Monday, March 25, 2013

Tourism Services and Distribution Management

Tourism Services and Distribution Management
In the modern day the issue of tourism services and distribution channels management has received much more interest than in the past especially from researchers and other relevant stakeholders. The most fundamental components in any marketing procedures, the tourism industry included, are the distribution channels that are utilized to ensure commerce efficacy.  Despite the distribution channels being very significant due to their capacity of heightening a company’s competitiveness and productivity, the main reason for the renewed interest has been tied to the objectives of making available relevant data to tourists as well as enabling them other interested parties to book for space, accommodation or travel as they plan for their tourist voyages. In order to provide satisfactory services and products to consumers in the tourism industry, it is necessary that the gaps and discrepancies that exist between what the customer is presented with and what they had expected of their touristic experiences be identified and dealt with effectively. Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is not easy to come up with a workable model of measurement for service delivery in the tourism industry. This is due to the fact that tourism is a sector in which there exists interplay of variant dynamics and needs such as the tourists’ needs to be informed, entertained and at the same time have fun while rediscovering themselves.
There a variety of players who are very significant in the tourism distribution channels; these include tour operators, reservationists, travel executives as well as charter negotiators.  
In the past few years, there have occurred several transformations in the tourist and hotel management industries; firstly, as a result of the changing clientele needs, there has been an increased utilization of online tourism services particularly when it comes to issues of booking. This coupled with the fact that there are a variety of financially viable flights which are operating in the tourist industry has encourage a number of tourists to personally organize their own voyages rather than seek the services of intermediaries or distribution channels. Consequently, many players in the tourism sector have realized that there is an urgent need to shift focus from the classical vertically incorporated service models to other more effective structures (Pearce and Schott, 2005).
There are a variety of definitions that have been presented by scholars in their attempts to disambiguate the term ‘distribution channels’ in tourism. According to the World Tourism Organization (1975) a distribution channel may be referred to as the collusion of two or more go-betweens whose activities are aimed at the eventual sale of a finished product or service. A group of more than two distribution channels is referred to as a distribution system; in the tourism industry, it is not unheard of to find a distribution system which is comprised of several distribution channels, some of which interests may at times be in conflict. A viable definition of a distribution channel is that it is a structure comprised of go-betweens whose aim is to establish new markets through the congregation sellers and purchasers, or increase the efficacy of already existent markets with the aim of making commerce more effective. Unlike in other industries where the clientele pool may opt to deal directly with the producers of a particular service or good of interest, distribution channels are particularly important in the tourism industry.
            According to Buhalis (2000) there are a variety of functions that are fulfilled by tourism industrial channels. Firstly the distribution channels bring about a certain habitual manner of operation in the tourist markets and subsequently lessen the expenditure involved in distribution; in addition to this, such channels make the work of service providers as well as consumers much easier due to the fact that they already have a precise idea of what it is that the tourists need or products and services in the tourism industry in a manner that is both attractive and suitable to the needs of consumers. Wynne et al (2001) asserts that distribution channels in the tourism industry are also significant as they evaluate the quality of services and products available to consumers as well as negotiating for more competitive prices; the channels thus manage the demand and supply elements in the tourism industry. As intermediaries between the suppliers and consumers, distribution channels have the capacity to effectively manage complaints from either side as well as lessening the consumer risks associated with such activities. Through a myriad of different techniques, these intermediaries are able to present consumers with adequate information about the packages on offer so as to guide them in making appropriate and cost friendly decisions about their intended tours.
In analyzing tourism services it is important to note that there are a variety of service measurement models that may be applied in the effort to improve the services and products that consumers are presented with in the markets. According to Antilgan et al (2003) one feasible model in the measurement of tourism service quality is one in which correspondence analysis (CA) is utilized in collaboration with SERVQUAL data or scale. Consumers in the tourism industry are perceived as evaluating the aspects of understanding, dependability, sensitivity as well as assurance and existent tangibles in order to determine whether or not the services they are presented with are of superior quality or not. According to Zeithmal and Bitner (2000) the most fundamental of these five is the dependability variable. SERVQUAL is the instrument through which the discrepancies existent between consumer anticipations and perceptions may be measured, with the five mentioned variables being utilized as generic components. In a variety of research studies conducted to evaluate the feasibility of such a method in measuring tourism service delivery quality, Antilgan et al (2003), assert that the correspondence and SERVQUAL model is very effective in enabling tourism managers to assess the pos and cons of their business strategies as well as in the formulation of more viable tourism policies to ensure consumer satisfaction.
Parasuraman et al (1985) came up with the Conceptual Model of Service Quality, also commonly referred to as the Gap Model, which is very effective in the measurement of and improvement of the services offered to consumers in the tourism industry. The objective of the model is to disambiguate the cracks that are present in the services expected in relation to those received by the consumers; this is done by conducting a thorough investigation of the different stages of service processes that are found in the tourism industry. According to Kapoor (2011) the first phase in which a gap is perceived is in the discrepancies that exist between the anticipations of the consumer in contrast to the knowledge and comprehension of the service providers. It is the responsibility of the service providers to identify the clientele’s needs and incorporate them in the process of presenting them with quality services. Secondly, a gap may exist as a result of disharmony between the business principles and standards of the service provider and the perceived consumer expectations. This usually occurs in the event that the service standards expected by the consumers are higher than those that the service providers are willing to provide, either deliberately or due to deficiency in the necessary resources.
Thirdly, Parasuraman et al (1985), in the Gap Model, imply that despite the standards of a service provider being at par with the expectations of the consumer, the structures of service delivery may interfere with the quality of services that customers are presented with; this is mostly due to poor customer care services and a hostile or indifferent attitude from the delivery work force. A Gap in the quality of service presented to the customer may also arise due to a mismatch between the promises or commitments made by the service providers to the consumers and the actual services that they deliver. The external correspondence between the provider and the consumer thus ends up in a gap which interferes with the quality of service. The gap as a result of discrepancies between the consumer’s anticipations, the comprehension of the service providers and the services that are ultimately delivered to the consumer arises when the service providers have not put in place the necessary mechanisms or apparatus to ensure quality services.
According to the United States et al (1999) another method that is commonly used in the measurement of service quality presented to consumers in the tourist industry is the Quadrant analysis method. This model is inclined towards the investigation of different measures of customer satisfaction and then depicting them on a graph according to their importance or how much satisfaction they bring to the consumer. The two major quadrants in this model are the weakness and strength quadrants. The shortcomings of this method are evidenced in its inability to consider the discrepancies in elements rating as well as in the arbitrariness of the quadrant divisions. Although this model is very effective in highlighting the attributes that are esteemed by consumers in the tourism industry, the influences of the attributes on consumer satisfaction are not established clearly.

As stated by Kapoor (2011), despite the fact that both the Gap and SERVQUAL models are designed to discover weaknesses in the mechanisms of tourism service provision with the aim of effectively redressing them, the Gap Model seems to be the model best suited for application in the measurement of service quality. This is due to the fact that, as stated by Zeithmal and Bitner (2000), the CA and SERVQUAL model faces difficulties when it comes to presenting practitioners with accurate distances between the different elements and variables of service delivery quality. For the CA and SERVQUAL model to be effective, therefore, it has to be used in collaboration with a myriad of other methodologies; apart from leading to time wastage, this may also lower the precision of conclusive outcomes. The Gap model, on the other hand, is very effective as it allows for the service providers to identify the weaknesses in their business strategies and deal with them effectively so as to ensure customer satisfaction. The gap model is also very successful when it comes to enabling organizations to realize efficacy and quality of their management structures so as to ensure delivery of quality services to consumers (Pearce and Schott, 2005).
In conclusion, despite the preeminence that has been given to the issue of quality in service provision in the tourism industry, it should be noted that it is not an easy feat to achieve. As already discussed there are a variety of reasons why the service quality delivered by service provider is perceived as wanting by the consumers; firstly, the structures of service delivery may interfere with the quality of services that customers are presented with; this is mostly due to poor customer care services and a hostile or indifferent attitude from the delivery work force. Secondly, discrepancies may exist between the anticipations of the consumer and the comprehension of the service providers. Existence of disharmony between the business principles and standards of the service provider and the perceived consumer expectations may also erode the quality of services.
It is therefore the responsibility of the relevant share and stakeholders in the industry to come up with a feasible model for the measurement of quality so as to discover the areas of weaknesses early enough and deal with them efficiently. Although a variety of models are in existence, this essay has been successful in the depiction of factors that make the Gap model a suitable for application in the contemporary tourism industry.

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