This research pa per looks into the factors that account for the differences between the Asian and western travellers when it comes to satisfaction with their stay in Malaysian hotels. The paper goes on to review the literature on the concept of customer satisfaction as its relationship with hotel service attributes. Customer satisfaction and its relation to service quality, search and experience qualities and the disconfirmation paradigm, which includes expectation and performance concepts, are rigorously reviewed. The review analyses the importance of the tangible and intangible in the overall service encounter. A questionnaire with a 5-point Likert scale was applied to measure the differences between their perceptions of hotel attributes and customer satisfaction. Data were analysed using factor analysis, multiple regressions and the independent sample t test. Results indicated that differences between Asian and western evaluations of hotel quality did exist. The limitations of this research were discussed and suggestions for future research were also put forward.
Walker (1996) defined tourism as a dynamic, evolving, customer-driven force. It is a science and a business, attracting and transporting visitors, accommodating them, and graciously catering to their needs and wants. In another perspective, Kandampully (2000) defined tourism as a unique product in that it is composite in nature, an amalgam of the tangible and intangible that includes everything those tourists experience. Tourism is no longer considered a luxury confined to economically developed countries. It has become an integral component of lifestyle, and it has become a major component of the economy of almost all countries.
The Tourism and Hotel Industry in Malaysia
Overall, the tourism industry in Malaysia showed an upward trend until the onset of financial crisis in 1997. The Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) was established in 1972 to further expand tourism through its marketing program and publicity campaigns both locally and abroad. The TDC was later replaced by the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board with the main objective to stimulate and entice the number of tourist arrivals into the country.
By 1990, with the launching of the first Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) campaign, the tourism industry had become the third major foreign exchange earner. Unfortunately, there was a downturn in worldwide travel in 1991 following the Gulf War. Thus, the number of tourist arrivals decreased moderately. The second VMY campaign was launched in 1994. Despite an increase in tourist arrivals by 10.7% in 1994, the growth rate remained far behind the first campaign. In 1995, tourism receipts amounting to Ringgit Malaysia (RM) 9.2 billion surpassed the target of RM8.36 billion for the year 2000 in the National Tourism Plan. To spur the growth in the tourism industry, investment approved for hotel and tourism-related projects has increased more than threefold from RM8.801 billion during the Sixth Malaysian Plan period to RM18.2 billion during the Seventh Malaysia Plan period (Economic Planning Unit, 2001). The proliferate growth of the tourism industry led to the growth of other related activities via industry linkages.
The purpose of this study is to identify the needs of Asian and western travellers based on their levels of satisfaction in hotel stays in Malaysia. The cultures of Asian travellers are different from their western counterparts. Understanding the differences between Asian and western travellers, in terms of their evaluation of Malaysia's hotel services and facilities is tactically important for hotel operators.
Specifically, the study aims to address the following objectives:
* to develop the underlying profile of hotel attributes that are important to tourists visiting Malaysia
* to examine the relative impact of the different hotel attributes in influencing the satisfaction levels of both Asian and western travellers
* to identify the similarities and the differences in Asian and western travellers' levels of satisfaction with hotel attributes.
The concept of customer satisfaction has a long history in the marketing school of thought. Since Cardozo's (1965) initial study of customer effort, expectations and satisfaction, the body of work in this field has expanded greatly, with numerous researchers focusing on customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction and complaining behavior in the 1982-1990 period particularly (Perkins, 1991). Satisfaction is theorised to be the result of a subjective comparison between expectation and received product attribute levels (Andreason 1977; Day 1977; Oliver 1977, 1981). Customer satisfaction is the leading criterion for determining the quality of a product or service (Vavra, 1997). As defined by Oh and Park (1997), customer satisfaction is a complex human process that involves cognitive and affective processes, as well as other psychological and physiological influences. Hayes (1997) stated that knowledge of customer expectations and requirements is essential because it provides understanding of how customers define quality of services and products, and facilitates the development of customer satisfaction questionnaires.
The disconfirmation paradigm of consumer satisfaction level is the result of interaction between the consumer's prepurchase expectations and postpurchase evaluation (Berkman & Gilson, 1986; Czepiel & Rosenberg, 1977; Engel, Blackwell, & Miniard, 1990; Handy, 1977). Studies of consumer behavior emphasise customer satisfaction as the core of the postpurchase period (Westbrook & Oliver, 1991).
Shostack (1977) suggested a molecular model framework for the structure of satisfaction decisions of hotel operations. A hotel-entity, according to this model, consists of both tangible and intangible elements that are all-important to the guest's experience when visiting the hotel. The services marketing literature suggests that services are complex offerings, because they are intangible and are often delivered by several different service providers (Lovelock, 1983). It is not easy to evaluate the product prior to experience services.
The impact of loyal customers is considerable. Kirwin (1992) emphasised guest satisfaction as a means of increasing sales and profits. The profitability of a firm increases proportionally with the number of loyal customers, and up to 60% of sales to new customers can be attributed to word-of-mouth referrals (Reichheld & Sasser, 1990). Studies have found that it costs about five times as much in time, money and resources to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer (Naumann, 1995). Failure to pay attention to influential attributes in choice intention may result in a customer's negative evaluation (Chon, Christianson, & Lee, 1995). Hence, customer satisfaction presumably leads to repeat purchases and favorable word-of-mouth publicity. It serves as an exit barrier, thereby helping the firm to retain its customers (Cardozo, 1965; Fornell, 1992; Halstead & Page, 1992; Berkman & Gilson, 1986). In fact, word-of-mouth publicity (at zero cost) is the most powerful competitive weapon that a firm possesses and has serious positive and negative consequences at the macro level of the industry.
Measuring Customer Satisfaction
Measuring customer satisfaction is an integral part of the effort of improving a product or service quality that would increase business's competitive advantage (Cravens, Holland, Lamb, & Moncrieff, 1988; Garvin, 1991). The theory of consumer behavior, as discussed by Engel, Blackwell and Miniard (1990) and Williams (1982), points out that the customer's background, characteristics and external stimuli influence the customers' buying behavior and levels of satisfaction. Since a customer's satisfaction is influenced by the availability of customer services, the provision of quality customer service has become a major concern for all businesses (Berry & Parasuraman, 1991). Brown and Swartz (1989) found that both customers' and employees' expectations and perceptions of the service encounter play an important role in determining the customer's evaluation of the service encounter. Apart from that, Gronroos (1982; 1984) proposed that corporate image was an important determinant of service quality and establishes a distinction between functional quality, or what was received by customers, and technical quality, or the manner in which the service was provided. On the other hand, Reid and Sandier (1992) examined the use of technology to improve service quality in the hotel industry.
Managing quality is difficult without knowing the key aspects the guests consider to be important when evaluating the hotel experience. Nelson (1974) proposes two categories of properties that customers use in their evaluative process: search qualities and experience qualities. Search qualities, such as colour, price and smell, are attributes that can be determined prior to purchase. Experience qualities, such as courtesy, wearability and purchase satisfaction, can only be detected after use. In addition, Darby and Karni (1973) introduced credence qualities, which the customer may find impossible to evaluate even after purchase.
Alpert (1971) and Kivela (1996) viewed consumer products and services as a bundle of attributes in determining consumers' intentions regarding future purchases. From past studies, hotel attributes that would be considered when choosing a hotel include cleanliness (Atkinson, 1988; Cadotte & Turgeon, 1988; Knutson, 1988; Saleh & Ryan, 1992), comfortable and well-maintained rooms (Cadotte & Turgeon, 1988; Knutson, 1988; Saleh & Ryan, …