Creating a convivial atmosphere amongst customers, for example at a holiday resort, is the key ingredient for compelling customer experiences and why customers keep returning. It refers to an effervescent shared feeling and openness that encourages spontaneous, playful, and lively conversations and social interactions between people. However, according to new research by emlyon business school, how convivial atmospheres come about and how they can be cultivated by companies is still poorly understood.
To address this, a unique research project was carried out on Club Med holiday resorts – the iconic all-inclusive luxury resort and holiday package company who offer activity-packed experiences to holidaymakers.
The researchers, who studied nine Club Med resorts in Europe and North Africa, say that returning holidaymakers continuously stated the convivial atmosphere that they felt, stemming from friendly and playful interactions with other customers and service workers, were all reasons that made the holiday enjoyable. This is also why they shunned away from some of the high-end hotels, including those stressing an exclusive atmosphere which did not encourage inclusive interactions between people, and where it was much more difficult to make new acquaintances, for example.
These findings come from a long-term, team-based ethnographic study, now published in Annals of Tourism Research, conducted by members of the Lifestyle Research Center at emlyon business school – Professor Joonas Rokka, Professor Brigitte Auriacombe, Professor Lionel Sitz – alongside Professor Eric Arnould, from Aalto University School of Business. The team ran an in-depth study on atmospheres, relying primarily on a collective analysis of first-hand personal observations, participation, and introspective accounts by the researchers. The broader study also included observations from 81 students from the International Hospitality Management program of emlyon and Institut Paul Bocuse.
The researchers wanted to understand what is the role of specific kinds of social atmospheres, how they evolved, and how they impacted customers experience as compelling in tourist resorts. While atmosphere has been long recognized as an important marketing tool, the researchers argue that far too often this notion is narrowly understood and limited to reflect only the material and aesthetic design of the service environment – that is, for example, an issue of adjusting light, color, sound, or layout of spaces accordingly. The shortcoming is that it leaves the crucial role of customers and employee interactions out from the picture, and thus fails to capture the dynamically evolving and fragile nature of atmospheres. This feature was evident at Club Med, as a typical holiday stay would be seven days in length, during which visitors would encounter a range of different types of social situations and atmospheres.
The researchers document how convivial atmospheres emerge in relation to interacting people of various kinds and commonly interacting “bubbles” of groups of people, for instance, of families, friends, or employees. What worked well for Club Med was that friendly, social interactions were often supported by shared rituals (participation in sports and spectacles, service workers participating to activities – including sport, dinners, parties), material aspects (large tables encouraging socializing with others), and scheduling of activities (being in the right time and place). Over time, these elements facilitated the bubbling of atmosphere but also recurring moments of effervescence when a strong feeling of togetherness enveloped visitors, for example, during evening parties. The finding was all the more interesting as the studied holiday resorts welcomed a heterogeneous crowd of visitors – singles, couples, friends, families with children, including various nationalities.
“Holiday resorts like Club Med have been operating and popular for a huge number of years, and have built an incredibly loyal customer base in an industry where loyalty to one resort is not common”, says Professor Joonas Rokka. “Interestingly, our field research underlines how this is associated with a resonant convivial atmosphere that is appreciated among customers and also service employees”, adds Professor Brigitte Auriacombe.
The researchers stress that while social atmospheres such as conviviality remain very challenging to reproduce or manage due to their fragility and spontaneity. Yet, this research highlights influences of rituals, materiality and temporality in facilitating or “threatening” this dynamic.
If you would to read the full research paper, or speak to the researchers, please contact Katie Hurley at BlueSky Education – email@example.com or +44 (0)1582 790708.
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