The subjective nature of service quality makes it all the more demanding to measure and identify the influencing factors. Moreover, the perceptions of service quality by the providers and consumers of tourism services may markedly differ and the service performance criteria applied by the organization may not be compatible with the consumer’s perceptions and expectations.
The marketing literature reveals that the customer evaluates service quality on the basis of his/her perception of the manner in which services is performed i.e., it is the outcome of a comparison between the consumer’s expectations of a service and what is perceived as rendered. The difference between the two determines the level of quality from the visitor’s perspective.
The idiosyncratic/subjective nature of service quality has led organizations to interpret, explain, and circumscribe it in quantifiable, objective, but generally arbitrary standards. Service quality has been described in what, where and how i.e., physical (e.g. what is delivered), situational (e.g. the delivery circumstances), and behavioural (e.g. the mode of delivery/how it is delivered) terms.
The service quality norms are usually decided by providers’ past experiences and generally indicate the physical and technical aspects of a service, being most readily quantifiable. This result-oriented definition has been termed ‘technical quality’.
Another approach to appraising service quality is in terms of ‘functional quality’ i.e., the mode of rendering of service – a consumer-oriented criterion of quality.
For instance, a clean facility (restaurant) meeting high operational standards in service delivery (timeliness of food arrival) can even be liable to outweigh the conscientiously performed technical quality aspects by means of poor employee-customer interaction (by an unpleasant waiter) and loose business.
The contemporary delving practising a multi-attribute course has integrated the technical and functional elements resulting in identification of five main dimensions of service quality; tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy.
Tangibles are capable of creating atmosphere, and are one of the few items that a promising customer can perceive and weigh ahead of purchase and/or partaking. Tangibles include the physical facilities (cleanliness, design of facilities), equipment (the working order of equipment), and appearance of personnel (the way employees are dressed).
Reliability relates to the competence/promise to perform the promised service responsibly and precisely. The core being the assured service that contributes to tourist’s expectations. Visitors are most of the times dissatisfied with quality when the provisioning of service is not as per projected image.
Responsiveness implies an attitude i.e., the willingness to abet and furnish timely/prompt attention to visitors. Assurance reflects courteous and knowledgeable service providers bearing credence and confidence i.e., helps abating the discerned risk of travel.
Assurance dimension embraces elements of credibility – capable of being assessed before hand, competence, and security. Finally, the empathy dimension means carrying, personalized attention to visitors, and reflects an appreciation of visitor’s needs translated into services to satisfy the same.
For an effective provision of quality tourism experience, the organizations need to understand its components. Three characteristic qualities, intangibility, heterogeneity, and inseparability of production and consumption, present in varying degrees in all services, pose problems in rating quality in tourism services.
In the provisioning of almost all types of services, an element of tangibility is inherent (aircrafts, vehicles in transpiration) while the actual purchase is experience. Intangibility is basically, what characterizes a service from a product.
It makes it difficult for service providers to wield the required control in delivering unvarying quality of service. Heterogeneity relates to the potential for variability in service delivery, and is particularly significant in tourism services because of the involvement of a significant labour component of varying nature at different levels of the activity.
This can lead to a gap between the organization’s delivery plans and what the tourist actually experiences. The characteristic of inseparability of production and consumption expresses how the tourism services are generally provided and undergone at the same time.
It necessitates the presence of both the provider and the consumer during the delivery process. Appraisals on quality of practice are effected at this stage. However, the quality of performance gets influenced by the tourist’s participation in the service delivery through his/her actions, mood, and extent of cooperativeness.
In addition to these distinctive features, there are three types of properties namely, search, experience, and credence properties which are elemental to consumer evaluation processes in services.
Search properties especially tangibles (facilities, equipment, and appearance of personnel) are simplistic to be evaluated by the customer before actually participating in the service.
Experience characteristics relate to the experimental nature of tourism services, relatively more difficult to evaluate due to lack of endurance – a feature tied with quality in products, and can only be spelled out during or after actual consumption of service.
And the credence properties concern those elements, which are above the faculty of the general consumer to assess even after consumption because of the high level of expertise needed to deliver such services.
Most of the tourism services due to the characteristics of intangibility and heterogeneity are high in experience properties. Analysis of search, experience and credence features exhibits that evaluation of tourism service quality is both process- and output-oriented.
Tourism services being experiential in nature harbour assessment of service quality both during as well as after service delivery. The tourist being a participant is a component of the service, is able to make an appraisal during the course of service being executed, and even after it has been performed.
Thus, the challenge of providing high quality tourism can be realized efficaciously by means of judicious valuation of tourist’s expectations for a quality experience and tourists’ perceptions of the quality of service experienced.
A juxtaposition of tourist expectations with perceptions of service furnishes an evaluation of service quality and qualifications, quality in tourism services can be brought about and ameliorated. Tourism organizations are more likely to entice first-time and repeat visitors through word of mouth communication by those who have a quality experience.
However, word of mouth communication is like a double- edged sword i.e., the reverse is also true if quality tourism experience is not attained. Moreover, upgrading of quality may boost a destination’s image and intensify tourist traffic to that area, benefiting local businesses by generating both potentially new and repeat business. However, presentation of a proper image is not only crucial but is, in fact, sine qua non.