Bridging The Gaps For Destination Extreme Sports: An Empirically Validated Model Of Sport Tourism Customer Experience
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (1993), the word hedonism originates from the Greek word hedonikos (pleasurable) and hedys (sweet). Hedonism is the view that pleasure is the only emotion that has intrinsic value and the pursuit of pleasure is the major aim of one's existence. In the modern business world, a range of industry sectors can be considered hedonic, including hospitality, leisure, sports, and tourism, among others. All these sectors share one common characteristic: they all aim to provide their consumers with a pleasurable experience. In other words, providing pleasurable experiences is the ultimate goal for hedonic consumption.
In order to explore the customer experience of hedonic consumption, our research will explore the customer experience factors in a freeride mountain bike camp, a sport tourism product. According to the literature (Bouchet et al., 2004; Morgan, 2007) there is a lack of empirical studies in the field of sport tourism customer experience, and our study aims fill this gap by exploring a hedonic customer experience in an empirical fashion and proposing as a result of our findings a conceptual framework of sport tourism customer experience. Our exploration has two objectives: First, we explore the customer experience construct in a sports tourism context empirically. Second, we develop a conceptual model of the sports tourism customer experience and hence refine existing conceptual models of sports tourism customer experience.
The structure of the paper is as follows. We first conceptualize sport tourism and sport tourism customer experience. Next, we review existing conceptual models of sport tourism and sport tourism customer experience, and discuss differences in literature between the managerial/marketing and social science approach to conceptualize sport tourism customer experience. We then explain our application of the data collection and analysis, and present our results. We derive a model for sport tourism customer experience and compare our findings with existing models and frameworks.
Sports Tourism Customer Experience
The notion of experience entered the field of consumption and marketing when Holbrook and Hirschman introduced the term hedonic consumption in 1982. In their study, the researchers urged marketers to focus on experience using the hedonic point of view. Since then, consumption experience became the focus of various scientific disciplines. On the one hand, management/marketing researchers continue to develop customer experience theory by focusing their studies on the practice and the management of the customer experience. This literature regards experiences as a distinctive business offering to customers (Gilmore & Pine 2002). On the other hand the literature incorporating a social science approach, focusing on extraordinary, peak, or flow experiences in sport tourist experiences, consider extraordinary experience as the core experience in sport tourism (e.g. Celsi et al., 1993; Arnould & Price, 1993).
Managerial/Marketing Sport Tourism Studies and Frameworks
Weed and Bull (2004) propose the unique interaction between activity, people, and place as the core experience of sport tourism. Harrison-Hill and Chalip (2005) support these findings by stating that the quality of sport tourist experiences can be optimized through cross-leveraging the sport and the host destination. This literature, however, is criticized for its over-emphasis on destination (Williams 2006). Scholars argue that the consumer should be the center of the experience rather than the destination, suggesting that sport tourism studies fail to adapt experiential marketing theory (Williams, 2006). Bouchet et al. (2004) propose a framework, which consists of three dimensions: new relationships with oneself, with the area, and with others. The first dimension represents ones internal motivation, and cognitive and emotional factors. It consists of the attributes implication [defined as ones unobservable state of motivation, excitement or interest (p. 132)], perceived risk (related to the possibility of sustaining a loss from the destination or the activity), variety/novelty (as the dynamic component in contrast to ones daily routine), and optimal stimulation level (used to describe ones tendency to seek excitement). However, the author acknowledges that the framework is primarily a conceptual model, and encourages research to deliver systematic scientific evidence to support it (Bouchet et al., 2004). Based on Prism of Brand Identity (Kapferer, 1997), Morgan (2007) proposes a holistic model on the sport tourist experience in which customer experience is defined as the interaction between external elements controlled by organizational management and the internal elements perceived by the customer. Both frameworks recognize the interaction with other customers as key aspects of sport tourist experiences. Social interaction, personal hedonic benefit, and destination are identified as the key dimensions of the sport tourism customer experience.
Social Science Research Approach and Frameworks
The social science approach challenges the notion of the traditional, marketing grounded thinking that the experience is a summation of all the clues towards a total customer experience (Verhoef et al., 2009). Social science driven research in sport tourism states that consumers do not assess their experience via the traditional confirmation-disconfirmation paradigm, but by the means of extraordinary experiences, such as the often-cited river rafting experience (Arnould & Price 1993). Among extraordinary experiences, the most developed categories are flow and peak experiences. Schouten et al. (2007) coined the term transcendent customer experience to refer to flow and/or peak experiences in a consumption context. The two concepts are related (Privette, 1983) and sometimes overlapping in the same activities. Caru and Cova (2003) argue that without comparing ordinary experiences derived from daily mundane life, no experience can be called extraordinary. Thus, those ordinary experiences are also important parts of our lives, which necessarily consist of different levels of intensity. As a result, they propose to view consumption experiences as a continuum between ordinary to extraordinary instead of placing them in a polarity.
In summary, the literature exposes the differences between the management/marketing and social science research approach and their corresponding frameworks. Management/marketing research focuses on the total consumer experiences management, especially customer interaction and co-creation experiences, while social science researcher concentrates on the activity (essentially
the sport) experiences and treat extraordinary experiences as core experiences of sport tourism. Quan and Wang (2004) try to bridge this division with a two-dimensional tourist experience framework with the dimensions peak touristic experience and the supporting consumer experience. The peak tourist dimension represents experiences of attractions that constitute the major motivations to tourism and the supporting customer experience dimensions represents experiences of basic consumer needs satisfaction on the journey. Both dimensions of tourist experiences are differentiated from each other but are also treated as interchangeable under certain conditions, while the two dimensions constitute an organic whole but are separated conceptually.
Building on this and the previously cited definitions, we define sport tourism customer experience as the customers holistic assessment of social interactions, personal hedonic benefits, destination attributes, their relationship to the social and natural environment, their personal growth related to challenges, and sense of communitas.
Our study explores the sport tourism customer experience in the context of an extreme sports mountainbiking camp called Summer Gravity Camp (SGC). Professional mountain biker Andrew Shandro founded summer Gravity Camp (SGC) in 2002. Shandro is known for winning titles in international biking competitions and for being featured in the most successful mountain bike movies worldwide. SGC offers weeklong freeride mountain bike training sessions for both adults and minors, providing professional coaching and accommodation in Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Canada. The camp holds five week-long sessions a year in June and August; two of these camps are designated to adults. Campers, which include mountain bikers from all over the world, are grouped according to their skill level. Shandro and his, world-renowned coaches rotate among different groups to provide campers with holistic skills training. The price of the week-long sessions ranges from Canadian Dollar 2500 to 3500, depending on the choice of accommodation. Included in this price are 6 days of coaching, a corresponding pass for the Whistler Bike Park facilities, exclusive access to the Airdome, an indoor skills facility, breakfast and lunch buffet, group accommodation, and access to exclusive evening events.
To articulate the meaning and the domain of sport tourism customer experience our research explores the perceptual attributes of the customers experience through in-depth interviews using the soft laddering technique (Botschen et al., 1999; Grunert & Grunert 1995). We achieved data saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) after conducting individual in-depth interviews with 33 interviewees (of 51 total participants) in August 2009 during the adult camp week. The interviewees described their experience as customers, from problem recognition and information searching, to their on-camp experience. The interviewees were adult participants of SGC, including both males and female respondents, both first timers and return customers, and both domestic and overseas consumers. The interviews were transcribed and coded with the support of NVivo 8.0 independently by two researchers. The software enables the authors to reflect on the key themes and code and compare the data (Di Gregorio, 2000; Clisbee, 2003). Coding follows the grounded approach described by Ryan and Bernard (2003), which draws heavily from Strauss and Corbin (1990). We incorporate a systematic and far-out comparison
approach and hierarchical coding to ensure that we observe all the data thoroughly and explore all its dimensions (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, pp. 75-95).
Based on these interviews, 5 dimensions of sport tourism customer experience emerged, namely hedonic enjoyment, progression, surreal feeling, social interaction, and efficiency.
Hedonic enjoyment is an essential experience factor. Hedonic enjoyment in this research refers to the hedonic pleasure and excitement, which is felt, perceived, and experienced by participants any time in the camp; and hedonic motives express a deeper level of enjoyment resulting from skill mastery, risk normalization, and a state of flow. In other words, hedonic enjoyment in this research is distinguished from the enjoyment of extraordinary experiences as defined by Celsi et al. (1993).
Goal, challenge, coaching, peer influence, and self-motivation are the five attributes constituting the dimension progression. Respondents created awareness that making progress is of great value to the campers. No matter how progression is achieved, the experience of pursuing it and the final results are both important to an individual. Progression does not include new identity development, safety, and survival concern, which are parts of the efficacy motives arising from the literature focusing on extraordinary experiences (e.g. Arnould & Price, 1993).
Surreal Feeling - one recurring theme extracted from the interviews is the surreal and dreamlike feeling described by the interviewees. The narratives describe the feelings triggered by extraordinary, such as meeting the stars and getting inspired by them.
Social interaction describes a sense of belonging to a community where members get to share common ground. This experience relates to all interaction between campers, coaches, and the camps staff members.
The experience dimension efficiency emerges from more physical attributes and the camps organizational flow. Asked about activities and services allowing a smooth experience, interviewees mentioned almost exclusively on functional features, such as a choice of coach selection, more influence on the training methods.
As a result of our data analysis we conclude that the sport tourism customer experience constitutes of five sub-dimensions, namely: hedonic enjoyment, progression, surreal feeling, social interaction, and efficiency. Based on these findings, we introduce a conceptual framework of customer experience in sport tourism. Our framework consists of three dimensions. The first dimension includes experiential factors related to customer his/herself, among which hedonic enjoyment and progression form the core experiences of sport tourism. These two dimensions, in turn drive and generate the dimensions surreal feeling. The second dimension includes social interaction, the experiential factor related to other people (e.g.: fellow participates, coaches, staffs, etc.). This dimension contributes to the creation of core
experiences. The third dimension efficiency relates to the organizer and the services provided to enable the core experience for the customer (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Conceptual Model Sport Tourism Customer Experience
According to the expectancy disconfirmation paradigm (Oliver, 1980), expectation has direct impact on the evaluation of experience and customer satisfaction. The high expectation on the dimensions hedonic enjoyment and personal progression prioritizes the importance of them among total customer experiences from which the researcher concludes that these two dimensions build the core experience factors. Our framework confirms parts of existing frameworks, such as Morgans (2007) work defining hedonic pleasures and achievements as the ultimate experiences of customers, social interactions (Morgan, 2006), and the functional aspects as outlined in the dimension efficiency (Quan & Wang, 2004). However, there are also certain findings that cannot be confirmed, such as the presence of flow experiences in achievement and pleasure (Morgan, 2007), and the presence of extraordinary experiences (Abrahams, 1986, cited in Arnould & Price, 1993, p. 29).
The findings of this research highlight hedonic pleasure and progression as two major experiences valued by sport tourists. It also identifies social interaction and communitas, which are recognized by management/marketing and social science literature together, thus underlining its significance. This research also identifies efficiency factor whi...