Wikipedia Matters

Author The Guardian

The use of online and social media has become of utmost importance when promoting tourism destinations. While many places are aware of the importance of review sites such as Trip Adviser, the value of Wikipedia is often overlooked, yet economists claim that even “adding a few paragraphs and photos can boost revenue by £100,000 for small cities”. This article in The Guardian (online) is based upon findings reported in a pre-print of this academic paper that outlines the experimental research that was undertaken: Hinnosaar, M., Hinnosaar, T., Kummer, M. and Slivko, O. (2019). Wikipedia Matters. Available at SSRN. DOI:10.2139/ssrn.3046400

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This news story in The Guardian seeks to highlight the importance of Wikipedia as a tourism promotion tool: “one of the most cost-effective ways tourism chiefs can drive business to their towns or cities is by updating their Wikipedia page”, with the headline news that “a few simple edits to a Wikipedia page could lead to an extra £100,000 a year in tourism revenue for a small city”.

The Guardian reports the findings of an experiment conducted by economists at the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy, and ZEW in Mannheim, Germany. The experiment randomly selected 60 Spanish cities, particularly focusing on those cities that had fairly short Wikipedia pages. Then a few edits were made to these cities’ Wikipedia pages:

“adding a few paragraphs of information on their history and local attractions, as well as high-quality photos of the local area. It didn’t take an expert, either. Most of the content added was simply translated over from the Spanish Wikipedia into either French, German, Italian or Dutch … adding just two paragraphs of text and a single photo to the article increased the number of nights spent in the city by about 9% during the tourist season. In some instances, the increase was even larger. For cities with barely anything on their Wikipedia pages, a minor edit could raise visits by a third”.

The researchers did encounter some problems that might suggest caution when considering this as a promotional strategy. Firstly, all the edits to the Dutch pages were removed within 24 hours when a senior Wikipedia editor realised an experiment was taking place and the research team was considered to be in breach of the rule prohibiting commercial editing. Secondly, because of the open nature of the site and that Wikipedia pages are created and updated mostly by volunteers, these pages can be hijacked by individuals, so a careful watch must be kept on content relating to a place. The research paper also reinforces that Wikipedia is basically user-generated content (UGC), and so if your tourists or appropriate workers in your place’s tourism industry are updating information about your place instead of you, then you certainly need to know what’s being posted – and such UGC can even be encouraged from those tourist segments you might trust to contribute to your pages.

It is certainly worth evaluating what appears about your place on Wikipedia, and considering the value of a few potential improvements and minor updates to your content, especially as this research shows adding only around 2,000 characters, or two paragraphs of text and one photo can produce a quantifiable increase in the number of nights spent in a city. However, if using the online translation function to add information about your place in other languages on foreign versions of the Wikipedia pages, please do check and back translate if you can to avoid uploading nonsensical content and embarrassing translation mistakes. It also remains to be stressed that any added content, as with this experiment, should be “on topics relevant for tourists, such as the city’s main sights and culture”.

The Guardian news story is based on a pre-print of the academic paper that outlines the experimental research.

Hinnosaar, M., Hinnosaar, T., Kummer, M. and Slivko, O. (2019). Wikipedia Matters.

Available at SSRN. DOI:10.2139/ssrn.3046400

The full academic paper is available to read here