The need of qualified employees in hospitality industry, their commitment to service quality and to what extent it impacts customer satisfaction is not any more a matter of question; it is an important issue that concerns not only hospitality management education in Bulgaria but it is recognized all over the world. The industry suffers from high turnover (Mehra, 2006) which directly reflects to the product and service quality offered (Pizam and Thornburg, 2000) and respectively to low revenues and profits (Tracey and Hinkin, 2008).Furthermore, problems occur in graduates’ perception of future career in hospitality industry due to disappointment of the work experience they gain during their mandatory practices in this industry which decrease their willingness for further professional development in this field (Waryszak, 1999; Jenkins, 2001).The gabs in hospitality management education system is an important issue of serious concern and represents a huge interest among researchers and academics. According Mr. Ilian Ilchev a manager of Vocational Training Center (VTC) – Bourgas who is responsible of the training of cadres in hospitality industry, Bulgarian tourism sector faces serious problems finding qualified employees in this field. Most of the students in Bulgarian universities and colleges offer low quality of education. There is no interaction between the practice in tourism sector and the higher education offered in Bulgarian schools. Moreover, after graduation students are not attracted from the low payment in this sector, and the inability to start career on managerial level is from great disappointment for them.
As far as the education of hospitality management is concerned, there is a need to classify the supply side of the Bulgarian education. The institutions that provide tertiary education in Bulgaria are separated into two types: universities with duration of study from four to six year, depending on the object of study which offer bachelor and master degree, and colleges with duration of study three years offering professional bachelor degree. There is existence of Private Professional Colleges (PPC) with duration of study two years offering certificate for professional qualification which are 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree (National Statistic Institute) and so called Vocational Training Centers (VTC) which are working at the same principle as PPC and offer the same levels of professional qualification. The difference between them is that PPC give opportunity for the student to continue their education for professional bachelor/bachelor degree in its partner Bulgarian university or college but VTC on the other hand is considered to be not only for students but for everyone that wants to acquire craft knowledge in particular field. There is small percentage of private colleges which are part from any statistic that offer courses based on educational programmes similar to foreign colleges that suits the students needs in particular industry. The period of study in these colleges is from two to three years and after completing the course, student can continue their education in university abroad. Most of the courses are franchised and validated by the foreign college or university and the majority of them are based in Nederland, Great Britain, Norway etc. However, the degree awarded by their Bulgarian college or university partner is not acknowledged by the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. Here comes the question how effective is the education offered from these institutions connected with hospitality industry and how many of them produce qualified employees and leaders that could suits the needs of this industry? According to Jenner, 1992 and Sneed & Heiman, 1995 the concern for a good quality of education in tourism sector should be equally high for both government and hospitality and tourism industry. Bulgarian government does not subsidize the colleges that offer higher education in hospitality management and very few hotels do have clear structured training system. The limitation of Master and doctoral programs in this field in Bulgarian universities with specialization in hospitality is an obstacle for development of further academic resources and researches which could be in favor for the progress of these programs. Furthermore, courses such as Entrepreneurship, Strategic Management, Marketing Management, Corporate Finance etc. which are essential for the hospitality education do not exist in Bulgarian State universities. Such courses are recognized in the Bulgarian colleges which are affiliated by foreign universities but from financial point of view, not every student can afford it. Unfortunately, such gaps in the hospitality education are not rare phenomena in other countries such as India that faces the same problems (Jauhari V.2006).
A serious issue of concern in Bulgaria is connected with the jobs opportunities that the Bulgarian students have after graduation. It is generally known that the aim of the higher education is to prepare qualified cadres which are able to find a realization on the labor market. The quality of education is a leading factor that influences students’ opportunities of finding the most suitable job placement according to the acquired qualification (Georgieva Y., Kalinov K. 2005).Unfortunately, in Bulgaria it is a well known fact that the students find difficulties to find job in the sphere of their higher education and most of them start working something which is totally different or similar to what they have studied in the university, mostly at minimum wage rates.Moreover,the number of graduates in hospitality industry exceed the number of available managerial positions on the labor market, something that happens in India as well and that leads to :
“â€¦mismatch of supply and demand of certain skills in hospitality industry”
According to Zhang and Wu (2004), China faces the same difficulties in hospitality industry, namely:
“â€¦lack of qualified staff at both operational and managerial level, high staff turnover rates, unwillingness of university graduates to enter industry, gap between what is taught in school and college and realities of the industry itself”
In most cases, it leads to job dissatisfaction, low productivity and respectively to low quality of service. Researchers have found that there is absence of positive and strong interaction between job satisfaction and education (Gordon, 1975; Weaver, 1978). One of the assumptions is that the students with higher education expect their work during the years to be rewarded and when their expectations are not met it easily leads to dissatisfaction of the job position (Wright and Hamilton, 1979).However, a recent statistic shows that the number of people who mostly leave the country are young people between 25-29 years old (NSI). This means that higher educated or not, young people in Bulgaria prefer to work and to look for a better career opportunities abroad instead of develop their skills at home which directly reflects on the different branches of the Bulgarian economy, namely to operate with young and qualified cadres. It is a reasonable explanation why Bulgarian hospitality industry desperately has a need of qualified employees and managers who can offer good quality of service and ability to compete with other popular hospitality industries such as Turkey, Greece, Malta etc.
The good quality of higher education in hospitality management plays crucial role of providing the tourism market with well trained, skilled and educated managers, but on the other side, frontline employees are those who has direct contact with the customers, and the quality of service provided by them is essential for the success of any organization within the hospitality industry (Chang, 2006).Customer service is viewed as customer perception of what he/she had experienced and remembered (Beaujean, Davidson, and Madge, 2006; Bymes,(2005). Most of the time, when a customer leaves a hotel or a restaurant dissatisfied from the received service, it forms immediately a negative perception (Bymes, 2005).That’s why, it is essential and not fully recognized in Bulgarian hospitality industry that the successful organizations are those that perceive customer service as:
“â€¦the starting point and ending point for any effective account relationship” in which “the key to success is clear thinking about what it feels like to walk in the customer’s shoes”
(Bymes, J., 2005).
Employees’ commitment to service quality is also an important factor that contributes for a strong organizational performance. Organizations with high commitment among subordinates could only benefit from it with lower turnover and comparatively higher motivated employees. It is important for every company to know how to motivate its employees and to create better relation between customers and frontline employees. It is considered as a step ahead of creating a sustainable customer service (Cadwallader, S., Jarvis, C, Bitner, M., and Ostrom, A., 2009; Spector and McCarthy, 1996).
It is also assumed that committed employees are more likely to provide customers with better quality of service (Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry, 1990).According to Kini and Hobson (2002) the good quality of service entirely depends on:
“â€¦employee’s commitment, satisfaction, involvement, and morale”.
In hospitality industry in Bulgaria is very difficult to be found such employees. Frontline employees are “â€¦typically underpaid, undertrained, overworked and highly stressed “(Hartline and Ferrell, 1993), a statement which apply pretty much to the Bulgarian hospitality employees’ working environment. It concerns mostly the seasonal workforce in Bulgarian winter and summer resorts where people work almost at minimum wage, in most cases relying on tips or small percentage of their daily profit. Hotel and restaurant employees are occupied ten-twelve hours per day, sometimes even more, depends on how busy is within the organization. Furthermore, a common practice is working without days off which easily contribute for stressful working environment, a topical issue that contributes to low quality of service (Ross F. G 1995).All these factors reflect negatively on employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty to the organization and respectively to customer satisfaction and profitability. The link between frontline employees’ satisfaction, loyalty, productivity, customer satisfaction and company’s profitability is well depicted in so called Service profit chain (Heskett, Sasser & Schlesinger, 1997); illustrated in Figure.1.According to Crowford, A. and Hubbard, S. (2007), in the Service profit chain:
“â€¦there is a link between employee satisfaction and the service concept, directly impacting customer satisfaction. This impact affects customer loyalty, which in turn influences revenue growth. Lastly, revenue growth extends back to the beginning influencing the internal service of the organization. Understanding an employee’s level of satisfaction, commitment, involvement, and self-esteem gives managers and strategists means to create a favorable environment where the links in the service profit chain work to the advantage of the service provider”.
Employees’ satisfaction and commitment as a starting point in Service profit chain, impacting the delivery of good quality of service and company’s profitability, are major components that absence in many Bulgarian hospitality organizations. The results are higher turnover among frontline employees and managers due to the lack of quality of work life (QWL), a topical issue of great interest among researchers and academics. The delivery of good service highly depends on QWL provided by the hospitality organization, mainly when employees’ needs and expectations are met, so that they are motivated to work in company’s favor (Kanungo, 1982 and Efraty & Sirgy, 1990) or in other words through better QWL there is a significant improvement of employees productivity, performance and service quality (Havlovic, 1991).A recent research made to investigate employees’ expectations of QWL (Kandasamy,I, I. & Sreekumar, A., 2009) indicates that during a conversation with the employees from three different hotels, they show willingness to participate, when provided, in company’s service training programs which could be a good chance for them to enhance their skills. According to Rousseau (1995), in most cases, employees even expect their company to provide training programs as an opportunity for further career development:
“â€¦in exchange for the employee’s time, effort, and skill”
Tourism industry in Bulgaria supported by the government and orientated in the mainstream of “mass “tourism, entirely depends on its seasonal workforce. Practices such as service training almost do not exist in Bulgarian winter and summer resorts because of its seasonality, where the percentage of five and four stars hotels grow dramatically in the last couple of years. As Mr.Lubomir Popiordanov, Chair of the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism (BAAT) pointed out “Bulgarian “mass” tourism is mainly connected with quantity instead of quality and it lacks in added value “(Sofia News Agency).Most of the hotel owners are mainly focused finding ways to be fully booked during the whole season instead of improving the quality of service through training programs. It is not yet recognized that through such programs frontline employees could work much more effectively when dealing with customers’ complaints which on the other side makes feel them satisfied with their job (Babakus et al., 2003; Schneider & Bowen, 1995; Tax & Brown, 1998).Some other research papers support the thesis that organizations that invest money in service training programs are more capable to keep its employees within the company, makes them feel happy at the workplace and committed to the firm’s values(Babakus et al., 2003; Lee, Park, & Yoo, 1999; Sweetman,2001; Tsui, Pearce, Porter, & Tripoli, 1997).
Other approach of keeping frontline employees committed to the organization, providing better quality of service is through company’s reward system. George and Gronroos (1989) also suggest that rewarding service employees periodically ensure their commitment to service quality. Similar to the training programs, reward systems and policies are very important for motivating employees when dealing with customers complaints. The fact that company’s reward structure contributes for employees’ satisfaction at the workplace and impacts their organizational commitment is so far supported by many service literature studies (Bowen, Gilliland, & Folger, 1999; Brown & Peterson, 1993; Farrell & Rusbult, 1981; Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser, & Schlesinger, 1994; Lawler, 2000).For the Bulgarian hospitality industry a clear structured reward system could be in favor of reducing employees’ turnover and to encourage more qualified cadres to enter this sector.
Most industry researchers agreed that employees’ commitment to service quality is highly influenced by managers’ commitment to service quality and the way they demonstrate it (Bowen and Schneider 1985; Hartline and Ferrell 1996; Mohr-Jackson 1993; Babakus et al. 2003). As it was mentioned before the higher education is from significant importance in hospitality industry in order to generate leaders capable to show their subordinates motivation, skills, confidence and flexibility which could positively affect employees’ behavior towards the delivering of a better quality of service. Managerial coaching is considered as an appropriate tool of providing employees with support mainly connected with their knowledge, skills and performance within the organization. This method embrace approximately the same goals concerning employees’ further skill development at the workplace as training ,but coaching is presented in more informal way. It represents the ability of the managers to create sustainable correlation between employees and supervisors so that their everyday activities and experiences are synchronized and able to became an object of learning (Phillips 1994).Coaches is design to demonstrate employees the best way of doing their job when dealing with customers. It gives employees an idea of their opportunities, and how to perform better using new and different approaches.Furthermore, through coaches employees are provided with regular feedback which aims to get the best of its employees and to show them that their work is appreciated.
Bulgarian hospitality industry has a lot to learn concerning the education provided, aiming to attract qualified cadres to work in this field and their ability to be committed to service quality. It is so far recognized internationally that qualified employees who are satisfied with their job are more committed to the service quality which directly affect customer satisfaction of the received service attitude. Having in mind that today’s world economy is 70 percent service based, more and more academics and people working in this sphere are looking for a way to design companies that are able to provide the best service to its clients (Schneider & White, 2004). The importance of improving the quality of service is the main driver for company’s successful retention of customers (Gustafsson, A., Johnson, M., Roos, I., 2005).At operational level service employees are those who creates the connection between the customers and the organization and most importantly through them and their personal contribution to deliver proper service, managers are aiming to attract and impress customers (Chase, 1981; Heskett et al., 1994; Oliva and Sterman, 2001), and respectively to satisfy them. Thus, managers’ commitment to service quality has indirect impact on customer’s satisfaction (Subroto, B. & Natalisa, D., 2003).Even that managers also contributes for the delivering of excellent service, frontline employees are from great importance when the target is better productivity performance and gratifying customers’ needs (Yee,R., Yeung,A., Cheng,T.C,2008).
Service quality in the modern hospitality industry is a crucial factor in creating long-term relationship between organizations and customers and to make them feel satisfied (Martin, 1986; Croby et al., 1990; Tornow and Wiley, 1991; Tsa, 1994).Many researchers have argued that there is significant correlation between customer satisfaction and service quality (Roth and Van Der Velde, 1991; Roth and Jackson, 1995).Other studies in service marketing have suggested that customer satisfaction is in emotional reply of a particular experience connected with provided service( Westbrook and Reilly (1983).According to Yoon and Suh (2003), the excellent service highly depends on employees because when they are satisfied with their job and motivated, it is more likely to deliver better services and to give more from themselves. Other research papers prove that loyalty among employees contributes for higher levels of service delivering (Loveman, 1998; Silvestro and Cross, 2000).Employees which are able to provide service quality are considered much more capable to solve problems easily and in proper manner which positively affects customer’s perception of the provided service.
Bulgarian hospitality industry needs serious improvements connected with the service attitude toward customers and radical changes in employees’ working environment, in order to work in full capacity. Successful tourism or hospitality business could not operate without satisfied guests and subordinates (Gursoy and Swanger, 2007). As pointed out in The Service Profit Chain:
“â€¦providing employees with a superior internal working environment is likely to lead to satisfied employees who are both loyal to the organization and able to provide the customer with an excellent service experience. Customers will recognize and value the outstanding service offered to them.”
(Heskett et al., 1994, 1997).
However, several studies indicate that employees’ satisfaction plays crucial role in achieving company’s financial aims (Koys, 2003), which means that when a company make an affords to take care for its employees, they will do the same in return for company’s customers. This care could be express through better payment, reward practiced, training and managerial coaching and not at the end, through company’s ability to make feel its employees secure (Gursoy and Swanger, 2007; Koys, 2003; Schneider, 1991).
Customers’ loyalty and satisfaction are supposed to be contributory factor for customer profitability. The relationship between customer satisfaction and profitability is considered as fundamental marketing concept which means that the company’s goal is to pursue customer’s needs, wants and wishes (Helgesen.O, 2006).When all this consumers’ factors are met, customers are satisfied from what they receive, the company is pleased having a long-term financial returns on business. Customers who are highly satisfied are considered to use one and the same products and services more frequently and respectively to stay loyal to the company that provides them (Anderson et al., 1994; Gronholdt et al., 2000).Customers loyalty is an important factor in hospitality industry that contributes for consumer’ reuse of a certain product or service which positively increase company’s profitability. Moreover, satisfied customers are much less price sensitive and they are willing to pay even at high price (Anderson et al., 1994) which directly affects company’s economic performance. Satisfaction among customers reflects in positive way on organization’s overall reputation which on the other side could be a premise of creating strong relationship with important distributors and suppliers. From what was mentioned so far it becomes obvious that:
“â€¦customer satisfaction generates more future sales, reduces price elasticity, and increases the reputation of the firm.”
(Yee, R., Yeung, A., Cheng, T.C, 2008).
All of the mentioned sources and publications speak of the aspects that Bulgarian hospitality needs to focus in order to function successfully, to develop and to be competitive on the market.