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Tourists Perception Of Service By India Marketing Essay

1. Introduction

Tourism is critical to India. It provides substantial foreign exchange and jobs. Tourism plays an extremely important role in the Indian economy. India has the potential to become the number one tourist destination in the world with the demand growing at 10.1 per cent per annum as predicted by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Indian people are known for being friendly and warm. Understanding and fulfilling needs of global tourists for quality vacationing is the kick-off for creditable performance and strong impact of India's economic growth on Tourism.

Many factors have been collectively responsible for boosting our country's economic reserves and the impact of India's economic growth on tourism is increasingly being felt in niche sectors. The purpose of this study was to examine the genuine needs of foreign tourists by identifying their perceptions and levels of satisfaction with the services and facilities (attributes) provided by the Indian tourism industry.

1.1. Objectives

Specifically the study was aimed to address the following objectives:

To find out how tourists perceive the service provided by India.

To establish whether or not there are any differences between genders on how they perceive the service provided by India.

What tourists considered being the most important about India?

To establish whether or not there are any differences between the International tourists.

Why service perception is more important in India?

What do International tourists enjoy, dislike, and suggest about the Indian services?

To identify the relative factors being considered as vital by the tourists when it comes to choosing India as a tourist destination.

To understand the various demographic features among the tourists and their different needs.

…Need to add more objectives

1.2. Tourism in India

… need to furnish the information.

1.3. Methodology

… need to furnish the information.

1.4. Structure of the Dissertation

… need to furnish the information.

2. Literature Review

Tourist perception of service quality varies widely. Likewise, tourist’s perceived satisfaction with performed services also varies widely. Two distinct variables influence their perceptions: Expectations and Service Standards. The gap between expectations and service standards/performance is the primary indicator of overall service quality (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Leonard, 1994b). Goeldner, Ritchie and McIntosh (2000) identify three operating sectors within the tourism industry – 1) the transportation sector, 2) the accommodation sector and 3) the attractions sector. This study is carried out for the three different sectors by measuring the following attributes: Information, Facilitation, Safety, Cooperation and Cleanliness

2.1 Service Quality

There are three characteristics which are common for all service quality definitions.

They are Customer -based, they put an emphasis on the subjectivity of the concept suggesting determinants which influence the individual’s service quality assessment, and they brake down service quality into various dimensions to facilitate its measurement. Furthermore, most of the service quality theorists propose models for the identification of service quality problems of the service provider. This section of the literature review will present the three generic characteristics of service quality and the so called gap models for the identification of service quality problems. In order to establish a relation to the empirical part of this dissertation the selection or adoption of certain theoretical models, which will later be applied, is discussed.

2.1.1. Customer Orientation and the Disconfirmation Approach

As can be deduced from the above explained features of services there is no single constant standard according to which service quality is defined. But, in a modern market and surplus economy, the definition of these different standards depends highly on only one stakeholder, the Customer. This is proclaimed by all service quality theorists. The main representatives of the North American School define service quality as conformance to specifications, pointing out that it is the costumer who sets these specifications and not the management (Parasumaran et al. 1988). The Scandinavian School confirmed this approach as it had a pioneering role in studying service quality from the Customer perspective (Gummesson 1991, Grönroos 1998, Edvardsson 2005). Even researchers who do not belong to the two Schools of Services consider the crucial role of the Customer when defining service quality. Horovitz (1991), for example, defines service quality as the level of excellence that a company chooses to achieve in order to satisfy the chosen Customer target group.

But to know who defines service quality still does not give any information about how

it is defined. To answer this question one has to add the concepts of Customer expectations and Customer perceptions which are adopted by both Schools of Services. Customer expectations are what the costumer thinks that the service should be like. It is a pre-consumption construct (Parasumaran et al. 1990). Customer perceptions are the Customer’s view of the actually received service. It is a construct which evolves during or after consumption (ibid.).

According to Grönroos (1998, 1991), Gummesson (1990), and Parasumaran et al. (1988, 1990) costumers define service quality by comparing their expectations with the service performance they actually experience. The more the performance of a service meets the costumer’s expectations the higher the service quality of the provider. The wider the distance between expectations and service reality the worse the service will be judged by the Customer. Therefore, service quality can be defined by the following formula:

Service Quality = Service Expectations – Service Perceptions

This so called disconfirmation approach implies that service quality not only depends on the actual performance of the service provider. Indeed, the provider can engage endlessly in the improvement of his service but will still not offer high quality if he or she does not take into account the Customer‘s expectations. While all authors agree on the fact that expectations play an important role within the service quality concept there is a disagreement concerning operationalization and measurement of service quality. Thus, Cronin and Taylor (1992, 1994) argue that the right way to measure service quality is by only taking into account perceptions. They propose the following formula for operationalization and measurement:

Service Quality = Service Perceptions

In general, they maintain that expectations are already inherent in the service perceptions and therefore do not need to be measured separately. This argument is supported by studies of Churchill et al. (1993), Cronin and Taylor (1992), and other authors which verified empirically the increased validity of the performance/perception-only approach. Additionally, Cronin and Taylor (1992, 1994) argue that expectations are hard to measure because of the fact that Customer often are not conscious about them. They also criticize Parasumaran`s et al. proposed technique that implies the concurrent measurement of expectations and perceptions. Lately, also service quality researchers who were originally proponents of the disconfirmation approach characterized the performance-only approach as the superior measurement technique (Grönroos 1998). Even Parasumaran et al. themselves admit that in some circumstances the performance-only approach could be more appropriate. Indeed, in their article about the behavioural consequences of service quality they do apply this measurement technique (1996). Drawing on these insights from the literature, this dissertation will concentrate on the perceptions towards service quality when investigating the relationship between national culture and service quality. This means that it will concentrate on the impressions the Customer holds while experiencing or after having experienced the service. Following Cronin and Taylor (1992, 1994) or Churchill et al. (1993), the author will assume that expectations are inherent in the perceptions. As the literature discussion shows that this focus is nowadays adopted by many service quality researchers this approach can be considered to be reliable.

2.1.2. Service Quality: A Subjective Construct and its Determinants

Another important characteristic of service quality, which is closely related to the fact that it is defined by the expectations and the perceptions of the Customer, is its high degree of subjectivity. Every Customer may have different expectations and therefore also different perceptions concerning one and the same product (Reeves and Bednaar 1994, Reisinger 2000, Zeithaml 1988). Each individual costumer is influenced by several determinants, examples are: past experience, the Customer’s mood, purchase motivations, or the Customer’s socio-demographic variables.

With regard to past experience Horovitz (1991) and Gummesson (1991a), for example, found out that the more experience a Customer has with a certain type of service the higher his expectations. Furthermore, Suh and Gartner (2004) revealed that repeat visitors of a destination consider other tourism product attributes as more important than first time visitors.

According to Choi et al. (2004), the current mood of the Customer may function like a mask between the general thinking of the Customer and the current situational thinking.

A good mood generally influences perceptions and satisfaction in a positive way while negative emotions negatively impact on the Customer’s assessment. This has implications for both, researchers and practitioners as it indicates that mood can moderate the relationships among variables and may influence measurement results.

The purchase motivation also may have a considerable influence on expectations and perceptions towards service quality. Especially in the tourism sector, the motivation of tourists may influence their expectations towards the trip and their later perceptions of it. Business, leisure, or VFR tourists (Visiting Friends and Relatives) are supposed to have very different expectations and needs. For example, Ostrowski et al. (1994) found out that business and leisure tourists evaluate the airline services completely differently. Kashyap and Bojanic (2000) came to similar conclusions as they discovered that business and leisure travellers visiting an upper class hotel attributed different levels of importance to different hotel attributes.

Finally, socio-demographic determinants such as age and income are said to influence expectations and perceptions towards service quality considerably. For example,

Williams and Buswell (2003) and Johns (1996) point out that expectation towards service standards of the hospitality sector raise with the progressing age of hotel guests, and that service providers have to be aware of the demographic change which, in developed countries induces raising expectations regarding service quality.

This is affirmed by Callan and Bowman (2000). In a study about mature English tourists they revealed the high expectations of these tourists and the increased importance they attributed to the attitudes and behaviour of service staff. Furthermore, they state the elder tourists’ preference to get value for their money rather than inexpensive offers only.

There is also assumed to be a positive relationship between income and expectations.

Indeed, in their study about retail shoppers Gagliano and Hathcote (1994) found out that people who had an annual income of $35 000 and more had a higher discrepancy between expectations and perceptions of service than people with a lower income.

Furthermore, Cooper et al. (2005) indicate that tourists prefer different activities and services depending on their annual income. In order to study the service quality perceptions this dissertation will consider and control also the determinants motivation, age and income and proof their influence on service quality perceptions.

2.1.3. Service Quality Dimensions

The criteria used by the costumer to evaluate service quality can be described as service quality dimensions (Gummesson 1991). Once operationalised, these dimensions can be used for measuring and assessing the quality of a service provider.

Drawing on qualitative research in the retail banking, credit card, security brokerage, and product repair and maintenance sector, Parasumaran et al. (1990) developed ten dimensions of service quality. Through quantitative research and factor analysis they gained five dimensions which include both tangibles and intangibles and are defined as follows (Parasumaran et al. 1991, p. 26):

1. Tangibles: “Appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials”

2. Reliability: “Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately”

3. Responsiveness: “Willingness to help Customers and provide prompt service”

4. Assurance: “Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence”

5. Empathy: “Caring, individualized attention the firm provides its Customer”

They discovered that Reliability was the most important dimension followed by Responsiveness, Assurance, and Empathy. Tangibles, in contrast, were found to be the least important dimension in Customer’s service evaluations. However, the claim that these dimensions are generic is contradicted by other authors that argue that adaptations are necessary when they are applied in service sectors other than those examined by Parasumaran et al. (Knutson et al. 1990, Stevens et al. 1995). Moreover,

Cronin and Taylor (1992, 1994) doubt the general validity of these dimensions and stress that they are interrelated and overlapping and that they cannot be operationalized into questionnaire items as proposed by Parasumaran et al.

In contrast to this criticism, Johnston et al. (1990) confirmed the validity of the ten initial dimensions, but proposed a refinement adding seven further dimensions and replacing Parasumaran’s et al. single Tangible dimension by four Tangible dimensions: aesthetics, comfort, cleanliness and functionality.

The Scandinavian School has established completely different dimensions of service quality. Grönroos (1998) sees service quality as a two-dimensional construct. He introduced the process and outcome dimensions which led to the definition of technical and functional quality. The process dimension describes how the service is delivered and refers to functional quality, whereas the outcome dimension describes what the process leads to and relates to the technical dimension. Furthermore, he introduced the image of the firm as another aspect of the service quality concept which could be considered as a third dimension. The image has the function of a filter for service quality perceptions influencing perceived service quality positively, if the company has a good image, or negatively, if the company has a bad image. As he considers the image to be changing over time this third dimension introduces a dynamic aspect into the model (see Figure 2-1). In contrast to Parasumaran et al., Grönroos does not make any concrete suggestion for the measurement of service quality in any of his publications (Williams and Buswell 2003).

Further service quality dimensions are proposed by Lehtinen (1991) who defines four dimensions which basically concern the interactive part of the service process (empathetic/non-empathetic, efficient/non-efficient, remote/close, and attentive/nonattentive dimension). Nightingale (1985) suggests dividing service quality into service offering (as perceived by the provider) and its components, and received service (as perceived by the Customer). Finally, Gummesson (1991a) introduces a dimension that he calls the L(ove)-Factor. It refers to the sympathy and caring of the hotel personnel.

Figure 2-1: Grönroos’ Service Quality Model

Source: Grönroos 1998, p. 328

Despite some criticism, the dimensions developed by Parasumaran et al. are the major reference point for contributions on service quality. Several researchers regularly apply the five dimensions without any major problems (Bethencourt Cejas et al.

2005, Gagliano and Hathcote 1994, López Fernández and Serrano Bedia 2001, Johns and Jones et al.1997). Others use them and adapt them slightly to the special field of research or the service sector of concern (Akbaba 2006, Tsang and Qu 2000). The reason for this focus on the SERVQUAL dimensions lies also in the fact that the dimensions of the Scandinavian School are lacking any operationalization which would allow for measurement. Even Grönroos admits that “the best measurement instrument is the SERVQUAL model developed by Berry, Parasumaran and Zeithaml.” (1998, p. 329).

Taking this research experience into account, it seems appropriate to draw on the proven dimension model of Parasumaran et al. (1990, 1988) in this dissertation. Thus, the operationalization of the service quality concept will closely be orientated on the dimensions of Parasumaran et al. but without ignoring the specific situation of the hotel sector. Indeed, within the hotel sector tangibles, for example, are assumed to be more important than claimed by Parasumaran et al.

Getty and Getty (2003), Jones et al. (1997) and Shanka and Taylor (2003) proved empirically that tangibles like cleanliness and comfort play a crucial role in the service assessment of hotel guests and therefore should not be ignored within the operationalization of service quality if a study in this service sector is conducted.

In this dissertation these arguments will be reflected in the substitution of Parasumaran’s et al. Tangible dimension by the four tangible dimensions of Johnston (1995). Thus, the dimensions Reliability, Responsiveness, Assurance, Empathy (Parasumaran et al. 1990) and Aesthetics, Comfort, Cleanliness, Functionality (Johnston 1995) will be applied.

2.2. Perceptions of Service Quality

Tourist perception of service quality varies widely. Likewise, tourist’s perceived satisfaction with performed services also varies widely. Two distinct variables influence their perceptions: Expectations and Service Standards. The gap between expectations and service standards/performance is the primary indicator of overall service quality (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Leonard, 1994b).

2.2.1. Tourist Expectations

Tourists are the judges of service quality (Berry and Parasuraman, 1991). Their expectations of services greatly influence their resulting level of satisfaction. It is far easier to please tourist with lover expectation than those with high expectations. Consequently, an understanding of guest’s expectations is critical. Lewison (1997) categorizes service expectations in three levels: essential, expected and optional. Zeithaml, Berry and Parasuraman (1993) include three similar levels in their conceptual model of customer service expectations: predicated, adequate and desired.

2.2.2, Service Standards

Standards, however, are "changing benchmarks as customers expectations increase and the organisation responds to such changes" (Callan, 1994, p,482).

2.2.3, Perceived Service Performance

Perceived service quality reflects the difference between guest’s expectations and the actual services performed (Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry, 1994a). The extents to which expectations and service performance are similar or different influence the extent to which guests are satisfied or dissatisfied. Although varying approaches have been taken to study these differences, the subjective disconfirmation conceptual model has been cited as most influential in determining customer satisfaction (Dion, DiLorenzoAiss and Javalgi, 1998; Oliver, 1993). In this model, a "better-than/worse than" comparison between expectations and actual services results in a positive or negative outcome. Interesting, it has been noted that disconfirmation may explain the perception variance in service quality more than mere performance (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, 1994b). For example, disconfirmation helps to explain the variance in guest’s perceptions of service quality in situations when similar services were rendered.

2.3. Tourism Sectors

Goeldner, Ritchie and McIntosh (2000) identify three operating sectors within the tourism industry:

Attraction Sector,

Accommodation Sector,

Transportation Sector.

2.3.1 Attraction Sector:

Attractions have been considered the most important component of the tourism system due to their role of stimulating interest in travel and providing visitor satisfaction (Beckendorff, 2006; Gunn, 1994; Leask, 2003; Swarbrooke, 1999). Swarbrooke (1999) identifies four main types of attractions:

Natural Features,

Man-Made constructions originally designed for a purpose other than attracting visitors.

Man-Made constructions originally designed to attract visitors.

Special Events.

Levitt (1981) refutes the dichotomous classification of goods or services. He proposes that the terms intangibles and tangibles provide a more valuable way to make such distinctions. Shostack (1977) suggests that although an organisation’s offer may be dominated by tangible or intangible element, in reality it is generally a combination of the two, which is referred to as a service product. The service product concept has been more recently expanded through the development of Vargo and Lusch’s (2004) Service Dominant Logic, which suggests that the focus of economic exchange has shifted away from tangible to intangible elements.

The following characteristics support the notion that attractions are indeed a service product: 1) staff are part of the product itself; 2) customers are involved in the production process; 3) attractions are heterogeneous; 4) the product is perishable; 5) there is no tangible product to carry home after visiting an attraction; 6) the surroundings of the service delivery process are a feature of attractions (i.e. the servicescape) (Swarbrooke, 1999). The classification of attractions as a service product, rather than purely as a good or service significantly influenced this study, as there is a consensus that measuring the quality of intangible elements presents substantial difficulties (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, 1985).

2.3.2 Accommodation Sector:

Within urban areas, accommodation usually refers to hotels, although it can refer to a wide variety of other accommodations such as motels, cabins, lodges, resorts and so forth (Murphy, 1997). Tourists may judge accommodation based upon several considerations, including the evaluation of interactions, hotel environment and the value associated with staying at the place of accommodation.

2.3.2.1 Interactions

One way to evaluate customer satisfaction concerning the accommodation is on the basis of interactions that take place during the stay. This concept is similar to Grönroos’ (1984) reference to functional quality and Brady and Cronin’s (2001) interaction quality. Interactions can take place in relation to the accommodation provider’s personnel and/or other guests staying at the place of accommodation. Service personnel may include employees at the front desk, housekeeping, bell services, concierge services and restaurant employees. Hotel personnel can directly influence the quality of the visitor’s experience.

2.3.2.2 Environment

Environment of the hotel pertains to the services cape (Bitner, 1992) of the facility. The service quality literature suggests that physical evidence such as noise level, odours, temperature, colours, textures and comfort of furnishings may influence perceived performance in the service encounter. Such variations in physical environment can affect perceptions of an experience independently of the actual outcome (Bitner, 1990). Brady and Cronin (2001) suggest that ambient conditions, facility design and social conditions directly influence the physical environment (pp. 39-40). Cooper, Fletcher, Gilber and Wanhill (1993) claim that the accommodation market competes for customers based on physical facilities (p. 172). Facilities may include such items as the room, lobby, hotel restaurant, pool, and fitness centre.

2.3.2.3 Value

Delivering high quality service within the hospitality industry positively influences a customer’s perception of value. The process of the purchase judgment originates from the trade-off between benefits and sacrifices (Al-Sabbahy, Ekinci, & Riley, 2004). Guests judging the value of the accommodation to be worth the cost paid are more likely to stay past the end of the sporting event and will tend to be more satisfied with the event itself. In the case of many events, Silvers (2004) claims that specific hotels may be identified, rooms are blocked or reserved, and housing is assigned without much input from the attendees (p. 123). This occurrence may be especially true for tournaments, the Convention and Visitors Bureau reserves the rooms. Customers may evaluate the perceived value of their stay in terms of the cost they paid for the room, food and amenities. Amenities refer to services such as phone, premium cable channels, spas, etc.

2.3.3 Transportation Sector:

Unlike Accommodation and Attraction attributes, relatively few research papers have addressed transportation attributes comprehensively. However, the importance of transportation attributes in promoting and supporting tourism industry should not be neglected easily. In Augustyn' s (1998) point of view, " tourism generating area " , " transit " , and " tourism destination area " represents the three important components of tourism products at various stages of tourist purchase - consumption process . In Kozak and Rimmington’s (1998) compiled list of tourist destination components, transportation related factors are being included. In a recent study by Chen and Gursoy (2001), they discovered that different cultural experiences, safety, and convenient transportation have a positive relationship with tourists ' loyalty towards destinations.

Six different attributes of Transportation service are as follows:

Safety (on vehicles and at stops) includes not only safety from accidents but also passenger safety from theft and physical violence, as well as vehicle safety from vandalism.

Comfort embraces the physical comfort of the passenger within the vehicles and at stops (ride quality, adequate environmental controls, effectual seating, handholds, sufficient entrances and exits with easy fare collection, package accommodations); the aesthetic qualities of the system (clean and pleasingly designed vehicles, attractive stops, terminals, guide ways, and other facilities); environmental protection of the community (noise and exhaust emissions); facilities for the handicapped; and pleasant, considerate, and helpful operators.

Accessibility implies adequacy of route distribution over the area served, vehicle capacity, service frequency and operating time span, identification of stops and vehicles, and distribution of information on fares, schedules, and the like, as well as ease of fare paying and well-placed stops and terminals.

Reliability depends on low breakdown rate, with special services provided when breakdowns do occur, adherence to schedules with adequate information about any service changes, and guaranteed availability of transfer.

Cost means reasonable, guaranteed fares with minimum zone fares (if any) and easy transfer mechanisms and possibly cost reductions for passes (weekly, daily, and and so on) and special groups (students, children, senior citizens, and others). Cost should be perceived as favourable compared to automobile use for the same trip.

Efficiency includes high average speeds with minimum dwell times and the absence of traffic delays, sufficient stops for minimum walking (but not so many as to increase travel time), coordinated schedules and transfer points with minimum user discomfort, direct routing, and express and special-event service when warranted. Efficiency also requires an easily maintained system with adequate maintenance facilities, an efficient management system, and minimal staff necessary to sustain efficient service.

2.4. Tourism in INDIA

India has always been known for its hospitality, uniqueness, and charm attributes that have been attracting foreign travellers to India in hordes. The Indian government, in order to boost tourism of various kinds in India, has set up the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. This ministry recently launched a campaign called ‘Incredible India!’ in order to encourage different types of tourism in India.

The result was that in 2004, foreign tourists spent around US$ 15.4 billion during their trips to India. Being a country with tremendous diversity, India has a lot to offer in terms of tourism and related activities. The diversity that India is famous for, ensures that there is something to do for all tourists in India, no matter what their interests.

3. Methodology

Questionnaire survey technique was used in the data collection process. The questionnaire comprised two sections. The first section is designed to measure tourists' perception towards various dimensions of service performance in Accommodation services, Attraction services, and transportation services. Specifically, the samples were asked to reflect their degree of satisfaction in relation to the listed Accommodation attributes, Attraction attributes, and transportation attributes on a five-point Liker scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The type of tourist destination is also listed in this section in order to obtain samples' perception and preferences in their choice of travelling destination. The respondents were also asked to indicate their overall satisfaction of India as a tourist attraction compared to other Asian countries, using a 10-point scale with 1 (very not satisfied) and 10 (very satisfied). This response is used later in the regression analysis. The second section concentrates on capturing the samples' demographic and travelling characteristics. The questions asked in this section are gender, age, occupation, purpose of visit to India, and days stayed in India.

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