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Social and cultural influences on hospitality consumer behaviour

This article considers the main influences on hospitality consumers in their everyday consumption behaviour, through investigating the main factors in the consumers’ environment.           
It seeks to explain how concepts such as culture, social class, ethnicity and status impact on hospitality consumption.         
Hospitality consumption always occurs within a context or situation and those contexts and situations are major influences upon that hospitality encounter. This article investigates a number of these contexts and the influences inherent within them.             
The environmental influences that affect hospitality consumers fall into two broad categories: cultural influences and group influences. The first of these is considered in some detail within this article. Introduction to environmental aspects of hospitality consumption. The focus of this article is the impact of society and culture upon us as members of that society/culture, considered in the context of the consumption of hospitality goods and services. Our values and beliefs, generated by the society and culture to which we belong and assimilated as a result of socialization (Allen and Anderson, 1994), influence the decisions we make as consumers. Thus, in order to understand how we consume hospitality goods and services it is necessary to develop an understanding of the influence of such factors as the cultural context of consumption, ethnicity, social class, status, family and other reference groups. As Chisnall (1995: 103) states: ‘The study of environmental factors such as cultural and social influences will help to construct what may be termed the mosaic of behaviour; from these many variables – personal and environmental – the intricate pattern of human behaviour will become apparent.’Despite the preceding article focusing on our consumption activities through an individual perspective, it is clear that as consumers we are influenced by our environment, and indeed that at the same time our behaviour alters that environment. However, as Sivadas, Mathew and Currey (1997: 463) state, ‘research in consumer behaviour has been dominated by studies of the individual’. For example, Leong (1989) reported that only 4.1 per cent of references in articles published in the Journal of Consumer Research between 1974 and 1988 were from sociology.            
This article considers some of the factors within the environment that influence our behaviour as hospitality consumers.           
However, this is a difficult undertaking as many authors have commented upon the problems involved in studying culture and its impact (Wright, Nancarrow and Kwok, 2001). For example Usunier (2000: xiii) states he has ‘no wish to describe cultures, either from an insider’s point of view or exhaustively. . . provision [for readers of his article] is a method for dealing with intercultural situations in international marketing’.Culture has been studied extensively from a more general business perspective, in particular how organizational culture operates (Jeannet and Hennessey, 1998; Johansson, 2000; Venkatesh, 1995). However, due to the complexities involved, the influence of culture on marketing and consumer behaviour is not so widely investigated (Wright, Nancarrow and Kwok,2001). For example Craig and Douglas (2000: 210) argue: the most significant problems in drawing up questions in multicountry research are likely to occur in relation to attitudinal, psychographic and lifestyle data . . . it is not always clear whether certain attitudinal or personality constructs are equally relevant or equivalent in all countries and cultures . . . even where similar constructs are mentioned in different countries, the specific items making up these constructs may not always be identical. While it would be possible, and indeed in some ways preferable, to consider environmental factors under the two broad headings of social and cultural perspectives, in other ways the synergy between these two areas is such that there are benefits in considering them together, as I have chosen to do here. Figure 5.1, adapted from Engel, Blackwell and Miniard (1995: 606) represents the external influences on consumption; this article will consider a number of these, with the remainder investigated in article. This article begins by considering how contemporary studies of consumer behaviour have developed a sociological stance, in opposition to the more psychological and cognitive perspectives highlighted in the previous article. The article then investigates the role played by culture in forming hospitality consumer behaviour,before moving on to consider the social influences on consumption.             

The development of a sociological perspective inconsumer behaviour        
As we have discussed previously, from the 1980s onwards there has been a shift in the dominant perspectives within consumer research, with Belk (1995) suggesting that a major cause for this shift has been the move towards multidisciplinary research in the area. This, it is suggested, has led to marketing departments broadening their membership to include anthropologists and sociologists among other disciplines. As membership of these departments widened, the appeal of laboratory and anonymous scaled attitude measures declined. The result was a move away from a perception of the consumer as an automaton, receiving inputs and through a transformation process, producing outputs.
As Belk (1995: 62) states: ‘the new consumer behaviour precipitates the unavoidable conclusion that consumers are not mere automatons who receive information inputs and produce brand outputs that maximize satisfaction. Rather they are socially connected human beings participating in multiple interacting cultures’. The new consumer was perceived as a socially construing individual participating in a multitude of interactions and contexts. Within such a perspective the family is not a decision-making consumption unit, but a consumption reality involving hegemonic control, core and peripheral cultures and subcultures and relationships. Similarly, if we consider hospitality goods and services within the paradigm of new consumption studies a product such as a hotel is not simply a system of food, beverage and accommodation, but can be seen to be a vehicle for fun, status, prestige, power, sex, achievement, alienation, etc.          
The use of the term ‘consumer culture’ is now widely expressed in a range of aspects of everyday life, and this focus on a consumer society is taken to suggest that not only is the economy structured around the promotion and selling of goods and services rather than their production, but also that members of such a society will treat high levels of consumption as indicative of social success, with the result that consumption is seen as a life goal for members of such a society. Within the sociology of hospitality consumption, there are a range of factors that will impact on behaviour and thus need to be investigated, including aspects such as social class, culture, reference groups, the influence of the household, ethnicity, ritual, symbolism and the consumption situation and setting. The remainder of this article will consider a number of these aspects in detail.

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