The travel and tourism industry is alive and well, thanks to the trillions of dollars it generates globally each year. Whether on the beach or at the top of a mountain, tourist destinations thrive during the busy season. And a cut above the rest are those must-have and must-see local businesses that see loyal customers return year after year, as well as new customers referred by those loyal customers. It comes as no surprise that service quality and tourist satisfaction have the largest direct impacts on destination loyalty. But as any business owner likely knows, you need more than that to get your customers to come back. So how do these thriving businesses win that loyal customer? In my research, I’ve found four key components that contribute to customer loyalty: experience, image, value and motivation.
Experience is Everything
In my research, I’ve found that previous experiences are the most influential driver in tourist destination loyalty. But a positive experience isn’t built from a visitor having a good time just once. There are other elements that play into the cultivation of loyalty, including time spent at a destination, attachment to the locale and relevancy to their personal desires and expectations. Both the number and length of previous experiences, along with the level of attachment to a destination can affect a customer’s experience overall.
For example, a visitor might feel more attached to a destination if they visited the same place every year as a child. This is called place identity, which encompasses an emotional attachment between the person and the place. Visitors might also build an attachment to a destination that meets certain needs. The emotional and practical elements of attachment have a large influence on a traveler’s motivation, destination image perception, satisfaction with and loyalty to a destination.
On a deeper level, visitors also want to feel involved. The more a destination’s characteristics align with an individual’s personal desires, expectations or values, the more likely the visitor is to feel personally connected with the destination.
Create an Impactful Image
A destination image can have a direct impact on the perception of service quality and satisfaction. Travelers will typically select destinations with a positive image for vacationing because they assume the destination will provide high-quality service and a satisfactory experience. Given the evolution of digital marketing in today’s tourism industry, businesses in the hospitality industry should evaluate their marketing spending to ensure they are reaching their target audiences through effective channels.
Beyond digital marketing however, word of mouth is still just as effective. A visitor’s experiences can leave a lasting impression, influencing how they view the destination and what they say to others about it. Positive word of mouth through social media and reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp can indicate return intention and loyalty to a destination – strengthening a business’ overall perceived image.
Bring Value to the Table
As any member of the hospitality industry understands, quality service and real value are key components to customer satisfaction. And in an industry saturated with competitors, tourists are more likely to choose a destination or business with the best value. Although value can be measured by price, it can also be measured by overall service and atmosphere. Providing visitors with what they need and want, making them feel comfortable and creating a memorable experience for them will drive more results than simply having low pricing.
Customer Motivation Matters
Finally, understanding the motivations that are driving people to travel and choose one destination over another is key in developing products and services that meet their needs and expectations.
Many researchers use the push-pull theory to study why people travel – examining tourist motivation from two dimensions. Visitors might be driven by push factors, which are personal motives such as the desire to have fun, relax and escape from daily routines. Or they might be driven by pull factors, which are attractive attributes specific to a destination, like sandy beaches, world-class restaurants, entertainment or attractions. A traveler is more likely to visit a destination that has both push and pull factors that closely match.
When it comes to standing out in a competitive industry, a well-rounded business strategy will go a long way. Taking into consideration the factors driving destination loyalty will not only help businesses tailor their offerings, it will also keep the destination top-of-mind for consumers as they plan their next vacation.
Dr. Christina Chi is a professor at the Carson College of Business (CCB) and teaches hospitality revenue management/accounting, service management seminar (undergraduate & MBA) and tourism seminar (PhD) at the School of Hospitality Business Management (SHBM). Her area of research includes tourism marketing, travelers’ behaviors and hospitality management. Her primary research focus is on tourist satisfaction, destination loyalty, residents’ attitude and wellbeing, as well as tourism sustainability issues. Dr. Chi is well-published in top-tier tourism/hospitality journals, and her research has been widely cited. She also serves on editorial boards and committees related to her field.