Modeling the experiences of customer-customer encounters (CCEs) in event tourism
Over the last two decades, the increase in research into the event industry is testimony to the importance of this industry to the burgeoning tourism economy. Despite a high level of interpersonal interactions among attendees at in-person events, a comprehensive review of related literature indicates a lack of theories explaining the process and rationale behind interpersonal interaction phenomenon at events. This dissertation promotes a deeper understanding of how interactions among attendees are subjectively experienced and has implications for the context of the most competitive segment of the business sector of events--conferences. The empirical investigation of this dissertation includes a qualitative study and a quantitative study. The qualitative study was conducted to explore how attendees subjectively experience interpersonal encounters with other attendees. A total of 26 informants who have attended various association conferences in the past five years were invited to participate in an in-depth interview. Data analysis of these interviews leads to a flow of attendees' subjective experiences at customer-customer encounters (CCEs), to instrumental-hedonic dual motivations that drive attendees to participate in CCEs, to three typical types of CCEs, and finally, to four major functions served by CCEs accompanied by four processes these functions are perceived to facilitate. These functions and processes propose a multidimensional conceptualization of attendees' CCE experiences. This dissertation also identifies three levels of salient situational factors that affect attendees' experiences at CCEs. Lastly, two special types of CCEs stood out, which are reported to stay "sticky" after attendees' conference participation. The quantitative study was administered to investigate the underlying mechanism through which attendees' CCE experiences can impact attendees' self-view and conference experience. Drawing upon Self Concept and Social Identity Theory, this dissertation proposes a positive relationship between attendees' CCE experiences and their self-esteem as well as transcendent conference experience, which is mediated through attendees' group identification with the conference group. Attendees' CCE experiences are operationalized into know-how exchange and social-emotional support attendees received at CCEs. In total, 821 participants were recruited to fill out an online questionnaire regarding their interaction experiences at association conferences they attended in the past five years. Structural Equation Modeling results demonstrate that as expected, attendees' CCE experiences positively affect their self-esteem and transcendent conference experience, which is partially mediated through attendees' group identification with the conference group. In addition, the path coefficients indicate that compared with know-how exchange, the social-emotional support attendees obtain from other attendees at CCEs plays a more significant role in facilitating their identification process with the conference group and in leading to their transcendent conference experience. This dissertation contributes to emerging consumer research on the influence of other consumers and consumer experience by exploring subjective experiences at CCEs in an interaction-driven industry--the conference industry. Drawing upon theories and empirical findings from a variety of study fields including social psychology, consumer behavior, organizational behavior, event management, and marketing & branding, this dissertation develops a consumptive model of experiential CCEs in event tourism. This consumptive model reveals the "black box" in the behavioral process in consumer literature by uncovering the multidimensionality of CCE experiences and the impacts of CCE experiences on attendees' self-view and conference experience. The consumptive model developed in this dissertation further advocates for and advances an integration of experiential focus in consumer behavior studies. The findings offered in this dissertation are also practically meaningful to the hospitality and event industry. Specific findings associated with attendees' multidimensional interaction experiences at three major types of CCEs and the mediating role of attendees' felt identification in attendees' overall experiences provide hospitality and events practitioners with an enhanced understanding of attendees' subjective experiences at CCEs. Such an enhanced understanding helps hospitality and events practitioners increase their competitive edge by strategizing best practices to engage attendees at CCEs, to add value to attendees' overall experiences, and to enhance events-marketing with a focus on experiential CCEs. Hospitality and event practitioners are further offered strategic suggestions to collaborate with the host destination and the event venue in order to improve attendees' interaction and event experiences and to sustain the development and success of the event industry.
Cai, Purdue University.
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