From services to experiences in tourism and the hospitality industry and education

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Editorial: Welcome to the EuroCHRIE 2009 Conference Proceedings. The theme of the annual conference is “From Services to Experiences in Tourism and the Hospitality Industry and Education”. Beyond the covers of the proceedings, Experience is becoming more widely accepted as an important concept in hospitality and tourism, although there is a great deal still to be achieved.
   The changes in economic value creation mean that instead of traditional offerings, the operators in the field of hospitality and tourism have to focus on providing individually customized, meaningful Experiences. This is modifying the way new offerings are been developed, configured, planned, staffed, marketed and sold. Today guests do not base their decision making completely on their needs, but feelings as well. In order to do so, the consumers seek Experiences and they are ready to pay for intangibles or even the memorable elements of the offerings. In this ‘new’ era, called “Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore (1999) the offerings are not commodities as in the agrarian economy, goods as in the industrial economy or services as in the service economy, but Experiences, which can be defined as strong, multisensory, memorable and individual ‘sensations’ (Tarssanen & Kylänen 2005, 136; Gelter 2006, 30) or the act of encountering and undergoing something (Boswijk, Thijssen & Peelen 2007, 11). Both for business and academics it is important to understand this ‘new’ phenomenon.
   The nature of Experience society has been described in sociological literature (Featherstone 1991; Uusitalo 1995; Firat & Fenkatesh 1995). And, hospitality and tourism are seen as pioneer examples of the ‘Experience Economy’ as evidenced in the literature (e.g. MacCannell, 1973; Dann, 1977; Cohen, 1979). Experiences have been covered also by the behavioural literature and only recently attention has been drawn on them in management texts. This has led to an increasing number of customer experience management models. The best known ones are Pine’s and Gilmore’s (1998, 102-104) experience-design principles and total experience management (TEM-model) created by
Gelter (2008, 8-9).
   The earlier concepts of Experience production are very much business-oriented meaning that businesses stage Experiences according to Experience-design principles. The key elements are creating a theme, harmonizing Experiences with positive cues, eliminating negative cues, mixing in memorabilia and engaging all five senses. The second and third phase concepts include customer co-production and even self-directed production (Gelter 2008, 7). These concepts hold the idea that businesses only provide a platform and tools for the Experience production. This also influences how the guests evaluate Experiences – the evaluation includes pre-Experience and post-Experience as a part of the total process.
   The idea of Experience entered the field of marketing and consumption with Holbrook and Hirsman’s (1982) research dealing with the experiential aspects of consumption. The word Experience can be generally defined as a “sensation or feeling; the act of encountering and undergoing something” (Boswijk, Thijssen and Peelen 2007, 11). When using hospitality and tourism services, customers usually have feelings. Sometimes a feeling can be sensational or even extraordinary and always customers are encountering other people and playing their own role in the process of consuming the offering. From the research point of view, it is crucial that Experiences fulfil two requirements. Firstly, an Experience has to have a meaning, which separates it from the other Experiences. Secondly, there has to be a certain context in which the Experience is consumed (Perttula 2002, 32-32).
   Gilmore and Pine (2002, 88) state that in conditions where rival offerings become more alike than different, there exists a commoditization trap. In order to avoid this trap, hospitality and tourism operators should manage their business like Experience venues. This requires controlling multiple dimensions of the offering and engaging individual guests in a personal way. For example, a theme or story could be used to upgrade ordinary services to meaningful Experiences. Those operators who will stage new Experiences will succeed in creating more value and meaning and consequently guests will spend more time and money on those businesses.
   What can be measured can be managed as well. This old statement places a pressure on measuring Experiences. On the other hand, understanding the behaviour of consumers has become increasingly complex and thus, also the measurement is more complex issue. Oh, Friore and Jeoung (2007, 119-132) base their measurement of the bed-and-breakfast industry on the four realms of Pine and Gilmore. They attempt to find measurement items for Experience constructs and to introduce relevant theoretical consequence variables such as arousal, memories, overall quality and customer satisfaction. The results support the idea that experience dimensions (realms) do have structural consistencies and thus could be measured. However, it is more difficult to predict their credible effects on the consequence variables. The esthetic dimension seemed to be the dominant predictor of the overall Experiential outcomes. Their measurement model still needs further validations across different industries and consumption situations. It could be adapted as a base for the measurement of the restaurant experiences, because it clearly fluctuates from the theory related to Experiences rather than services.
   Another approach is used by Otto and Ritchie (1996, 165-174) when starting from the assumption that subjective, affective and experiential factors comprise a substantial part of guest satisfaction with services and then questioning whether this is true in tourism. They provide evidence that SERVQUAL instrument offer adequate dimensions for monitoring service quality in some tourism sectors. Then a framework of comparing QOS (Quality of Services) and QOE (Quality of Experiences) is presented based on the fact that by only measuring objective dimensions will produce an inaccurate picture of consumer satisfaction. Quality of Experiences, from the measurement standpoint, is subjective, holistic, internal, general, hedonic/symbolic and affective. The researchers specify the dimensions of the construct domain (the quality of service experience) and 56 items related to them. By three iterations of the data collected from 339 individuals they come up with four factors: The hedonics, the peace of mind, involvement and recognition and argue that experience factors can be measured to better understanding satisfaction. Furthermore, they relate the understanding of the customer-specific experience to the positioning and marketing strategy of a company. The most interesting finding of Otto and Ritchie (1996, 173) is that the nature and degree of experiences differ significantly across business sectors and this could be understood by using the proposed factors to classify sectors.
   Berry and Carbone (2007, 26-32) argue that Experience management requires monitoring both execution and effect. Successful businesses establish strong emotional relationships with their guests and maintaining those connections involve systematic management of the guest’s Experiences. Actually, guest perceptions determine the brand preference and anything a guest perceives or senses, is an Experience clue. The background of Experience clues drives from emotions (how the guests feel about themselves), attitudes (how they feel about the company) and behaviours (how they act) and when discussing the Experience quality management they can be categorized into three main sections: Functional clues (technical quality), mechanic clues (physical clues of the intangible service, such as design, equipment, colours, etc.) and humanic clues (the behaviour and appearance of service providers). The functional clues are interpreted rationally and two last ones emotionally. Berry, Wall and Carbone (2006) provide more insight into this issue of managing service Experience clues and Wall and Perry (2007) apply the above discussed clue based approach to research how restaurant guests evaluate their Experiences.
   To sum it up, Experiences are still quite recent academic subject (in hospitality and tourism management at least) and thus there are several different approaches to defining, managing and measuring Experiences. However, it is evident that businesses have been or are entering the new experience economy and thus, there is a need for solid understanding of the production and consumption of Experiences. In the proceedings, authors have contributed with a diverse wealth of perspectives to understand and depict the phenomenon of Experiences in hospitality and tourism.

Jouni Ahonen and Mário Passos Ascenção

Ascenção, M. P. (Ed.) (2009). From Services to Experiences in Tourism and the Hospitality Industry and Education, 27th EuroCHRIE Annual Conference (EuroCHRIE 2009) Proceedings. 21-24 October, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Helsinki, Finland. ISBN: 978-952-5685-73-2

Mário Passos
principal lecturer
+358 294471195