“Tourism is the world’s largest industry and makes a major contribution to the economies of most developed and developing countries” (Claire and Haven-Tang, 2005, p.1). At the same time, tourism organisations are facing a set of significant challenges they have to deal with in order to ensure their long-term growth. Specifically, quality management can be highlighted as one of the most important challenges for tourism organisations, and the importance of this challenge is increasing with ever-increasing customer expectations.
Although the importance of quality in terms of long-term business growth in tourism organisations is widely understood by industry researchers and practitioners, yet no clear and universal recommendations exist regarding how the quality management aspect of the business can be improved in efficient ways.
This article critically analyses the significance of quality management within the context of managing a tourism organisation. The article starts with discussions about the importance of managing quality in a tourist organisation, followed by a brief analysis of challenges in ensuring a high quality. Moreover, specific strategies are also described in this paper that tourism organisations can use in order to improve quality management.
The Importance of Managing Quality in a Tourism Organisation
Managing quality is crucially important for tourism organisations along with other types of businesses. The significance of the quality management issue for tourism organisations has dramatically increased in recent years due to the highly intensified level of competition in the industry caused by the globalisation, low barriers for entering into the industry and a range of other factors.
Moreover, “service quality is an intangible, but crucial area of interest to travel service providers” (Morais and Chick, 2005, online) because it is one of the most efficient bases for creating competitive edge in the marketplace. A great level of dedication to such an approach has enabled a number of tourism organisations to increase their sizes and revenues to significant extends.
For instance, uncompromising approach to quality issues has enabled a tourism company Haven to become the largest provider of domestic holidays in UK and win a range of awards including ‘Best UK/Domestic Tour Operator’ and ‘Best Camping and Mobile Tour Operator’ in 2009 (About US, online, 2011). The potential of achieving business growth by concentrating on quality management has been recognised by smaller tourism organisations as well, and that are exploring the various ways of increasing the quality.
Tourism is divided by Rowe et al (2002) into three categories: leisure tourism, visiting friends and relatives, and business tourism. Each of the above variations of tourism has its specific characteristics, and accordingly the perception of the service quality associated with each of them varies.
Specifically, in leisure tourism the perception of the service quality offered by a tourism organisation matters the most, because the main objective of customers would be to spend quality time and customers are likely to be more demanding and critical in assessing the level of quality offered to them. In visiting friends and relatives and business tourism, on the other hand, the quality of the service offered by tourism organisation might be perceived higher by a customer on a psychological level if the primary objective for the tourism is achieved i.e. quality time have been spent with friends and relatives or the objectives of the business tourism have been achieved.
Laws and Scott (2006) highlight customer satisfaction as the main indicator of the service quality in tourism business and also inform about the contribution of the environmental quality to the perception of the service quality. Moreover, “in tourism, environmental quality can act as a major attraction or an impediment. The environment of a destination which is seen to be impaired by deficiencies in physical attributes (such as water quality), or shortcomings in the social sphere (like crime), will have negative effect on tourist numbers and satisfaction” (Jafari, 2003, p.481).
Challenges in Ensuring High Quality Standards in Tourism Organisations
Nowadays, the management of tourism organisations fully comprehend that high quality of service has to be ensured in order for the business to grow in the long-term perspective. However, there are specific set of challenges that are associated with the provision of a high quality service in a tourism sector.
Some of these challenges are associated with the nature of the service industry in particular. The main differences of the service industry from the manufacturing industry are summarised by Laws (2004) as intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity and perishability of services. These differences make the perception of quality ambiguous and highly subjective in service industry in general, and tourism sector in particular.
In other words, in case of a manufacturing industry the quality of the product can be assessed at a later period of time after the purchase and more objective opinions can be generated through assessing various functions and attributes of the product and comparing them to the same type of products offered by other companies. However, the task of ensuring the high quality of services is more complicated for tourism organisations in a way that the quality is highly subjective to individual perceptions, as well as a wide range of other factors.
The level of qualifications of service providers in tourism organisations present more challenges in ensuring high quality of services. It has been stated that “many staff in tourism entered the industry with either no post-school qualification or with narrow, highly focused vocational qualification” (Horner and Swarbrooke, 2004, p.272). Such a situation may also have a negative impact on quality management issues within tourism organisations caused by the lack of formal education of staff in high educational establishments where the value and benefits of high quality provision are taught.
Another aspect of challenges of ensuring high quality standards in tourism organisations relate to the specifications of the industry. Specifically, “the tourism industry comprises a mix of small numbers of large, often multinational, businesses and large numbers of often family-run SMEs and microbusinesses” (Claire and Haven-Tang, 2005, p.4).
Such a significant division within the industry might create a situation where a small number of large, multinational tourism organisations will be able to ensure a high level of quality through investing significant amount of financial resources and thus creating the perception of quality standards among the customers. The large numbers of family-run small and medium enterprises and tourism microusinesses, on the other hand, would face substantial challenges in terms of meeting the high quality standards created by large tourism organisations.
Moreover, another significant challenge faced by tourism organisations relates to the effect of external factors such as weather, transportation (traffic jams, disruption of transportation etc.), and others. This statement can be best explained through the case of The Original London Sightseeing Tour. The tourism organisation offers sightseeing tours within the City of London on a double-decker bus.
The quality associated with the services of The Original London Sightseeing Tour is highly subjective to an external factor – the weather in London. On a sunny day, or at least when it is not raining in London the service offered by the tourism organisation is more likely to be perceived as quality be customers. The same level of service offered by The Original London Sightseeing Tour on rainy days, on the other hand, can result on lower level of overall customer satisfaction caused by an external factor, and accordingly the quality of service is more likely to be perceived low.
Moreover, it has to be stated that the tourism industry is highly sensitive to a wide range of external shocks such as economic crisis, any threats associated with the spread of various viruses and illnesses, threats of terrorist attacks, and etc. Any types of the above named or similar external shocks are going to negatively effect all tourism organisations covering relevant geographical areas regardless of the level of effectiveness of their quality management programs.
Quality Enhancement Strategies in Tourism Organisations
Kumar (2010) proposes five step process for improving quality and customer satisfaction levels for hotels and tourism organisations. The stages consist of defining the standards of the quality service with measurable indicators, assessment of the current situation, developing the strategies for service improvement, initiating the proposed solutions, and providing feedback, recognition and awards.
Moreover, tourism organisations can use a number of strategies in order to deal with quality management in a more effective manner. Sethi (2006) identifies Total Quality Management (TQM) to be one of the most effective concepts to be adopted by tourism organisations and specifies the main principles of the concept for the service industry to include putting customers first, focusing on quality, obtaining profit through service, increased attention to customer care, prioritising the quality of the service, achieving excellence in service etc.
There are other concepts available to tourism organisations as well that include the concept of Six Sigma. Specifically, “six sigma is also a term used to denote very high achievement and continuous quality improvement. Operations managers are a key ingredient in quality management as the facilitator for the organisation and the nexus between the senior levels of management and the functional levels in the provision of facilities and culture that supports, and thus enables, achievement of the quality goals” (Nankervis, 2005, p.220)
Moreover, the senior level managers of tourism organisations need to understand that “quality assurance is a persistent problem and needs to be better understood, measured and managed” (Cooper, 2003, p.97). Therefore, tourism organisation managers should not approach quality issues as one-time problems and they should devise appropriate programs and initiatives that would address quality management issues in a constant and systematic way.
Devising effective employee training and development programs needs to be also mentioned as an integral part of the recommendations formulated for tourism organisations for the simple fact that customer quality perception is formed primarily on the basis of service offered by the workforce. Similar to the point above, the training and development programs need to be organised in a constant and systematic manner and should aim at increasing the knowledge of the workforce regarding the importance of quality management and equip them with specific knowledge, skills and competencies required to contribute to the quality of the service.
Increasing numbers of businesses along many industries are adopting quality management aspect of the business as one of the main sources of competitive edge. This essay has analysed the significance of quality management specifically in the case of tourism organisations. The importance of quality management for tourism organisations have been explained through intensifying level of competition in the industry, as well as, increasing level of customer expectations.
The discussions of the challenges faced by tourism organisations in terms of ensuring excellent level of quality management have revealed important points related to the issues. Specifically, the challenges were found to include dealing with the subjectivity of quality perception in the service industry, low level of qualification of the workforce employed by tourism organisations, a high level of vulnerability of tourism organisations to a wide range of external factors and others.
The strategies formulated for tourism organisations in order to improve their quality management practices represent the most valuable part of the essay due to the great potential of their practical implementations. Nevertheless, quality-enhancing strategies suggested to tourism organisations include following the five step process proposed by Kumar (2010), exploring such popular quality enhancing tools as Total Quality management and Six Sigma, approaching the quality issues in systematic manner, and organising training and development programs for the workforce in order to increase the levels of their customer orientation skills. However, all of these strategies are proposed in a general manner and further researchers are required before their implementation by tourism organisations.
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