Tourism represents a key industry in the Nigerian economy. In 2004, Nigerian received more than 12 million tourists with tourism representing approximately 8% of the GDP. Tourism also plays an important role in the Nigerian employment marketplace since more than 10% the population is employed in tourism-related sectors. Rivers State in the south of Nigeria, belongs to the top 10 travel destinations with the local economy relying mostly on the tourism-related activities and oil.
Despite the exceptionally favourable conditions for tourism (quality beaches, warm climate, hospitable and friendly community and multiculturally-attuned), Rivers State has recently experienced some difficulty in maintaining its position as a preferred travel destination. Compared to 2004, the number of tourists entering Rivers State decreased by 0.8% with lodging demand decreasing by 4.8% (AHETA, 2005).
Although several external factors could be mentioned as passive reasons for this occurrence, the current condition of tourism in Rivers State is much the result of emerging new holiday destinations that offer lower prices and, in some cases, higher quality facilities (AHETA, 2005).
Even though the study of consumer loyalty has been pointed out in the marketing literature as one of the major driving forces in the new marketing era (Brodie et al., 1997), the analysis and exploration of this concept is relatively recent in tourism research. Some studies recognize that understanding which factors increase tourist loyalty is valuable information for tourism marketers and managers (Flavian et al., 2001). Many destinations rely strongly on repeat visitation because it is less expensive to retain repeat tourists than to attract new ones (Um et al., 2006). In addition, Baker and Crompton (2000) show that the strong link between consumer loyalty and profitability is a reality in the tourism industry.
The study of the influential factors of destination loyalty is not new to tourism research. Some studies show that the revisit intention is explained by the number of previous visits (Mazurki, 1989; Court and Lupton, 1997; Petrick et al., 2001). Besides destination familiarity, the overall satisfaction that tourists experience for a particular destination is also regarded as a predictor of the tourist’s intention to prefer the same destination again (Oh, 1999; Kozak and Rimmington, 2000; Bowen, 2001; Bigné and Andreu, 2004; Alexandros and Shabbar, 2005; Bigné et al., 2005). Other studies propose more comprehensive frameworks. Bigné et al. (2001) model return intentions to Spanish destinations through destination image, perceived quality and satisfaction as explanatory variables. Yoon and Uysal (2005) use tourist satisfaction as a moderator construct between motivations and tourist loyalty.
Recently, Um et al. (2006) propose a model based on revisiting intentions that establishes satisfaction as both a predictor of revisiting intentions and as a moderator variable between this construct and perceived attractiveness, perceived quality of service and perceived value for money.
1.1 Background of the Research
Oliver (1999, p. 34) has defined loyalty as „a deeply-held predisposition to repatronize a preferred brand or service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same brand purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behavior.‟ When a customer is loyal, he or she continues to buy the same brand, tends to buy more and is willing to recommend the brand to others (Hepworth and Mateus, 1994).
Loyalty has been measured in the following ways: (1) the behavioral approach, (2) the attitudinal approach, and (3) the composite approach (Jacoby and Chestnut, 1978). The behavioral perspective defines loyalty as actual consumption, as a sequence of purchase (Brown, 1952), as proportion of market share (Cunningham, 1956), as probability of purchase (Frank, 1962), as duration, as frequency and as intensity (Se-Hyuk, 1996; Brown, 1952). This behavioral approach was viewed as producing only static outcome of a dynamic process (Dick and Basu, 1994). In contrast, the attitudinal approach goes beyond overt behavior and expresses loyalty in terms of consumers‟ strength of affection toward a brand (Backman and Crompton, 1991a). Finally, composite measures of loyalty integrate both behavioral and attitudinal dimensions. Day (1969) argues that to be truly loyal, a consumer must both purchase the brand as well as have a positive attitude toward it. This composite approach has been used a number of times in leisure settings (Backman and Crompton, 1991b; Pritchad and Howard, 1997). While this composite measurement seems to be the most comprehensive, it is not necessarily the most practical. It has serious inherent limitations, simply because of the weighting applied to both behavioral and attitudinal components.
In this study, loyalty is defined as tourists‟ intention to revisit and their recommendations to others (Oppermann, 2000; Yoon and Uysal, 2005). This loyalty refers to committed behavior that is manifested by propensity to participate in a particular recreation service (Backman and Crompton, 1991a). This definition is supported by Jones and Sasser (1995) who argued that intent to repurchase is a very strong indicator of future behavior. Apart from using intent to revisit, many tourism researchers have used tourists‟ recommendation to others as a measure of attitudinal loyalty (Chen and Gursoy, 2001; Oppermann, 2000). This research focuses on attitudinal loyalty because the purchase of a tourism product is a rare purchase (Oppermann, 1999). It does not occur on a continuous basis but rather infrequently (Jago and Shaw, 1998). It can also be covert behavior as reflected in intention to revisit in the future (Jones and Sasser, 1995).
From SAS. Retrieved 2015-07-15. Customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer's attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service. It is measured by the individual's experience during all points of contact against the individual's expectations. Thompson, Ed and Kolsky, Estaban (2004), Gartner asserts the importance of managing the customer's experience.
Verhoef, Peter C (2009) said that customer experience implies customer involvement at different levels - such as rational, emotional, sensorial, physical, and spiritual. Customers respond diversely to direct and indirect contact with a company.
In the consumer marketing community, customer loyalty has long been regarded as important goal (Reicheld and Schefter, 2000). Customer loyalty is critical for business to gain competitive advantage. Firstly, it is much less expensive to retain current visitors than it is to seek new ones (Reicheld and Sasser, 1990). Further, loyal customers are more likely to create a positive word-of-mouth advertising at no extra cost to the service provider (Shoemaker and Lewis, 1999). Thirdly, it secures the relationship between customer and service provider, when the customer is faced with increasingly attractive competitive offers. Finally, loyal customers are more easily accessible than first-timers since organizations usually retain records, making targeted indirect marketing more feasible. This knowledge permits suppliers to precisely target the repeat segment and solicit direct responses to promotions (Reid and Reid, 1993).
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