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Tourism Management Perspectives 4 (2012) 176184

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Tourism Management Perspectives

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tmp

Customer satisfaction with the Bulgarian tour operators and tour agencies' websites
Zhelyu Vladimirov
Soa University St Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Bulgaria

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
The goal of this study is to analyse the e-tourism development in Bulgaria, and particularly customer satisfaction with the quality of the tourism companies' websites. A total of 249 rms' websites have been evaluated by tourism master students according to selected indicators. The conceptual model contained 10 indicators as antecedents for customer satisfaction. The results of the multiple linear regression analysis conrmed the positive inuence of the website quality on customer satisfaction in terms of playfulness, navigation, trust, variety of destinations abroad, online transactions, and information quality. Four website dimensions (responsiveness, personalization, diversity of tourism products and services, and variety of destinations inside the country) were not supported, which can be explained by the stage of the tourism companies' e-development and the specic segment of customers. The ndings suggest that the rms are underperforming in terms of providing web quality dimensions that enhance the young and well educated customers' satisfaction. 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 13 April 2012 Accepted 18 July 2012 Keywords: Customers Students Satisfaction Websites Tourism companies Bulgaria

1. Introduction During recent years the ICT related tourism innovations have led to dramatic changes in the tourism sector. The tourism supply chain became more complex due to new online intermediaries (Buhalis & Licata, 2002, p. 218; Kracht & Wang, 2010, p. 743). Consumer behaviour also changed as the internet became one of the most inuential information sources for travel: A new type of user is emerging, one who acts as his or her own travel agent and builds a personalised travel package (Werthner & Ricci, 2004, p. 101). The web environment has empowered consumers on three levels: (1) to make informed purchases; (2) to join forces with other customers and exchange opinions; and (3) to communicate with tourism companies interactively in order to receive tailor-made products (Niininen, Buhalis, & March, 2007, p. 266). The Internet was also transformed into an important channel for online transactions 10% of EU travellers in 2008 bought their holiday travels from online tour agencies (EC, 2009, p. 3940). Similarly, 63% of leisure travellers and 65% of

Prof. Dr. Zhelyu Vladimirov is teaching management in the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the Soa University St Kliment Ohridski, Bulgaria. He holds a PhD in philosophy and Dr. Habil in economics. His research interests are related to the small business development and the SME competitiveness in different sectors. He has published in British Food Journal, Sociological Problems, and other national journals. His latest book in Bulgarian is entitled Global Challenges to SMEs (2011). 1504 Soa, 15 Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd., Soa University St Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Bulgaria. Tel.: +359 2 8738123; fax: +359 2 8702118. E-mail address: jeve@feb.uni-soa.bg. 2211-9736/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2012.07.003

business travellers in the USA have used the internet to nd price information on travel and hotels (Lee & Morrison, 2010, p. 50). For the 20022008 periods the growth of the tourism market was due mainly to its online component (EyeforTravel Ltd., 2009). In comparison with its main competitors, Bulgaria had the lowest rate of growth for the 20042009 period (33.2% compared to 72.3% for Turkey and 52.6% for Greece). At the same time the major tourism markets for Bulgaria (Germany, UK, Russia, and France) showed an increased volume of online sales (Euromonitor International, 2010). The competitiveness of tourism rms became strongly dependent not only on their inclusion in the online tourism market, but also on the speed of applying the new ICT and e-business innovations (Blake, Sinclair, & Campos Soria, 2006). The ICT adoption, however, requires re-engineering of the entire processes, which is particularly difcult in small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) (Buhalis & Law, 2008, p. 619). Although tourism contributes some 10% to the country's GDP, until now there has been limited research on the e-tourism development in Bulgaria (Ivanova, 2009; Kraeva, Emilova, Marinova, & Lalev, 2010, Kraeva, Gorcheva, & Bozhikov, 2009), which did not allow for regional or international comparisons. At the same time the number of country internet users has grown constantly (46.4% of the population in 2011 regularly used the internet, compared to 13.5% in 2004), particularly among those aged 1624 years (80%) and students (94.2%). As in some other touristic countries with low e-commerce development, however, the share of online shoppers (6.7% of the population in 2011) remained relatively small. Nevertheless, online travel and hotel reservations are in second place (30.4%) after clothing and sportswear (52.2%) among commodities purchased online (National Statistical Institute, 2012). This situation requires more attention to

Z. Vladimirov / Tourism Management Perspectives 4 (2012) 176184


be given to the inclusion of Bulgarian tour agencies and tour operators in the e-tourism market. The paper is structured as follows. Next follows the e-tourism state of the art, after which the research methodology is presented, the main results and discussion, and the conclusions. 2. Literature review The rapid development of e-tourism has been accompanied by an increasing number of publications on its different aspects (Cooper & Burgess, 2000; Standing & Vasudavan, 2000; Doolin, Burgess, & Cooper, 2002; Marcussen, 2003, 2005; Lawson, Alcock, Cooper, & Burgess, 2003; Buhalis & Deimezi, 2004; Cheyne, Downes, & Legg, 2006; Werthner, 2006; Ho & Lee, 2007; Park & Gretzel, 2007; Hall & Williams, 2008; Law & Bai, 2008; Schaupp, Blanger, & Fan, 2009; Salwani, Marthandan, Norzaidi, & Chong, 2009; Law, Qi, & Buhalis, 2010, etc.). All these researchers revealed that the adoption of e-business had become crucial for the survival of tourism companies in the new economy. On the operational level, e-tourism assumes the inclusion of e-commerce and the maximum use of ICT to improve the internal efciency of tourism organisations. At the strategic level, e-tourism requires full integration of internal and external company's processes (Buhalis, 2003). One of the most widely used research methods in the evaluation of the e-maturity of tourism companies is the analysis of their websites (Ho & Lee, 2007, p. 1434). This method was applied to: (1) evaluate the development stage of the e-business adoption; (2) assess customer satisfaction with online services; (3) identify success factors for this adoption; and (4) costbenet analysis (Lu, Lu, & Zhang, 2002, p. 193). 2.1. Stages of e-business development The stages of e-business development were identied according to various theoretically developed models. Willcocks, Sauer, and Associates (2000) proposed a 4-stage model, where rms start with a web presence, create infrastructure and skills for e-commerce, and end by transforming the organisation into being more customer focused (Willcocks et al., 2000). The Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (MICA) included three stages of e-business development web-based promotion, provision of information and services, and transaction processing (Cooper & Burgess, 2000). The usefulness of this model (often slightly modied) was demonstrated by many researchers (Lawson et al., 2003, p. 267; Doolin et al., 2002, p. 558; Peng, Trappey, & Liu, 2005, p. 478). Some authors suggested, however, that there is little evidence that small tourism rms follow a stages of growth model for internet and e-commerce adoption. They considered the owners' recognition of the e-business value and their attitude to business growth to be key factors in this adoption (Levy & Powell, 2003, p. 507). Morrison and King (2002) also showed that conventional business models were inadequate given the hesitancy of many small owner operators towards e-business adoption (Morrison & King, 2002, p. 107). 2.2. Website evaluation approaches Previous researches that assessed the performance of travel websites can be classied as being either with or without users' involvement (Law & Cheung, 2005). Based on the review of tourism studies from 1996 to July 2009, Law et al. (2010) differentiated ve approaches: counting, automated, numerical computation, user judgement, and combined methods (Law et al., 2010, pp. 297, 300). Most often researchers used combinations of these methods, because no single method seems to outperform others (Law & Bai, 2006). Based on 83 articles from 23 journals, Chiou, Lin, and Perng (2010) found that different website evaluation approaches have been

introduced. Their data showed that, before 2001, 59% of studies adopted the information systems-approach, 14% adopted the marketing approach, while the remaining studies (27%) adopted the combined-approach However, after the burst, the combinedapproach increased to 55% (Chiou et al., 2010, p. 284). Research on users' judgement methods chose consumers, including potential consumers, as evaluators of different aspects of tourism organisation websites. User involvement was particularly important when measuring consumer satisfaction with website attributes (Stockdale & Borovicka, 2007). 2.3. Evaluation of website dimensions In their summary of previous research on the e-service quality, Ho and Lee (2007) found that its main dimensions differed signicantly (Ho & Lee, 2007, p. 1436). Perdue (2001) developed a conceptual model for website evaluation as a function of site navigation, visual attractiveness, and information content. Lu et al. (2002) used a model with seven functions: general tourism service information publicity; advertising tourism product/service; advertising with price information; email enquiry; online booking; on-line payment; and tourism website registration with user ID. Their study did not distinguish websites and e-commerce websites, as the methods for website evaluation can also be applied to e-commerce websites. Kim and Lee (2004) explored six dimensions of web service quality: ease of use, usefulness, information content, security, responsiveness, and personalisation. Hashim, Murphy, and Law (2007) revealed ve dimensions of website quality: information and process, value added, relationships, trust, design and usability. Park and Gretzel (2007) identied nine website success factors: information quality; ease of use; responsiveness; security/privacy; visual appearance; trust; interactivity; personalization; fullment, and three factors related to the web communication (advertising/persuasion, playfulness, and technology integration). In evaluating different websites, two major constructs emerged functionality and usability. Functionality refers to the contents of the website (information richness), while usability relates to the website design (degree of ease). Au Yeung and Law (2006) developed ve dimensions for usability of travel and hotel websites (language, layout and graphics, information architecture, user interface and navigation). Law and Bai (2008) identied also ve dimensions for the functionality attributes of hotel websites: facilities information, customer information, reservation information, surrounding area information, and management of website (Law & Bai, 2008, pp. 394, 395). Thus, the web design in terms of both functionality and usability came to be of critical importance (Buhalis & Law, 2008, p. 616). 2.4. Assessment of customer satisfaction Website analysis has been applied to assess customer satisfaction with the website quality (Rehesaar, 2001; Shim, Eastlick, Lotz, & Warrington, 2001), as well as customer purchase and re-purchase intentions. These intentions depend strongly on the level of satisfaction and trust towards the website (Lee, 2002). Law and Bai (2008) found that website quality has a direct and positive impact on customer satisfaction, and that customer satisfaction has a direct and positive impact on purchase intentions, mediating the effect of website quality (Law & Bai, 2008, p. 388). Anderson and Srinivasan (2003) dened e-satisfaction as the contentment of the customer with respect to his or her prior purchasing experience with a given electronic commerce rm (Anderson & Srinivasan, 2003, p. 125). Many studies conrmed that online service quality positively inuenced customer satisfaction, which in turn enhanced purchase intentions (Kim & Stoel, 2004; Yen, Hu, & Wang, 2007; Zeithaml,


Z. Vladimirov / Tourism Management Perspectives 4 (2012) 176184

Parasuraman, & Malhotra, 2002). Kim and Lim (2001) revealed the important role of system and information quality for consumer satisfaction. Mills and Morrison (2003) developed an e-satisfaction model for travel website evaluation, which consisted of three main dimensions: interface, perceived quality, and value. Law and Wong (2003) proposed three dimensions that encourage customers to purchase tourism products online: secure payment methods, different price ranges for products/services, and user-friendly systems. Wong and Law (2005) identied nine attributes that prompted travellers to make purchase online: the necessary time for booking, visual attractiveness, linkage to other web sites, price information, useful information, number of hotel web features, time required to search through a site, sensitive information, and price competitiveness. Ho and Lee (2007) analysed ve website functions (information quality, security, functionality, customer relationships, responsiveness and fullment), which determined customer satisfaction (Ho & Lee, 2007, p. 1434). Other studies also explored the importance of service quality and customer satisfaction (Fassnacht & Koese, 2006). Kim (2005) suggested a model with ten antecedents (after sales service, purchase result and price attractiveness, product information, customer service, site design, product attractiveness, payment method, site information, log-on convenience), which inuenced customer satisfaction and purchase behaviour. Nusair and Kandampully (2008) categorised the dimensions of service quality in previous studies into six categories (navigability, playfulness, information quality, trust, personalization, and responsiveness) (Nusair & Kandampully, 2008, p. 7, 8). Lin (2010) investigated the impact of three factors (relevance of information content, information quality, and functionality needs services) of e-travel sites on consumers' perceived ease of use and usefulness, which inuenced behavioural intention towards these sites (Lin, 2010, pp. 210, 214). It is important to note that websites success factors are context dependent (Schaupp et al., 2009). Cultural differences may inuence the perceived website quality. For instance, China, as a developing country, has a different tourism E-commerce development environment, barriers, challenges and requirements that are indicative of a developing country (Z. Lu et al., 2002, p. 192). The same is true for the new EU member states, including Bulgaria. Based on the literature review and the particular national context, the following research questions were investigated: How customers (in this case, tourism masters students as actual and potential customers) evaluate tourism companies' websites in term of their usability and functionality? What are the characteristics of the travel websites, which inuence customer satisfaction and intentions to return and make purchases from these sites? Where are Bulgarian tourism rms on the scale of the online transactions development? The main hypotheses were that customer satisfaction is positively inuenced by the following 10 website characteristics: variety of online proposed tourism products and services; information quality; website playfulness; navigability; responsiveness; personalised information and services; website condence/trust; e-commerce instruments; and variety of destinations both in the country and abroad.

3. Research methodology The goal of this study is to reveal the Bulgarian tour agencies' and tour operators' website characteristics which inuence customer satisfaction and the subsequent intention to revisit these sites and to make purchase. Based on the literature review and interviews with tourism managers, the conceptual model was constructed, which encompassed 10 factors as antecedents for customer satisfaction and website success in term of consumer intentions to revisit sites and to make purchases (Fig. 1). Eight of these factors were compound variables represented by indexes of the respective items/website attributes. The response was also a compound variable built on general customer satisfaction with sites, intention to revisit the sites and likelihood to make purchase from these sites. Based on this model the evaluation card was created initially with 63 website attributes, the number of which was reduced to 48 attributes after the pre-test. From the register of the Bulgarian tour operators and tour agencies (which contained 2441 companies as of 13.10.2011), 249 randomly chosen tourism web sites were evaluated according to selected indicators by tourism Master's degree students (on average 5 websites per student). Forty three of the investigated rms were tour operators (17.27%); another 43 (17.27%) were tour agencies; and 163 (65.46%) functioned as both tour agencies and tour operators. Students were pre-trained to use the indicators of the evaluation card. Lin, Wub, and Tsai (2005) justied the recruitment of students for a similar study (Lin et al., 2005, p. 691). Nowadays students are active online searchers and have a great potential to become tomorrow's online bookers. Lee and Morrison (2010) also recruited 25 hospitality and tourism Master's degree students to evaluate 28 upscale hotel web sites (Lee & Morrison, 2010, p. 54). First, eight indexes were constructed as a ratio between the sum of scores and the maximum sum of scores of the constitutive items/ website attributes, and multiplied to 100. Most of the attributes were scored on ve-point scales, and those for the rst and the eighth indexes were on two-point scale (1 presence, and 0 absence) (Appendix 1, Table A1). 1. The index VARIETY OF ONLINE PROPOSED PRODUCTS AND SERVICES referred to the presence/absence of the following: tour packages in the country and abroad; excursions inside the country; hotel accommodation; air tickets; other tickets (bus, train, etc.); cruises; visits to concerts, exhibitions, etc.; organised events; rent-a-car, visa, translation services, etc. The variety of product offerings has been included in the Szymanski and Hise (2000) model of the assessment of customer satisfaction with the website dimensions. 2. The INFORMATION QUALITY index reected the number of languages, accessibility (functioning links), intelligibility, actuality, accuracy, and completeness (including prices) of tourism products and services. Similar online service attributes have been proposed for information quality by Ho and Lee (Ho & Lee, 2007, pp. 1445, 1446).

Websites characteristics 1. Variety of online proposed tourism products and services 2. Quality of the website information 3. Website playfulness 4. Website navigability 5. Online responsiveness 6. Online personalisation of products and services 7. Website confidence/trust 8. Opportunities for e-transactions 9. Variety of online proposed destinations in the country 10. Variety of online proposed destinations abroad

11. Customer satisfaction: - Overall satisfaction with the site; - Intention to revisit the site; - Likelihood to make purchase from the site

Fig. 1. Conceptual model.

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3. The index WEBSITE PLAYFULNESS referred to: graphic style; attractive colours; use of a ash animation, music, zoom function; interactive products' catalogue; photos gallery, video presentation, 3D rotation, etc. Other researchers also suggested that the website playfulness may be strengthened by using multimedia, which allows the presentation of attractive images of destinations or virtual trips (Park, Gretzel, & Sirakaya-Turk, 2007). 4. The NAVIGABILITY index revealed the perceived ease and speed of the navigation; clear website card; opportunities to nd important places (hotels, airports, etc.); efcient search engine; sufcient number of working links on each page. Similar website attributes have been suggested by previous research (Pi, Li, Chen, & Chen, 2007; Taylor & England, 2006). 5. The online RESPONSIVENESS index showed the number of channels for communications; easiness of asking questions; effectively functioning system of FAQs; feedbacks and consumer opinions (forum for discussions, complaints, etc.). In short, it included attributes that allow the website personnel to respond to customers' inquiries (Zeithaml et al., 2002). 6. The PERSONALISATION index was related to personalised services as the opportunities to register with ID, recommendations to registered users, and programme for creating communities. Personalisation is a kind of a special service aiming at establishing of sustainable customer relationships (Nusair & Kandampully, 2008). 7. The WEBSITE CONFIDENCE/TRUST index displayed the company information (history, licence documents, insurance, contact address, personnel); membership in national and international organisations; quality certicates; presentation of partners/ suppliers of tourism services; conditions for using products and services and resolving disputes, particularly in a case of cancellation; reliability of personal and credit card data security. Previous research assumed that these items increased perceived trust (Chen, 2006; Chung & Kwon, 2009). 8. The index of OPPORTUNITIES FOR E-TRANSACTIONS revealed the stage of the company's e-commerce development. It included items referring to the availability of e-forms for reservation; instructions to consumers for online reservations; a functioning system of online reservation with ofine payment; and opportunity for online payment. The eight indexes had values from 0 to 100, divided into ve intervals: 020; 2140; 4160; 6180; 81100. Values close to 100 indicate a high level of respective website dimension development, and values close to 0 indicate a low level of development. 9/10. The VARIETY OF DESTINATIONS IN THE COUNTRY and the VARIETY OF DESTINATIONS ABROAD were two other factors, measured by the natural logarithm of the number of respective destinations. 11. The dependent variable CUSTOMER SATISFACTION was measured by three items on 5-point scales: overall satisfaction with the sites' dimensions, intention to revisit the sites, and the likelihood of making purchase from these sites. The intention to revisit the site is closely linked with the concept of loyalty (Cyr, Kindra, & Dash, 2008), and satisfaction has a signicant positive effect on loyalty. Kim, Chung, and Lee (2011) revealed that satisfaction and trust were mediators between antecedents (i.e., navigation functionality, perceived security, and transaction cost) and loyalty in the online paradigm (Kim et al., 2011, p. 264). In turn, loyalty has the strongest impact on purchasing intentions independently or in relation with satisfaction and other factors. In general, the website quality inuences positively user satisfaction, which in turn has a direct and positive impact on loyalty and intention to make purchases online (Bai, Law, & Wen, 2008).

Second, a multiple linear regression analysis was conducted in order to reveal the most important factors inuencing customer satisfaction with the companies' websites. The ratio of cases to independent variables was around 25, e.g. higher than the required ratio between 15 and 20. The data were processed on SPSS. The values of Cronbach' alpha, the number of items, means, and SD of variables are given in Table 1. The mean scores of the independent variables suggested that the hypothesis related to the impact of the perceived personalisation of products and services on consumer satisfaction was not supported (H6). The correlation matrix indicated that there was no squared correlation among the independent variables higher than 0.494, which was the squared correlation between the websites' navigability and playfulness. This suggested that there were no problems with multicollinearity (Hair, Black, Babin, Anderson, & Tatham, 2006). The correlation matrix also demonstrated that the preliminary two hypotheses were not supported (H9 and H1) (Appendix 1, Table A2). Using the standardised residuals, assumptions for the regression analysis (normality, linearity, homoscedasticity, and independence) have been examined. The results were in line with the required conditions. 4. Results and discussion The investigated travel sites scored relatively well on the perceived level of the variety of online tourism products and services (around 53% were ranked at high and rather high levels), and to some degree on the perceived level of the quality of information (around 46%), and playfulness (43%). At the same time, the results outlined some weak points in the Bulgarian tour agencies' and tour operators' online appearance. On other dimensions like e-commerce development, responsiveness, and navigability, the majority of websites received an average rating (respectively 43%, 41%, and 37%). The situation with the scores for personalised information, trust, and online responsiveness is rather poor respectively 82% of the websites on personalisation, 47% on trust, and 33% on responsiveness were ranked at low and rather low levels (Table 2). Multiple regression analysis conrmed the positive impact on customer satisfaction of six factors and rejected four others. The excluded factors were: variety of online tourism products and services; responsiveness; personalisation; and variety of destinations in the country. The model was statistically signicant and it explained about 64% of the variance in the response (adjusted R-square = 0.644; F = 75,799, p b 0.000, N = 249) (Table 3).

Table 1 Cronbach' alpha for scales of the independent variables, number of items, means and SDs. Predictors 1. Variety of online proposed products and services 2. Quality of information 3. Website playfulness 4. Website navigability 5. Online responsiveness 6. Personalisation of products and services 7. Website condence/trust 8. Opportunities for e-transactions 9. Variety of country destinations 10. Variety of destinations abroad Response 11. Customer satisfaction
a b c

No. of items 11 6 5 5 4 3 5 4

Cronbach 0.681 0.856 0.834 0.747 0.728 0.720 0.733 0.777

Mean 61.21a 56.84 58.14b 56.14b 53.31b 28.76b 45.78b 54.69a 2.56c 3.03c

S.D. 21.83 21.73 19.81 20.10 19.88 18.54 19.42 33.02 1.45 1.36




2-points scale (1 presence; 0 absence). 5-points scale (1 the lowest; 5 the highest). Ln of the number of destinations.


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Table 2 Distribution of the websites attributes according to the perceived level of development (%). Website characteristics Perceived level of development Low Rather Average Rather High low high 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Variety of online products and services 5.6 11.2 Quality of information 4.1 24.4 Website playfulness 2.4 23.1 Website navigation 3.6 24.7 Online responsiveness 3.6 29.5 Personalisation of products 66.9 14.7 and services 7. Website condence/trust 10.0 37.5 8. Opportunities for e-transactions 17.5 4.0 30.7 26.0 31.1 36.7 40.6 13.1 31.1 43.4 26.3 29.7 30.3 23.1 17.5 2.0 17.5 12.4 26.3 15.9 13.1 12.0 8.8 3.2 4.0 22.7

The regression model suggested that the most important factor for the students' satisfaction was the website playfulness (H2). Other researchers have also found that website playfulness increased users' satisfaction (Nusair & Kandampully, 2008, p. 9). Wolnbarger and Gilly (2001) concluded that the higher the playfulness of the online experience, the greater the satisfaction of customers, which resulted in the higher likelihood of customers re-visiting the site. It is only through their pleasant online experience, consumers will visit (and re-visit) travel websites and eventually to purchase (Law & Bai, 2008, p. 397). The website playfulness might be more important for relatively young users, as is the case in Lin et al. (2005) and in the present study too, where the users were students. Students are among the most active internet lookers (Bonn, Furr, & Susskind, 1998), and that is why making a portal more enjoyable or playful could contribute more to users' satisfaction levels (Lin et al., 2005, p. 691). The second most important factor for customer satisfaction was the website navigability (H4). Navigation is a recognised indicator of good website functionality and it impacts positively on B2C success (Eid & Trueman, 2004). Navigation is regarded as a core construct of e-travel service quality as it increases consumer trust and satisfaction, which in turn inuences purchase intention (Chen, 2006; Hwang & Kim, 2007). In Kim et al. (2011) study navigation functionality also exerted a signicant positive effect on satisfaction (Kim et al., 2011, p. 264). In particular online buyers were signicantly more likely than browsers to view user interface and navigation as being important (Law & Bai, 2008, p. 394). Website trust ranked as the third signicant factor for customer satisfaction. Trust can be understood as a feeling of security and voluntary dependence on someone or something (Chung & Kwon, 2009). The signicance of this factor is in line with the results of other researchers (Ho & Lee, 2007, p. 1437). Kim, Kim, and Shin

Table 3 Multiple regression results. Model Constant 2. Quality of information 3. Website playfulness 4. Website navigability 7. Website condence/trust 8. Opportunities for e-transactions 10. Variety of destinations abroad Adjusted R-square F-statistics Dependent variable: v11 customer satisfaction. p-value is signicant at the 0.05 level. p-value is signicant at the 0.01 level. Coefcient 0.111 0.312 0.221 0.203 0.113 0.184 0.644 75.799 t 4.697 2.148 5.874 3.998 4.585 2.878 4.500

(2009) found that perceived trust in the e-commerce environment of tourism B2C affected completing transactions securely. Conversely, a lack of trust is an important reason for many customers not engaging in online payments (Wu & Chang, 2006). A large part of internet users are reluctant to provide personal information online because they do not trust e-commerce security (Kim et al., 2011, p. 257). Building trust is a dynamic process, which evolves over time through repeating mutual interactions, during which customer uncertainty decreases (Chen, 2006). The relationship of trust and shopping, however, often changes places in different studies. In other words, it remains unclear whether consumers are satised because they trust online shopping, or if they report improved trust because they are satised with Internet shopping (Kim et al., 2011, p. 264). Trust is supported by a feeling of security, which also has a positive impact on satisfaction and customers' purchase intensions (Kolsaker, Lee-Kelley, & Choy, 2004). The variety of destinations abroad (H10) was a fourth important factor inuencing the young and well educated users' satisfaction. This factor did not receive attention in other studies, or was subject to information quality. H9 referred also to the variety of destinations (inside the country), but was not supported. Perhaps the specic users' prole (students) maintains the signicance of this factor, reecting their attitudes as travelling mainly abroad rather than in the country. Other research found that destination information is also a factor of inuence. It may imply that Chinese customers are seeking information online about the destination(s) that they are likely to visit (Bai et al., 2008, p. 399). Quality of information was a sixth important factor for students' satisfaction (H2). This factor has been widely accepted as a key component of the perceived service quality (Ho & Lee, 2007, p. 1436). The results are consistent with those of Ross (2005), who revealed the importance of having good informative content on travel websites, and Burns (2006), who stated that one of the reasons for perspective buyers to leave e-commerce websites was the poor content. If the information is as current as possible with respect to product specications, prices and relevant links, it may encourage customers to come back to the web site (Wu & Chang, 2005, p. 949). Other researchers conrmed that the relevance-of-information-content was a key factor attracting visitors to e-travel sites (Baloglu & Pekcan, 2006; Nusair & Kandampully, 2008; Park et al., 2007). Information quality, however, means not only accurate and timely information, but also that it is well selected as today's users suffer from information overload (Biswas, 2004). Specically, buyers perceived quality of information, purchase information, and services/products information signicantly more important than the browsers. (Law & Bai, 2008, p. 394) The opportunity for e-transactions was the fth signicant factor, which inuenced positively users' satisfaction. The distribution of tourism websites according to the perceived level of e-transactions development shows that little more than one fth (21.5%) were ranked on low and rather low levels, 35.1% were classied on the high level, and the majority (43.4%) occupied an average level. This classication (similar to e-stages in the MICA model) is given in Fig. 2. On the one hand, the last but one ranking of this factor could be explained by the fact, that many customers are still reluctant to purchase online, particularly high-priced tourism products and services (Kim et al., 2011, p. 264). On the other hand, the high percentage of both low and average level websites in terms of e-transactions indicated that the majority of companies did not provide full online services, including online payment. The results are similar to those from countries with a small share of online shoppers like Portugal (Morrison & King, 2002, p. 11). The motivation of tourism rms to develop e-business today depends mostly on the number of e-commerce users. The small share of online shoppers, as 6.7% in Bulgaria (2011) and 7% in Portugal (2004) (Moital, Vaughan, & Edwards, 2009, pp. 735736), or the low value of online purchased products and services, does not stimulate the adoption of e-business. Similar

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50 40 30 20 10 0 Law and rather low level 21,5

43,4 35,1

Average level

High and rather high level

Fig. 2. Classication of tourism companies' websites according to the perceived level of opportunities for e-transactions (%).

situation was observed in second internet wave countries such as Italy, Spain and even New Zealand (Buhalis & Deimezi, 2004, pp. 123124), which were late e-commerce adopters. Security difculties, lack of interpersonal communication and lack of experience among consumers were also the main barriers to marketing over the internet in Greece (Vrana & Zaropoulos, 2006, p. 606). The cross-tabulation between the customers' satisfaction and the websites' e-commerce development showed that 52% of the websites with the lowest level of the e-commerce development corresponded to the lowest level of the users' satisfaction, while about 56% of the websites with the highest level of the e-commerce development correspond to the highest level of customers' satisfaction (Kendall's tau-b = 4.757, sig. 0.000). The evaluation of tourism website attributes depends on customers' preferences and experiences. Other studies revealed the positive inuence of responsiveness and personalised information on customer satisfaction, loyalty and purchase intentions (Nusair & Kandampully, 2008; Yang & Jun, 2002), but these two factors were not supported in our research. These factors are related to a greater real experience (Liao & Cheung, 2002), which may be limited among the sample students. Responsiveness reduces perceived risks, and most consumers prioritise communication about delays and a cancellation in real online transactions (Woolford, 2006). According to Lehto, Kim, and Morrison (2006), the personalised information has become more important to frequent consumers, which may not be the case with our sample of students. The constant in the model is signicant, which means that for this segment of consumers there might be other factors inuencing their satisfaction with the e-tourism experience. 5. Conclusions To maintain current customers and gain new ones, travel agencies must evaluate their websites, which directly affect the success of the company in the electronic market (Lin, 2010, p. 207). A key factor for establishing durable relationships with customers and enhancing their purchase intentions is their satisfaction with the online company environment (Bai et al., 2008). The overall ndings suggest that Bulgarian tour agencies and tour operators are underperforming in terms of providing web service quality dimensions that enhance young and well educated customers' satisfaction, loyalty, and shopping intentions. The study conrmed the positive inuence of the website quality on customer satisfaction in terms of playfulness, navigation, trust, variety of online destinations abroad, information quality, and e-transactions. Four website characteristics (responsiveness, personalization, diversity of online proposed tourism products and services, and variety of destinations inside the country) were not supported, which could be explained by the stage of e-tourism development in the companies and the specic customers' segment. The data suggest that there is a room for website improvement in many directions. The majority of the companies have developed a rich scale of tourism products and services, which hints at low levels of specialisation. Probably because of that this factor was not evaluated as being

important for customer satisfaction (H1). On the opposite side was the very poor development of the online personalisation of tourism products and services, which dimension was also not supported as being signicant for the users' satisfaction (H6). Another non signicant website attribute for customer satisfaction was responsiveness (H5), which means that communication with online users needs to be strengthened. These ndings have important implications for Bulgarian tourism agencies' and tour operators' strategies. Their managers have to realise that a new info-structure has emerged in the sector, and they need to adapt to it (Buhalis & Law, 2008, p. 619). They have to work to create more customer pleasure and involvement during the course of browsing to promote transaction intentions (Wu & Chang, 2005). It is crucial for tourism practitioners to understand how the quality of their websites affects customer satisfaction, and the impact of website quality and customer satisfaction on customer purchase intention (Law & Bai, 2008, p. 391). The variety of destinations abroad should be enlarged, and more guidance should be designed into the website (Pi et al., 2007). Website security and privacy features need to be strengthened in order to increase customer trust. As in the case of Greece, increasing trust requires efforts to overcome the main barriers to online transactions security issues, lack of communication, and lack of experience among consumers (Vrana & Zaropoulos, 2006, p. 606). That is why tourism managers need to place a high priority on improving the level of customers' trust in the online environments (Kim et al., 2011, p. 264). In line with the suggestions of Hall and Williams (2008) on the new role of the state as coordinator, regulator, promoter, and protector of the e-tourism, Bulgaria should increase the legal support for e-business transactions in order to avoid cases of online frauds. The ndings also suggest that there are some common issues in e-tourism (under) development in the South-East European countries, which may be due to some regional particularities rather than to individual country specicities, but this hypothesis needs additional research. The present study has limitations as it was restricted to a sample of students, who were among the most active internet browsers and lookers, but may not be so well represented among travel online bookers. The data represented the opinions of students, and were not purely objectives and quantitative. Ideally, future research should attempt to cover different consumer segments in term of age, education, and income.

Acknowledgement I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Allan Williams who supported this work with invaluable advices and a great language help. The empirical research was accomplished in the frame of the project E-tourism as a factor for the Bulgarian tourism rms' competitiveness in the post-crisis period (DVU_10_0349/2010), while the article was submitted under the project BG051PO001/3.3-05-001, nanced by the OP Human Resources Development of the European Social Fund.


Z. Vladimirov / Tourism Management Perspectives 4 (2012) 176184

Appendix 1
Table A1 Indexes and individual variables/website attributes. Indexes 1. Variety of online proposed tourism products and services No. of Individual variables/website attributes items 11 1. Tour packages abroad (outbound tourism); 2. Tour packages in the country (inbound); 3. Excursions in the country (internal tourism); 4. Hotel accommodations; 5. Air tickets; 6. Other tickets (bus, train, boat, ferryboat, transfer, etc.); 7. Cruises; 8. Visits of concerts, exhibitions, football matches, etc.; 9. Events' organising; 10. Rent-a-car, visa, translation services, etc. 11. Others 12. Number of languages 13. Accessibility (functioning links); 14. Intelligibility; 15. Actuality; 16. Accuracy; 17. Completeness (including prices) 18. Graphic style, shrift, and shrift size; 19. Attractive colours; 20. Use of ash animation, music, zoom function; 21. Interactive products' catalogue; 22. Photo gallery, video presentation, 3D rotation, etc. 23. Easiness and speed of navigation (intuitive); 24. Clear and convenient website card; 25. Opportunities to nd important places (hotels, airports, etc.); 26. Efcient search engine; 27. Sufcient number of working links on each page 28. Number of channels for communications; 29. Easiness of asking questions online; 30. Well functioning system of FAQs; 31. Feedbacks and consumer opinions (forum for discussion, complaints, etc.); 32. Opportunities to register with user's ID in the website; 33. Recommendations from the company to registered users; 34. Programme for creating online communities of users 35. Company information (history, licence documents, insurance, contact address, personnel); 36. Membership in the national and international organisations, quality certicates; 37. Presentation of partners/suppliers of tourism services; 38 Conditions for using products and services and resolving disputes, particularly in a case of refusing to use the service; 39. Reliability of personal and credit cards data securing. 40. E-form for reservation; 41. Instructions to consumers for online reservations; 42. Functioning system of online reservation with ofine payment; 43. Module for online payment; 44 45 46. Overall satisfaction with the website characteristics; 47. Intention to revisit the site; 48. Likelihood to make purchase from this site Cronbach Mean 0.6807 61.2097a SD 21.82663

2. Quality of information




3. Website playfulness




4. Website navigability




5. Online responsiveness




6. Personalisation of products and services 7. Website condence/trust


28.76494b 18.543093




8. Opportunities for e-transactions




9. Variety of country destinations 10. Variety of destinations abroad 11. Customer satisfaction 3


2.5576c 3.0268c 55.3519b

1.45285 1.36379 24.74039

a b c

2-points scale (1 presence; 0 absence). 5-points scale (1 the lowest; 5 the highest). Ln of the number of destinations.

Table A2 Correlation matrix. Kendall's tau-b 1. Variety of online proposed products and services 2. Quality of information 3. Website playfulness 4. Website navigation 5. Online responsiveness 6. Personalisation of products and services 7. Website condence/trust 8. Opportunities for e-transactions 9. Variety of country destinations 10. Variety of destinations abroad 11. Customer satisfaction

V1 1.000

V2 0.349 1.000

V3 0.265 0.432 1.000

V4 0.241 0.452 0.494 1.000

V5 0.231 0.335 0.393 0.370 1.000

V6 0.132 0.241 0.297 0.276 0.268 1.000

V7 0.291 0.301 0.292 0.344 0.291 0.253 1.000

V8 0.040 0.156 0.155 0.128 0.136 0.165 0.129 1.000

V9 0.269 0.130 0.090 0.146 0.059 0.087 0.115 0.050 1.000

V10 0.183 0.231 0.188 0.234 0.188 0.156 0.182 0.146 0.155 1.000

V11 0.305 0.453 0.523 0.513 0.397 0.261 0.413 0.239 0.128 0.327 1.000

Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed). Correlation is signicant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Z. Vladimirov / Tourism Management Perspectives 4 (2012) 176184


Appendix B. Supplementary data Supplementary data to this article can be found online at http:// dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2012.07.003.

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Dr Zhelyu Dechev Vladimirov obtained his Ph.D from the Department of Philosophy of the Moscow State University in 1986 and was awarded a Doctorate in Economic Sciences at Soa University in 2010. He has served as Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Public Administration at Soa University and its Vice Rector. His research interests lie in the development of small and medium sized enterprises and his books include Global challenges to SMEs, and An Analysis of the Situation and Factors for the Development of SMEs in Bulgaria. A member of International Association of French Speaking Sociologists, Professor Vladimirov is uent in English, French and Russian as well as his native tongue.