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Social and cultural influences on hospitality consumer behaviour

The impact of culture on hospitality consumption
‘Culture’ is one of the most widely used and yet misunderstood
terms in our vocabulary. We use it in our everyday language to
describe a wide range of experiences. For example, we describe
someone as cultured if they frequent the theatre and read classic
literature. Similarly, often when we think of culture we associate
it with the opera, ballet or other arts. In aiding our understanding
of hospitality consumer behaviour, however, ‘culture’ has a very
different meaning, as Blythe (1997: 90) defines it: ‘Culture is a set
of beliefs and values that are shared by most people within a
group . . . it is passed on from one group member to another . . .
it is learned and is therefore both subjective and arbitrary.’ Such
a definition is supported by Bareham (1995: 63) who defines
culture as ‘the accepted values and ways of behaving which
shape the society in which we live’. As such cultural beliefs and
values profoundly influence the consumption decisions we
make. Culture is seen to affect motives, intentions and attitudes
and is an all-encompassing feature of our existence. Culture
should be seen not as something we have, but as everything we
are. Thus in the way we are using culture here it is the complete
way in which society operates, not simply those parts which
some elements of society consider desirable, such as the arts. As
Chisnall (1995: 104) states: ‘Culture is not a narrow view of
human activities . . . it extends to include all the activities that
characterize the behaviour of particular communities of people.’
The cultures that societies develop are hugely important in the
way that we understand behaviour; they are dynamic, they are
complex and they affect every aspect of our behaviour. As
McCraken (1981: 114) argues, ‘Each culture establishes its own
special version of the world . . . incorporating understandings
and rules that have particular significance for its members’.
Cultural values and beliefs are so deep seated that members of
particular cultures are in many ways unaware of them. They are
developed within societies and formulated by a wide range of
language and symbolism that embeds them in society. As Assael
(1998: 459) argues, ‘Culture is a set of socially acquired values
that society accepts as a whole and transmits to its members
through language and symbols. As a result, culture reflects
society’s shared meanings and traditions’.

As the concept of culture is such a complex one Engel,
Blackwell and Miniard (1995: 611), defining culture as ‘a set of
values, ideas, artefacts, and other meaningful symbols that help
individuals communicate, interpret, and evaluate as members of
society’, listed the more important attitudes and behaviours
influenced by culture as:

a sense of self and space
communication and language
dress and appearance
food and feeding habits
time and time consciousness
values and norms
beliefs and attitudes
mental processes and learning
work habits and practices.

As can be seen, many of the above impact upon the consumption
of hospitality goods and services. Culture affects the consumption
of hospitality as the ways in which we consume are deeply
connected to the cultures within which we operate. People
consume hospitality goods and services not only to experience
their physiological benefits, but also as a way of expressing their
cultures, that is, though socializing, participating in ritual,
expressing symbolism, etc. As Bareham (1995: 65) suggests,
‘eating and drinking are cultural events falling within the remit of
anthropology . . . the study of knowledge, skills, beliefs, values
and activities which are passed from one generation to another’.
Food and drink has always been strongly linked to culture (Holt,
1998; Wright, Nancarrow and Kwok, 2001). Consider issues such
as the religious requirement on Jews to abstain from shellfish such
as lobster, products which elsewhere are often seen to symbolize
luxury and, indeed, gluttony (see Case Study 5.1). Similarly,
cheese is considered a delicacy in most of Europe, with countries
such as France offering a huge range of varieties, whereas in
Japan, for example, cheese is rarely encountered. Very many
similar examples exist: the practice of eating horsemeat, common
in France, is considered barbaric in England, less than 25 miles
away; cows are religious animals in India, yet are the staple
ingredient in the beefburger; and many cultures shun alcohol,
whereas for others outlets for alcohol consumption are a defining
feature of their culture – consider the role of the English ‘pub’ in
society, for example. The 2002 football World Cup, in Korea and
Japan, provided a classic example of the role of culture in
consumption, when Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, the
sport’s governing body, (and of European descent), made a public
appeal for citizens of Korea to stop eating dog meat, fearful of the
bad publicity it was engendering in much of the western press
(The Times, 6 November 2001). It is clear that these differences are
not a result of physiological factors such as taste but are explained
by cultural differences, the behaviours shared by people from a
particular society.

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