Keys to Quality Leisure Programming

Article excerpt

Participation in meaningful leisure activity is part of a balanced and satisfying life experience. Educators and leisure programmers are well aware of the benefits enjoyed through leisure participation. Unfortunately, leisure providers have been unsuccessful in reaching many segments within the community. Research has shown that the unemployed (Havitz & Spigner, 1992), the elderly (Riddick, 1985), and a variety of other groups (Howard & Crompton, 1984) have failed to respond to traditional programming efforts.

The question, "How might current leisure programs be altered to make them more appealing to unresponsive community members?" can be answered by reviewing the emerging "service excellence" literature. Though this literature originates primarily within the private sector, the information is relevant to public sector, educators and leisure programmers. The literature suggests that seven interdependent steps be taken to ensure quality leisure programming:

1. Establish programming priorities. 2. Discover clients' needs. 3. Develop product accordingly. 4. Identify key program providers. 5. Identify key encounters with clients. 6. Train for flexibility, but when in doubt set standards. 7. Ask for help.

1. Establish programming priorities.

When asked about professional responsibilities, programmers tend to respond in terms of things. Job titles such as "facility manager," "program planner," or "activity coordinator" reflect this orientation toward things or products (facilities, programs, and activities). Consequently, programmers may be trained to think in terms of products they provide rather than the clients they serve. This may seem insignificant, but such role confusion is at the heart of existing leisure programming woes (Davidow & Uttal, 1989). If programmers believe that their efforts should focus on product-related variables, then issues like facilities, schedules, or promotions receive much of their attention. Conversely, if they assume that their efforts should be devoted to satisfying clients, then it is the clients who receive the bulk of their attention. This subtle shift in thinking has dramatic implications for programmers (Levitt, 1983) because it allows them to concentrate on serving clients rather than on operating yet another program. When asked about their goals, programmers should think in terms of client satisfaction. In doing so, they take the first step toward quality programming.

2. Discover clients'needs.

Satisfaction results when programming efforts meet or exceed client expectations. Thus, programmers must discover clients' expectations in order to provide quality leisure services. Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry (1988) found that consumers generally evaluate programs in terms of Eve distinct characteristics or dimensions:

* Tangibility - physical cues provided by staff, other users, facilities, and equipment

* Reliability - consistently providing the promised service

* Empathy - caring and individualized attention

* Assurance - knowledgeable staff able to convey trust and confidence

* Responsiveness - willingness to provide prompt attention

Crompton and MacKay (1989) asked participants in fitness classes, hockey programs, painting classes, and a travel program about the importance these dimensions played in determining their program satisfaction. Like Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry, they found that reliability was consistently considered the most important determinant of service quality. In other words, clients expect leisure programmers to provide the promised service dependably and accurately on an ongoing basis. Clients expect consistency; once this is achieved, unique program characteristics may begin to influence participants' needs. Crompton and MacKay (1989) also found that the importance of other dimensions varied with the demands of each specific program. …