Analysing service quality for senior travellers: a mixed research approach investigating the perceptions of satisfaction in this growing tourism market

Kuilboer, Alfons Bernard (2010) Analysing service quality for senior travellers: a mixed research approach investigating the perceptions of satisfaction in this growing tourism market. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Australia, like most developed countries, has an ageing population resulting from people living longer and declining fertility and mortality rates. This trend is exemplified in the demographics of Australia's ageing population with predictions that by 2050 the number of people aged over 65 years will increase to 35.9 million (Swan, 2010) constituting approximately 25% of the population. The shift from a younger population to an older population will have an impact on the economy, health priorities, environment, urban planning, housing, transportation, recreation, employment, tourism and business service providers. Tourism researchers in Australia have of recent years been aware of the growing importance of senior travellers to the travel and tourism industry. While there have been many articles written about service quality and customer service in general, to date no studies have been identified exploring the perceptions of customer service from both a senior traveller and manager perspective for an ageing population within an Australian context.

The overall aim of this thesis was to identify service quality gaps from the perspective of both the customer and service provider using the SERVQUAL model. The thesis incorporated three components:

* Evaluating perceptions of customer service encounters by senior travellers * Interviews with managers about their perceptions of customer service * A Service provider survey questionnaire with employees and employer

The first study in this thesis had three broad aims. The first aim was to identify a broad range of respondent generated service incidents by senior travellers using the critical incident technique. The second aim was to evaluate the importance of respondent's perceptions of customer service. The third aim was to identify pertinent gaps between the service provider and customer and relate those gaps to the SERVQUAL model. The study (n=45) asked respondents to record details of their six best and six worst service encounters in a travel diary. Open-ended descriptive encounters (376) were then themed into the five dimensions of the SERVQUAL model and the frequency of occurrence was compared across the different service locations identified. Both best and worst service incidents confirmed the importance senior travellers place on staff attitudes which were reflected throughout the dimensions of Responsiveness and Assurance. During the coding process, several additional themes emerged from the critical incidents. Further analysis indicated that the theories of ageism (Palmore, 2003) were worthy of further research attention.

The results from the first study provided support for the further exploration of the perceptions of customer service and satisfaction from the perspective of service provider employers. A series of semi-structured interview questions were developed to analyse employers' (n=59) perspectives on Australia's ageing population and customer service. The aims were to identify employer's perspective on Australia's ageing population, perceived impacts of an ageing population on service providers, identify gaps in the downward flow of ageing population information to service providers, evaluate employer's views on good customer service, and explore employers' perceptions of senior travellers applying discourse analysis. The results suggested that employers did not have a detailed understanding of the concept of an ageing population but had a vague notion that a trend existed. More negative implications for business were recognised revealing several negative ageist stereotypes. Employers had limited awareness of government policies/strategies concerning population ageing. Their most important ingredient for good customer service was staff attitudes, but 64% would not change their customer service approach for senior customers. The application of discourse analysis identified several negative ageist stereotypes with reference to senior customers from the perspective of employers.

The third and final study used the results from study two to develop a more focussed and structured employee and employer self administered questionnaire. The aims of this study incorporated knowledge about the ageing population, perceptions of customer service to the senior market, identifying underlying perceptions of ageism and examining the differences of ageism perceptions according to demographic characteristics and customer service training. The results showed that both respondent groups recognised and identified the importance of customer service, however minimal training was identified. In providing excellent customer service to senior customers, employees described staff attitudes and behaviour to be the most important. Yet in describing senior customers, one third of employees were negative in their responses which mostly reflected typical ageist stereotypes. Employers had slightly above average awareness than employees' concerning knowledge of Australia's ageing population but in both instances this information came from media programs and articles and not from credible government or industry sources.

Overall these studies have shown that there are gaps in service providers understanding of, and emphasis on, appropriate service provision to senior customers. Several contributing factors include: lack of customer service training with an emphasis on senior customers, limited knowledge and understanding of Australia's ageing population, and the influence and impact of negative ageist stereotypes. Application of the SERVQUAL model was considered to be a useful framework for identifying and measuring service quality gaps with the proposal of an additional gap identifying the need for external communications to managers to be added to the model.

Item ID: 19012
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: service quality, senior travellers, tourist experiences, perceptions, customer service, staff attitudes, senior customers, tourist behaviors, tourist behaviours
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Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Kuilboer, Alfons The use of travel diaries in evaluating the perceptions of customer service encounters by senior travellers in Australia. Proceedings of the Fourth Asia Pacific Forum for Graduate Student Research in Tourism In: Fourth Asia Pacific Forum for Graduate Student Research in Tourism, 1-3 August 2005, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kuilboer, Alf (2010) Managers’ perceptions of customer service for an ageing population. The Business Review, Cambridge, 15 (2). pp. 158-164. ISSN 1553-5827.

Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2011 22:54
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 100%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 50%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900399 Tourism not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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