Can international tourists have a better experience at the Taj Mahal?
This thesis was born from my personal experiences and encounters with irate international tourists who visited the Taj Mahal and swore never to come back. Despite being advertised as one of the must-see locations in India, these days the Taj Mahal, a monument of love, is proving to be a disappointment to tourists from all over the world. Therefore, I decided to focus on understanding the nature of the current international tourist satisfaction at the Taj Mahal and the holistic management situation which is causing the poor satisfaction levels.
With the rapid expansion and growth of tourism sectors on an international scale, the need to study visitor satisfaction and the constructs of effective stakeholder management and collaborative efforts are on the increase. Surprisingly, although the Taj Mahal is the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in India, the gap observed was that there is a lack of academic material and studies conducted on the Taj Mahal as a destination in regards to international/domestic visitor experience. This is despite there being a large quantity of literature on tourism and visitor experience regarding India as a whole. Consequently, to fill in the literature gap and the above-stated topics I utilized visitor satisfaction and collaboration theory through the analyses of expectancy-disconfirmation theory and management stakeholders at the Taj Mahal, respectively.
I analysed expectancy-disconfirmation within visitor satisfaction theory from the international visitor’s point-of-view because if international tourists derive satisfaction from a destination then domestic visitors will experience the same. With the intention to increase visitor satisfaction levels, it is essential that the relevant stakeholders involved in the process effectively manage the destination. In order to understand how managers can effectively manage the stakeholders involved and the destination, this research overviews the concepts and constructs of stakeholder theory and collaboration theory; these are then applied with respect to the current managerial situation at the Taj Mahal. The research employs a mixed-method approach which utilises quantitative and qualitative methods. First, I collected quantitative data from international visitors who had just visited the Taj Mahal. One hundred surveys were usable. The structured questionnaire aimed to gauge the level of visitor satisfaction with respect to thirty-four attributes. This attribute set conforms to the tourism literature but also reflects my own prior experience of the Taj Mahal combined with tourist experiences posted on the internet.
The visitor satisfaction levels were measured during three stages of the visit – pre-visit; during; post-visit – using Likert-like scale questions and one open-ended question. The data collected was analysed using SPSS (PASW statistics 18) and statistical tests such as mean analysis, gap analysis, and paired t-tests were conducted to produce statistical outputs. The result showed that international visitor satisfaction level was poor for 32 of 34 attributes that were selected for measurement over all the three stages of the experience. The qualitative research involved face-to-face interviews with ten managers of relevant organisations (i.e. at international, central, state and local levels) who had an active stake in the management and operations of the Taj Mahal. The interview questions were set in two parts. In the first part of the interview semi-structured questions with five different themes were asked so as to get an understanding of the organisation as a whole. The final and main part of the interviews was based on the data obtained from the surveys. The data gathered was presented to the managers and their perspectives and opinions were sought on the reasons for low international tourist satisfaction. I concluded that the existing collaborative arrangements were ineffective because of poor communication channels and unequal levels of power distribution. Following this, the theoretical and practical linkages of the constructs of visitor satisfaction theory, and stakeholder/collaboration theory towards my research were synthesized. The discussion leads into the current visitor satisfaction levels at the Taj Mahal during all the three stages of the visit. Furthermore, based on the linkages I developed a network model which describes the degree of involvement and flow of power and authority between existing management stakeholders in the Taj Mahal context. This qualifies as a partial stakeholder analysis. On the whole, it was concluded that there is much room for improvement in terms of visitor’s satisfaction at the Taj Mahal and the managerial situation has much scope for improvement in terms of the collaborative efforts among them and also in terms of appropriate stakeholder management. The problem preventing the improvement was identified as the network of management stakeholders involved at the Taj Mahal to be too intricate and multifarious. “Can international tourist have a better experience at the Taj Mahal?” It is unlikely to happen until the situation becomes simpler to manage!