Dr. Patti Freeman, Experience and Design Management
Brigham Young University’s (BYU) Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA) awarded Patti Freeman, Ph.D. a Mentoring Environment Grant (MEG) in January 2017. The MEG was for $19,300 and was awarded to conduct research in Hawaii to study the impact of experience industry structuring techniques on select outcomes as found in the theory of structured experience (Ellis, Freeman, Jiang, Jamil, 2016). The data were collected in May 2017 with eleven BYU students and three faculty (two from BYU and one from Texas A&M) from various tourism offerings on three Hawaiian islands: Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. Hawaii was selected because of its status as an iconic and top tourist destination in the United States.
Following training sessions and pilot testing at local Provo attractions, the research team of 11 students and three faculty traveled together to visit 23 leisure attractions and tourism businesses on three Hawaiian islands over a two-week period. The group worked in two teams. The responsibility of the first team was to evaluate the service quality performance and the experience structuring performance of each site. The second team was charged with evaluating the quality of their individual experiences at the sites.
The teams visited the sites on the same occasion and completed the evaluations immediately following the conclusion of the visit to each site. The team that evaluated service quality performance and experience structuring performance collaborated and reached consensus on all performance scores. They measured (a) the five dimensions of service quality and (b) the four techniques to structure experiences that are used by many successful organizations in the “experience industries” (Pine and Gilmore 1999). The service quality evaluations corresponded to Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry’s (1985) SERVQUAL dimensions: reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness. The four experience structuring techniques are theme, absence of negative cues that detract from the theme or experience, provision of unanticipated value-added memorabilia, and intentional engagement of senses not inherent in or essential to the activity.
The members of the second team completed their evaluations independent of all others. The questionnaires were designed to measure the quality of their subjective experience at the attraction and their overall evaluation of that experience as well as the perceived value of the experience, delight with the experience, and proclivity to promote the experience to others.
All evaluations were recorded using Qualtrics, a web-based survey application, on web-enabled cell phones.
Evaluation of the Academic Objective Achievements
Three of the proposed academic objectives for students participating in the field study were that upon completion of the field study they would be able to:
1. Identify salient elements of designing and producing servicescapes and experiencescapes and understand how they influence the customer experience.
2. Measure visitor/customer perceived value, satisfaction/delight, and positivity of affect and be able to use those measures in their future careers.
3. Apply the critical incident technique to identify memorable customer/visitor experiences, evaluate service quality, and evaluate experiencescapes.
Through the intensive data collection over the two-weeks in Hawaii, students were indeed able to accomplish the three academic objectives while in Hawaii. This was evidenced by discussions held with students several evenings while in Hawaii where we reflected on what was being learned from evaluating the experiences.
In addition, three students were involved with data analysis of the critical incident technique and one of them was going to accompany two of the faculty members to present the findings to members of the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as to tourism students at BYU-H, sponsored by BYU-H. Unfortunately, that trip was cancelled by BHU-H.
Evaluation of the Mentoring Environment
Conducting a two-week field study with students in Hawaii allowed for numerous opportunities to spend time with the students in a variety of settings, from data collection and meeting with professionals at the various sites we studied to enjoying time at the beach after data collection and in the evenings relaxing at our lodging accommodations. Some of the experiences we evaluated were various offerings at Volcano National Park. One was when we hiked many hours out and back to the lava flows. The faculty had opportunities to interact with each student and talk about diverse topics from future graduate school and career plans to family, dating, and marriage. This experience is reflective of many we had while driving to various sites and otherwise spending time together.
List of Students
All students were juniors or seniors majoring in the Experience Design and Management students.
Findings of the Project
We tested two propositions of the theory of structured experience (Ellis et al., 2016): first, strategies used to structure experiences in the leisure industries elevate experience quality only when a threshold of service performance is met or exceeded; and second, positive relations exist among indicators of experience quality. Two teams of higher education tourists visited 23 attractions on three Hawaiian Islands. Immediately after each visit, team one (n=4) judged the attractions based on service quality and experience structuring performance. Members of team two (n=14) also reported the quality of their individual experiences after each visit by measuring the prevalence of deep structured experiences, perceived value of time invested, delight, and proclivity to promote the attraction.
Results suggest that structured experiences at the attractions were very positive. A histogram of the distribution of perceived value revealed a salient spike at the highest level of perceived value; the distribution was notably leptokurtic (2.10). In contrast, the distribution of proclivity to promote showed a much less radical progression of value frequencies up to the highest level of the scale.
Like the first two measures, the distribution of service performance was also notably skewed. Examination of a distribution histogram revealed an approximately bi-modal distribution. Notable peaks were present at both high and low levels of service quality performance. The distribution of DSE was platykurtic (-1.06), yet a substantial number of experiences were reported in which DSE had little or no prevalence.
Several Pearson correlations were computed among the study variables. The strongest correlations in the matrix were between perceived value and delight (r = .78), perceived value and proclivity to promote (r = .75), and delight and proclivity to recommend (r = .73). The weakest correlations in the matrix were relations with experience structuring technique. The correlations between this variable and DSE, perceived value, delight and proclivity to promote were only .14, .06, .15 and .20, respectively. An explanation for these weaker-than-expected relations is found in the hypothesis tests.
Linear mixed modeling examined the relation between the provider service evaluations (n=23) and the quality of individual experiences indicators (n=274). Results yielded support for the hypothesized interaction (threshold) effect and the Hypothesis test results are summarized in Figures 1 and 2. As Figure 2 shows, the first proposition was supported (bSQxS = .24, t = 3.79, p < .001), which hypothesized the interaction (threshold) effect between service performance and the use of experience industry staging strategies on prevalence of DSE. TSE proposes that structuring performance elevates the prevalence of DSE only at levels exceeding a threshold of service performance. To confirm that the interaction effect was consistent with this hypothesis, a plot was constructed of the regression of deep experience on the structuring performance at both high (+2 standard deviations) and low (-2 standard deviations) levels of service performance. As shown in Figure 2, the slope given high service quality performance was positive (.77) and the slope given poor service quality performance was negative (-.34). The threshold, or point at which the relation between DSE and experience structuring techniques is zero, was approximately one-half standard deviation below the service quality performance mean (i.e., z = -.58).
All other hypotheses derived from TSE were supported. Prevalence of deep experience was a significant predictor of perceived value (b = .39, t = 6.17, p < .001) and delight (b = .42, t = 7.55, p < .001). Perceived value (b = .44, t = 7.09, p < .001) and delight (b = .34, t = 5.06, p < .001) were both significant predictors of proclivity to promote. Estimates of percent variance explained ranged from .16 (perceived value and prevalence of deep experience) to .60 (proclivity for promotion as a function of perceived value and delight).
Two research presentations have been made from the data and a manuscript has been accepted for publication in Annals of Leisure Research.
The Hawaii field study was run through the Kennedy Center/International Studies Program (ISP) to benefit from tuition support from the students. It is not uncommon for ISP to manage domestic programs like this. As a result, the total budget available was $25,362.00.
Students paid for their own round trip flight from Salt Lake to Hawaii. Almost all other expenses were paid for by the grant and student tuition infused into the budget from the ISP office.
Student Lodging and Meals $11,925.00
Student Inter-island Flights 2,090.00
Van Rentals 1,650.00
Student Admissions to Experiences 3,850.00
Faculty Airfare, lodging, admissions, etc 5,390.00