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  • 1. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT (IJM) Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) ISSN 0976-6502 (Print) ISSN 0976-6510 (Online) Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013), pp. 153-159 © IAEME: www.iaeme.com/ijm.asp Journal Impact Factor (2013): 6.9071 (Calculated by GISI) www.jifactor.com IJM ©IAEME CUSTOMER PERCEPTION TOWARDS ELECTRONIC SERVICES ON TOURIST AGENCIES WEBSITES IN ALBANIA OriolaTheodhori Ph.D Marketing-Tourism Department, Korca’s University Esmeralda Shkira Ph.D Marketing-Tourism Department, Korca’s University ABSTRACT The rapid development of information technology and network had transformed the tourism industry. Several touristic agencies have offered their tourism services on-line and claim that they offer better their services comparing with the traditional one. But, what is important, is the perception of their customers towards electronic services. Internet has changed the way touristic agencies conducted their business especially the patterns of traditional distribution of tourism products and services. The number of tourists who use internet to make booking or reservation online is growing up. Albanian touristic agencies must understand these changes to adopt their business. This paper provides an overview of customer perception towards electronic services offered by tourist agencies in Albania based on secondary data and interviews. Key word: Electronic Services, Internet Marketing, Touristic Agencies, Websites. 1. INTRODUCTION The traditional tourism industry is facing the information revolution both opportunities and challenges. A growing number of tourism products suppliers had created their own home page online. The progress of technologies brings a number of issues for travel agencies to deal with. Providing computer systems that integrate travel businesses with supplier, distributor and retailers is the crucial first step toward developing successful e-commerce business model. These technologies also contribute to minimizing transaction costs, lowering uncertainty, sharing market information and aiding in distribution channel efficiency. So Internet represents a powerful tool for touristic agencies against to traditional one. The number of tourists who use internet to make booking or reservation online is growing up. Studies on tourism website performance in the world have evolved over the years and it is very easy to find in the literature. The purpose of this paper is to introduce an approach and analyze the customer perception towards electronic services offered by touristic 153
  • 2. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) agencies in Albania. The findings of the study will contribute to a better understanding of electronic services on touristic agencies websites and confirm in general the usefulness, with suggestions for improving websites according to customer needs. In addition, this research provides recommendations for touristic agencies and professionals on how to build well-constructed and effective websites in order to have a powerful tool for marketing. 2. STUDY METHODOLOGY 2.1 Sampling Procedure For the purpose of this study, was used the directory of the travel agencies published in the website of Tourism National Agency in Albania, (http://www.akt.gov.al). The directory contains the top 125 touristic agencies in Albania, with different level of operational capabilities. Some touristic agencies operate within Albania while others are registered for both domestic and international travel. Out of the 125 travel agencies, we select a total sample of 60 agencies which had developed their website. Search engines, Google and (http://www.akt.gov.al) were used to find the corresponding websites. As the site performance may be influenced by the type of browser, computer speed, internet speed, and time of a day, these external factors were controlled when conducting the content analyses of the sites. Special attention was paid to primary research conducted with final customer through the Internet which is a novelty for this study. In order to get answers from the consumer 190 questionnaires' were distributed to consumers of touristic agencies. The questionnaires contain four sections within 28 questions in total. The main aim of questions of first section was to provide consumer demographic information: age, gender, profession, incomes, education. The aim of the second section was to provide computer and Internet usage information. The third section of questionnaires was design to provide information about customer perception towards 14 electronic services offered by websites of touristic agencies using a five point Likert scale. 3. LITERATURE REVIEW 3.1. The definition of internet marketing. Studies on the role and impact of the Internet have been conducted in recent years, particularly in the area of advertising and marketing. The Internet has proven to be an effective means of marketing, advertising, distributing goods, and information services. The Web is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for touristic agencies in a long time. The aggressive global growth of e-commerce is captivating. Although media attention has been more squarely focused on social media, the rapid growth of e-commerce is truly remarkable. Over 86% of all Web users worldwide have made at least one online purchase. That represents a 40% increase in the past two years, and it includes a staggering 93% of all Web users in Europe and 92% of Web users in North America. SOURCE: Nielsen Global Online Survey, Nielsen, Jan. 2008. Internet marketing is a process of building and maintaining customer relationship through online activities to facilitate the exchange of ideas, products, and services that satisfy the goals of both parties. (Internet marketing. Building advantages in networked economy. Rafi.Mohammed; Robert J. Fisher; Bernard J. Jaworski; Gordon J. Paddison, p.4, 2004) E-commerce is the buying and selling of services through any electronic medium. For our purposes, we focus on e-commerce as it exists on the Web, where sites provide the ability to shop for, research, and purchase products via electronic payment transaction (either directly through their site or through a third-party payment processing site). Principles of Internet Marketing, New Tools and Methods for web Developers, Jason Miletsky, p.299, 2009) 154
  • 3. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) Tourism industry is a very fragmented and an information-rich business, which makes it especially receptive for the benefits that the internet offers. One of the characteristics of tourism products is that it is intangible, in other words, they can’t be sampled before the purchase decision is made. The information-based nature of the tourism products means that the Internet, which offers global reach and multimedia capability, is an ideal communication vehicle for promoting and distributing tourism products and services. 3.2 The modern features of the European tourist market. The most important modern features of the European tourist market as a result of the development of electronic technologies,- could be systematized as follows: • increasing the level of complexity the competition on the market; • offering products simplified to the most, because the only determining element is their price; • increasing the sales of two-component travel in the net (airplane ticket and accommodation; accommodation and rent-a-car); • increased number of buyers who purchase from foreign intermediaries; • tourists are less protected, especially when they buy from foreign agents, because of the differences in national legislations. There are few studies about, how Internet had changed traditional tourism industry in developed countries. Furthermore there are only a few researches into the classification of electronic services in websites of tourism agencies in Albania. Some publications of results do exist but they do not specifically address tourism websites. 4. THE ONLINE PRESENCE OF TOURISTIC AGENCIES IN ALBANIA. Evaluation of websites has been the focus of many empirical studies. Despite of this results of research and researchers vary according to different studies. Most of them emphasize the presence of more than a billion pages on the Internet. Websites are become part of the market space and communication. They offer great opportunities for companies round the world. However, organizations today have to balanced opportunities and constraints offered by the internet. According to Sterne, the company's online presence results for two main reasons: First, the perceived need to be in touch with customers or competitors, in terms of image design and provision of services. Second, Internet is a vital tool for marketing activities of the organization. Touristic agencies use a variety of published and computer-based sources for information on departure and arrival times, fares, hotels accommodations, different kind of offers or promotions. Touristic agencies who primarily work for tour operators and other travel arrangers may help develop, arrange, and sell the company's own package tours and travel services. They may promote these services, using telemarketing, direct mail, and the Internet. Things have changed dramatically over the past several years in terms of website design and electronic services in it. Today some touristic agency websites are starting to find other uses of their websites, such as providing interactive functions and personalizing and customizing its contents based on the characteristics of their target markets. Touristic agencies have come to realize that their websites serve as extended office to their customers and represent the quality of their products and services as well as their reputation. Agencies are trying to introduce new electronic services to attract and maintain the consumers. The Albanian tourism industry has developed its online services and obtained some initial experience. Albania has a different tourism ecommerce development environment in which barriers and challenges are still present. This also applies for Albania and was clearly shown in the results of the internet user’s field research, where 52 % of the respondents said that they have used the internet to find information about tourist services. In the beginning, touristic agency websites were simply used as an ‘online brochure’, in other words, 155
  • 4. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) providing static information for the online consumers to view. The National Agency of Tourism of Albania, has started its activity since the year 2005 and serve as main online directory for touristic agencies, hotels, restaurants, night club, guesthouse, etc. At the beginning of 2013 there were 125 touristic agencies in Albania. According to content analyze, the number of agencies who had built their presence on line is growing up. The number of agencies is growing up during 2010-2013. The touristic agencies are focus towards online presence. From 2011 to 2013 the number of agencies who has built their presence online is growing about 10%. Years Agencies number Website& e-Mail Only E-mail None of them Table 1. Albanian Touristic Agencies 2010 2011 2012 104 113 120 38% 43 % 45% 58% 53% 51 % 15% 12 % 12 % 2013 (July) 125 48% 43% 9% 5. CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS TOWARDS ELECTRONIC SERVICES. 5.1 Consumer Profile. As mentioned above the number of Internet users has grown enormously recently. This growing trend is also evident in Albania. This trend is accompanied by increasing people's confidence in doing business online. Table 2 shows the customer profile by age, sex, educational level, nationality and frequency of e-services. The characteristics of these respondents were similar to Internet user profiles gathered in other studies. Table 2. Demographic Data Demographic Data AGE Younger than 20 years 20-35 years 36-50 years More than 50 years GENDER Male Female EDUCATION Secondary School High School Professional Education University Bachelor University Master Higher than Master (PhD candidate, PhD, other) Other INCOMES Under 300$ 301 – 500$ Over 500$ Frequently of use e-services of touristic agencies Less than a year 13 years 4- 6 years More than 6 years NATIONALITY Albanian, Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo. European nationalities (e.g., French, German, British, Italian, etc.) 156 Percentage of respondents 9.2% 29% 33.6% 28.2% 42% 58% 4.9% 27.2% 6.0% 40.8% 15.4% 3.5% 2.2% 15% 46% 39% 14% 42% 34% 10% 92% 8.0%
  • 5. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) 5.2 Customer perception towards electronic services The third section of questionnaires was design to provide information about what are the most influential e-service in websites of touristic agencies by the customer perspective using a five point Likert scale. Table 3 presents the most important electronic services listed by respondents. The results of web-based survey with customer of touristic agencies found that 14 selected electronic services in the study constitute a reliable profile of electronic services offered by websites of tourist agencies. Information, purchase and reservation online are the most important features of a website. As it seen from the table, the electronic services that are perceived more important by respondents with higher average are informative aspects of the website, so information for the agency, products and tourist destinations as well as the opportunity for online transactions and payments, than interactive features. Consumers are aware that all touristic agencies make every effort to provide secure transactions through their websites. They have increased and diversified their electronic services to meet customer needs as well as possible. The quality of the presence of a destination in the internet (easiness to find and access content, structure, design etc.) is nowadays of crucial importance and constitutes a selection criterion. Table 3. Electronic Services Electronic Services Rank Average of importance 1 Information for touristic destination 4.8 2 Safety and security 4.8 3 4 Information for touristic agencies Online payment 4.6 4.6 5 Online order tracking and reservation 4.6 6 Products catalog 4.4 7 Product personalization 4.4 8 Location features 4.2 9 10 Website-s map Direct links with other site-s 4.0 4.0 11 Direct links with other sites 3.9 12 Website Customization 3.8 13 Search engine (browser) 3.8 14 Visual aspects 3.7 15 FAQ-s, Chat room, guest book, etc 3.5 If we summarize these services to broad category we can say that the information, transaction and interaction categories are estimated as most important for the consumer. The information category, in other words, this is an additional channel of marketing strategies, offering the company’s information online. The transaction and interaction categories are the broadest and most complex ecommerce application since they enables the company to process multiple tasks such as online sales, online orders, online delivery (especially for digital products) and online payment. The technical and design categories are considered less important by the consumer but they are estimated positively too. 157
  • 6. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) The broad category Information Category Transaction Category Interaction Category Technical Category Design Category Mean Standard deviation 4.5093 4.4352 4.4092 4.0133 3.7878 0.43568 0.52161 0.54568 0.63154 0.75207 6. KEY FINDINGS The number of websites continues to grow up and the touristic agencies are looking for the better ways in order to satisfy the consumer’s needs. The ability of websites to attract customers will become increasingly critical for business survival. The results show that online touristic agencies in Albania have mainly moderate level of website development. The content of the websites sometimes is not well designed. Generally, the designers of the websites will take in account some critical details such as what are the customer’s needs and how can attract them to our sites. The pages are so filled with massive duties and sometime are poor of information or online service which customer really expect to get. Some websites are not update. This is a big problem for the websites users. Some touristic agencies have used heavy videos as their front-page, but sometime this is not a good choice due of the technical problems in loading the page. The key factor for developing a successful website is to correctly define user needs or requirements. Some touristic agencies websites are not satisfactory. Therefore, as obtaining information is still the main aim of web users so improving the quality and level of web information are major tasks for touristic agencies. About 10% of touristic agencies websites are constantly under construction, or even inactive, as mentioned in the focus groups discussions and also confirmed during the field research. On the contrary, the others (professional websites) show much better results, mainly due to their personal involvement and close following up of technological developments. 7. CONCLUSIONS Tourism is characterized by a large amount of data so travel agencies can benefit from the use of internet marketing techniques to reach their target market. The intensity and pressure of competition both domestically and abroad appeal for differentiation through electronic services to provide competitive advantages. The main purpose of online touristic agencies is to provide, communicate and deliver value to their customers. This will be accomplished through differentiation strategies, thus providing a high value on customer activities on the website. Touristic agencies sector already understands the role and importance of electronic service distribution for their customers. By improving the quality of electronic services touristic agencies are able to obtain competitive advantages and differentiate their offerings in the market. The field of electronic services in touristic agencies websites remains subject to study and this will be reflected in the knowledge and practice of their managers. The most important electronic services for the customers ( as perceived by them) are : information about the product / service , booking and online payments, security of transactions and after sales services. As online consumers are not able to see or touch characteristics of tourism products or services, agencies must provide superior value for their electronic services. However, it is important to mention the reputation of the agency or the prices of products / services. 158
  • 7. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 5, September - October (2013) 8. LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS There are some limitations to the current study. First, of all the sample of respondents was focused mainly on website users in Albania. The participants in this study may possess attributes and behaviors that differ from the potential users. The level of respondents, satisfy the inquiries of SPSS program. In the future the number of respondent will be dublicate. Next, as mentioned earlier in the data collection section, it was impossible to send follow-up surveys. In this research we focus on respondents who used a vary actions on internet. In future research we will focus on specific service quality dimensions. Their perception about services quality may differ from the other part of consumer who takes different actions like, gathering information or “take a look”. These are more interested about the information, website configuration and easy of navigation. REFERENCES 1. B. Doolin, L. Burgess, and J. Cooper, 2002. “Evaluating the use of the web for tourism marketing: A case study from New Zealand,” Tourism Management, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 557 –561, 2. Susan Sweeney,, 2009CA, CSP, HoF “101 Ways to Promote Your Website “ 3. T. Larson and P. Ankomah, 2004 “Evaluating tourism web site complexity: The case of international tourism in the U.S.,” Services Marketing Quarterly, 26 (2), 23–37. 4. Rafi a.Mohammed; Robert J. Fisher; Bernard J. Jaworski; Gordon J. Paddison 2004 Internet marketing, Building advantages in networked economy, p.4. 5. Berry, Leonard, L., and Parasuraman, Arun (1993).Building a New Academic Field – The Case of Services Marketing. Journal of Retailing, Vol. 69 (Spring), No. 1, pp. 13-60. 6. Buhalis, D., and Main, H. (1998). Information Technology in Peripheral Small and Medium Hospitality Enterprises: Strategic Analysis and Critical Factors. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 10, No. 5, pp. 198-202. 7. Edvardsson, Bo (1996). Making Service-Quality Improvement Work. Managing Service Quality, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 49-52. 8. Bhattacherjee, A. (2001). An Empirical Analysis of the Antecedents of Electronic Commerce Service Continuance. Decision Support Systems, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 201-214. 9. Murphy, et al., 1996. “Hotel management and marketing on the internet,” The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administra-tion Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 70–82, 10. Nielsen Global Online Survey, Nielsen, Jan. 2008. 11. Chitra Kiran N and Dr. G. Narendra Kumar, “Efficient M-Commerce Marketing Application Based Internet of Things using Near Field Communication”, International Journal of Computer Engineering & Technology (IJCET), Volume 3, Issue 3, 2012, pp. 15 - 22, ISSN Print: 0976 – 6367, ISSN Online: 0976 – 6375. 12. Dr. A P Hosamani and Vadiraj J S, “An Empirical Study on Customer Engagement Practices in Tourism Industry”, International Journal of Marketing & Human Resource Management (IJMHRM), Volume 4, Issue 2, 2013, pp. 26 - 39, ISSN Print: 0976 – 6421, ISSN Online: 0976- 643X. 13. Dr R Kuselar, M. Senthil and Dr N.R.V. Prabhu, “Network Marketing Through Buzz Marketing Strategy”, International Journal of Management (IJM), Volume 2, Issue 1, 2011, pp. 106 - 116, ISSN Print: 0976-6502, ISSN Online: 0976-6510. 159