The Effects of Survey Timing Upon Visitor Perceptions of Destination Service Quality

ABSTRACT - This research seeks to understand the dynamics of individuals’ perceptions of a tourism destination. It particularly seeks to understand how perceptions change between the time of exit from the destination, and at some time in the future after the tourist has arrived back home. It is useful to understand the magnitude and direction of perceptual change and the mediating factors (e.g. the presence of visual cues, advertising etc) which help to prolong favourable perceptions. The issue of timing in relation to measuring service quality has often been overlooked. The paper seeks to understand how perceptions change between the time of exit from the attraction, and at some time in the future after the tourist has arrived back home. Empirical research is reported from an exploratory study of visitors to Western Australia, which lends tentative support to the idea that an individual’s rating of quality immediately following visitation (tie At@) may be significantly different to that which the respondent ascribes to the same phenomenon at some stage in the future (time At+1@).



Citation:

Martin O’Neill and Adrian Palmer (2003) ,"The Effects of Survey Timing Upon Visitor Perceptions of Destination Service Quality", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 37-41.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 37-41

THE EFFECTS OF SURVEY TIMING UPON VISITOR PERCEPTIONS OF DESTINATION SERVICE QUALITY

Martin O’Neill, Auburn University, USA

Adrian Palmer, University of Gloucester, UK

ABSTRACT -

This research seeks to understand the dynamics of individuals’ perceptions of a tourism destination. It particularly seeks to understand how perceptions change between the time of exit from the destination, and at some time in the future after the tourist has arrived back home. It is useful to understand the magnitude and direction of perceptual change and the mediating factors (e.g. the presence of visual cues, advertising etc) which help to prolong favourable perceptions. The issue of timing in relation to measuring service quality has often been overlooked. The paper seeks to understand how perceptions change between the time of exit from the attraction, and at some time in the future after the tourist has arrived back home. Empirical research is reported from an exploratory study of visitors to Western Australia, which lends tentative support to the idea that an individual’s rating of quality immediately following visitation (tie "t") may be significantly different to that which the respondent ascribes to the same phenomenon at some stage in the future (time "t+1").

INTRODUCTION

The effectiveness of national, regional and local governments’ expenditure aimed at creating favourable images of a tourism destination is poorly understood. To date, promotion of tourism destinations has traditionally been aimed at the pre-purchase decision rather than confirming individuals’ perceptions of their last visit and facilitating repeat visits and word-of-mouth recommendation. This paper seeks to understand the dynamics of individuals’ perceptions of a tourism destination over time. It addresses the time effect of one element of the satisfaction construct, namely visitor perceptions of service quality and their influence upon longer-term visitor behavioural intention.

To date, tourism marketers’ involvement with perceptual processes have focused on how individuals process information about a destination prior to purchase, and in particular the manner in which promotional messages are perceived. Attention has also been paid to the manner in which consumption of a product influences individuals’ perceptual processes post purchase, for example through measures to reduce cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1957; Assael, 1992). Relatively little attention however, has been given to applying theories of perception developed within the disciplines of social and cognitive psychology to the processes by which an individual perceives a tourism destination, and how perceptions change with the passage of time.

There is considerable evidence that consumer perceptions of phenomena are not stable over time and a number of experimental studies have produced a plethora of well-established theories based on timing issues and their link to consumer behaviour (Feldman and Hornick, 1981) Abercrombie (1967), Hornick, 1984).

The principal aim of this research was to gain a better understanding of the way in which tourists’ perceptions of a destination change after departure, and the key influencing factors which affect the rate of change of these perceptions over time.

Perceptions influence attitudes and there is widespread evidence of a link between attitude and behavioural intention (Fishbein 1967; Baldinger and Rubinson 1996). Observed disparities between attitudes and behavioural intention may be explained by a change in attitude between the time that it is recorded and the time that a subsequent purchase decision is made. Similarly, the link between attitudes and perceptions of a destination after a visit are particularly important, because individuals pass on their perceptions through positive or negative word of mouth recommendation. Also, a positive attitude based on current perceptions provides a vital input to the next occasion of holiday purchase decision making by an individual.

Limitations of existing methods of measuring service quality

It is interesting to note that while much research has been reported which seeks to understand the processes by which consumer expectations of service quality are formed (Kahneman and Miller, 1986; Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry, 1993), relatively little attention has been devoted to an understanding of how perceptions are formed and sustained (Boulding et al, 1993). The subject is an important one to research, as it can be argued that buyers’ re-purchase intentions are influenced by their perceptions at the time of re-purchase, rather than those which prevail immediately following or during consumption of a service. It has been claimed that while any sample’s level of expectations may show a high degree of uniformity within the sample, perceptions are more likely to show greater levels of variability (Cronin and Taylor 1994).

Of centra importance here is the concept of perceptual processing and how it is that consumers select, organise, and interpret stimuli to make sense of the complex elements of a service encounter. While important during all stages of the consumption process, the role of perceptions during the post-consumption stage is particularly important in the context of attempts to increase customer retention rates.

The influence of time upon perceptions of service quality

Abercrombie (1967, p.19) highlights the fact that perceptions are not stable over time, and states that " with the passage of time experiences which at first were defined and separate from each other tend to become associated and confused. It is not so much that we actually forget things, but that we misremember them". Subsequently, time as an influence on behaviour has unique and crucial consequences (Feldman and Hornick, 1981). A number of experimental studies have produced a plethora of well-established theories based on timing issues and consumer behaviour. A central proposition of these theories is that as the frequency increases of an individual’s involvement with an activity, the greater his or her propensity to recall, for example, an event (Hornick, 1984).

There are substantial differences in the way we experience the passing of time (Krech, Crutchfield and Ballachey, 1969). Indeed this psychological dimension of time, or how it is experienced, is an important factor in queuing theory, with a consumer’s experience of waiting having the potential to greatly influence his or her perceptions of service quality (Solomon, Bamossy and Askegaard, 1999). Hornik (1984) found that an individual’s response to advertising varied by time of day. Experiments show that an interval of time may pass nearly five times less rapidly for a ten year old child compared to an adult of sixty. Variations also occur because of an invididual’s mental or physiological state. Time slows down during periods of frustration, failure and depression. Generally events that speed up bodily processes speed up the passage of time, while physiological depressants slow it down. Our ability to judge the passage of time gives a framework in which events can be placed, with past, present and future events all marking a place on the time dimension. This is referred to as a 'time perspective’ and, as a subject of research inquiry, has received little attention to date.

Various researchers have examined the process by which customers update their perceptions of service quality over time. For example, Boulding, Kalra and Staelin (1999) investigated the effects of prior expectations on customers’ cumulative perceptions of quality and highlighted the fact that consumers’ prior expectations are likely to be double counted as customers’ update their perceptions of quality. This they ascribe to the issue of confirmatory bias in evaluating new data. In a similar study, Rust, Inman, Jia and Zahorik (1999) also examined the process by which customers update their perceptions of service quality. Using a Bayesian framework, the authors derived several propositions regarding the way that consumers form their perceptions of quality, satisfaction and probability of choice and then dynamically update them over time. In contrast to the previous study, their results suggest that consumers appear to behave in a manner that is largely consistent with the Bayesian framework, in that, on average, they update their perceptions of quality over time and are not overly sensitive to any one particular outcome occasion.

The literature has suggested theoretical reasons why perceptions of a destination’s service quality may be unstable over time, although the theoretical justification for a specific direction of change is less clear. For the purpose of hypothesis testing, two plausible alternative hypotheses are presented:

Hypothesis 1a: An individual’s perception scores of destination service quality decline with the passage of time after a visit

Hypothesis 1b: An individual’s perception scores of destination service quality increase with the passage of time after a visit.

METHODOLOGY

The methodological framework comprised a longitudinal quantitative study of visitors to Western Australia (WA). Data collection comprised interviewing departing passengers returning from Perth domestic airport to other airports in Australia. Respondents were approached at random within the airside departure lounge, whilst they waited for their outgoing flights. Respondents were also invited to participate in a follow up study after they returned home. Whilst an attempt was made through the Western Australian Tourism Commission (WATC) to offer a prize draw incentive for both stages of the survey, this proved unproductive with the Commission suggesting there was no direct benefit to be derived from offering such incentives. On reflection, it is felt that this had a negative effect on the return over both sampling points, but particularly the second.

The second, follow up postal survey was undertaken approximately one month after the original survey of departing visitors. Respondents were asked to indicate their support for participating in the second round survey via a closed question in the stage one questionnaire. If they agreed they were to supply contact names and addresses for the purposes of stage two questionnaire administration.

Scale development

The scales developed were based on the importance/performance paradigm (Ennew, Reed and Binks, 1993; Joseph and Joseph, 1997; Ford, Ford and Joseph, 1999) and took the form of a 24-item self-completion questionnaire, which visitors were asked to complete immediately prior to departing WA. For each item respondents were asked to rate their perceptions of the dimensions listed on a five point Likert scale anchored at "Strongly Disagree" (1) and "Strongly Agree" (5). In addition respondents were asked to rate the level of importance attributed to each item on a similar scale anchored from "Low importance" (1) to "High Importance" (5).

Actual scale items were based on the 22 items of the original SERVQUAL, with an additional item added as a result of the extensive literature search conducted during the more qualitative stages of the research (see below). A further item addressing WA’s appeal as a nature based tourism destination was added at the request of the WATC. The SERVQUAL scale items have been used in disconfirmation models of service quality and performance-only based measures (Churchill and Surprenaut, 1982; Bolton and Drew, 1991; Cronin and Taylor, 1992). Although the validity of the SERVQUAL methodology has been questioned, the scale has been widely replicated and the factor structure found to be appropriate to a wide range of consumer services, of which tourism services are typical (Lewis, 1987; Babakus and Boller, 1992; Saleh and Ryan, 1992; Ryan & Cliff 1997; Lam, Wong and Yeung, 1997). For the purpose of this study, it was felt that the use of previously validated scale items provided a known starting point for analysis, which does not necessarily imply acceptance of the full philosophy of the SERVQUAL methodology. The fact that a number of previous studies had failed to replicate the original factor structure proposed by Berry, Zeithaml and Parasuraman (1985) was not felt to be important as no hypothesis in this study explicitly refers to the existence of previously specified dimensions of service quality. The focus of this research was not to develop a new set of measurement scales, but to apply existing widely used scales in a manner which has not been widely done previously.

In addition, an overall single item measure of quality was also included as a check for comparison purposes. Like the above listed disconfirmation measure visitors were again asked to rate their perceptions of quality on a five point Likert scale anchored at "Much Worse than Expected" (1) through to "Much Better than Expected" (5). Scale items were adapted to the context of WA as a tourism destination. Adaptation was carried out on the basis of an extensive literature review of tourism marketing texts/journals and one to one discussions with the Research Manager of the WATC. The survey sought to elicit attitudes towards service quality in Western Australia as a whole, rather than the individual service providers who make up the tourism destination.

Scale items used in the follow up survey were similar to those used in the initial survey. Additional questions sought information about respondents’ exposure to stimuli related to Western Australia since returning home. Additional questions were also asked in relation to future behavioural intention.

Sample characteristics

A total of 1000 stage one questionnaires were administered to departing visitors at Perth Domestic airport over a one-week period in April 2002. Participants were screened on the basis of being either visitors to the state or citizens of the state travelling inter and/or intrastate. Questionnaires were administered to the former only. Of the 1000 questionnaires administered 481 (48.1%) were returned at stage one and 58 at stage two (approximately 6%). A number of possible reasons may be postulated for the rather poor stage two response including a general unease with a perceived lack of anonymity (tracking details were required), survey fatigue given the number of variables included, the prospect of having to complete a further survey at some stage in the future, the timing of the questionnaire’s administration and the failure to offer an incentive. The principal demographic (Age and Gender) characteristics of the stage one sample are shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1

DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE OF VISITORS

TABLE 2

PAIRED SAMPLES T-TEST OF MEAN SCORES FOR SERVICE QUALITY

Respondents were categorised into one of five age groups. Subjects aged between 18-24 years accounted for 10.4 percent (50), 25-34 years for 26 percent (125), 35-44 years for 21 percent (101), 45-54 years for 21.4 percent (103) and 55 years and over for 20.8 percent (100) of the total. The 481 subjects included 312 (64.9%) males and 168 (34.9%) females, with 1 missing entry accounting for the remaining 0.2 percent.

Approximately 67% of respondents spent the majority of their time in WA in the Perth Metro/Peel region, with just over 54% of visitors utilising hotels/motels as their major accommodation type. Almost 40% of respondents listed business as their major reason for visiting WA, with just over 30% classifying themselves as pure holiday visitors and approximately 26.5% of visitors classifying themselves as visiting friends and relatives. Approximately 70% of visitors could be classed as interstate, 3% intrastate and 27% international visitors, with the UK accounting for the largest number of international visitors with a total of 8.1%. 35% of respondents could be classed as first time visitors to the state and approximately 60% of respondents stated they would be likely or highly likely to revisit within the next two years. The stage two sample comprised an almost even split of males (53.45) and females (46.6%), with the 55+ category accounting for 48.3% (28) of those surveyed. It is not known why the gender split differed between stage 1 and stage 2 surveys.

ANALYSIS OF THE RESULTS

A series of statistical tests were performed in order to ascertain the specific nature and extent of any perceptual change over both time frames and whether the extent of any such change was statistically significant. The first test involved summing each respondent’s perception scores for each of the 22 items. This was done separately for the two time periods, allowing a global comparison to be made of the total quality score.

The scales were all rated from 1 to 5, with 5 being indicative of the highest rating for all items, thereby giving some justification to this global measure of service quality. The total score at each sampling period was then divided by the number of items (22) to give a mean quality score (an adjustment was made for missing observations). The mean score at the first sampling point was 3.64, compared to 3.94 at the second sampling point. Using a paired samples t-test, these means were found to be significantly different at the level of 1% (t=-2.648; p<0.017) (Table 2). These results lend support to hypothesis 1b.

Further support for this hypothesis can also be gained from an analysis of the mean scores for individual scale items. These can also be seen to have increased between the time of the original questionnaire and the follow up survey, further indicating that perceptions of quality had improved over the one-month time frame. Table 3 indicates that this increase could not entirely be accounted for by random errors, with paired samples t tests revealing that differences in 8 out of the 22 items were found to be significant at the 1% level (p<0.05). Table 6 also gives some indication as to the magnitude of change experienced in relation to each item, ranging from .54 for "Overall, signposting and information sources were clear and accurate needs" to 1.27 which relates to the "Tourism employees were never too busy to respond to my requests".

TABLE 3

PAIRED-SAMPLES T TEST FOR PERCEPTUAL DIFFERENCE SCORES

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

This exploratory study has a number of implications for both academics and practitioners in relation to the management and measurement of service quality within the context of tourism destinations. Despite the limitations of the methodology, especially the use of only two stages of data collection, a number of conclusions can be drawn:

This research has challenged the assumption implicit in the SERVQUAL methodology that the timing of perceptions surveys is invariate to perception scores recorded by respondents. Results of this research suggest that tourism operators should have as detailed an understanding as possible of the psychological underprinnings of the role of perception in the consumers’ information processing system. This is essential in order to understand better how perceptions are formed so that they can be maintained and/or manipulated over time. In turn, this knowledge should enable marketers to apply themselves in building sustainable customer relationships over the longer-term.

On a more practical note, tourism organisations may wish to consider the actual timing of survey administration. For example, most national tourism organisations and tour operators have a tendency to administer their visitor surveys upon exit from the country or upon boarding an aeroplane for the return journey home. It is suggested that where such systems are in place, operators may want to consider the idea of a follow up survey some months later when the promotion season begins for the following holiday season.

This type of research process can be strategically relevant for any service provider as the use of such a measurement instrument allows the mechanism by which past, current, and potential service consumers’ perceptions can be examined, and possible corrective actions taken in relation to identified perceptual problems.

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Authors

Martin O&#146;Neill, Auburn University, USA
Adrian Palmer, University of Gloucester, UK



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003



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