Quality Issues in Special Events Management
It has been established that “special events are widely recognised as being a growth sector of the tourism industry with potential to generate substantial economic benefit for the city, township or region involved” (Tonge, 2010, p.5). Therefore, it is important to explore the quality issues associated with special event management in order to maximise the economic benefits of special events in various levels.
According to Tum et al (2006) the management of special events can be distinguished from many other types of businesses with increased level of influence of human factor on the success of special events, as well as, the increased probability of occurrence of unforeseen circumstances. This situation makes ensuring the high quality in special events a challenging task to accomplish and assigns extra responsibilities for special event managers.
Both, special event researchers and practitioners agree about the importance of quality in the provision of special events in a successful manner. Allen (2010) links the increasing importance of quality in special events to dramatically intensifying level of competition in the marketplace. According to ‘UK Events Market Trends Survey’ conducted by industry association Eventia, 1.3 million events have been staged during the year of 2010 and the market size for the year is estimated to be 16.3 billion GBP (Quainton, 2011, online).
Such intense level of competition leaves special event companies searching for competitive edge in order to survive in the marketplace and providing high level of services has been acknowledged as one of the most effective sources of competitive edge.
Some of the challenges faced by service organisations in general, and special events organisers in particular directly relate to the nature of the business and are not shared by the businesses operating in manufacturing industry.
Specifically, it has been stated that “the definitions that aimed to describe services highlighted key aspects of services that set them apart from goods. Services have the characteristics of intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity, perishability, and ownership” (Verma, 2007, p.31)
To put it simply, the ‘quality’ of services is a highly subjective matter to individual differences and perceptions and they vary according to age, cultural background, level of education, the influence of peers etc. The quality of products, on the other hand, attracts more objective assessments because products represent physical items that can be evaluated even after the purchase and consumption.
Quality issues in special events are closely associated with the level of qualifications and overall competency of events staff in all levels. Specifically, it is said that “in service situations, customers have frequent contact with staff, and this often determines the quality or otherwise of the experience” (Shone and Parry, 2004, p.16).
Moreover, the quality issues in the context of managing special events have been linked to customer expectations in general, and expectancy disconfirmation model in particular. Regarding this issue it has been stated that “quality of performance and service quality have been linked to satisfaction across range of consumption scenarios. As part of the expectancy disconfirmation model, expectations are considered to be key antecedents of both satisfaction and quality” (Hede et al, 2004, p.39)
Difficulties Associated with Maintaining High Quality in Special Events
Amid the significant importance of quality within the successful management of special events there are specific challenges that need to be addressed by event managers in order to achieve a desired level of quality and thus gain competitive edge in the marketplace. These challenges arise primarily by the core nature and characteristics of special events industry.
The level of employee motivation plays significant role in the level of quality in special events because the perception of quality by the customers is created as a result of interactions with staff at various levels (Bowdin et al, 2006). Thus, difficulties associated with employee motivation are considered to be among the most significant challenges faced by event managers in their attempts to provide high quality services.
Moreover, the motivational task of managers becomes even more complicated in circumstances where special events involve volunteers. This is because event managers cannot use motivational tools involving financial rewards when dealing volunteers engaged in special events. While there is a wide range of tools and methodologies available in terms of dealing with employee motivation, event managers have to choose among them taking into account specific characteristics of the industry, as well as, the characteristics of their company.
Raj et al (2008) maintain that special events are more vulnerable to unforeseen circumstances than many other types of businesses and in most occasions these circumstances would be outside of event manager’s control such as unexpected rain, delays in public transportation etc. It has to be noted that unforeseen circumstances are likely to have negative influence on the perception of visitors about the quality of a special event, regardless the ‘actual’ quality of the event.
Moreover, creativeness, as indicated by Matthews (2008) plays an integral part on the overall success of special events. In other words, in order to achieve positive acclaim from event visitors and other stakeholders, special events must have element(s) of originality that distinguish the event from other special events. Lack of such originality is most likely to decrease the quality if an event, and at the same time, event managers might struggle to ensure originality to each and every event they find themselves engaged in.
Another distinctive feature of special events that makes its management increasingly difficult is the necessity of meeting the deadlines (Shone and Parry, 2004). The dates of special events are usually pre-determined weeks, months and in some occasions, even years in advance and these deadlines are not flexible. Such state of things create extra pressure on event managers in terms of ensuring the high quality of events because, there would be no time to address any possible quality issues identified in a later period towards the deadline.
Ways of Improving Quality Standards in Special Events
Special event managers can equip themselves with specific tools and strategies in order to address the quality issues with an increased level of efficiency. In this perspective the value of achieving the synergy and teamwork at all stages of special event preparation and staging has been mentioned by a number of special event professionals. Specifically, it has been noted that “the need for people to work together to achieve a common goal cannot be overemphasized in quality management, particularly in events where a myriad of activities are carried out by a diverse range of professionals and non-professionals alike” (Robinson et al, 2010, p.175).
Moreover, the positive impact of intensive communication with various stakeholders on the overall quality of special events has been mentioned by Tonge (2010). Therefore, event managers are recommended to engage in intensive communication with all stakeholders through various communication channels, clarify their expectations and devise necessary initiatives in order to meet those expectations in the most effective manner.
Event managers also can adopt popular techniques and theoretical frameworks aimed at enhancing the quality of business processes and achieving higher level of customer satisfaction. On of the proven techniques in this perspective is six sigma. “Six sigma refers to the statistical level of variation where problems impacting customers are extremely rare, signifying “almost perfect” quality. A key theme is to understand and quantify the defects delivered to customers” (Pande, 2007, p.4). Special event managers can adopt this highly effective theoretical framework taking into account the specific characteristics of events industry.
An alternative tool available to special event managers would relate to Total Quality Management (TQM). “TQM is an organisation-wide approach that focuses on the quality of all the processes leading up to the final product or service. To succeed, it needs the support of top management, the belief that quality is a key part of every employee’s job, and a focus on defining and improving quality for the customer” (Craythorne, 2006, p.309)
As it has been discussed above, achieving high levels of employee motivation can be highlighted as a substantial challenge for event managers in terms of increasing the overall quality of special events. Special event managers can increase the level of employee motivation by combining tangible motivational tools with intangible rewards. “An intangible reward is defined as one from which the employee does not realise financial or material gains. Although clearly not as powerful as financial rewards, intangible rewards are used frequently and, in many cases, are highly valued by employees” (Jex & Britt, 2008, p.281).
Within the context of special events intangible rewards may include communicating a sense of contribution to something significant from historical perspective, thanks letters, opportunities of meeting and communicating with celebrities during events etc.
Moreover, because stakeholder quality perceptions in events industry are primarily formed as a result of interaction with event staff in various levels, it has to be ensured that special event staff possess necessary amount of knowledge and qualifications in order to able to create positive perception of quality. This can be ensured through organising training and development programs for employees at all levels.
The training and development programs should aim to equip event staff with a range of specific knowledge and competencies such as cross-cultural knowledge, the value of diversity, the negative impacts of discrimination etc.
Robinson et al (2010) urge special event managers not to underestimate the importance of crowd management in ensuring the high quality of events. The authors point to a wide range of undesired situations and negative instances that might occur amongst the crowd, such as violence, discrimination, abuse etc. and recommend event managers to be proactive in terms of dealing with these issues.
Special event managers are also recommended to institutionalise the practice of dealing with quality issues within their overall management practices. This would involve adopting proactive, instead of reactive approach in terms of dealing with quality issues. In other words, quality issues should be addressed not only when they arise and become emergency, but specific measures should be conducted on a systematic basis that aim at eliminating the emergence of any quality issues in the future.
The quality of services has been adopted by event companies as one of the main sources of competitive advantage. However, the issue of quality management for special events in practice is associated with a range of challenges cased by a set of reasons. These challenges partially relate to the nature and characteristics of services that include intangibility, inseparability, heterogeneity, perishability, and ownership.
Moreover, difficulties faced by special event managers in terms of ensuring the high quality of events include maintaining employee motivation at high level, dealing with unforeseen circumstances special events are closely associated with, ensuring elements of originality for each and every special event, increased importance of deadlines with special events.
Recommendations formulated to special event managers in this essay include the application of relevant theoretical frameworks such as TQM and Six Sigma, concentrating on teamwork, using both, tangible and intangible tools for employee motivation purposes, and engaging in intensive communications with various stakeholders of special events.
Moreover, event managers are also recommended to devise and implement training and development programs for employees on a systematic manner, pay greater attention to corwd management aspect of the business, as well as, adopt an institutional approach in terms of dealing with quality issues.
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