Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Examining Relationships between Leisure Involvement, Psychological Commitment and Loyalty to a Recreation Agency

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Examining Relationships between Leisure Involvement, Psychological Commitment and Loyalty to a Recreation Agency

Article excerpt

Research on leisure involvement and loyalty has important implications. Recreation service agencies can benefit from having involved and loyal participants/clients since these participants or clients appear to play an essential role in achieving important organizational goals, including revenue generation, developing a positive reputation, networking, community development, and promoting the quality of life (Backman & Crompton, 1991; Bullaro & Edginton, 1986; Gahwiler & Havitz, 1998; Howard, Edginton, & Selin, 1988). Thus, developing and maintaining customer loyalty brings "a sustainable competitive advantage" (Dick & Basu, 1994, p. 99) and has become "a strategic mandate in today's service markets" (Ganesh, Arnold, & Reynolds, 2000, p. 65).

Leisure involvement and loyalty have implications for ongoing participation and client retention. For example, Gahwiler (1995) pointed out that annual retention rates of membership-based fitness facilities are, on average, only 50%. Howard (1992) found that only 2% of American adults accounted for 75% of annual participation in six leisure activities examined, including golf and running. More recently, Barber and Havitz (2001) examined adult Canadians' participation rates in ten sport and fitness activities. Similar to Howard (1992), Barber and Havitz split activity individuals into occasional, regular, and avid participants. They reported that avid participants accounted for a low of 70% of all bicycling to a high of 84% of all running/jogging and ice hockey participation. Furthermore, research evidence suggests that it is more efficient (i.e., up to six times) for practitioners to focus on retaining current clients than on seeking new ones (O'Boyle, 1983).

It has been shown that leisure involvement and loyalty are related but distinct constructs (e.g., Backman & Crompton, 1991; Park, 1996), while psychological commitment has been conceptualized as a key linking variable between these two constructs (Iwasaki & Havitz, 1998). Briefly, leisure involvement reflects people's beliefs about their leisure participation including the importance of and interest in such participation, and symbolic values derived from it (Havitz & Dimanche, 1997). Psychological commitment represents people's attitude toward a brand (e.g., a recreation service provider) such as their resistance to change their preferences toward the brand (Pritchard, Havitz, & Howard, 1999). Finally, loyalty reflects people's attitude and behavior toward a brand of service and repeat patronage in the use of the brand (Backman & Crompton, 1991; Park, 1996).

In contemporary leisure research, leisure involvement and loyalty have been two of the widely studied topics. The dimensions of leisure involvement have been extensively examined, along with their consequences (e.g., purchase decisions, participation patterns, and recreation service promotion). Other issues examined include the temporal stability of leisure involvement and its associations with user characteristics (see Havitz & Dimanche, 1997, 1999 for reviews of leisure involvement research). Loyalty in leisure settings has been discussed in both activity and service provider contexts, with researchers defining the phenomenon using both behavioral and attitudinal indicators. Participants and clients have been segmented based on their types and levels of loyalty, and antecedents of loyalty have been examined (e.g., Backman & Crompton, 1991; Howard et al., 1988; Pritchard et al., 1999; Pritchard, Howard, & Havitz, 1992; Selin, Howard, Udd, & Cable, 1988). Also, conceptual links between loyalty and other constructs such as constraints and service quality have been explored (e.g., Backman, 1991; Backman & Veldkamp, 1995).

Generally, researchers have independently examined the concepts of leisure involvement and loyalty. Very little attention has been given to systematically conceptualize and/or directly examine the potential relationships between the two concepts. …

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