Network Hospitality in the Share Economy: Understanding guest experiences and the impact of sharing on lodging
Purpose: The tourism industry is driven by intangible experiences. Utilizing the experience economy, this study seeks to assess the value of the network hospitality experience for the guest and to develop a better understanding of network hospitality as a unique alternative to traditional lodging.
Design: This study used a mixed-methods approach, relying on content analysis and interpretive phenomenological analysis to answer the research questions. Guest reviews of hosts for a lodging specific network hospitality website were used as the data source for this study.
Findings: The educational dimension of the experience economy was most represented during network hospitality experiences. Additionally, the factors that create value for network hospitality users include verbal communication, a sense of feeling at home, engagement in entertainment, food and beverage, and the functional experience while the spirit of network hospitality, reciprocity, and desire for continuation through future intention can have a great impact on the travel and tourism industry.
Value: This research adds value to the current literature by providing a better understanding of the experience economy at work in network hospitality, primarily education and esthetics. Additionally a better understanding of what factors of the network hospitality experience create value for guests is developed. This work focuses on a fast growing substitute for traditional lodging and therefore needs to be better understood.
Practical implications: Findings of this research provide practical implications for tourism and travel industry professionals. This includes the need to incorporate more educational experiences for travelers and to create relationships. These relationships can be created through face to face interactions as well as through interconnected platforms.
Keywords: experience economy, share economy, lodging, network hospitality, peer to peer travel, interpretative phenomenological analysis, content analysis
No longer is an average guest room and ordinary staff interaction able to meet the expectations of hotel guests. These new expectations are driven by intangible experiences as MacCannell stated, “more and more often it is pure experience, which does not leave any material traces that is produced and sold” (2013, p. 33). Lodging network hospitality organizations are forms of tourism that are experience based and place great importance on reviews. They can impact the local community while providing basic lodging to guests. These organizations use an internet platform for information exchange and booking, same as traditional lodging and other forms of peer to peer travel.
A recent development in the delivery of many products, including lodging products, is the share economy whereby online companies are facilitating a network of owners listing their available products in an effort to maximize their use while consumers are renting products from peers rather than purchasing them from traditional companies (Geron, 2013). One such product developed from the changing needs of today’s consumer are network hospitality websites, online communities of travelers who open up their homes to other travelers as an alternative to traditional lodging by offering spare rooms and couches.
As hospitality network organizations develop and thrive, it is important to understand, in the context of the experience economy, how this product meets the experience demands of today’s guest and how this could impact traditional lodging products. Although there has been recent interest in these types of organizations in popular media as well as in academic research, there is a greater need to understand what dimensions of the experience economy are present for guests in these network hospitality experiences and what impact this could have on the lodging industry in general. Therefore the purpose of this study is to assess the value of the network hospitality experience for the guest and to develop a better understanding of network hospitality as a unique alternative to traditional lodging. By completing this research the experience economy theory will be applied to an area it hasn’t been thus far in the hospitality literature, expanding on the experience economy theory and increasing the understanding of network hospitality’s potential impact on traditional lodging.
The share economy
The share economy, defined by Wosskow (2014) as allowing “people to share property, resources, time and skills across online platforms. This can unlock previously unused, or under-used assets…” (p. 8) is growing. There are more than one hundred different companies already listing a wide variety of products including car rentals, parking spaces, high end sports, photography equipment, musical instruments, and lodging accommodations. Forbes predicted the share economy will generate $3.5 billion in revenue and continue to grow at a rate of 25% (Geron, 2013). The concept of the sharing economy was one of TIME magazine’s 10 Ideas That Will Change The World in 2011 (Walsh, 2011). Lodging is included in the share economy and two specific models for this segment of the share economy should be explored, peer to peer travel and network hospitality.
Peer to peer travel is defined in the literature as individuals engaging in direct economic transactions by utilizing the services of an internet platform in order to list available accommodations and make reservations (Pizam, 2014). Botsman and Rogers (2010) noted that the share economy and access to the internet allows one to collaborate and remove physical boundaries with others through a peer to peer exchange and leads to more collaborative lifestyles. In peer to peer travel the direct experience between the provider and consumer of the shared asset creates an opportunity to pool resources for sharing purposes (Buczynski, 2013). In regards to lodging, peer to peer property rental occurs when a homeowner lists his or her asset, or in this case, available living space to others for short term rental (Pizam, 2014). Technology facilitates peer to peer travel as the online platform serves as a reservation system, while screening both host and visitor, collecting payments, and offering insurance for damages (Dredge & Gyimothy, 2015; Pizam, 2014). AirBnB, VRBO, and FlipKey are a few examples of current lodging offerings that fall under the peer to peer travel label. Richardson (2015) further describes peer to peer travel as interchangeable, meaning that hosts can be guests and guests can be hosts.
Network hospitality is a term coined by Germann Molz to describe how users in our mobile society create relationships with one another by utilizing online networks and the eventual face to face meeting for engagement in hospitable services (2007). The relationships in network hospitality are characterized by both face to face encounters and online conversations that are emotionally intense yet fleeting. Germman Molz based the term in Wittel’s concept of network sociality (2007). Network sociality is the way that cultural and technological changes have impacted the dynamic of social relationships, relying more on large networks and digital communication rather than the physical vicinity of the community (Wittel, 2001). The recent literature describes this part of the share economy as beyond the geographical boundaries of a community whereby strangers share interactions that take place through a technology aided business format (Dredge & Gyimothy, 2015). Network sociality influences both online and face to face interactions, where trust and a sense of belonging are positively related (Rosen, Lafontaine, & Hendrickson, 2011), ultimately encouraging people to stay in touch and have more casual conversations (Wittel, 2001).
Lodging network hospitality is unique from peer to peer travel in many ways. Two specific differences include a shift from the initial online to the secondary face to face experience and that the experience is truly shared as no monetary payment is made by the guest to the host (Albinsson & Perera, 2012). The lodging network hospitality model includes an online network for the distribution of free shared lodging (Tussyadiah, 2016), an extra room in the host’s dwelling or the couch/floor in the host’s dwelling, that becomes a face to face encounter during the sharing experience whereby hosts can become local guides as well. As Richarson (2015) notes, sharing happens through access, in terms of lodging network hospitality, guests are able to share the host’s dwelling through the open access granted by the host and the online platform. Lodging network hospitality examples include beWelcome, Hospitality Club, Couchsurfing, and Servas International. Tussyadiah (2016) notes that services provided and consumed via peer to peer travel can be perceived as unique from traditional hotel services, and this perception can create different expectations and evaluations of service from guests (p. 71).
Motivational Factors. Prior research has supported that guests are driven to seek alternative lodging options for many reasons; avoiding larger hotels, the opportunity to experience local heritage of destinations and interact with local residents, and to enjoy the scenery and lifestyle (Ingram, 2002). Another generation of travelers is growing and has different expectations of travel, often called “new tourists” (Stasiak, 2013,p.27). The travelers in this category are more independent and mobile than older generations and prefer a different lifestyle. They often have more experience traveling and are more flexible with travel arrangements (Stasiak, 2013). The most important aspect of the new tourist is that they want to understand and experience through direct contact with the destination, no longer is seeing a place enough (Stasiak, 2013). Life-seeing, a term created by Axel Dessau, describes the desire of tourists to become familiar with the local cultures and interact with people in the local community, rather than traditional recreational activities or tourist attractions (Goeldner & Ritchie, 2013). Ultimately travel is a form of identity construction and authentic encounters impact one’s personal narrative (Dredge & Gyimothy, 2015).
This continues to grow in popularity as a way to build personal connections in a world full of impersonal electronic interactions (Ball, 2013). Each experience is unique and provides the opportunity to meet new people. The enormous variety of types of accommodation provides an adventure factor (Friedman, 2014).
The key success marker in the travel based share economy is establishing trust. Guests develop trust when they have positive perceptions of credibility and truthfulness pertaining to a company (Wang et al., 2004). Based on Sparks et al. (2013), guests are found to be more trusting of informative reviews that are written by peers or other guests rather than by product managers because they are believed to be honest and credible. Dredge and Gyimothy (2015) suggest that feedback provided not only by consumers, but also suppliers creates trust and facilitates relationships between hosts and guests not available in traditional tourism. When online reviews, or electronic word of mouth reviews are more detailed with specific, quality information, they are perceived as more trustworthy, thus having more persuasive power over the potential guest (Sparks et al., 2013).
Network hospitality is perceived to be an authentic form of travel. Authenticity in tourism is understood as a quality that develops from dialog with locals and experiences that are removed from the traditional tourist avenues (Steylaerts & O’Dubhghaill, 2011). The experience economy accounts for the needs of guests to experience authentically and locally, relying on reviews for decision making and focused on creating and fostering relationships.
According to Pine and Gilmore, services can be strategically modified to create a higher value in experiences. Based on the level of the guest’s participation and engagement, the level of satisfaction varies. The four dimension of experience are entertainment, education, escapism and estheticism (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). These dimensions are divided by two scales into quadrants, passive to active participation and absorption to immersion engagement. At the passive extreme, the guest does not have influence nor affect the event, whereas active participation has a personal influence on the event (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). Absorption occurs when an event occupies a person’s attention and immersion is when a person actually becomes physically involved in an event (Pine & Gilmore, 1999).
The two scales intersect to create the four dimensions: entertainment, education, escapism and estheticism (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). Most forms of personal entertainment such as watching a movie are passively engaging to occupy the mind. Entertainment experiences are much more complex, actively engaging the participant (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). The educational dimension is when the guest or participant is absorbing the information presented (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). To achieve success in the escapist dimension, the guest must be fully immersed in the activity and is solely focused on the activity before them. The esthetic dimension describes an immersion experience that has little to no impact on the natural or artificial environment in which that experience occurs. When all four dimensions are cohesively presented to the consumer, the overall product is likely to be more successful (Pine & Gilmore, 1999).
Previous research has focused on the experience economy in many different segments of the travel and tourism industry, from the cruise experience (Hosany & Witham, 2010) to heritage trails (Hayes & MacLeod, 2007). Morgan et al. (2009) focused their study on the use of the four dimensions of the experience economy as a strategy for destination managers. Oh et al., (2007) investigated the bed and breakfast experience and found that the esthetics dimension was a determining factor in the outcome of the experience. The esthetics dimension was also found to be most important experience dimension in the wine touring experience (Pikkemaat et al., 2009). Again, the esthetics dimension was found to have the greatest impact on the overall experience for cruise goers, although all four dimensions were found to represent the cruise experience (Hosany & Witham, 2010). Loureiro (2014) focused on the rural tourism experience and found the esthetics dimension had the greatest impact on the overall experience while education was second. As stated by Osmond et al. (2015), all dimensions of the experience economy are important in the travel and tourism industry, however “there is variability in their importance. The aesthetic component is emerging as a strong candidate to be the most important” (p. 104).
Stasiak (2013) summed up the theory stating “It is assumed that basic goods offered on the advanced economy market are not ‘ordinary’ material commodities or services, but the emotions, impressions and sensations connected with them” (p. 59). Therefore the travel and tourism industry is selling experiences rather than hotel rooms or tours. This shift in the needs of the guest has created a new demand for emotionally driven experiences and no longer are traditional tourism offerings meetings these needs.
As stated previously, the purpose of this study is to assess the value of the network hospitality experience for the guest and to develop a better understanding of network hospitality as a unique alternative to traditional lodging. In order to answer research question 1, the study employed the experience economy theory and utilized the four dimensions it proposes in order to better understand the guest experience. In order to answer research questions 2 and 3 reviews, written by guests, of stays for one specific lodging network hospitality organization were utilized. Below are the three research questions developed for this study:
RQ1: Which dimension of the experience economy is most prevalent in the guest’s experience when he/she utilizes a network hospitality host?
RQ2: What are key factors of network hospitality that make it valuable to guests?
RQ3: What are key factors of network hospitality that could have an impact on the traditional lodging industry?
In order to answer the proposed research questions a network hospitality website was selected for this study. This company is a non-profit organization where lodging exchanges are not monetized, guests stay for free with the host in an extra bedroom, couch, or on an air mattress. Hosts are contacted by potential guests via the website, reservations are made, and reviews of the host and the guest are all completed on the website. One must become a member of the website and create a profile before he/she is able to see host information.
A mixed-methods approach was adopted for the study design. The first research question required pre-conceived words or content developed from previous literature so that the study could analyze for the appearance of these in the review text being studied. Therefore manifest content analysis (Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999) was utilized to provide a quantitative count of words used in text to represent each of the four experience economy aspects. Research questions 2 and 3 focused on the participant and the lived experience; therefore this study adopted the interpretative phenomenology method. More specifically, the goal of interpretive phenomenological analysis is to study how participants are making sense of their personal and social world. According to Smith and Osborn, the interpretive phenomenological method “attempts to explore personal experience and is concerned with an individual’s personal perception or account of an object or event” (2008, p. 53), giving the researcher an “insider’s perspective”. By gaining an “insider’s perspective” the study was able to analyze the reviews written by guests of the lodging network hospitality members in an attempt to understand how value is created for the guest and what impact this alternative form of lodging may have on traditional lodging.
Travelers develop a sense of trust with a company through online reviews. Sparks et al. (2013) found that informative reviews generated by peers were highly influential because they were perceived to be more truthful than reviews generated by product managers. Because of this, the study used online reviews generated by guests of one network hospitality website as the data source. These guests reviewed their stay in general, the host, and any other information the guest deemed pertinent. These reviews are first –hand and provide information regarding the network hospitality experience; however they are secondary data, data originally collected and/or analyzed by someone other than the researcher (Calatone & Vickery, 2009). The research team did not ask guests to provide these reviews, they were provided prior to the research. One benefit of using secondary data is that it can be more objective as it doesn’t contain bias from participant perceptions of what the researchers want/expect (Calatone & Vickery, 2009).
In order to access this data, the researchers created an account on a specific website. As a member of this network hospitality organization, all profiles and reviews are public; however the researchers coded each profile so that identifiable data was not used in the data analysis. Permission to use these existing reviews was permitted by the website under the condition that they remain anonymous. The guests that provided reviews had done so prior to the research, the research team did not contact individual guests and ask them to provide reviews, the researchers simply collected pre-existing reviews as the data for analysis. These reviews were collected in January 2015.
In qualitative research trustworthiness of the data should be established to support credibility (internal validity), transferability (external validity), dependability (reliability) (Petty et al., 2012), and reflexivity (Malterud, 2001). This study has supported credibility, transferability, dependability, and reflexivity through the use of many methods suggested in the literature. Each are discussed below.
Credibility is defined as “the degree to which the findings can be trusted or believed by the participants of the study” (Petty et al., 2012). This study used two methods to build in credibility to the study, persistent observation and peer debriefing. In this research persistent observation is supported by the 910 reviews that were used to conduct the content analysis and develop the themes that emerged. From persistent observation the researchers have a strong understanding of this specific format of network hospitality and the experience of those utilizing it when travelling. Peer debriefing is a sharing of the themes and findings from the research for discussion and checks of the findings. Peer debriefing was carried out between the researchers and with a group of hospitality researchers. Questions and discussion of the findings was held after the debriefing findings were deemed appropriate.
Transferability is defined as “the range and limitations for application of the study findings, beyond the context in which the study was done” (Malterud, 2001, p. 484). In this setting, the conclusions are applicable based on the demographics and the level of activity on the sampled members. Findings will likely be generalizable to this group of network hospitality users but not for the general population as a whole. Purposeful sampling can support transferability in qualitative studies, as it limits the sample to those with first-hand knowledge and experiences with the phenomena under investigation. The researchers used purposeful sampling as only active member profiles were selected and, more specifically, only reviews of those members were used.
Dependability is defined as “the extent to which the study could be repeated and variations understood” (Petty et al., 2012, p. 382). An audit trail of the study was completed for this research whereby the processes used for data collection and analysis can be used by another to replicate the process and/or judge the work. Another means of building in dependability is through the use of multiple analyzers which was carried out in this study.
Reflexivity is defined as “an attitude of attending systematically to the context of knowledge construction, especially to the effect of the researcher, at every step of the research process” (Malterud, 2001). Both researchers, for this study, have a personal history and professional experience in the lodging industry. They both acknowledged their personal/professional experiences with traditional lodging and that neither had previously used the specific lodging network hospitality organization neither as a guest nor host, limiting their bias in the study design and findings. With this said, the researchers believed aspects of the experience economy are present in the network hospitality experience, however they did not have preconceived notions as to the extent or which aspect is the most present. Reflexivity can be upheld by examining the data for competing conclusions. In this study, all themes were cross-checked, by reading through the transferred data with one theme while testing if an alternative theme held. Therefore the researchers designed the study to support reflexivity in the data.
The sample was limited to the United States of America. The country was divided into six geographical regions: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Western, Midwest, and Central. One state was randomly selected to represent each of the six geographic regions as follows: Massachusetts, Georgia, New Mexico, California, Wisconsin, and Kansas. The city with the largest presence of members was established by using the sort filters available on the website. The 8 most active accounts determined by the number of host/guest interactions were selected. This provided the researchers with a total of 48 accounts. These 48 accounts, all residing in the United States, represent the 48 hosts/properties that were reviewed. The data collected for the study included the reviews from guests of these 48 hosts/properties totaling 910 guest reviews. The guests that wrote reviews for these 48 hosts were not all from the United States, many were from other countries. The researchers only used the reviews of the host/property that were written by guests that stayed with the host/at the property.
This study used one network hospitality website. On the website 48 hosts/properties were identified. Each of these 48 hosts had a profile that contained several areas of information; including demographics, description of a member’s attitude about travel, information about the member’ specifications for guests, photos of the member, references, and the member’s network of friends. The demographic information listed was gender, age, occupation, and length of membership.
Any member of the network hospitality website with a full profile can write a review. The reviews can be viewed by any member to help make an informed decision. The researchers created profiles on the website to view the network of available hosts. Using the 48 hosts previously identified the researchers found the reviews for each host. These reviews were provided by previous guests of the host and were all collected as data for the study, totaling 910 reviews. These 910 reviews were then used for the content analysis and then for thematic mapping using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
From these 48 host/property profiles, the researchers collected age, gender, and length of membership data. This demographic data was collected and analyzed rather than the 910 reviewers as it was not feasible for the research team to collect this demographic data. Therefore the study reports demographic data for the 48 hosts/properties from which the 910 reviews were collected and analyzed via content analysis and IPA.
Content analysis. Content analysis is defined as “a detailed and systematic examination of the contents of a particular body of material for the purpose of identifying patterns, themes or biases” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005, p. 139). Content analysis was used in order to address research question one. Using the scale items found in the work of Oh and colleagues (2007), the researchers created a list of key terms for each of the four aspects of the experience economy. Table 1 provides the four constructs and measurement items for each. Additional terms were added including synonyms and those found in the literature. There were two raters that examined the reviews for these different key words. The raters read through the data, noting each occurrence where the text of the review matched the keywords of the four dimensions of the experience economy.
Insert Table 1 here.
These words were then tallied for each profile, each representing a key area of the experience economy. Then the counts were tallied for an overall number. This was done to allow the researchers to examine, from the reviews, which of the four aspects of the experience economy were represented the most in the text. No analytical software was used for this analysis.
Content analysis, requires special attention to reliability-reproducibility and the use of multiple coders necessitates the measurement of the strength of agreement between their coding (Oleinik et al., 2013). Inter-rater reliability, in content analyses, is the accepted means to validate not only the coding scheme but also findings from the analysis (Berg, 1995; Pan et al., 2014). Inter-rater reliability measures the extent multiple researchers can reliably utilize a coding scheme (De Wever et al., 2006). Therefore, inter-rater reliability for the content analysis in this study was assessed using Cohen’s Kappa in order to determine the level of agreement between the two raters who coded data into classes, specifically for the four dimension of the experience economy. It measures the total number of items the raters were in complete agreement compared to the expected total number of agreements (Upton & Cook, 2008). There was good agreement beyond chance between the two raters, Cohen’s kappa = .656, p ≤ .00 (Krippendorff, 2012), meaning the two coders coded that data in a consistent manner, supporting reliability of the coding and subsequent findings related to the content analysis.
Interpretative phenomenological analysis. Data was analyzed inductively for factors that create value for the guest during a network hospitality experience and for factors that could impact traditional lodging. Codes were developed as the reviews were read by two individual coders. Initially the reviewers started with 3 profiles and coded this data. Two coders then compared the codes before continuing with additional analyses. This supported inter-rater reliability as the two coders were highly consistent in their coding. Thematic mapping was used where themes were identified then cross examined. Using direct quotes from the reviews, the themes were then interpreted. No analytical software was used to conduct the data analysis.
Sample profiles of 48 members who identified themselves as hosts were purposefully selected. The ages of the host profiles ranged from 20 to 58, removing the two outliers of 95 and 112. The average age of the hosts included in this study was 33.46 years old. Of the 48 profiles, 36 of them were males and 9 were females and 3 were identified as “other”. In 3 cases, the accounts were shared between couples and families. The sample of host profiles included 910 reviews from guests. The demographic information was unfeasible to collect for the 910 guest profiles. The average number of reviews per profile was 19. Table 2 provides the descriptive characteristics of the host profiles that were included in the study.
Insert Table 2 here.
Assessing the Research Questions
RQ1: Which dimension of the experience economy is most prevalent in the guest’s experience when he/she utilizes a network hospitality host?
The numerical results of each of the two coder’s content analysis were averaged together to obtain an overall number. The coders found 331 instances of key words that represented the education dimension. There were 323 instances of key words that represented the esthetics dimension. There were 250 instances of key words that represented the entertainment dimension. There were 3 instances of key words that represented the escapism dimension. All dimensions were present supporting that network hospitality allows for both passive and active engagement. Ultimately in answering research question one, education is the dimension that is most prevalent in the guest’s experience when utilizing the network hospitality host.
RQ2: What are key factors of network hospitality that make it valuable to guests?
The two coders read the 910 guest reviews to identify phrases that described the experience from the guest’s perspective when engaging in a network hospitality exchange. There was only one negative review that referred to the host being a bit “up tight”. The host responded to the review and stated inappropriate behaviors during the stay was the cause of her “up tight” attitude. Otherwise all reviews were positive in nature. As Shuckert et al. (2015) noted, a limitation of online reviews is the inability to know if the review is truthful as “some reviewers tend to give a good review to avoid unnecessary trouble even though they have had an unpleasant experience” (p. 612).
The phrases were isolated individually, and then patterns were identified. The patterns were clustered into broad themes using inductive thematic mapping. During the thematic mapping, the coders explored if the phrases fit better in different themes and made adjustments where necessary. The coders interpreted the themes, identifying subthemes; defined and described below:
- Feeling at home. The aspect of the guest feeling at home in the host’s house is significant because they are often strangers. This principle is the core of hospitality. The host creates a welcoming environment that has all of the necessities for the guest to be comfortable in his or her surroundings, allowing the guest to fully enjoy their time spent away from home.
- Feeling like a member of the family. This subtheme is significant because this sense of inclusion is not typically present in a traditional lodging setting as the family dynamic is not part of that experience; however it is or can be present in the experience.
- Conversation. Engaging in verbal communication in a face to face context to get to know someone new is an aspect of the experience. While in the host’s home, many guests remarked about the ease with which they found conversation topics and the pleasure of getting to know more about their host as well as sharing about their personal lives.
- Giving advice to travelers. This subtheme describes a type of verbal interaction between the host and the guest. As part of the network hospitality experience, travelers often seek to engage in experiences that are unique to the location they are visiting. By seeking advice and recommendations from the host, travelers have more opportunities to experience the local culture and discover places off the beaten path. The guests acknowledged the benefit of this information in reviews.
- Participation in entertainment activities. While participating in the experience, the entertainment aspect is an enjoyable and relaxing aspect for the guest experience.
- Music. In the experience, a popular form of entertainment is music, discussing music and listening to music in the home or at venues (i.e. concerts).
- Cultural events. A subtheme of entertainment is cultural events that are unique to the current location.
- Functional experience. The functional experience of network hospitality describes the aspect of establishing the logistics and planning the physical travel, coordinated through digital communication between the host and potential guests and has a unique dynamic compared to traditional lodging.
- Pre-arrival. This subtheme pertains to the communication prior to the arrival of the guest at the host’s home. This is generally arranged through the messaging features on the website.
- Cleanliness. This subtheme is a universal need for travelers in both traditional and alternative lodging facilities.
- Food and beverage. Sharing meals together while enjoying fellowship is an essential aspect of network hospitality as it encourages the development of relationships. Three subthemes emerged. These were included as they were frequently reported in the reviews.
- Breakfast. It is noted specifically because many guest reviews mentioned that the host provided breakfast before their departure. This was a separate subtheme as it was specifically labeled breakfast, generally a mechanism of farewell to the guest and not a requirement or expectation but a farewell gesture of good will.
- Beverages. When specifically mentioned, beverages were alcoholic and served in a social setting.
- Meals. Most commonly, the guest and host shared a meal and beverages together. Many hosts cooked meals for their guests and others took their guests out to eat, often introducing them to new foods. This is different than the “breakfast” subtheme as it was social in nature, required engagement between host and guest, and used as a way to get to know the guest whereas “breakfast” was specifically described as a farewell gesture.
RQ3: What are key factors of network hospitality that could have an impact on the traditional lodging industry?
The spirit of network hospitality, reciprocity, and desire for continuation through future intention could have an impact on the traditional lodging industry. While personal characteristics aren’t likely to have an impact on traditional lodging, the subtheme of desire to engage in new experiences could. These themes were found to potentially impact traditional lodging as they represent several ways in which the network hospitality experience is unique and therefore not as readily available in traditional lodging.
- Spirit of network hospitality. The impact of the spirit of network hospitality is a unique feeling described by members in the guest reviews. Many reviews gave the recommendation to stay with a host because they were “a true example of the spirit of” network hospitality. This spirit is unique to this experience because other forms of traveling do not involve the opportunities to learn about other people and places, while immersing oneself into another’s daily life.
- Sense of reciprocity. A strong sense of reciprocity is present in the network hospitality community as guests extend an invitation to the host after their experience to come visit them in his or her hometown or country. This reciprocal exchange is not required of the experience but highly encouraged as it sustains the hospitality network. While a slight difference in semantics, a big difference in engagement exists between this theme and subtheme. Reciprocity was labeled as such because a participant simply shares his/her resource with the host, his/her dwelling in a specific location. Whereas future intention was represented with a greater sense of engagement; not just a resource to be utilized, but an attempt to continue the relationship now and into the future.
- Future Intention. To a lesser degree, many members identify that they would like to continue the relationship with other members that developed during the experience in the future. This impact is unique to the network hospitality experience. Through personal communication and making plans to meet again, the members in this sample expressed intention to build the relationships in the future.
- Personality characteristics. The aspect of positive personal characteristics of members was observed while very few negative characteristics were identified.
- Desire to engage in new experiences. A subtheme of personality characteristics is the expressed desire to engage in new experiences. Many guests described the importance of meeting new people and pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone.
Table 3 provides selected quotes from the reviews to support each of the themes and subthemes identified in the thematic mapping process.
Insert Table 3 here.
Hospitality exchange network is a modern representation of historical hospitality through the act of inviting strangers into one’s home while providing them with meals and engaging in conversation, however the current offerings of network hospitality go beyond this historical hospitality as identified in the study as three specific impacts of the network hospitality experience, including a sense of reciprocity, future intention in developing relationships, and the spirit of network hospitality. Additionally the experience economy dimension of education was found to be most representative of the experience with the esthetics realm also representing the overall experience of participants. It is important to compare these findings to traditional lodging because peer to peer travel is a growing trend in the travel and tourism industry and could be considered a legitimate substitute to traditional lodging.
Insert Figure 1 here.
Previous literature has supported the esthetics dimension of the experience economy has having the greatest impact on the overall guest experience (Hosany & Witham, 2010; Loureiro, 2014; Oh et al., 2007; Osmond et al., 2015). This study found that the education dimension was most representative of the network hospitality experience with the esthetics dimension a close second. The education dimension occurs when the participant is absorbing the information presented while actively engaging in activities. From a review the themes found in this study, one can easily see how education was the most representative dimension. Participants are actively engaging with the host during their stay, sharing meals, having meaningful conversations, and being made to feel at home; all while absorbing information about the town/city, house/apartment, and host.
Additionally the esthetic dimension occurs when the participant is immersed and yet doesn’t have any impact on the environment within which the experience happens. Previous studies have identified the esthetic dimension as having the greatest impact on the overall experiences not only on cruise goers (Hosany & Witham, 2010), but also in the rural tourism experience (Loureiro, 2014). From the aspects of the network hospitality experience the study identified, feeling at home and functional experience is representative of the esthetics dimension. Feeling at home refers to the immersion in the home/apartment/venue where the stay occurs and while the participant feels comfortable and welcomed; their presence doesn’t impact the environment. The functional experience refers to specific qualities in the host/participant exchange with regards to setting up the stay and the physical features where the location takes place, again with the participant fully immersed in this process and yet not impacting the environment.
Although this study found education as the most representative dimension of the experience economy, esthetics (which has been supported as a vital aspect of the experience economy for travel and tourism) was a close second. There isn’t a complete match between the network hospitality experience in this study and other segments of the travel and tourism industry and yet this study found a strong match between the aspects of network hospitality and the dimensions that were most present in the reviews as determined by the content analysis. This match provides support for this research as reliable.
The reciprocity aspect of the experience occurs when the guest invites the host to stay at their home in return for the experience. This offer of reciprocity is not extended out of obligation as there is no equal exchange requirement. Often, guests describe their appreciation to the host for sharing their home and insight into daily life and the guest has the desire to share the same about his or her hometown through access to the location, information, and host (Richardson, 2015). The willingness to host is necessary for the network hospitality community to be sustainable as members in the host position transition into the guest role to engage in the reciprocation offer. This sense of reciprocity is not present in traditional lodging, thus characterizing the experience. Some of these reciprocal extended offers include international locales, including Norway, Spain, Portugal, France, and Kuwait. The global impact of the network is continuing to grow as more members are creating positive relationships with diverse people by sharing stories about their life experiences. The human connection or authentic experience of feeling at home that generates this connection (Ball, 2013; Steylaerts & O’Dubhghaill, 2011) and encourages future intention is not readily found in traditional lodging.
The spirit of network hospitality finding clearly conveys that this experience is not about seeking rest and relaxation but a special vitality from meeting new people and one’s overall world view to be expanded. This can further be described as desire to travel for the purpose of meeting new people and learning about their lives through engaging conversation. It includes seeking unique adventures marked by the people met along the way and the lessons learned. This attitude towards traveling possessed by members is much different than traveling for business or group events where the purpose is a specified event. This spirit is recognized by members and conceptualized in the reviews they write, again supporting this as an authentic experience (Steylaerts & O’Dubhghaill, 2011). As characterized by members the best reason to engage in travel this way is “to meet someone you wouldn’t ordinarily, and find a new friend” and “It’s changed how I travel and how I see the places I visit.” Compared to traditional lodging, it’s so much more than a bed or a couch to sleep in for the night. Through this exchange participants can experience the education dimension through learning about the location, culture, and person, creating added value for the member and maybe for the host. As Pine and Gilmore (1999) state, the experience economy can be used to create greater value for the customer and for some hospitality network users; they are getting this greater value through the education dimension when engaging with network hospitality.
As this study employed a qualitative design the results are not generalizable to the population as a whole. Lacy et al. (2015) noted that purposive sampling, while a logical choice based on the nature of the research, has limited generalizability and “relationships found in the data cannot be extended to content outside the event” (p. 793). Therefore the findings of this study can be used to better understand the experience economy and network hospitality and inform decision making for those invested in these, including the travel and tourism industry, academicians, and travel and tourism professionals. The following sections include implications for these stakeholders based on the use of the findings of this study to inform future decision making endeavors, not directly apply the findings are they aren’t generalizable to the population as a whole and to develop future research.
Travel and Tourism Industry. A fundamental aspect of network hospitality is the educational experiences that members seek in the new environments they visit. Members share their favorite hometown locations and daily life with other members that they host, providing opportunities to learn about new places and new ways of life. As indicated by the content analysis results, educational experiences represent the most significant component of the network hospitality experience in terms of value. A common goal of network hospitality members is seeking the unique opportunities that exist in a particular location. Understanding that the local culture often contains aspects that are unique is important to differentiate the location. Potential network hospitality travelers can identify the location as an opportunity to experience something new and different; they will value the location more highly because they have the opportunity to learn about a new place. As Richardson (2015) notes, sharing happens through access. Therefore the access provided to the location allows the user and provider to share in the new experience whether it is of the place or in creating new relationships. In an effort to understand network hospitality, more questions are raised that must be investigated through future research.
Some of these questions include, how great is the impact of network hospitality on the traditional lodging sector; can traditional lodging provide the types of educational and esthetic experiences provided via network hospitality to today’s experience economy consumers; and is this a legitimate substitute to traditional lodging? Although findings from this study aren’t generalizable to the larger population of travelers, they are representative of many network hospitality members and provide useful information while highlighting considerations for traditional lodging. Traditional lodging providers should begin to consider the dimensions of the experience economy that are being met through alternative lodging and determine how they can increase the observed value of the lived experience of their guests. While these are two different lodging offerings, they share more in common than not and alternative lodging must seriously be considered evermore in the future as it continues to offer greater value through the experience.
Academia. Network hospitality is a relevant topic to academia as it is an emerging form of alternative lodging that must be acknowledged as more guests join. Academic research has also explored the phenomenon of trust within the global network of network hospitality in the digital age revealing that trust and a sense of belonging share a positive relationship (Rosen et al., 2011). It also utilizes technological functions that will likely relate to students of the millennial generation. In the classroom, alternative lodging is pertinent to developing a holistic understanding of the travel and tourism industry beyond forms of traditional lodging. Hospitality students must be aware of current issues and trends in the industry, and having an understanding of network hospitality is key.
Professionals. The importance of future intention of members has the potential to be adopted by traditional lodging facilities. Currently, the traditional lodging facility relies on developing brand loyalty within their guests to encourage them to choose the particular brand again in the future, such as Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards. Most brands communicate with guests through tailored emails strategically chosen to encourage more spending through promotions and incentives. The similarity to the future intention of members is that the hotels hope that the guests will stay with them again as a way to continue the relationship into the future. This study found that in the network hospitality experience, guests hope to see the hosts again when the roles are reversed. The personal relationship cultivated during the network hospitality experience between the guest and the host can continue to develop through digital communication available through the online platform or through personal means. This high level of interconnectivity is distinct to the network hospitality experience.
Traditional hotels capitalize on meeting the needs of guests. For example, the Aloft hotel brand has become an industry leader in implementing technological advancements within hotels to responding to the changing needs of consumers (Nessler, 2014). One consideration for traditional lodging managers is to offer amenities and services that meet the needs of this particular market segment, the network hospitality segment. By examining their property in terms of the experience economy model, lodging industry professionals can then address their weaknesses to better create value in their services offered, in order to capture more of the network hospitality and/or alternative lodging segment. Ultimately lodging providers can impact the level of influence of education, escapism, and esthetics by allowing the tourist to be involved in the core product (Quadri, 2012).
Limitations and Future Research
Further research is needed to understand the impact of network hospitality on the travel and tourism industry. One way in which these findings can be utilized is to inform future studies in the development of a mechanism for further assessing the experiences of alternative and traditional lodgers. This study helps to provide foundational pieces that can be utilized to shape a future comparative analyses. Initially, a study should be executed to examine the traditional lodging environment of hotels in terms of the experience economy using a similar content analysis of guest reviews from Tripadvisor.com or a specific hotel’s reviews. After the completion of this study a comparative analysis of these two should be conducted to inform stakeholders of the aspects of the experience economy that are found during the traditional and/or alternative lodging experiences. This information would be useful to the travel and tourism industry, academicians, and practitioners alike.
Additionally, the economic impact of network hospitality could be examined by comparing average domestic traveler expenditures to that of members. Another aspect of research connected to network hospitality could seek to characterize the personality traits of active network hospitality members with the intent of utilizing psychographic information to better segment the market of potential hotel guests seeking adventurous experiences. To further the research of network hospitality, a sociological approach could be taken to examine the cultural preferences or apprehensions to traveling with strangers across the globe. Exploring the historical context of traveling with strangers compared to modern applications of traveling could provide insight to the popularity of the network hospitality trend. The importance of network hospitality is likely to grow as more people join and experience the hospitality exchange network.
This research study was limited to the United States and could be expanded to a worldwide scope, as network hospitality is a global movement. The lack of demographic information of the 910 guest reviews included in this research study is an area that could be addressed to fully realize the scope of the network hospitality community. Additionally, the study did not employ a proportional sample strategy for the proportional usage in the six regions of the U.S. The study used purposeful sampling; however proportional sampling could make the results more representative and therefore generalizable. As network hospitality is a network of travelers, there was no exploration into the links between members to quantify their personal networks. As this is a cross sectional study, these findings represent a snapshot of this phenomenon. A longitudinal approach could better capture the impact of the growing peer to peer trend in lodging and provide a broader scope of results.
Limitations of the data collection methods aren’t always reported in adequate detail as the interpretative phenomenological analysis is flexible in data collection (Pringle et al., 2011). In an effort to heed this observation, a few limitations of the data collection for this study are discussed briefly. This study used online reviews of the most active hosts within a specific geographic area. The most active hosts likely have a high level of activity in part due to their reviews. Therefore this sample could have a positive skew (as the reviews were all positive except one), and not fully represent the network hospitality community. Additionally, these reviews were written to share with others, as a quick review, not a full disclosure of the entire experience and therefore may not reflect the full experience of participants as an in-depth interview might.
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Words used in Content Analysis
|Realm||Words used in Content Analysis|
|Education||Experience, Knowledgeable, Learned, Stimulated, Curiosity, New things, Learning experience, Educational, Enhanced|
|Esthetics||Harmony, Setting, Being, Pleasant, Attention to detail, Pleasure to the senses, Hospitality, Welcoming, Comfortable, Enjoyable, Cozy, Relaxing|
|Entertainment||Activities, Watching, Perform, Captivating, Amusing to watch, Fun to watch, Led me, Showed me, Took me, Stories, Listen/hearing, Attending, Tour|
|Escapism||Played a different character, Living in a different time, Imagine, Escaped, Forgot daily routine, Different world|
Demographics of Sample
|Descriptive Characteristics of Host Profiles||Total||Percentage|
|Reviews Per Profile|
*Two profiles reported the ages of 95 and 112 and as these were outliers we removed them as we felt that information was not accurate based on the remainder of the profile.
Selected support of the themes and subthemes is described below.
|Theme||Selected support from transcripts|
|Sense of feeling at home
Feeling like family
|“They’ve really made me feel like I was at home”
“We felt very at home as soon as she welcomed us”
“We felt like part of their family for our visit”
Giving advice to travelers
|“We enjoyed talking deep into the night”
“get some first-hand information from a local”
“He gave us good tips on where to eat and go”
|Participating in entertainment activities
|“She took me on several fascinating and educational sightseeing trips”
“He taught me about some music I was unfamiliar with”
“I earned a total new, in-depth culture exchange living experienced to stay with Scott [sic]”
|“John was super accommodating even though mine was a last minute/emergency request”
“Responded quickly via texts ”
“David’s place is so clean”
“His place is nice and clean”
|Food and Beverage
Meals and Drinks
|“He made us breakfast every day”
“tasted the best beer in Boston”
“check out a local diner with some great Wisconsin micro brew”
|Sense of reciprocity
|“You’re welcome at my place anytime!”
“There’s a couch in Norway with your name on it”
“I hope we keep in touch!”
“I hope our paths cross again in the future”
Attitude towards new experiences
|“She’s very easy going and easy to get along with”
“He is a trustworthy person”
“I love to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself”
“Be open to new ideas and adventures”
|Spirit of network hospitality||“One of the best reasons… is to meet someone you wouldn’t ordinarily meet and find a new friend”|
Doesn’t classify into one of the four dimensions
Figure 1. Classification of themes into 4 experience economy dimensions.
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