Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Effects of Different Types of Information Messages on Perceptions of Price and Stated Willingness-to-Pay

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Effects of Different Types of Information Messages on Perceptions of Price and Stated Willingness-to-Pay

Article excerpt


The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) proposed major increases in the admission prices to Texas state parks. The existing regular price varied across parks, but was typically between $3 and $6 per vehicle. The differential prices among state parks reflected TPWD's policy of permitting local state park managers to set prices at their facility. Since each park was permitted to retain 35% of all revenues raised from pricing to enhance its budget, there was incentive for managers to set relatively high prices. Thus, the differential prices reflected managers' perceptions of price elasticity of demand at their facility.

The new proposal was to change from $3 to $6 per vehicle to between $1 and $4 per person although children under the age of 12 would be admitted free of charge. Given that other surveys undertaken by TPWD indicated that the average number of people in a vehicle was close to four, if the shift to per person pricing was implemented it would lead to a substantial price increase for many visitors. In addition, seniors 65 and over previously had been admitted free of charge, but under the proposed new policy they would be required to pay half the regular price.

The magnitude of the proposed increases led to a realization that there could be substantial visitor resistance, so before implementing them TPWD commissioned a series of three studies to evaluate likely visitor reactions. One of the goals of these studies was to ascertain if there were information strategies that could be used to ameliorate visitor resistance to the price increases. There was awareness of a body of empirical literature in the recreation field that consistently reported such strategies were likely to be effective in reducing stated resistance to price increases (Kyle, Kerstetter & Guadagnolo, 1999; McCarville, 1989; 1991; McCarville & Crompton, 1987a; 1987b; McCarville, Crompton & Sell, 1993; Reiling, Criner & Oltmanns, 1988; Schwer & Daneshvary 1997).

The success of information messages in positively influencing perceptions of price increases has been primarily explained by adaptation level theory. This was first postulated by Helson (1964) and it suggests that visitors evaluate price comparatively by adapting to contextual and residual stimuli.

Helson (1964) postulated that level of adaptation is the pooled effect of three classes of stimuli: (1) focal stimuli; (2) background or contextual stimuli; and (3) residual stimuli. He defined adaptation level as "a weighted product of these three classes of stimuli" (p. 58) or "a weighted geometric mean of all stimuli impinging upon the organism from without and all stimuli affecting behavior from within" (p. 59). Thus, adaptation level theory suggests that changing these stimuli may result in changing perceptions of price which, in turn, is likely to influence the manner in which people evaluate price increases.

Focal stimuli are those to which visitors are exposed in state parks and that attract their attention. They include current price, quality condition, and services that are provided (McCarville & Crompton, 1987b). However, perceptions of focal stimuli are strongly influenced by contextual and residual stimuli that provide a framework within which an encoded message is evaluated.

McCarville and Crompton (1987b) referred to contextual stimuli as "background variables that provide the context within which the focal stimuli are considered" (p. 224). In the context of public swimming pools, they noted that contextual cues included knowledge of pool location, of services offered, and of the magnitude of city tax dollars used to subsidize the pool's operation. Crompton and Lamb (1986) suggested that contextual cues could be changed to increase clientele groups' perceptions of value, without improving facilities or services. Information messages offer one way of doing this and the empirical literature in recreation reviewed later in the paper validates this strategy. …

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