (in accordance with their beliefs), entertaining motifs, the ability to engage in discussion and maintain relations.

All these features contribute to the increase in its importance and the ability to impact various industries, including the tourism sector. That is why social media remains a facilitator that provides companies working in this sphere with new opportunities to generate additional revenue and engage fresh individuals by using various social platforms such as WeChat or Weibo.

Research Methodology

Introduction

The choice of the research methodology for the given project is preconditioned by the nature of the investigated issue, the goals of the study, and the objectives formulated in the introductory section:

  • To evaluate social media, its power, and its impact on people’s decision making
  • To analyse the modern tourism industry with its peculiarities and trends
  • To investigate the correlation between social media and tourism sector in China and outline positive effects
  • To conclude about the impact of social media on the tourism industry
  • To offer a forecast resting on the current situation about the further development of two spheres

The given goals impact the whole paper and also precondition the character of data that should be collected to prove the hypothesis, discuss the current trends in the Chinese tourism sector and formulate a relevant conclusion.

At the same time, there is a need for credible data that will serve as the basis for the discussion and formulation of conclusions. Moreover, to avoid critical flaws and the lack of information related to the state of tourism in China and its links with social media, it is vital to take effective and appropriate tools that cultivate the enhanced understanding of the question and outline its major features.

The given section will outline the selected method and provide a rationale for the employment of this paradigm to investigate the topic and improve its understanding. Additionally, there is a description of the data processing procedure and tools that are used to analyse the acquired information and determine whether it can be used in the discussion. At the end of the section, conclusion summarising all central elements of research methodology, including the rationale for its usage is given.

Hypotheses

The information acquired due to the analysis of existing literature and investigation of current trends proves that social media is used to collect data, entertain, maintain relations, and socialise. It impacts the choice of the research and formulation of the following hypotheses, that also serve as the basis of the study:

  • H1a: Perceived informativeness is positively related to information-seeking motive
  • H1b: Perceived informativeness is positively related to entertainment motive
  • H1c: Perceived informativeness is positively related to relationship-maintenance motive
  • H2a: Perceived persuasiveness is positively related to information-seeking motive
  • H2b: Perceived persuasiveness is positively related to entertainment motive
  • H2c: Perceived persuasiveness is positively related to relationship-maintenance motive
  • H3a: Source credibility is positively related to information-seeking motive
  • H3b: Source credibility is positively related to entertainment motive
  • H3c: Source credibility is positively related to relationship-maintenance motive
  • H4a: Information seeking motive is positively related to continuance usage intention of social media
  • H4b: information-seeking motive is positively related to sharing travel information on social media
  • H5a: Entertainment motive is positively related to continuance usage intention of social media
  • H5b: Entertainment motive is positively related to sharing travel information on social media
  • H6a: Relationship-maintenance motive is positively related to continuance usage intention on social media
  • H6b: Relationship-maintenance motive is positively related to sharing travel information on social media

The existence of several hypotheses is explained by the scope of the investigated issue and the need for the in-depth and comprehensive analysis of all factors that might be associated with social media and tourism industry in China. At the same time, they will contribute to the inclusion of all possible motifs for using social media in the research and their evaluation.

Quantitative Research Paradigm

The character of the research and hypotheses offered above justify the use of the quantitative research paradigm as the central data collection method. Numerical data acquired with the application of the given methodology can help to support or reject the hypothesis and conclude about the role of social media in the development of the tourism sector in China. Additionally, the employment of this research paradigm helps to avoid or reduce bias during the data collection and processing stage because of the high level of reliability and standardisation peculiar to this mode of investigation (Hair, Bush, and Ortinau, 2006).

Quantitative research also allows investigators with the ability to involve large populations in the analysis of the selected aspect and acquire relevant, credible, and accurate data that will help to conclude about the existence of particular regularity or correlation between the analysed phenomena.

In such a way, the adherence to the quantitative paradigm can be useful regarding the need for relevant and accurate data related to people’s attitude to social media, their motifs for its use, and their use of various platforms to select specific trips. Moreover, the given methodology will help to conclude about the analysed aspects by providing numbers and supporting the basic assumptions with credible and relevant information.

Data Collection

The need for accurate numerical data describing peculiarities of individuals’ choices, their preferences, and the role of social media in the promotion of tourism in China is fulfilled by using the survey as an effective primary data collection tool. The employment of this approach is a practical measure that helps to understand the general characteristics of the population and conclude about patterns peculiar to their use of social media. In such a way, the survey is a central data collection tool that is employed to acquire the needed information.

The overall number of participants is 300, with 145 female (48,3%) and 155 male (51,7%) individuals. Participants under 21 age group composed 21.3% of the sample, followed by above 50 age group (21.0%). Respondents aged between 41 and 50 accounted for 20.7% of the sample. Finally, participants aged 31-40 or between 21 and 30 composed 19.0% and 18.0% of the sample respectively.

Age is an important factor impacting people’s use of social media and preferences in trips, for this reason, it is vital to consider this variable in the analysis. At the same time, the maternal status of individuals and their educational level are two other essential features that should be considered in the research as they affect people’s choices and preferences. Under these conditions, to guarantee that all testees use social media and can help to understand its correlation with the tourism industry, the purposive sampling approach is used to select the participants.

The proposed survey consists of two parts. Part I is designed to collect the demographical information about all participants as it is vital for the discussion and formulation of regularities (see the Part I Demographic Characteristics of Respondents in the Appendix). It asks individuals about their age, gender, maternal status, education, and income.

These features are vital to find the most active cohort using social media. Part II is introduced to collect information to support the hypotheses and create the basis for discussion and conclusion (see Part II Proposed Measurement Items for Factors in the Appendix). It helps to categorise the acquired data and use process it.

In such a way, the employed data collection tool suffices the study and contribute to the creation of the basis for the discussion of the selected problem.

Data Processing

Data processing procedures are also selected regarding the aim of the research and the goals mentioned above. Because of the formulated hypotheses are vital for the conclusion, it is essential to categorise the information acquired from participants and structure it to improve the understanding. The quantitative methodology also presupposes the employment of quantitative data analysis tools. For this reason, statistical approaches are used as the central approach for working with information acquired from testees.

First, all data portions are processed by using SPSS analysis. The given powerful statistical investigation tool helps to categorise all answers and structure them. To attain higher understanding levels, the information is presented in tables related to all proposed hypotheses and offering information related to studied aspects (Janssens et al., 2008). There are also specific models that are submitted to discuss the correlation between the users’ preferences, basic characteristics of social media’s employment, and motifs that drive when looking for some information of making their choices regarding a particular activity.

ANOVA analysis is another approach that is employed within the given project. This statistical tool is utilised to process data portions and outline various regularities or correlations between the existing factors and the analysed phenomena (Wagner, 2009).

Altogether, because of the employment of the quantitative paradigm, data processing methods presuppose statistical analysis of the acquired information to structure and categorise it. SPSS and ANOVA are utilised to outline regularities and represent participants’ answers by using tables. Additionally, the quantitative analysis contributes to the increased accuracy of findings and the absence of bias that might deteriorate the results of the work.

Justification

In such a way, the choice of the proposed research paradigm is justified by several factors. First of all, it is an effective and sufficient way to collect data that is fundamental for the research. A survey is known as a potent tool that provides researchers with an opportunity to receive information directly from the representatives of the target audience, which is essential for the increased relevance and credibility of findings (Anderson et al., 2007).

The blanks designed for the study are easily distributed among the selected target population. Additionally, the adherence to the sampling approach mentioned above guarantees that only users with the desired features are included in the research project.

Second, the quantitative paradigm presupposes the use of such useful methods of data analysis as SPSS and ANOVA. These tools contribute to the increased effectiveness of data processing and help to represent participants’ answers by formulating regulations and using tables that help to improve the understanding of the analysed problem.

Third, the choice of the research methodology is justified by the advantageous character of quantitative tools in terms of the need for the evaluation of the basic peculiarity of a specific target group and its impact on the investigated phenomena.

In such a way, the selected approach to data collection and data processing is justified by its ability to guarantee the increased credibility of collected data and the lack of critical flaws in the information. Moreover, it provides researchers with multiple opportunities for the detailed analysis of the desired factors.

Ethical Issues

The nature of the research presupposes the involvement of people to collect information and process it. For this reason, the study follows a specific ethical code that is required to guarantee the absence of ethical issues. The participation in the research was voluntary, and all participants were able to refuse from completing a survey.

The data provided by them remains anonymous, and all individuals are guaranteed that the confidentiality will be preserved. Moreover, they had an opportunity to quit at any stage of the project or change their decision and insist on the exclusion of their personal data portions from the research.

Conclusion

Altogether, the employed methodology fits the basic goals of the research and contribute to sufficient data collection. The adherence to the quantitative method guarantees the acquisition of relevant numerical data related to the investigated problem. The use of statistical analysis tools such as SPSS and ANOVA helps to structure the acquired information and present it in clear and understandable ways, which is vital for the discussion.

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