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    • The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0959-6119.htmIJCHM18,7 The effects of atmospheric elements on customer impression: the case of hotel lobbies534 Cary C. Countryman School of Business, Brigham Young University, Laie, Hawaii, USA, and SooCheong Jang Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this study is to examine the atmospheric elements of color, lighting, layout, style, and furnishings that make up the physical environment of a hotel lobby. Previous research indicates that these atmospheric elements impact overall guest perceptions and impressions. Design/methodology/approach – Data were collected using a scenario approach along with photographs of the hotel lobby. Structural equation modeling was used to analysis the data to determine which of the atmospheric elements were more influential in the overall impression of the hotel lobby. Findings – Three of the atmospheric elements (color, lighting, and style) were found to be significantly related to the overall impression of a hotel lobby. Color was the most significant of these three atmospheric elements. Research limitations/implications – The focus of this research was the hotel lobby. While this physical environment is fairly important in helping to establish first impressions, there are other physical spaces within a hotel that have a large influence on guest perceptions and impressions. Hotel practitioners need to understand the importance of the atmospheric elements and their influence on overall guest perceptions and impressions. Originality/value – This research examines atmospherics from a hospitality and lodging perspective. The topic has received limited research interest in the past but it is becoming recognized as an important consideration in future hotel design and construction. This research helps in establishing a foundation on which future research can be built. Keywords Perception, Hotels, Colour, Consumer behaviour, Lighting systems, Design Paper type Research paper Psychologists have determined that the physical environment has an effect on human behavior and this branch of psychology has become known as environmental psychology. Using the premise of environmental psychology, Kotler (1973) determined that if the physical environment had an effect on human behavior, it would also influence the behavior of individuals in consumer settings such as retail stores. Bitner (1992) took the concept of atmospherics a step further by developing a framework that addresses the effects of the physical environment on consumers in service settings. ToInternational Journal ofContemporary Hospitality distinguish this framework from that of atmospherics, Bitner (1992) used the termManagement servicescrape to describe the physical environment in which services take place.Vol. 18 No. 7, 2006pp. 534-545 There are many servicescapes that exist within a hotel. Among them, a hotel lobbyq Emerald Group Publishing Limited0959-6119 could be considered one of the most important servicescape because of its impact inDOI 10.1108/09596110610702968 forming many of the first impressions by guests. It is usually easier to meet or exceed
    • customer expectations when the first impressions have been positive (Knutson, 1988). The effects ofThose impressions or attitudes that are formed based on a physical space help create a atmosphericcontext for the services that will follow. According to Dube and Renaghan (2000), the physical property of a hotel which elementsincludes the hotel lobby and other public spaces is very influential in driving the hotelpurchase decision. They claimed that the physical property is one of the top attributesconsidered in the hotel purchase decision among travelers and it creates value for the 535guests during their stay. In light of the importance of the physical property of a hoteland in conjunction with the concept of servicescapes, it is important that hotels paycloser attention to the physical settings. Much of the research on atmospherics, and even more so with servicescapes, is stillvery conceptual. Where research has been done, it has often focused on just one of theelements that makes up the physical environment. Few models exist that attempt tomeasure the combined impact of these elements in the creation of the overallimpression. The objective of this research is to fill that research gap by validating theimportance of atmospheric or servicescape elements in hotel environments. Morespecifically, this research attempts to identify which elements of physical environmentsignificantly influence a customer’s impression on hotel lobby.Literature reviewEnvironmental psychology, atmospherics, and servicescapesIn an effort to define environmental psychology, Mehrabian and Russell (1974) describedit as “the direct impact of physical stimuli on human emotions and the effect of physicalstimuli on a variety of behaviors, such as work performance or social interaction”. Theirconceptual framework is based on the idea that the physical environment creates anemotional response, which in turn elicits either approach or avoidance behavior inregards to the physical environment. Mehrabian and Russell (1974) also stressed theimportance and the need for describing or defining the physical environment byidentifying those elements or dimensions that make up the physical environment. Based on the early research in environmental psychology, Kotler took a narrowerperspective by focusing on consumer behavior and the effects that the physicalenvironment has on it. In addressing this, Kotler (1973) pointed out that the physicalenvironment in which a product is purchased is an important part of the totalconsumption package. The term atmospherics was also introduced to describe this newfocus of research. Kotler (1973) went on further to suggest that there are certainsettings where the physical environmental will have a greater influence on consumerbehavior and purchase decisions. These settings are characterized by: . an environment in which a product/service is purchased or consumed and the seller has control of the design options; . the number of competitive outlets has increased; . product and/or price differences are small; and . the product/service entries are aimed at distinct social classes or life style buyer groups.This describes the present state of the hotel industry fairly well.
    • IJCHM Bitner (1992) developed atmospherics further by creating a conceptual framework18,7 for service settings and began using the term servicescapes to describe the physical environment in which services occur. This conceptual framework is comprised of the three environmental dimensions that combine to form the perceived servicescape: (1) ambient conditions; (2) space/function; and536 (3) signs, symbols, and artifacts. In addition to the conceptual framework, a number of propositions were made based on the conceptual framework (Bitner, 1992). Among them, there are three that are of particular interest. First, customers perceive environments holistically with the three dimensions affecting overall perception independently and/or through interaction with the other dimensions. Second, positive cognitions of the perceived servicescape can lead to positive beliefs and attributions being associated with the organization, its people, and its products. Third, the physical environment serves as a mnemonic or a recognizable characteristic in helping customer differentiate among firms. Moving beyond the conceptual models, Wakefield and Blodgett (1994) empirically tested the concept of servicescapes in a leisure service setting by having research participants view a videotape of a servicescape. Those research participants viewing the servicescape of perceived high quality reported a greater excitement level, which lead to greater satisfaction. In summary, there is a strong conceptual framework for atmospherics or servicescapes based on the foundation of environmental psychology. However, the research to empirically test these conceptual theories in the hotel industry has been limited. While there has been research done on some of the individual atmospheric or servicesapce elements in retail and leisure settings (Baker et al., 1994; Bellizzi and Hite, 1992; Sharma and Stafford, 2000; Turley and Milliman, 2000; Wakefield and Blodgett, 1994, 1996, 1999), there is a need to test them as part of an overall model to identify those elements that make up a physical environment of a hotel property. Atmospheric/servicescape elements and hypotheses The following is a brief overview of those atmospheric or servicescape elements that are common to service settings and were included in this research to test their influences on hotel lobby design. Style. Siguaw and Enz (1999), after examining some of the best practices in the hotel industry, indicated that the architectural style of a hotel did have an impact on the profitability and success of the hotel. They believed that hotels with unique architectural approaches and designs were able to increase the average daily rate (ADR) and increase occupancy. Those hotels that had more of a “home-like” or residential feel to them, had a strong theme, or incorporated more of the natural landscape surrounding the hotel, were found to be more successful than other hotels (Siguaw and Enz, 1999). Some people feel that the success of “boutique” hotels is due in part to their unique architectural and interior designs (Cassedy, 1993; Templin, 1999). From these studies, it could be presumed that customers perceive the uniqueness of a hotel depending upon the style of the hotel. Thus, it is hypothesized that: H1. Style has a significant impact on customers’ impression of the hotel lobby.
    • Layout. In regards to layout, one of the most common errors noticed in the design of The effects ofa hotel lobby is that the front desk is not immediately visible to arriving guests and atmosphericthat there is a lack of smooth traffic flow from the front desk to the elevators (Caro,2001). Related to this research is the effect of crowding (Eroglu and Machleit, 1990; elementsGrossbart et al., 1990; Wakefield and Blodgett, 1994). The layout should minimizecrowding in order to create a favorable impression among guests. Architecturaldesign books argue that the layout is contingent on several factors including the 537size of the hotel, grade or standard, patterns of arrivals and departures, tour andconvention bookings, length of stay, and seasonality (Lawson, 1976; Rutes andPenner, 1985). Based on the importance of layout in the functionality of hotel lobby,it is hypothesized that: H2. Layout has a significant relationship to customers’ impression of the hotel lobby.Colors. Colors and color combinations have been studied by those interested in retailatmospherics and cognitive psychology. In an early landmark study by Guilfordand Smith (1959), it was found that colors that are bright and highly saturated tendto produce pleasant feelings. While people may prefer certain colors, it was foundthat the appropriateness of the color varies with the function of the room (Slatterand Whitfield, 1977). Colors and color combinations have also been found to helppeople find their way in a building (Evans et al., 1980). In retail atmospheric studies,it was confirmed that color has the ability to attract customers (Bellizzi et al., 1983)and the ability to create pleasant feelings among customers (Bellizzi and Hite, 1992).Therefore, colors and color combinations affect perceptions and attitudes, and mayeven cause certain behavioral differences (Robson, 1999). Accordingly, it ishypothesized that: H3. Colors have a significant effect on customers’ impression of the hotel lobby.Lighting. In studies cited by Mehrabian and Russell (1974), people tend to be drawn tolight sources. Another study found that the contrast of a bright area with that of adarker area, sometimes referred to as glare, to be unpleasant (as referenced inMehrabian and Russell, 1974). As for perceived image, soft incandescent lighting isusually associated with a higher quality environment, while bright fluorescent lightingis associated with a discount image (Baker et al., 1994; Sharma and Stafford, 2000). It istherefore hypothesized that: H4. Lighting has a significant influence on customers’ impression of the hotel lobby.Furnishings. While furnishings are an important part of the physical environment,very little research has been done that focuses specifically on this one element.However, it is included in all of the atmospheric and servicescape models (Baker, 1987;Bitner, 1992; Wakefield and Blodgett, 1994, 1996, 1999) but may be referred to usingdifferent terminology depending on the physical setting being studied. In this research,the furnishings are hypothesized as: H5. Furnishings have a significant association with customers’ impression of the hotel lobby.
    • IJCHM Methodology18,7 As used in many other atmospheric or servicescape research (Bitner, 1990; Ritterfeld and Cupchik, 1996), a scenario approach along with color photographs of hotel lobbies were used in this research study. Participants were told that they were attending a conference and that this was one of the hotels used by conference attendees. Two color photographs of the hotel lobby were selected, one showing the front desk and the other538 showing the hotel lobby seating area. The name of the specific hotel was not given and no identification was visible in the photographs to control for the influence of branding. While some may argue that this is not a true measurement of atmospherics or servicescapes, this approach may have some unique benefits. It provides some degree of control in regards to the research study. If this research were to take place in an actual physical environment, the researchers might have difficulty in controlling for those factors that are not part of the physical environment but may be included inadvertently in the evaluation of the physical environment such as prior experience or branding. People may be in a physical environment for many different reasons, which would lead to evaluations from very different perspectives. Another advantage is that this research approach may be more practical in that the photographs could be replaced with architectural renderings or virtual design in order to evaluate the designs of a physical environment before it is built. As for some of the other elements that are considered part of the physical environment such as temperature and noise, these tend to be unnoticed or not even considered in the evaluation of a physical environment unless they are extremes (i.e. too hot or too cold) (Baker, 1987). Based on the examination of previous research, five atmospheric elements were included in the research: (1) layouts; (2) style; (3) color; (4) lighting; and (5) furnishings. While there are other elements that make up the physical environment of a hotel lobby, these elements were selected because of their significant role in the service settings. Semantic differentials were used to assess each of the atmospheric elements along with the overall impression of the hotel lobby, this method provided a good way of assessing these complex elements of the physical environment (Bitner, 1990; Donovan and Rossiter, 1982). A convenience sample was used for this study in that university faculty, who travel to conferences and other similar type meetings, were invited to participate in the study. Research participants were from several different universities in the USA. An effort was made to contact people in many different academic disciplines. The survey was done on-line to allow for wider participation, easier distribution of the survey due to the color photographs and efficient collection of data. Research participants would be randomly shown one of four hotel lobbies. This was an effort to make the research more realistic in that an individual enters a hotel lobby and makes an assessment of the physical environment at that particular moment. Special care was taken to select the four hotels that were from the same rating category and classification. A total of 105
    • responses were collected and three were deleted from the data set due to The effects ofincompleteness. Thus, 102 responses were used for analysis. atmospheric elementsResultsAtmospheric elements and validationMeans and standard deviations for each of the atmospheric items are presented inTable I. The mean values were all above 0, which signifies that the respondents 539assessed the atmospheric items in consistently positive ways. To validate the developed elements, a measurement model was estimated with aconfirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Cronbach’s alphas were calculated to assess theinternal consistency of atmospheric elements and are presented in Table II. All alphasexceed the minimum hurdle of 0.7, as recommended by Nunnally (1978), suggestingreliability in measuring each construct. The model fit indices indicate that the proposedmodel reasonably fits the data. All of the loadings were greater than 0.53 andsignificant, suggesting convergent validity (Gerbing and Anderson, 1988). Discriminant validity among the atmospheric elements was examined using twomethods. First, following the criteria suggested by Sivadas and Dwyer (2000), theresearchers calculated the average variances extracted (AVE) for the elements to see ifthe elements accounted for more than 50 percent of the corresponding atmosphericitems. All but one (furnishings) of the elements exceeded the recommended level ofAVE. Second, as Gerbing and Anderson (1988) recommended, the researchers tested ifAtmospheric elements and items Mean (scale: 2 3 , þ 3) Standard deviation Reliability AlphaStyle 0.86Current 1.09 1.52Refined 1.26 1.10Artful 0.76 1.52Beautiful 1.01 1.30Impressive 0.90 1.40Layout 0.85Graceful 0.66 1.63Proportionate 0.70 1.67Accommodating 0.80 1.66Uncluttered 1.19 1.82Colors 0.95Beautiful 0.89 1.48Soothing 0.73 1.36Pleasant 0.95 1.41Lighting 0.95Appropriate 1.42 1.46Inviting 1.25 1.55Positive 1.33 1.50Furnishings 0.73Beautiful 0.73 1.48 Table I.Comfortable 0.87 1.43 Atmospheric elementsHigh quality 1.12 1.33 and items
    • IJCHM Average18,7 variance Standardized extracted (AVE) Atmospheric elements and items factor loadings t-value (%) Style 58.56540 Current 0.59 – Refined 0.79 5.99* Artful 0.69 5.50* Beautiful 0.91 6.47* Impressive 0.81 6.22* Layout 62.98 Graceful 0.90 – Proportionate 0.84 10.93* Accommodating 0.85 11.33* Uncluttered 0.53 5.70* Colors 84.77 Beautiful 0.90 – Soothing 0.89 14.13* Pleasant 0.97 17.45* Lighting 86.55 Appropriate 0.90 – Inviting 0.96 16.88* Positive 0.93 15.36* Furnishings 47.55 Beautiful 0.75 – Comfortable 0.60 5.89* High quality 0.71 6.90* Overall lobby impression 87.49 Good 0.94 – Beautiful 0.90 16.23* Inviting 0.97 21.97* Comfortable 0.93 18.92* Model fit statistics x2 (194): 365.4 (p ¼ 0:00) x2 /d.f.: 1.88 Normed Fit Index (NFI): 0.891 Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI or NNFI): 0.908 Comparative Fit Index (CFI): 0.923 Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA): 0.079Table II.Measurement model Notes: * p # 0:001results The first path of each construct was set to 1, so no t ÿ value was given to the first path the correlations among atmospheric elements were significantly different from 1. Among them, only furnishings and style had 1 in the 95 percent confidence interval of the correlation. The result indicated that the furnishings and style elements do not have discriminant validity, which means that both elements do not represent unique dimensions. Thus, the researchers decided to drop the furnishings construct since it failed to pass the AVE test, either.
    • Structural model results The effects ofA structural equation model with four remaining atmospheric elements (style, layout, atmosphericcolors, and lighting) was estimated using Maximum Likelihood (ML) to test the effectsof the elements on customers’ impression. Examination of overall fit indices of the elementsstructural model indicated a good fit of the model to the data. Figure 1 presents theoverall results of the structural equation model. Three of the hypothesized paths were statistically significant. The style element 541was found to have a positive effect on the impression of hotel lobby (b11 ¼ 0:32,t ¼ 2:63). That is, if a hotel was satisfactorily designed using current and not outdatedconcepts, had an element of refinement, and was both artistic and beautiful, it isexpected to positively impress customers. Thus, the first hypothesized path wassupported by the result. Contrary to the hypothesis, the layout element was notsignificant (b12 ¼ 0:03, t ¼ 0:34). The result suggested that the layout of a hotel lobby Figure 1. A structural model for lobby impression
    • IJCHM alone might not contribute to a significant improvement in customers’ impression. The18,7 third path for the effect of the colors element on lobby impression was statistically significant (b12 ¼ 0:39, t ¼ 3:49), showing the greatest standardized parameter estimate among all the paths tested. This indicates that colors are the most influential element to affect overall lobby impression. The implication to hotel developers and operators is how important colors are in creating the overall impression of the hotel542 lobby. Finally, the lighting-to-impression path was also significant (b12 ¼ 0:26, t ¼ 3:46) as expected (see Table III). Conclusion The objective of the study was to test the effects of atmospheric elements on the guest’s first impression of a hotel lobby. The researchers proposed five atmospheric elements: (1) style; (2) layout; (3) colors; (4) lighting; and (5) furnishings. During the element validation process, the furnishing element was excluded for further analysis since it was found not to represent a unique dimension of atmospheric elements. As was indicated in the literature review, furnishings often overlap to some degree with style because furnishings are usually selected to match with the overall architectural style. The space is created first and then furnished. Therefore, the results of this study may not be truly unexpected. A structural analysis to examine the effects of the remaining four exogenous elements on lobby impression revealed that three including style, colors, and lighting significantly influence lobby impression. The atmospheric element for the layout of the hotel lobby was revealed to be not as important as expected. Even though the three significant elements are of importance in practice, colors appeared to be most influential, suggesting that hoteliers need to take Path Standardized parameter estimate (b) t-value Style ! Lobby impression (b11) 0.32 2.63* Layout ! Lobby impression (b12) 0.03 0.34 Colors ! Lobby impression (b13) 0.39 3.49** Lighting ! Lobby impression (b14) 0.26 3.46** R-Square 0.799 Model fit statistics x2 (142): 279.2 (p ¼ 0:00) x2 /d.f.: 1.97 Normed Fit Index (NFI): 0.903 Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI or NNFI): 0.919 Comparative Fit Index (CFI): 0.933 Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA): 0.079Table III.Structural model results Notes: * p # 0:01, ** p # 0:001
    • special care in selecting the colors used in their facilities. The results also suggest that The effects ofcolor changes, when renovating hotels, may be one of the most effective tools to create atmosphericpositive impression of the lobby. elementsManagerial implicationsFrom a practical standpoint, this research helps to identify those atmospheric elementsthat make up the physical environment of a hotel lobby and are used in determining 543customers’ overall impression. Understanding the elements that comprise a hotellobby, allows the hotelier to make improvements in those areas that would lead to abetter overall impression and evaluation of the hotel lobby. This research can also beextended to room design such as dining rooms, guest rooms, and other significantspaces within a hotel or other hospitality settings such as a restaurant. While thisresearch makes no attempt to determine what colors are preferable, these findings doindicate that extra caution and care should be taken in the selection of the colors for thehotel lobby. However, this does not mean that hoteliers should use only neutral colorsin their hotel lobbies. The hotel lobbies included in this study contained a variety ofcolors, some of which were dramatic including dark and bold color combinations. Also,one must recognize that the research did not examine only one specific color for eachhotel lobby but the color combinations that existed in each hotel lobby. Certain colorscombined with other colors may be viewed as acceptable or even preferred, while thecolors individually may be undesirable or considered ugly. Due to the significantinfluence of color on the overall impression of hotel lobbies, potential guests should besurveyed and further research needs to be done on what colors and color combinationscreate more positive or favorable reactions by guests. Even though color appeared to be the most significant, style and lightning alsoappeared to be significant. Style like colors comes from a combination of physicalelements. While a single item may not be pleasing or interesting by itself, the itemcombined with other items can create a unique and desirable style. However, style ismuch more complex than color and further research is warranted. As mentionedearlier, this research does not attempt to define what constitutes good style or not, butit does indicate that style like colors should be carefully considered from theperspective of the guests or the target market for that hotel. As for lighting, the trend inthe hotel industry is to provide more lighting with a large percentage coming fromnatural lighting during daylight hours. There has been a shift away from the low orsubdued lighting of past hotel lobby designs as is evident in many of the new hotelprototypes that incorporate more windows into the design of the hotel lobby and moreabundant lighting throughout. The findings of this research indicate that is a step inthe right direction. Hoteliers should be concerned with the lighting and what is deemedappropriate by their guests. This research is not free from limitations. One limitation was found in the narrowscope of this research. The study focused only on the hotel lobby, so the application ofthe results has to be confined to the hotel lobby. Thus, future research would hopefullyinclude other major areas of a hotel. While this was a realistic sample given thescenario and focus of the research, it would be worthwhile to expand this research toinclude business travelers in general. Leisure travelers also could be surveyed todetermine if there are differences among these two types of travelers in the evaluationof hotel lobbies. If leisure travelers are included in future research, the classification of
    • IJCHM hotel would also need to be broadened. This research primarily focused on business18,7 hotels, which is one classification of hotel. Other classifications of hotels that might be interesting for further research might include luxury or theme properties because of the significance of the hotel lobby in their design. This research’s primary contribution is that atmospheric elements such as colors, style, and lighting do contribute to the overall impression formed by guests. The544 findings of this research suggest that thinking that the physical environment of a hotel lobby is not as important as other aspects of hotel operations or that a bad hotel lobby design will not be of concern to the hotel guest are simply not true. Like other exploratory research, this research demonstrates that there is a need for continued and greater research into the unique atmospheres and servicescapes that exist in the hotel industry. References Baker, J. (1987), “The role of the environment in marketing services”, in Czepeial, J.A., Congram, C.A. and Shananhan, J. (Eds), The Services Challenge: Integrating for Competitive Advantage, American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL, pp. 79-84. Baker, J., Grewal, D. and Parasuraman, A. (1994), “The influence of store environment on quality inferences and store image”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 328-39. Bellizzi, J.A. and Hite, R.E. (1992), “Environmental color, consumer feelings, and purchase likelihood”, Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 9 No. 5, pp. 347-63. Bellizzi, J.A., Crowley, A.E. and Hasty, R.W. (1983), “The effects of color on store design”, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 68 No. 4, pp. 21-45. Bitner, M.J. (1990), “Evaluating service encounters: the effects of physical surroundings and employee response”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54 No. 2, pp. 69-82. Bitner, M.J. (1992), “Servicescapes: the impact of the physical environment surround customers and employees”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 56 No. 2, pp. 57-71. Caro, M.R. (2001), “Blunders by design”, Lodging, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 69-70. Cassedy, K. (1993), “The personal touch”, Lodging, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 25-34. Donovan, R.J. and Rossiter, J.R. (1982), “Store atmosphere: an environmental psychology approach”, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 58 No. 1, pp. 34-57. Dube, L. and Renaghan, L.M. (2000), “Creating visible customer value”, Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, Vol. 41 No. 1, pp. 62-72. Eroglu, S.A. and Machleit, K.A. (1990), “An empirical examination of retail crowding: antecedents and consequences”, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 66 No. 2, pp. 201-21. Evans, G.W., Fellows, J., Zorn, M. and Doty, K. (1980), “Cognitive mapping and architecture”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 65 No. 4, pp. 474-8. Gerbing, D.W. and Anderson, J.C. (1988), “An updated paradigm for scale development incorporating unidimensionality and its assessment”, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 186-92. Grossbart, S.L., Hampton, R., Rammohan, R. and Lapidus, R.S. (1990), “Environmental dispositions and customer response to store atmospherics”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 225-41. Guilford, J. and Smith, P. (1959), “A system of color-preferences”, American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 72 No. 4, pp. 487-502.
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