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Hostel front desk employees’ perception of customers: a comparative analysis based on cultural background

Omar Moufakkir (Department of Business Administration, Gulf University for Science and Technology, Mubarak Al-Abdullah, Kuwait)
Mohamad N. Alnajem (Department of Business Administration, Gulf University for Science and Technology, Mubarak-Al-Abdullah, Kuwait)

International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research

ISSN: 1750-6182

Article publication date: 7 August 2017

Abstract

Purpose

Despite their popularity among tourists, information about low-cost accommodation is limited. The study aims to focus on hostels as tourist accommodation. The purpose of this paper is to document the perceptions of hostel front-desk employees about customers and examine employees’ perceptions from a cultural perspective. As culture moderates behavior in general, in light of the cultural difference postulate which proposes that guests and hosts who are from similar or proximate cultures are more likely to experience positive service encounter and that encounter between guests and hosts from distant cultures may be more challenging to service providers, the study compares the perceptions of hostel Western front-desk employees with those of Eastern front-desk employees of their customers. Customers are categorized into four groups – Western customers, Eastern, Middle Eastern/Arab and African. Exploratory interviews paved the development of perception items, which were later on used in a questionnaire to serve the study’s purpose. The paper has managerial and theoretical implications and offers suggestions for further research to advance understanding about this neglected tourism environment.

Design/methodology/approach

Preliminary/exploratory short interviews with hostel employees in London paved the development of perception items, which were later on used in a questionnaire. There are about 190 hostels in the London area. The questionnaire was self-administered and successfully completed by 113 front-desk employees working in London hostels. t-test statistics was used to examine whether the two groups of employees hold different perceptions about their culturally different group of customers.

Findings

Results indicate that, generally, differences in perception exist among hostel employees about their customer groups. For example, Western customers are perceived as nicer and more tip-givers than Eastern customers, but they also complain more and are more demanding than their counterparts. Asian customers are perceived to be friendlier, least troublesome and least demanding than the other customer groups. African customers are the least positively perceived. As for Middle Eastern (Arab) customers, they are perceived rather somewhat positively and yet the least favorite. Furthermore, no statistical differences were observed between Western employees and Eastern employees’ perceptions about their customer groups, except that the latter perceives Asian customers to be more troublesome and more complaining.

Research limitations/implications

Although researchers have compared Western people’s behaviors and attitudes with those of Eastern people, differences may also exist within cultural groups, especially between East Europeans and West Europeans, between Middle Eastern and North Africans or between Americans and Canadians, despite cultural proximity. Therefore, it is always reasonable to interpret cultural differences studies cautiously.

Practical implications

Hostel management is advised not to take cultural proximity/distance between employees and customers for granted and, thus, should not assume that Eastern employees are more likely to provide better service to Eastern customers than Western employees or that Western employees are more likely to do so to Western customers because they are culturally similar or proximate. In an increasingly globalized world and mobile and culturally diverse workforce in the hospitality sector, it becomes necessary to raise employees’ awareness about cultural differences and their probable effects on perceptions. This is especially true for hostels because of their social characteristic.

Originality/value

Despite the importance of hostels to the tourism and hospitality industry, not much is known about their customers or their employees. In addition to contributing to employee perception in general, which is also a neglected area of study, this paper used cultural distance/proximity to assess differences in perception between Eastern employees and Western employees about four culturally different groups of hostel customers. In light of the impacts of globalization on consumer behavior, this paper joins other research to challenge the cultural distance postulate in the service encounter context.

Keywords

Citation

Moufakkir, O. and Alnajem, M.N. (2017), "Hostel front desk employees’ perception of customers: a comparative analysis based on cultural background", International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 355-371. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCTHR-07-2016-0068

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited