THE TOURISM EDUCATION AND ITS ROLE IN UPGRADING OF THE HOTEL SERVICES: THE CASE OF BOUTIQUE HOTELS
Alexandria University, Egypt
TEI of Athens, Greece
The analysis of the decisions and choices of tourists has a particular and increased importance throughout the world. Characteristics, determinants and anticipation of tourism demand or consumption attract the interest of academic and scientific circles, tourism professionals and also those responsible for tourism policy.
The aim of this study is to investigate the quality of boutique hotels in Greece and how this quality is linked to the training of human resources. The survey is conducted in hotels in Greece that have the characteristics of the boutique hotel as defined by the international literature.The quality of customer service, particularly functional quality, increases thanks to the trainings. Hotels located in Greece need to continue to improve their quality, especially in tangibles, reliability and confidence areas. The supporting infrastructure in hotels, transportation accessibility of facilities, speed and reliability of customer service should be extended, proper management of relationships in the supply chain serv- ices should be ensured and visitors should be provided with a broadly-understood safety. Data was analyzed using SPSS ed. 19.0 and Servqual method.
Key words: relationship, servqual, hotel training, consumer research
Quality in the hotel industry has become an essential factor distinguishing hotels among competitors (Pendergast 2006). High quality of service, and particularly main- taining it at a high level is a difficult task, especially in the Polish, dynamically changing market (Mey et al. 2006). The emerging new hotels offer customers a wide range of services. This is the reason that it becomes increasingly difficult for them to gain a competitive advantage in the market by using familiar marketing tools (Hoecht 2006, Petrick 2013). Therefore, it has become necessary to focus on monitoring the level of customer satisfaction, which is the most important link in the process of service provision (Jang et al. 2009). Observation and constant dialogue with customers allows to explore their expectations and fulfill their needs and requirements (Akababa 2006).
1 LITERATURE REVIEW
Quality is a concept of subjective nature, it refers to the characteristics of the object or service that distinguish them and decide on their uniqueness (Spielmann and Larocheb et al. 2012). It is also the degree to which the product is beneficial to the potential buyer (Kimes and Robson 2004). Quality is the ability to meet the external and internal needs and expectations of customers, which should take into account the technical and functional elements (Martin 2006). In the market economy, where supply exceeds demand, the customer always chooses a supplier who offers him a wider range of services and provides greater satisfaction (Brilman 2002).
Technical quality stems from the physical dimension of service and is dependent on the solutions applied in the management of the hotel, both technical and systemic. Functional quality, meanwhile, is based on how the service was provided, which means that it is associated with communicativeness, conduct of employees, willingness and ability to provide the service. Functional quality is more important than technical quality and its level determines whether the tourist company will gain the client permanently or will have contact with him only for a limited time. It is definitely easier to manage tangibles than the sphere of service, i.e. human skills (Davison 1994).
The concept of TQM (total quality management) applies in the hotel industry, and is based on a comprehensive management of quality, the aim of which is its increase, while reducing costs, which in a longer perspective allows to increase competitiveness (Zopiatis and Theocharous 2013). Introducing TQM requires the involvement of all employees (Shani and Uriely et al. 2014), mass trainings in the field of quality and marketing orientation focused on the customer. It is important to introduce appropriate programs, techniques and quality tools, which main objective will be customer satisfaction and improvement of the quality of service (Kachniewska 2002). Quality management in the hotel industry remains the current area of interest of researchers (Ahmad 2013).
The concept of TQM, widely used in business, has been implemented in hotel enterprises as a way of monitoring the quality (Becket and Brookes 2008)]. Such orientation provides systematic feedback from the customer, allowing managers directing the hotel to pay attention to the level of quality of the service offered 9Badri et al. 2006, Lam and Chen 2012).
Marketing literature constantly emphasizes the importance of relational aspects in commercial transactions and recommends the continued development of mutually beneficial relationships with customers (Crosby et al. 1990). Such an approach should increase the repeatability of customer purchases and be profitable (Ok et al. 2005). In hotel enterprises, intangibility and inseparability of production from consumption have a unique character, which means that consumer confidence in the company plays a large role (Bendapudi and Berry 1997). It is the basis for long-term relationships between the hotel company and the client (Frederick and Schefter 2000).
Customer orientation implies a strict measurement of customer satisfaction (Ariffin et al. 2011). In the case of any signs of reduced quality, customers start to consider re- signing from the services, and among the first are the best customers (Ariffin 2013). It is of great importance in tourism, because this is about the leisure time, the value of which increases with the income of buyers (Mudie and Cottam 1998).
When it comes to measuring the level of quality, particularly in the service sector, the problem of research objectivity occurs, as a particular service for one person has a high quality, while for another does not meet the assumed standards (Jang-Hyeo and Timothy 20110]. Therefore, quality should be defined as meeting the requirements of the client, and not as a definition of technical parameters, which in the case of services is very difficult to separate (Mong-Yuan et al. 2013).
The Servqual method, which is ready and universal standard of service quality (Teas 1993), is a frequently used tool to measure the quality of services (Dagger and Sweeney 2006, Zeithaml et al. 2009). The method allows the evaluation of services, with additional assessment of the quality from the standpoint of the person providing the service (Lee and Hing 1995).
The analysis of the quality of services is intended to identify these elements of the process of providing the services that affect customer dissatisfaction (Badri et al. 2006) and sometimes effectively discourage the purchase of hotel services (Smith 2013). Hotel staff is often not aware of the mistakes they make, and only through research areas can be identified that reduce the level of service provision (Jang et al. 2009).
The aim of the article was to identify the changes that have occurred in the quality of hotel services in the past 10 years in the region of eastern Poland. This is the period between the accession of Poland to the European Union, and the present time. The study also sought to determine the impact of trainings in managing customer satisfaction on the level of satisfaction of hotel visitors. Through the use of the Servqual method it was at- tempted to assess the relevance of the individual dimensions in the evaluation of service by respondents.
2 PRIMARY RESEARCH: EDUCATION AND QUALITY OF SERVICES IN BOUTIQUE HOTELS IN GREECE
In the present study we investigate the importance of education in the quality of boutique hotels in Greece as they have the characteristics that differentiate it from the other hotels and allow it to be categorized as a boutique. It should be noted at the outset that there is not yet an internationally accepted definition of what is a boutique hotel (as well as all other alternative terms) and therefore the term has some ambiguity. It is essentially a term of marketing, which is given - on an arbitrary basis - by the hotelier himself, in his attempt to attract the boutique hotels. The common elements that appear in almost all of these definitions (such as the emphasis on small size and on quality and personalized services) reveal its commonly accepted features.
According to a study by Deloitte and Touche (2002), boutique hotels are defined as "targeted lifestyle hotel products based on modern architecture and personal service". Essential prerequisites for creating such a hotel include: the passion, personal taste and leadership of the owner, as well as the emphasis on personalized service and creativity. The term is used to describe usually luxury hotels, differentiated by large chain hotels and independent businesses, thanks to the individualized provision of a wide range of services and quality infrastructure. A survey by GBR Consulting in Greece in 2002 on boutique hotels highlights the following elements: the small size (30-50 rooms for European standards), the top importance of the hotel style (antique furniture, thematic rooms, modern decoration) as well as the provision of a total product that is a combination of materials and intangibles . In an effort to ensure that there are uniform criteria for categorizing in the future, the Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) is the first international player to seek to unify all the accommodation under the umbrella of a boutique and to arrive at commonly accepted definitions. So, according to BLLA, boutique hotels are the ones that "offer a high level of environment in an elite clientele, aiming at gaining an unforgettable experience".
2.1 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
For the needs of the present study, a primary survey was conducted in the Greek market for small hotels with a capacity of up to 50 rooms, with the main aim of improving the quality and development of the existing small and medium-sized hotel business, which is also the vast majority of the hotel's web site. The survey was conducted between January 2012 and March 2012. It attempted to record the key features of boutique hotels and exploit their findings in Greek small and medium-sized hotels. The survey was based on a questionnaire sent to all the above-mentioned hotels through local hotelier associations. Approximately 70 hotels were approached and 300 completed questionnaires were gathered. The hotels covered a wide and representative range of hotels of all levels and categories, in large and small towns, mountain and island, tourist and non-tourist areas. This survey was complemented by a comprehensive international survey that included bibliographic research, interviews with industry experts, and contact with more than 90 boutique hotels in different countries to get insight into their design.
After analyzing the data collected, we have led to the formulation of the logistics specifications and the services that internationally characterize "Boutique Hotels", tailored to the specifics of our country. It was suggested that the "boutique" rating be attributed to hotels of up to 50 rooms, existing or new, regardless of star rating, characterized by a warm family atmosphere, having a special architecture and decoration, providing personal service and high standard food, new technologies, etc. The aim of the above effort was to give the right incentives so that as many of the hotels as possible could upgraded up to 50 rooms in the country and obtain the qualities of a boutique hotel with the creation of parallel and new similar units. In this way, our country could, to a certain extent, redefine the existing hotel potential in international competition with particular identity and quality. The study was subsequently submitted to the (then) Ministry of Tourism Development, but unfortunately the legislative establishment of boutique hotels did not follow.
The main common characteristics of the sample hotels that emerged from the survey are the following: Boutique hotels are not necessarily subject to classic hotel standards, but they develop innovative solutions and focus on the diversity of hotel experience to maintain their competitive position. They have a small number of rooms (up to 50), and their creation and organization revolve around their owner's "vision" to create a unique hotel. The latter even maintains autonomous control of the unit's operations and expresses the passion for hospitality. From the point of view of administration, they do not belong to hotel chains, although in the last few years there have been boutique phenomena from large chains. They aim at well-informed and "image-conscious" 28 20-55 year-olds, mainly middle and high income, and therefore pay great weight to the design of an impressive website that captures potential customers for the aesthetics and "character" of the hotel . Finally, they are often shown in the media and take full advantage of the new social media tools and all aspects of internet marketing.
In terms of architecture and decoration, they attach great importance to creating a comfortable atmosphere that is in perfect harmony with the environment where the hotel is located (urban or countryside). The interior and exterior areas of the hotel are carefully decorated and decorated, and very often bear the signature of well-known architects and decorators. The rooms are sometimes larger than conventional ones, they exude a sense of homemade "homemade" environment and are made of high quality materials. Also, the choice of furnishings, colors and lighting throughout the hotel is not left to chance, but it fits the overall aesthetics of the hotel and "illustrates" the owner's vision. Finally, there are often artistic items and art items that blend in with the hotel's atmosphere.
Huge weight is also attributed to the services provided to their demanding clientele. More and more modern travelers are seeking quality experiences and personalized and "exclusive" services. Providing experiences especially on luxury travel is often more important than providing "tangible" privileges. A survey by Pricewaterhouse Coopers30 shows as incentives for the purchase of luxury products: a) treat factor, b) the perception that luxury products improve the quality of life; c) the image of the brand, which is particularly important for young consumers; and d) self indulgence factor. Boutique hotels take all of the above into account and try to offer an expanded and upgraded range of services. They focus on innovative and personalized services that are not limited to handling customer requests, but they go "one step further" with the aim of maximizing customer satisfaction and turning it into a regular visitor. These Services are provided by helpful and friendly staff.
In Greece, on the basis of the survey, there were about 200 Greek hotels that meet the criteria to become boutique hotels. This is an extremely small figure, considering that it accounts for about 1% -2% of the total hotel capacity in our country.
The survey also highlighted some other interesting facts about these hotels, which confirm their characteristics:
Table 1 Characteristics of sample boutique hotels
68% of boutique hotels have 30 to 50 rooms, 16% from 11 to 20, and the remaining 16% less than 10 rooms.
36% are 5-star hotels, 36% 4-star, 20% 3-star and 8% 2-star.
76% of the owners are also managers of hotels
According to data provided by 15 of these hotels, the renovation costs per room were extremely high (75,000 euros per room and 3,900 euros per sq. M.), Much higher than the cost of classic hotels.
The average room rate achieved was 124 euros, significantly higher than the conventional high-class hotels.
Composition of clients of boutique hotels is illustrated in the following table:
Table 2 Composition of clients of boutique hotels for 2011
One can observe that the percentage of Greek and foreign customers is similar, but that 73% of the total customers are business travelers and independent travelers. On the contrary, the proportion of customers coming from tour operators or travel agents is extremely small, of the order of 24%. Given the timeless overdependence of the Greek hotel market by the major international tour operators and its tiny desire to be de-motivated by placing high-yield diversified tourism products next to the mass tourism model, boutique hotels appear to be the most suitable for achieving the above goal.
Another statistic that sends optimistic messages to boutique hotels is their impressive levels of occupancy throughout the year, as shown in the following table:
Table 3. Occupancy levels of boutique hotels in the sample for 2011
We observe that boutique hotels have a much greater average occupancy than Greek hotels as a whole (61% vs. 49%). It is also noteworthy that boutique hotels have a higher monthly occupancy in 10 out of 12 months of the year (with the exception of July and August), with their numbers impressing especially during the months when in our country they are considered "dead" tourist (nearly double their occupancy from other hotels in January and February).
It is therefore effortless to conclude that the creation of boutique hotels can make a catalysing contribution to the goal of the much-needed extension of the tourist season, which, of course, requires the enrichment of a country's tourist portfolio with new and quality products. Among these products dominate high-end hotels, including boutique-style high-end infrastructure and services, not just the star rating they belong to. Including the fact that international boutique hotels tend to attract more regular customers than conventional hotels, through the application of member clubs and loyalty programs (but in a more personalized manner than the big chains) it is obvious that the creation of such hotels in our country can have beneficial effects for our tourism.
In a difficult juncture for the Greek hotel industry and in an environment of tough international competition, the institutionalization of boutique hotels can provide valuable services to Greek tourism. In order for our country to escape from the one-dimensional model of mass tourism, in which it is locked for years, while attenuating the intense seasonality of incoming tourism, it is obliged to enrich its portfolio with new quality products. Such products are naturally boutique hotels, as has been made clear from the previous analysis. At the same time, promoting the creation of such a hotel can also be given a significant economic and entrepreneurial impetus to many small and medium-sized hotel businesses, which are also the majority of the country's current hotel potential. The results of such an initiative could be beneficial for a number of sizes of the Greek economy.
Their institutionalization is of course purely a matter of political will. The theoretical elaboration of the concept and criteria of boutique hotels that emerged from the research can be a useful tool for Greek political leadership and the upgrading of the Greek tourist product. For this to happen, it is necessary to have:
· legislative establishment of boutique hotels without delay
· setting up a special stage for the Hellenic Tourism Organization that will assess whether old and new accommodation can qualify as a boutique and carry out periodic inspections and inspections on what has already been affiliated with the Greek Boutique Hotel Network
· informing the public about this new initiative through advertising, the GTO website and the exploitation of social media
· integration of investment in boutique hotels (either the construction of new ones or the conversion of existing units into a boutique, regardless of a star rating) in the provisions of the Investment Law. These subsidies should have a "fast track" rationale to make the hotel industry fluid.
In order to be realistic, we must recognize the existence of a series of obstacles that make the success of boutique hotels unsafe:
§ The apparent lack of political will due to different priorities.
§ The objective difficulty in absorbing Community funds, combined with their imminent future shrinking.
§ The long-term inability of co-operation between different ministries in cases where a parallel and complementary action is required to achieve an objective.
§ The high renovation costs per room of boutique hotels, which entail high initial investment costs, in a period of loan squeeze.
§ The complete lack of know-how of small and medium-sized hotel businesses, which takes time and money to acquire.
§ The success of Marketing of individual / independent hotels is far more difficult than that of large chain hotels.
§ The difficult and time-consuming process of obtaining a license, the bureaucracy, the complex and unpredictable tax regime.
§ Training for unskilled or low-skilled staff also requires time and money.
§ The mentality is difficult to change. Even the hotel owners who are unhappy with the odds are "accommodated" with the current situation.
In spite of these obstacles, optimism is imperative, as is the immediate start of the effort. An effort that, at some point in the future, will be able to transform the country's hotel's potential to the best, while enhancing the dynamics of the Greek tourism product in general.
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