Host-guest Encounters in a Tourist Destination: Exploring the Experiences of Sri Lankan Hospitality From a Foreign Tourist’s Perspective
Puwakgaha Kumbure, Sarath Munasinghe
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In tourism, hospitality is frequently viewed from a service encounter perspective – a perspective that reflects the role hospitality has in service encounters in hospitality businesses. From this perspective, hospitality is interpreted as a business activity, providing food, beverage, lodging and related services to tourists in exchange for money. However, this is a narrow conception of hospitality, and not sufficient for a comprehensive understanding of tourists’ experience of hospitality (TEH) in a destination. Firstly, the service encounter perspective does not encompass the entirety of TEH in a tourist destination, because, when considering hospitality as a business activity, scholars and practitioners tend to overlook the commonplace interactions between hosts and guests that occur in places other than in hospitality businesses. Secondly, the service encounter perspective overlooks the broader dimensionality of hospitality, because, by conceptualising hospitality primarily as an economic activity, scholars and practitioners tend to overlook the social and cultural dimensions of TEH. This thesis sets out to fully appreciate the broader contexts and dimensions of hospitality in tourism, and thus proposes a socio-culturally informed host-guest encounter perspective to studying TEH. The host-guest encounter perspective overcomes the limitations of the service encounter perspective by recognising that hospitality in tourism occurs when hosts and guests interact in different places or contexts along tourists’ journeys in a destination and emphasising the significance of place or context in understanding hospitality. A review of the literature reveals that ‘hospitality’ is understood as a social construct; in other words, the meaning of ‘hospitality’ depends upon the context in which it occurs. The ways foreign tourists construct the meaning of TEH in a Sri Lankan context is explored using a constructivist grounded theory approach. This brings an Asian/non-western perspective to the understanding of hospitality due to the researcher being from, and the field work being carried out in Sri Lanka. Empirical data on memorable experiences of Sri Lankan hospitality evoked by host-guest encounters were collected through in-depth face-to-face interviews in the departure lounge of the main gateway airport of Sri Lanka. Data analysis followed the three phases of familiarising, initial coding and focused coding, and resulted in a grounded theory of tourists’ experience of hospitality (TEH). The findings established that the host-guest encounter perspective is more suitable than the service encounter perspective in understanding TEH, because it enables the study of hospitality in relation to broader contexts and places, and reveals the multiple dimensions of hospitality. TEH was found to be an integral part of tourists’ experience of travelling (TET), as tourists experienced hospitality throughout a destination in encounters with hosts of different types in different contexts. Further, place-induced characteristics of hospitality infused cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions of TEH and significantly contributed to making the overall travel experience hospitable, memorable and meaningful. Thus, hospitality in tourism is not just a business activity but a phenomenon that encompasses more holistic contexts and dimensions that influence the entire travel experience. Theoretically, the findings contribute an Asian and Buddhist perspective to the understanding of hospitality in tourism. Practically, the industry can understand the importance of hospitable experiences to tourists through this conceptualisation, and develop ways to make tourists’ travel and stays in a destination more hospitable. Tourists’ understanding of the notion of hospitality also emphasises the importance of the hospitable treatment of strangers of all types in an increasingly mobile age, and highlights the role of hospitality beyond tourism.