WSU students in training to be future hospitality professionals

Over a billion international tourists visit hotels every year, and every interaction affects guests’ experiences. If those experiences meet the guests’ expectations, it’s all good. If not, complaints may literally be heard around the world in an instant, thanks to social media platforms that make it easy for customers to share their reactions with millions of people.

That doesn’t bode well for the global, multibillion-dollar hospitality and tourism industry.

International researchers from Washington State University, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates suggest that a win-win dynamic may occur between hospitality and tourism firms and customers when they work together to create exceptional guest experiences.

A new grant from the Hong Kong Polytechnical University will support the researchers in a two-year study focusing specifically on the role hotel employees have in co-creating positive experiences with guests.

Hotel employees engage with guests in a variety of ways to co-create experiences. For example, employees of the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas are trained to interact with guests and learn their habits. If a guest is a runner and has forgotten to pack running shoes, a pair will appear in the guest’s room at no charge. In another example, the New York’s Eleven Madison Park Restaurant develops a menu using one-word descriptions, such as “foie gras,” “lobster,” or “pork.” Restaurant staff talk to guests to learn their dining preferences and allergies and then create personalized, “surprise” dishes for each guest who orders a menu item with a one-word description.

“Little research on co-creation has been conducted in the hospitality sector prior to our study,” says Robert Harrington, WSU hospitality professor. “Our study delves into hotel employees as agents in who are involved in co-creating such experiences.”

The researchers seek to answer four central questions:

  1. What resources do firms have for employees to co-create customer experiences?
  2. How do employees feel about co-creation?
  3. What is the involvement of employees and their role in the co-creation of customer experiences?
  4. What barriers—such as technology, strategy, and management structure—impede employees in the co-creation of customer experiences?

The study will take place in Hong Kong, where researchers will conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with employees from four upscale, luxury hotels. The study is particularly important in the Hong Kong hotel industry in which employee turnover rates are high, the researchers said.

The researchers plan to publish a scientific paper on their results and a book chapter that will contribute to the existing literature in the hospitality and tourism industry.

Research collaborators include Eric S.W. Chan, assistant professor, Hong Kong Polytechnical University, Prakash Chathoth, professor, American University of Sharjah, UAE, Fevzi Okumus, professor, University of Central Florida, and Zibin Song, associate professor, Hainan University, China.

To learn more, contact
Robert J. Harrington
School of Hospitality Business Management
Washington State University Tri-Cities
Carson College of Business
509-372-7487 •