Facoltà di scienze della comunicazione

eLearning courses about national tourism destinations : destination management organizations’ offers and travel agents’ perceptions and motivations

Kalbaska, Nadzeya ; Cantoni, Lorenzo (Dir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Università della Svizzera italiana, 2013 ; COM2013010.

A broad number of studies have been undertaken so far both by the academic research and by industry communities on the use of the internet for educational purposes. However, very limited research has been done previously on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as educational and training modes within the hospitality and tourism field. Travel agent training,... More

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    Summary
    A broad number of studies have been undertaken so far both by the academic research and by industry communities on the use of the internet for educational purposes. However, very limited research has been done previously on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as educational and training modes within the hospitality and tourism field. Travel agent training, certification processes and the use of ICTs to deliver training to the travel trade have been largely excluded from the previous academic research. This study aimed to address this research gap with the purpose to understand eLearning offerings within the tourism field. It explored the use of eLearning courses created by Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) for the education and certification of their travel trade partners. Additionally, it investigated the reactions and motivations of the users – travel agents based in the United Kingdom, India and New Zealand – on those training activities. In order to answer specific research questions, this thesis adopted a mixed method approach including both qualitative (benchmarking and case studies), and quantitative (online questionnaires and phone interviews) research instruments. This interdisciplinary research project contains elements of the following research fields: tourism and eTourism, education and eLearning, Human Resource Management, as well as motivational theories. This study explored all existing eLearning offers provided by DMOs worldwide. 75 available eLearning courses about national tourism destinations were analysed looking thoroughly at their structure. Additionally, semi- structured interviews were undertaken with the representatives of two DMOs: Tourism New Zealand and Swiss National Tourism Office, in order to provide an in-depth corporate view on the subject matter: Kiwi Specialist Program and Switzerland Travel Academy. An online exploratory questionnaire with the travel agents globally has been done in order to evaluate participation in and awareness about eLearning courses about tourism destinations and subsequent reactions of the travel agents on them. Phone interviews with travel agents based in the United Kingdom (#190), India (#272) and New Zealand (#165) were then conducted in order to discover the rates of current usage. This study also looked at the rates of awareness of eLearning courses in the three studied countries, as well as investigated what motivates and discourages travel agents to participate in online training activities. The final online questionnaire (#249) tested a new theoretical model on the motivational factors for attending eLearning courses about tourism destinations. The model was based on the series of elements derived from the previous steps within this study as well as incorporated the elements from existing motivation theories. This study revealed benefits of eLearning as a new form of training within the tourism industry. eLearning courses are believed to be a convenient mode of training, which gives a greater access to education for travel agents globally, especially to those based in geographically isolated locations. eLearning courses are financially viable from both the provider and the user perspective as well as enhance the performance of travel agents within their roles, and presumably the satisfaction of their current or potential clients. Travel agents undertake eLearning activities, as they believe them to be helpful in work-related tasks as well as are beneficial for updating needed knowledge. Additionally, travel agents appreciate the opportunity to study online, while being able to update their knowledge on their own pace and in a flexible environment. The research revealed that travel agents in the three studied countries are not attending eLearning courses about tourism destinations due to a desire to feel related to their managers or colleagues. The study showed that participation in the eLearning courses depends on the country where travel agents are based, the type of agency they work for and their gender. While the age of the travel agents and their educational level did not show any significant influences on the participation level. At the same time, awareness about the existence of eLearning courses about tourism destinations depends on the county where travel agents are based, and doesn’t depend on their age, gender, type of agency they work for or their educational level. This thesis provided the first empirical results in the field for the use of ICTs for Human Resource Management of the travel trade. It is the first extensive study on eLearning usages within on-the-job training in the hospitality and tourism industry. This study contributed to eTourism and eLearning literature, within a given professional family, that of the travel agent. The research has analysed and tested the factors influencing travel agents’ participation in and awareness about eLearning courses about tourism destinations. Furthermore, this research has proposed and tested a sound empirically based theoretical framework for the evaluation of the motivational drivers in the specific context, those of travel agents on undertaking destinational eLearning courses. The results of the study also have industry implications, particularly the first understanding of the eLearning options through a benchmarking study of all existing national eLearning courses about tourism destinations as well as through two case studies, which presented the managerial perspective on the studied issue. Furthermore, marketing, trade partnership and training managers within national, regional and local tourism offices are presented with the first research on travel agents’ evaluation of eLearning training platforms, on the rates awareness and participation in the United Kingdom, India and New Zealand and on their motivations on starting an online training activity. This research can help representatives of the DMOs to understand better the role of eLearning for travel agents, and, therefore, develop more efficient and effective strategies and actions in their trade and training partnerships globally.