PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (4): 520-532.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2019.04.005

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Progress in the application of social network analysis in international tourism research

Hongxia ZHANG1,2(), Qin SU1, Yingsha ZHANG3   

  1. 1. School of Geography and Tourism, Anhui Normal University, Wuhu 241000, Anhui, China
    2. School of History Culture and Tourism, Jiangsu Normal University, Xuzhou 221116, Jiangsu, China
    3. Waikato Management School, University of Waikato, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  • Received:2018-06-27 Revised:2018-09-04 Online:2019-04-28 Published:2019-04-28
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No. 41701147;Philosophy and Social Science Research Program in Colleges and Universities of Jiangsu Education Department, No. 2015SJB403.


In recent years, social network analysis (SNA) has been widely adopted in tourism research to become one of the most popular tourism research paradigms in China and internationally. This study analyzed 67 articles on SNA published in the top 10 authoritative international journals of tourism research from 2009 to 2018. Concepts of interest included SNA research perspectives and methods, research contents, and application of relevant theories. On the basis of a comprehensive, systematic analysis, the results of this study were compared with those of a literature review from 10 years ago. Findings provided an overview of international research progress in SNA in tourism within the past decade and revealed several trends. First, research perspectives have improved during the past 10 years, as evidenced by a remarkable increase in research results from an egocentric network perspective and its integration with the whole-network perspective. Second, research methods have diversified; sources of relational data have become richer, various statistical analysis techniques (e.g., correlation analysis) have been applied, and research using these quantitative techniques has entered the mainstream. Some researchers have also begun to use qualitative research methods, such as grounded theory. Third, research objects have expanded from destination cooperative networks and policy networks to residents' relational networks, hyperlink networks, electronic word-of-mouth networks, and tourism image networks. Fourth, the research focus has shifted from describing and analyzing network structures to examining influencing factors and effects along with the formation, development, and change of networks. Finally, application of relevant SNA theories has expanded; studies using the theory of social capital appear relatively rich, and the strong explanatory power of this theory on tourism-related issues has been revealed. These results reflect a shift in tourism SNA research from measuring variables to interpreting and explaining them. In this paper, we summarized the challenges associated with applying SNA in tourism research internationally and provided recommendations for future SNA research in China. This study contextualized the latest research trends in applying SNA to tourism studies and laid a foundation for subsequent work.

Key words: social network analysis, tourism research, the whole network, egocentric network, relationship networks