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Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

Application of importance-performance model in

tour guides’ performance: evidence from mainland Chinese
outbound visitors in Hong Kong
Hanqin Q. Zhang*, Ivy Chow
Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Hum, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Received 18 February 2002; accepted 21 March 2003


Using the importance-performance analysis (IPA) model, this study assesses the performance of Hong Kong’s tour guides as
perceived by mainland Chinese outbound visitors. Twenty pertinent tour guide service quality attributes are identified. The results of
IPA illustrate that Hong Kong’s tour guides performed well in 11 out of the 20 service quality attributes, in areas mainly related to
their professional skills, reliability and language ability (keep up the good work quadrant), while the problem-solving ability of Hong
Kong’s tour guides fell into the concentrate here quadrant. The study illustrates that the IPA model as a useful managerial tool can
be applied in identifying areas to which marketing resources should be allocated in order to improve and enhance the quality of tour
guide services provided.
r 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Importance-performance analysis; Tour guides; Mainland Chinese visitors

1. Introduction tourism source markets of Hong Kong, mainland China

has surpassed Japan, Taiwan and the USA, become the
1.1. The tourism industry in Hong Kong single largest market for Hong Kong tourism. More
than 3 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong in
Hong Kong was the second most popular tourist 1999, accounting for 29% of the total arrivals. They
destination in Asia in 1999, after mainland China spent about HK$13,477 million, 26% of the total visitor
(Information Services Department, 2000). There were spending in Hong Kong in 1999. According to a report
10.7 million visitor arrivals in 1999, about 1.5 times the by World Tourism Organization (1997), China will be
total population of Hong Kong, and representing an the fourth biggest world outbound country by 2020.
increase of 11.5% over the previous year. The total While Zhang (1999) claimed that Chinese outbound
tourism receipts amounted to US$6.8 billion (Hong travelers would play a critical role globally, which will
Kong Tourist Association, 2000a). The tourism sector is influence world tourism trends, it is the Asia Pacific
one of the major business sectors in Hong Kong. It region, and especially Hong Kong, which stands to gain
provided nearly 5% of Hong Kong’s Gross Domestic most from this market growth.
Product and employed 350,000 people in 1999 (Fenton
& Wordie, 2001). 1.2. Current practices of tour guides in Hong Kong
According to a report by the Hong Kong Tourist
Association (HKTA, 2000b), there has been a shift of The success of the tourism industry very much
market segment from Western markets to Asian markets depends on the performance of tour guides in each
in Hong Kong’s tourism industry. Among all the major destination. Tour guides are the front line staff who
provide the ‘‘moment of truth’’ for tourists, and can
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +852-2766-6368; fax: +852-236- make or break their trip. Whether they can produce a
39362. quality service for tourists is essential to the success of
E-mail address: (H.Q. Zhang). the tourism industry and to the reputation and image of

0261-5177/03/$ - see front matter r 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
82 H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

Hong Kong as a whole. Tour guides are commonly transportation, interpreting, handling problems, insulat-
called ‘tour co-ordinators’ in Hong Kong. A tour guide ing travelers from difficulties, and making the environ-
can work as a permanent tour co-ordinator or operate ment safe for tourists because they act as
on a freelance basis. Permanent tour guides usually have ‘‘intermediaries’’ between tourists and the ‘unknown’
a monthly basic salary and earn extra money by getting environment (Pearce, 1982; Schmidt, 1979).
guide fees or allowances on each assignment, tips from In the travel industry, according to Mancini (2001), a
tourists, and commission on shopping and selling tour guide is a person who takes people on sightseeing
optional tours, while freelance tour guides usually work tours of limited duration. Holloway (1981), on the other
on tour-by-tour or hour-by-hour basis. According to the hand, argued that the occupation of leading groups of
chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Registered tourists carries a number of titles. There are different
Tour Co-ordinators (HARTCO), it is unofficially terms for the tour guide, as defined by different
estimated that there are about 2500 tour co-ordinators researchers, such as ‘tourist guide’, ‘local guide’ or ‘tour
working in Hong Kong. Half of them are freelancers co-ordinator’ (Cohen, 1985; Guldin, 1989; Hays, Dix,
(Hong Kong Standard, 1999). Hooson, Krygel, & Panek, 1990; Pearce, 1982; Wong,
However, there is no study in the literature on the Ap, Yeung, & Sandiford, 1998a). Although there have
service quality of tour guides from the visitors’ point of been few research studies on tour guides (Almagor,
view. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore 1985; Cohen, 1982, 1985; Fine & Speer, 1985; Katz,
the importance and performance of tour guides in 1985; Pearce, 1984), some have identified the roles and
Hong Kong as perceived by mainland Chinese visitors functions of tour guides in more general studies of
since this large single market has contributed much to guided tours (Geva & Goldman, 1991; Holloway, 1981;
the tourism industry in Hong Kong. It is believed that Hughes, 1991; Schmidt, 1979; Whipple & Thach, 1988).
the mainland Chinese outbound market will drive the The different roles of the tour guide as defined by
Hong Kong tourism industry and economy in the researchers are summarized in Table 1.
future. The study of tour guides may be important for As little research has been done on the tour guides
improving and tailor-making services for this important aspect, the authors could not find any specific studies on
market. the service quality of tour guides. In order to fill this gap,
this paper aims at assessing the performance of tour
guides in Hong Kong as perceived by mainland Chinese
2. Literature review outbound visitors by using the importance-performance
model. importance-performance analysis (IPA) is widely
2.1. Research on tour guides used by many researchers in various areas and has been
proven to be a popular managerial tool. It is based on the
Schmidt (1979) mentioned that a tourist not only comparison of importance and performance of service
views the local sights from a coach, but also interprets quality attributes developed by Martilla and James
the sights through the tour guide’s commentary. (1977). They found the IPA to be a useful technique for
Researchers such as Holloway (1981) and Ryan and addressing both importance and performance attribute
Dewar (1995) claimed that tour guides’ communication questions. Martilla and James (1977) applied the IPA
with tour groups can increase both group morale and technique to analyze the performance of an automobile
social interaction. ‘‘It is the guide who sells the next dealer’s service department. They declared IPA to be a
tour’’ (Gronroos, 1978; Geva & Goldman, 1991). It is low-cost, easily understood technique for exploring
suggested that tour guides are responsible for tourist different aspects of the marketing mix, and enabling
satisfaction with the service provided in destinations. managers to reallocate resources according to the four
Their performance can generate repeat and new busi- areas identified. Evans and Chon (1989) used the IPA
ness, and also affect the image of their tour companies technique to develop and assess tourism policy in two
and even the destinations themselves (Geva & Goldman, destinations in the United States, and found IPA to be an
1991; Mossberg, 1995; Pearce, 1982; Schmidt, 1979; effective tool. Cheron, McTavish, and Perrien (1989) also
Whipple & Thach, 1988; Wong, Ap, & Sandiford, employed IPA to examine bank financial services in three
1998b). business segments, while Almanza, Jaffe, and Lin (1994)
According to the International Association of Tour applied it to evaluate customer satisfactions in foodser-
Managers, the role of a tour guide is ‘‘to guide groups of vice. Duke and Persia (1996) surveyed the performance of
individual visitors to monuments, sites, and museums of national escorted tours using IPA. They suggest that
a city or region; to interpret about cultural and natural performance-importance analysis can provide an insight
heritage and environment in an inspiring and entertain- into customer evaluations on critical issues in the tourism
ing manner by using the language of visitor’s choice’’ industry. The comparison between perceived importance
(Wong et al., 1998b). Tour guides act as ‘‘buffers’’ and performance on the IPA grid allows managers to
among tourists, the social environment, arranging identify the relative features of successful tours.
H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91 83

Table 1 Table 2
Published studies on roles of tour guide Importance-performance analysis grid

Roles Researchers Year QUADRANT I QUADRANT II

Actor Holloway 1981 Concentrate Here Keep Up the Good Work

Ambassador Holloway 1981 High Importance High Importance

Buffer Schmidt 1979
Low Performance High Performance
Pearce 1982
Caretaker Fine and Speer 1985
Catalyst Holloway 1981 QUADRANT III QUADRANT IV
Culture Broker Holloway 1981
Katz 1985 Low Priority Possible Overkill
Information-giver Holloway 1981 Low Importance Low Importance
Hughes 1991 Low Performance High Performance
Intermediary Schmidt 1979
Ryan and Dewar 1995
Interpreter/Translator Almagor 1985 PERFORMANCE
Holloway 1981
Ryan and Dewar 1995 Quadrant I : Attributes are perceived to be very important to
Leader Cohen 1985 respondents, but performance levels are fairly low. This
Geva and Goldman 1991 suggests that improvement efforts should be concentrated
Mediator Schmidt 1979 here.
Holloway 1981 Quadrant II : Attributes are perceived to be very important to
Cohen 1985 respondents, and at the same time, the organization seems
Katz 1985 to have high levels of performance in these activities. The
Middleman Van den Berghe 1980 message here is to keep up the good work.
Organizer Hughes 1991 Quadrant III : Attributes here are rated as having low importance and
Pearce 1982 low performance. Although performance levels may be
Schuchat 1983 low in this cell, managers should not be overly concerned,
Salesperson Fine and Speer 1985 since the attributes in this cell are not perceived to be very
Gronroos 1978 important. Limited resources should be expended on this
Shaman Schmidt 1979 low priority cell.
Teacher Holloway 1981 Quadrant IV : This cell contains attributes of low importance, but where
Pearce 1982 performance is relatively high. Respondents are satisfied
Fine and Speer 1985 with the performance of the organization, but managers
Mancini 2001 should consider present efforts on the attributes of this cell
as being superfluous/unnecessary.
Source : Chu and Choi (2000)

Chu and Choi (2000) compared the importance Duke & Persia, 1996; Holloway, 1981; Lam and
and performance of 26 hotel attributes as perceived by Zhang, 1999; Mossberg, 1995; Reilly, 1991; Wong
business and leisure travelers in Hong Kong. They et al., 1998a). After collecting professional advice
point out that hotel managers can tailor-make market- from academic staff, trainers, travelers, and veteran
ing strategies according to the findings displayed tour guides by personal interviews and e-mail, 40
in the four quadrants of IPA. They also adapted relevant attributes were preliminarily identified. A pre-
information from Evans and Chon (1989), Hemmasi, test was then conducted among scholars, industry
Strong, and Taylor (1994), Keyt, Yavas, and Riecken staff and travel agencies’ managers to rate the impor-
(1994), Martilla and James (1977) and Martin (1995), tance of the 40 attributes and provide suggestions
and then presented an illustration and interpreta- about the attributes used. Then 20 pertinent service
tion of the IPA grid divided into four quadrants quality attributes of tour guides were modified from
(Table 2). the list. Secondly, a questionnaire survey was employed
to measure the perceptions of mainland Chinese
visitors towards tour guides in Hong Kong and the
3. Methodology perceived importance of a tour guide’s service quality
3.1. Research design

This study was conducted by using a two-step 3.2. Research framework

research methodology. First, a group list of all the
relevant service quality attributes related to tour guides Based on the research design, a research framework
was identified based on a literature review (Buttle, 1996; was developed to guide the research (Fig. 1).
84 H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

Literature In-depth
Reviews Interviews


Pertinent Tour Guide

Service Quality Attributes

Importance of Tour Guide Performance of Hong Kong

Service QualityAttributes Tour Guides
(Mean) (Mean)


Fig. 1. Research framework.

3.3. Sampling In the introduction section of the questionnaire,

respondents were asked if they were currently on a
A sample of 500 mainland Chinese visitors was group tour for leisure in Hong Kong or had done so
targeted, who were currently on or had previously within the past 2 years, and they were then asked to fill
joined a group tour to Hong Kong for leisure, recreation in the rest of the questionnaire. The survey instrument
and holiday travel within the past 2 years. It was was entirely anonymous and no names were required
believed that this group of visitors had the greatest from the respondents. The questionnaire was designed
chance of meeting Hong Kong’s tour guides. Two-year in English and translated into simplified Chinese. Two
duration was chosen in order to capture more respon- native mainland Chinese with good English ability
dents since it is believed that their memory about the checked the wording and meaning in order to ensure
trip taken was still fresh. After considering some that they were appropriate for the mainland Chinese
difficulties such as limited time and manpower, a culture.
convenient sampling method was chosen. A pilot test was conducted among 20 mainland
Chinese visitors and every respondent was given a pen
3.4. Survey instrument as a souvenir. Some necessary changes were made based
on the results of the pilot test.
A closed-ended and self-administered questionnaire
was designed. It was divided into three sections. The 3.5. Data collection
first part consisted of 20 statements about a tour
guide’s service quality. The respondents were asked According to statistics from the HKTA (2000b),
to rate the perceived importance of the 20 statements, visitors from Beijing and Guangdong province com-
while the second section of the questionnaire required prised more than 50% of the total outbound visitors
them to rate the performance of their tour guides in from mainland China to Hong Kong. Therefore, the
Hong Kong regarding the same 20 service quality Beijing Tourism Administration, China Peace Interna-
attributes. The questionnaire was carefully structured tional Tourism Company Limited, Beijing Morning
and each service quality attribute was rated using a Star-Newark International Travel Service Company
5-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘‘least important (1)’’ Limited in Beijing, and the travel agencies of Guang-
to ‘‘most important (5)’’ in the importance part. dong province in mainland China were approached for
Similarly, each performance statement on the same distributing and collecting the questionnaires. Tourists
attributes was rated from ‘‘strongly disagree (1)’’ to who joined a group tour to Hong Kong or were going to
‘‘strongly agree (5)’’. The third part of the questionnaire join a leisure tour group for Hong Kong were asked to
included socio-demographic information about the participate the survey. About 500 questionnaires were
respondents. distributed from the beginning of December 2000, and
H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91 85

438 completed questionnaires were collected in mid- Table 3

January 2001. Demographic profile of respondents

Frequency This HKTA

3.6. Data analysis (N ¼ 426) survey (%) survey (%)

Descriptive analyses such as frequency, mean and Male 191 44.8 55
standard deviation were conducted to examine visitors’ Female 235 55.2 45
demographic profiles. Cronbach’s alpha was calculated
Age group
to test the reliability of the importance of a tour guide’s
0–15 yr 4 0.9 —
service quality attributes and the performance of Hong 16–25 yr 84 19.7 13
Kong’s tour guides as perceived by mainland Chinese 26–35 yr 171 40.1 34
visitors. A factor was considered significant if its 36–45 yr 91 21.4 29
Cronbach’s alpha was 0.70 or above. Mean scores 46–55 yr 54 12.7 14
56–65 yr 15 3.5 7
rating perceived importance of tour guide’s service 66 yr and above 7 1.6 3
quality and performance of Hong Kong’s tour guides
were computed to access the importance of each item, Education level
respectively. Then, the mean scores of the 20 service No formal education 0 0 *
quality attributes were plotted on the IPA grid accord- Primary and elementary 14 3.3 4
ing to their perceived importance and the performance
Secondary and high 96 22.5 41
levels as perceived by mainland Chinese visitors. school
College and University 273 64.1 53
Postgraduate 43 10.1 2
4. Findings and discussion
Experience of travel to Hong Kong
1 time 221 51.9 64
4.1. Profile of respondents 2–4 times 160 37.6 —
5 times or above 45 10.6 —
A total of 500 questionnaires were distributed to
Source: HKTA—Mainland China Market Review 2000.
respondents, and 438 were collected, representing a *Figures less than 0.5%.
response rate of 88%. Of the returned questionnaires,
426 were usable. The demographic profile of the
respondents is presented in Table 3. There were 235
(55.2%) females and 191 (44.8%) males among the
respondents. The main age group was 26–35, represent- from China in the survey data comparing to the data
ing 40.1% of the respondents. The next three groups collected by Hong Kong Tourist Association.
were 36–45 (21.4%), 16–25 (19.7%) and 46–55 (12.7%).
The remaining age groups only accounted for a minority 4.2. Perceived importance of tour guides’ service quality
of respondents, with 3.5% in the 56–65 age group, 1.6% attributes
in the 66 or above age group, and 0.9% in the below 15
years old age group. More than half of the respondents In order to address the perceived importance of tour
had college and university educations, accounting for guides’ service quality attributes by mainland Chinese
64.1% of the total respondents. Those with secondary visitors, the means and standard deviations were
and high school education represented 22.5% of the calculated. The survey results were presented according
respondents, while 10.1% and 3.3%, respectively had to the ranking of the mean scores (Table 4).
postgraduate or primary and elementary school educa- All 20 service quality attributes had a mean score
tion. Regarding the number of visits to Hong Kong, higher than 4, ranging from 4.134 to 4.481, denoting
more than half (51.9%) were first time travelers to Hong that the mainland Chinese visitors ranked all these
Kong, whereas 37.6% of the respondents had been to attributes between ‘‘important’’ and ‘‘extremely impor-
Hong Kong 2–4 times. As many as 10.6% of the tant’’. The top three most important attributes were
respondents were experienced travelers to Hong Kong, ‘‘punctual (mean ¼ 4:481)’’, ‘‘able to solve problems
having visited the territory 5 times or more. (M ¼ 4:444)’’ and ‘‘knowledge of destination
It is seen in Table 3 that the profile of the respondents (M ¼ 4:418)’’, indicating the importance of these
was quite similar to those of the Hong Kong Tourist attributes. Mainland Chinese visitors perceived ‘‘punc-
Association’s statistics on vacation visitors from China tual’’ and ‘‘knowledge of destination’’ as the most
in terms of age group, education level and travel important attributes for tour guides, as these were
experience to Hong Kong, with the one exception of critical features for group tours. Time constraints were
gender. There are about 10% more female travelers important, especially for catching a flight or arranging
86 H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

Table 4 guides would introduce them to reliable shops. Actually,

Mean ranking for importance of tour guides’ service quality attributes ‘‘rip-offs’’ was one of the most significant complaints
(N ¼ 426)
regarding shopping by mainland Chinese visitors in
Service quality attributes Mean Standard Rank Hong Kong. The standard deviations of the 20 service
score deviation quality attributes ranged from 0.572 to 0.818. As the
Punctual 4.481 0.603 1 standard deviation was below 1, the variation of
Able to solve problems 4.444 0.635 2 respondents’ opinions was small.
Knowledge of destination 4.418 0.657 3
Honest and trustworthy 4.416 0.631 4
4.3. Performance of tour guides in Hong Kong
Inform safety regulations 4.409 0.677 5
Deliver service promised 4.397 0.643 6
in itinerary The mean scores of the performance statements about
Polite 4.385 0.572 7 mainland Chinese visitors’ tour guides in Hong Kong on
Good presentation skills 4.369 0.653 8 the same 20 attributes were also calculated. The survey
Well trained 4.352 0.685 9
Briefing visitors on daily 4.345 0.629 10
results are reported according to the ranking of the
itinerary mean scores in Table 5. It was shown that the mean
Respect customers 4.343 0.598 11 scores for all 20 statements ranged from the highest of
Communicate well in 4.336 0.667 12 4.038 to the lowest of 3.718. More than 60% of
Mandarin/Cantonese respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the 20
Friendly 4.296 0.638 13
performance statements about their tour guides in Hong
Generate friendly 4.282 0.669 14
atmosphere Kong. Similar to the results of perceived importance of
Appear neat and tidy 4.247 0.642 15 service quality attributes, all 20 statements had standard
Always available for help 4.235 0.670 16 deviations lower than 1.
Pay attention to detail 4.209 0.755 17 Mainland Chinese visitors gave the top ratings to ‘‘my
Inform visitors about 4.202 0.749 18
Hong Kong tour guide was punctual (M ¼ 4:038)’’,
destination’s customs
Introduce reliable shops 4.185 0.818 19 ‘‘my Hong Kong tour guide provided clear information
Sense of humor 4.134 0.817 20 on safety regulations (M ¼ 4:024)’’, ‘‘my Hong Kong
tour guide briefed us on the daily itinerary
Note: The importance rankings were based on the mean scores
measured on a Likert scale from 1 to 5 (1=extremely unimportant, (M ¼ 3:998)’’, and ‘‘my Hong Kong tour guide was
2=unimportant, 3=neutral, 4=important, 5=extremely important). polite (M ¼ 3:991)’’. The Hong Kong tour guides’
service was perceived as satisfactory in the aspects of
punctuality, informing visitors of safety regulations,
briefing them on their daily itinerary, and politeness. As
sightseeing tours. Moreover, visitors were usually all these aspects were necessary and basic requirements
strangers to the destinations visited. They expected their for tour guides, they needed to maintain and keep up the
tour guides to be experts on the destinations, so as to good service standards in these areas.
inform them and interpret the destinations in more In contrast, the three worst ratings by the mainland
depth. In addition, they also considered ‘‘Able to solve Chinese visitors were given to ‘‘my Hong Kong tour
problems’’ as an important attribute for tour guides. guide introduced us to reliable shops (M ¼ 3:718)’’, ‘‘my
Generally, in an unfamiliar environment, the tour guide Hong Kong tour guide informed us about customs in
is the first and closest ‘‘contact person’’ between visitors Hong Kong that were different from those of mainland
and destinations. Visitors would seek help or advice China (M ¼ 3:791)’’, and ‘‘my Hong Kong tour guide
from their tour guides first when there were any was able to solve problems (M ¼ 3:793)’’. In fact,
emergencies. cultural differences exist between Hong Kong and
Relatively, ‘‘sense of humor (M ¼ 4:134)’’, ‘‘intro- mainland China. Not informing visitors about Hong
duce reliable shops (M ¼ 4:185)’’ and ‘‘inform visitors Kong customs that are different from those of mainland
about destination’s customs (M ¼ 4:202)’’ were per- China could cause some embarrassing situations for
ceived as the least important attributes. It was under- visitors. Since mainland Chinese visitors might behave
stood that the attribute ‘‘sense of humor’’ was rated low, in the same way as they do in their hometowns when
as this is not highly valued in Chinese culture. It was traveling in Hong Kong, it was the responsibility of
found, surprisingly, the attribute ‘‘introduce reliable Hong Kong’s tour guides to inform them of the different
shops’’ was rated as the second least important of all 20 customs in Hong Kong. Otherwise, when they did the
service quality attributes. This may be due to the fact same things in Hong Kong as they did at home, Hong
that some visitors thought that tour guides would Kong people might ‘‘eye them coldly’’. Visitors would
always bring them to shops for commission, as that also think that Hong Kong people looked down on
was a ‘‘common’’ practice in tourism industry all over them. This could cause mistaken perceptions on both
the world. Therefore, they would not believe that tour sides.
H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91 87

Table 5
Mean ranking for performance of tour guides in Hong Kong (N ¼ 426)

Performance statements of tour guides’ service quality Mean score Standard Rank

My Hong Kong tour guide was punctual. 4.038 0.709 1

My Hong Kong tour guide provided clear information on safety regulations. 4.024 0.696 2
My Hong Kong tour guide briefed us on the daily itinerary. 3.998 0.656 3
My Hong Kong tour guide was polite. 3.991 0.710 4
My Hong Kong tour guide respected me. 3.941 0.685 5
My Hong Kong tour guide appeared to be honest and trustworthy. 3.932 0.784 6
My Hong Kong tour guide delivered the service promised on the itinerary. 3.930 0.764 7
My Hong Kong tour guide had knowledge of Hong Kong. 3.930 0.785 8
My Hong Kong tour guide appeared neat and tidy. 3.925 0.729 9
My Hong Kong tour guide communicated well in Mandarin/Cantonese. 3.925 0.722 10
My Hong Kong tour guide had good presentation skills. 3.920 0.731 11
My Hong Kong tour guide appeared well trained for his/her job. 3.916 0.772 12
My Hong Kong tour guide was friendly. 3.885 0.715 13
My Hong Kong tour guide generated a friendly atmosphere among group members. 3.885 0.702 14
My Hong Kong tour guide was always available for help. 3.873 0.741 15
My Hong Kong tour guide paid attention to detail during tours. 3.810 0.805 16
My Hong Kong tour guide had a sense of humor. 3.805 0.844 17
My Hong Kong tour guide was able to solve problems. 3.793 0.899 18
My Hong Kong tour guide informed us about customs in Hong Kong’s that were 3.791 0.768 19
different from those of mainland China.
My Hong Kong tour guide introduced us to reliable shops. 3.718 0.821 20

Note: Performance rankings were based on the mean scores measured on a Likert scale from 1 to 5 (1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral,
4=agree, 5=strongly agree).

Further, the tour guide was the one who was operators in Hong Kong even pay money back to travel
responsible for solving problems emerging during tours. agencies in mainland China in order to get tour groups
However, the performance of Hong Kong’s tour guides (Sing Tao Daily, 2000). These kinds of industry practice
in this respect was much lower than what was expected are a possible cause of shopping arguments. In fact,
by the mainland Chinese visitors. The results imply that some tour operators appraise tour guides by the
Hong Kong’s tour guides might not be enthusiastic commissions or profits they earn for the tour operators.
about helping mainland Chinese visitors, or that they In addition, the basic salary of tour guides is rather low,
did not have the ability to solve the problems that some even guiding tours without guide-fees, and some
emerged. As strangers traveling in Hong Kong, main- also paying to bid for tour groups from tour operators
land Chinese visitors might face some sorts of problems (Wong et al., 1998a). Therefore, they rely heavily on
which may or may not be related to the tour group. The shopping commissions as their major income. The low
tour guide might be the first and closest ‘‘contact rating of this factor suggests an urgent need to regulate
person’’ for them in Hong Kong. They would expect the and monitor the unhealthy industry practices of tour
tour guide to provide assistance and advice for solving operators and tour guides in Hong Kong.
their problems. However, since there are insufficient
well-trained Mandarin-speaking tour guides in Hong 4.4. Importance of tour guides’ service quality attributes
Kong, people from mainland China who can speak and performance of tour guides in Hong Kong
Mandarin or one of the Chinese dialects are commonly
employed as tour guides in Hong Kong. As some of IPA was applied to compare the importance of tour
them only come to Hong Kong for a short time, they are guides’ service quality attributes and the performance of
not very familiar with Hong Kong either. According to tour guides in Hong Kong as perceived by mainland
the visitors surveyed, when problems emerged, these Chinese visitors, and to recommend proper allocation of
tour guides simply lacked the techniques to solve them resources to areas requiring future improvement. The
properly according to Hong Kong’s culture. mean scores and standard deviations of the perceived
Regarding shopping activities, it was not surprising importance of the 20 service quality attributes and the
that mainland Chinese visitors perceived that Hong performance of tour guides in Hong Kong were
Kong’s tour guides would take them to shops which calculated (see Table 6). The results were plotted in
offered more commission. In Hong Kong, there is an the IPA grid (in Fig. 2). The grand means for
unhealthy industry practice of under which some tour importance and performance were used for the
88 H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

Table 6
Perceived importance and performance of tour guide’s service quality attributes (N ¼ 426)

Tour guide service quality attributes Importance Performance

Mean Std. dev. Meanb Std. dev.

A. Communicate well in Mandarin/Cantonese 4.34 0.667 3.92 0.722

B. Well trained 4.35 0.685 3.92 0.772
C. Generate friendly atmosphere 4.28 0.669 3.89 0.702
D. Able to solve problems 4.44 0.635 3.79 0.899
E. Knowledge of destination 4.42 0.657 3.93 0.785
F. Inform visitors about destination’s customs 4.20 0.749 3.79 0.768
G. Good presentation skills 4.37 0.653 3.92 0.731
H. Briefing visitors on daily itinerary 4.35 0.629 4.00 0.656
I. Inform visitors about safety regulations 4.41 0.677 4.02 0.696
J. Introduce visitors to reliable shops 4.19 0.818 3.72 0.821
K. Punctual 4.48 0.603 4.04 0.709
L. Deliver service promised in itinerary 4.40 0.643 3.93 0.764
M. Pay attention to detail 4.21 0.755 3.81 0.805
N. Honest and trustworthy 4.42 0.631 3.93 0.784
O. Respect customers 4.34 0.598 3.94 0.685
P. Friendly 4.30 0.638 3.89 0.715
Q. Always available for help 4.23 0.670 3.87 0.741
R. Sense of humor 4.13 0.817 3.81 0.844
S. Appear neat and tidy 4.25 0.642 3.92 0.729
T. Polite 4.39 0.572 3.99 0.710

Grand mean 4.32 3.90

Mean scale: 1=extremely unimportant, 2=unimportant, 3=neutral, 4=important, 5=extremely important.
Mean scale: 1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree.

placement of the axes on the grid (Chu & Choi, 2000). of travel documents or personal property. Also, visitors
As shown in Fig. 2, 1 attribute was identified in the consider the attitude of Hong Kong’s tour guides
Concentrate Here quadrant, 11 in the Keep up the Good towards their personal problems or specific needs in
Work quadrant, 7 in the Low Priority quadrant and 1 in Hong Kong as important. Tour guides cannot help to
the Possible Overkill quadrant. solve all their personal problems or entertain all their
specific needs, but they should at least listen to them and
4.5. Concentrate here quadrant try their best to assist or advise them as to how to solve
their problems in Hong Kong. This sends an important
The concentrate here quadrant captured a single message to the industry that resources should be
attribute, ‘‘able to solve problems’’. It was rated above directed to improve tour guides’ problem-solving ability
average for importance but below average on perfor- in Hong Kong.
mance. Importantly, this attribute was perceived as the
second most important service quality attribute for tour 4.6. Keep up the good work quadrant
guides (M ¼ 4:444), but the performance levels of Hong
Kong’s tour guides in this respect were rated as the third Among 20 tour guide’s service quality factors, 11 were
lowest (M ¼ 3:793). It is suggested that improvement identified in the keep up the good work quadrant. These
efforts and special attention should be directed at and were ‘‘punctual’’, ‘‘inform visitors of safety regulations’’,
concentrated on the problem-solving ability of tour ‘‘brief visitors on daily itinerary’’, ‘‘polite’’, ‘‘respect
guides in Hong Kong. This study did not separate customers’’, ‘‘knowledge of destination’’, ‘‘honest and
problems related to group tours or problems regarding trustworthy’’, ‘‘deliver service promised in itinerary’’,
visitors’ own specific needs. Therefore, it is likely that ‘‘good presentation skills’’, ‘‘well trained’’ and ‘‘com-
the low rating was related to the performance of Hong municated well in Mandarin/Cantonese’’. These attri-
Kong’s tour guides ability on solving both group tours’ butes were rated above average for both importance and
difficulties and visitors’ personal problems. Concern performance. These results convey the message that in
should be raised and concentrated on tour guides’ general, tour guides in Hong Kong have performed well
ability to handle and deal with emergencies during tours, in the above respects. As all the mean score ratings of
for instance, amendment or cancellation of the original performance were lower than those of the importance
planned itinerary, sudden changes of weather, and loss ratings, efforts should be made to maintain and improve
H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91 89

Concentrate Here Keep Up the Good Work K

4.4 L
Importance A O

4.3 Low Priority P Possible Overkill



4.2 F

3.7 3.8 3.9 4 4.1

A. Communicate well in Mandarin/Cantonese B. Well trained
C. Generate friendly atmosphere D. Able to solve problems
E. Knowledge of destination F. Inform destination’s custom
G. Good presentation skills H. Briefing on daily itinerary
I. Inform safety regulations J. Introduce reliable shops
K. Punctual L. Deliver service promised on itinerary
M. Pay attention to details N. Honest and trustworthy
O. Respect customer P. Friendly
Q. Always available for help R. Sense of humor
S. Appear neat and tidy T . Polite

Fig. 2. IPA for tour guides in Hong Kong.

quality services in these areas. For example, regarding priority cell. Although the performance of tour guides in
language ability, about 20% of the respondents did not Hong Kong was below average in this quadrant, efforts
agree that their tour guides in Hong Kong commu- should not be overly concentrated on these areas, as
nicated well in Mandarin, and the mean value of the attributes identified here are rated as low importance by
performance of tour guides in Hong Kong in this area respondents compared with other service quality attri-
was just 3.92, which indicated that respondents tended butes. However, this does not mean that the industry
to agree but did not yet fully agree that their tour guides should reduce its efforts to improve on these aspects. In
communicated well in Mandarin. Therefore, more general, all these service quality attributes had mean
Mandarin language training courses should be provided scores over 4.13, indicating that respondents rated them
to tour guides in order to improve their Mandarin as important to extremely important. In other words,
language skills. poor performance on these areas would cause unhappy
experiences and generate dissatisfaction.
4.7. Low priority quadrant
4.8. Possible overkill quadrant
The seven (35%) service quality attributes loaded in
the low priority quadrant were ‘‘friendly’’, ‘‘generate There was one single attribute ‘‘appear neat and tidy’’
friendly atmosphere’’, ‘‘always available for help’’, ‘‘pay allocated to the possible overkill quadrant. This indi-
attention to detail’’, ‘‘sense of humor’’, ‘‘inform visitors cated that the attribute was rated as lower than the
about destination’s customs’’ and ‘‘introduce visitors to average of importance, and that the performance of
reliable shops’’. They were rated as below average for Hong Kong’s tour guides on this area was higher than
both importance and performance. This implies that the average. In fact, mainland Chinese visitors might
relatively fewer resources should be expended in this low consider this attribute as less important compared with
90 H.Q. Zhang, I. Chow / Tourism Management 25 (2004) 81–91

other attributes. Good performance was observed from speeded up in order to upgrade professional service
tour guides in Hong Kong in this area. Efforts should be standards before it is too late.
towards maintaining high standards without over- In addition, all shopping activities for en-routed tours
utilizing resources in this area. should be clearly marked on advertisements, travel
brochures and tour itineraries to reduce unnecessary
arguments. Fixed tipping practice, as in outbound
travel, is also recommended. When Hong Kong people
5. Conclusion join tours to travel aboard, tour escorts, local tour
guides and drivers in destination countries all over the
This study identified 20 pertinent tour guide service world are given fixed tips from tourists provided that
quality attributes and used IPA to compare them they satisfied with the service. This can help to increase
according to their perceived importance and perfor- the income of tour guides and reduce arguments caused
mance of Hong Kong’s tour guides by mainland by excessive and intrusive shopping arrangements for
Chinese outbound visitors. The instrument developed tourists. For long-term development, a reward system in
in this study can contribute to the existing literature for both financial and non-financial contributions should be
assessment of tour groups and it can also give rise to set up for tour guides to raise the professional image and
replication of research in tour guide related studies. The social status of tour guides in Hong Kong (Wong et al.,
results of this study reveal that Hong Kong’s tour guides 1998a).
perform the promised service very well, and reach In addition, a licensing system similar to that of
professional standards especially in terms of punctu- outbound tour escorts by the Travel Industry Council
ality, knowledge of Hong Kong, and politeness. Tour (TIC) could be introduced for tour guides in Hong
guides should maintain and keep up their good quality Kong. All the tour guides would have to attend specific
service in these areas. However, the attribute ‘‘able to training courses and pass examinations before they
solve problems’’ was identified in the concentrate here could be granted guide passes or certificates. Inbound
quadrant. This suggests that managerial efforts should tour operators would be allowed to recruit licensed or
be concentrated on raising and improving tour guides’ registered tour guides only. In this way, acceptable
ability to solve problems. Since education and training service standards could be guaranteed.
are important for maintaining competitive advantage Furthermore, the Tourism Commission (TC) and the
(White & Williams, 2000), training courses emphasizing HKTB should play a more active role in training,
problem-solving techniques could be tailor-made for licensing and monitoring the inbound service. As the
Mandarin-speaking tour guides. Moreover, professional HKTB now concentrates mainly on marketing and the
and experienced tour guides could be invited to share TC is responsible for formulating policy and overall
their experiences on how to deal with different strategy in promoting tourism, there has not been any
emergency situations. For long-term strategy, more tourism body responsible for monitoring service stan-
effort should also be devoted to Mandarin language dards in the tourism industry. This seems to be an
training for potential tour guides. inappropriate strategy whereby Hong Kong is only
On the other hand, this study raised the issue of concerned with marketing and ignores quality control
shopping. About 36% of the mainland Chinese visitors on the products and services provided by its tour
did not believe that their tour guides in Hong Kong had operators and tour guides. It is suggested that the Hong
introduced them to reliable shops, and 26% perceived Kong Government provide more financial and technical
their tour guides as not being honest and trustworthy. support to the HKTB or the TC to provide training,
Mainland authorities such as the China National licensing and monitoring of inbound services. More
Tourism Administration (CNTA) and Hong Kong urgently and importantly, a monitoring system should
industry bodies such as the Hong Kong Tourism Board be in place to measure and monitor both tour operators
(HKTB) should co-operate closely to monitor the and tour guides to ensure their qualifications and
practice of ‘‘zero tour fee’’ on both Hong Kong tour professionalism.
operators and travel agencies in mainland China (Wong,
2000; Wong, Yip, & Lee, 2000). There have even been
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