Beyond proxy measures of post-event evaluation: Measuring attendee satisfaction in the Zimbabwean exhibition industry

Author: Nomathemba Ndlovu

Ndlovu, Nomathemba, 2021 Beyond proxy measures of post-event evaluation: Measuring attendee satisfaction in the Zimbabwean exhibition industry, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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Research has located a deficiency in the satisfaction measurement techniques deployed by exhibition organisers. This deficiency has emerged in Zimbabwe, where there is over reliance on attendance rates as the primary, if not only, measure of exhibition success. This use of such proxy measures is not only limiting but provides unreliable measures to evaluate attendee perceptions about the exhibition experience and leaves exhibition organisers with an untested basis for gauging the long-term sustainability of their exhibitions. Motivated by the dearth of empirical studies in the African exhibition context, this doctoral research offers a significant and original contribution to knowledge, via an improvement of post-event evaluation methodology and practice. The imperative was to develop a multi-dimensional model to measure and evaluate attendee satisfaction in the Zimbabwean exhibition industry. In the process, the impact of the relationships among the predictors and outcomes of attendee satisfaction was empirically determined and explained as a first step towards developing a self-evaluation tool for the improvement of quality in the exhibition industry in Zimbabwe.

Deploying a two-phase explanatory sequential mixed methodology framed by a pragmatist research paradigm, 612 respondents were surveyed at four national exhibitions in 2019. Following a Confirmatory Factor Analysis, the research demonstrated that the attendee service experience is made up of six dimensions (Reliability, Assurance, Empathy, Booth Management, Booth Layout and Registration). After testing hypotheses using Structural Equation Modelling, Booth Management and Booth Layout were found to have a significant impact on Overall Experience Quality, while Registration significantly impacted Overall Attendee Satisfaction. These findings provided empirical evidence that the hypothesised impact of the attendee service experience dimensions on the Overall Experience Quality and Overall Attendee Satisfaction largely did not apply as expected in the Zimbabwean exhibition industry.

In seeking possible reasons for such a marked deviation from prior industry research, further investigation through focus group discussions - with 37 participants - found that the harsh economic environment as well as the acute lack of alternative exhibition platforms in Zimbabwe indicated that a “one-size-fits-all approach” in the practical application of the model is not ideal, useful or productive. This underscored the need for exhibition organisers to be cognisant of the additional contextual dimensions that may further moderate the inter-relationship of the research variables.

The value of the research lies in its contribution to the conceptualisation of attendee satisfaction as well as the development of reliable and valid industry-specific performance measures in the Zimbabwean exhibition industry. Further, the research provides a springboard for future studies in the exhibition industry in Zimbabwe as well as other countries in Africa. By measuring satisfaction from the perspective of the business attendee, this research does not only add its voice to balancing a research history that has been predominantly skewed towards exhibitors, but also advances the understanding of attendees’ needs and behaviour, yielding practical recommendations for industry practitioners to increase satisfaction levels and behavioural intention.

Though occurring after the period in which the empirical component of the research was conducted, it would be remiss not to highlight the disruption of face-to-face and close-contact industries such as the exhibition industry by the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on the foundation laid in this research, future studies must investigate what dimensions of the attendee service experience come into play in the wake of COVID-19 and how these defined dimensions fit in with, or alter, the dimensions that were validated in this and other studies. This will ensure that post-event evaluation practices continuously evolve and remain relevant.

Keywords: exhibitions, post-event evaluation, attendee experience quality, attendee satisfaction, attendee behavioural intention

Subject: Business thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Professor Tara Brabazon