Qualitative Tourism Research Methods in Hospitality

Qualitative research connects the experience of hospitality with the aspirations of consumers.
Qualitative research connects the experience of hospitality with the aspirations of consumers. (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

Qualitative research is an important research methodology to use in building a communications strategy. Because the hospitality industry is highly experiential, companies rely on qualitative research to gain insights on the thoughts, attitudes and feelings of travelers and consumers. Companies can target current users of their facilities, services and products as well as non-users. Including non-users provides insights into how to devise strategies to counter offerings made by competitors.

Focus Groups

Focus groups provide businesses with a wealth of qualitative feedback. Groups are led by a moderator who uses highly professional techniques to guide participants down a carefully developed path and line of questioning. The topic for a focus groups in the hospitality industry might center on a company’s advertising for popular tourist destination like Las Vegas, or participants might be shown several new designs for hotel rooms at a major theme park, or allowed to taste and sample proposed new menu items for cruise line. What respondents say during the sessions about the focus group topic forms the basis for collecting qualitative responses for marketing research purposes. Focus groups are recorded on video and audio tapes so that the responses from participants can be transcribed. The transcriptions form the basis for developing a qualitative report of findings.


Questionnaires are designed and worded to elicit qualitative feedback. For example, a questionnaire for a bar and restaurant chain might be designed to test the sales potential of adding a menu of appetizers in the bar area. Statements to gain qualitative responses might include: “The opportunity to order appetizers would make me visit this bar more often”; or, “I’d bring my friends and guests here if the bar served appetizers.” This technique is called “aided response,” because the respondents are allowed to either select one statement they most agree with or rate several statements on a numeric scale or based on whether they strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree or disagree with the statement.

Customer Feedback Cards

Hotels place index or postcard-size comment cards on the desk or table inside of rooms to gain qualitative feedback. Guests provide handwritten comments about their level of satisfaction with the services and accommodations. The hotel collects the cards and the comments are transcribed. Comments and feedback are categorized into groups, such as highly favorable, favorable, satisfied and not satisfied. The information is shared with various departments, including marketing, public relations and guest services members, and used to substantiate customer satisfaction levels and to support needs for changes or improvements. This technique is also used by restaurants, tour operators and other businesses in the hospitality industry.

Electronic Surveys

Businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry depend on friendly and professional customer service. When customers go online or use the telephone to make a reservation, a company may periodically incorporate an electronic survey at the close of the conversation. The customer may be prompted to press a button to participate by phone, or a pop-up may flash to invite them to take a survey on her computer. In either case, qualitative information can be gained by allowing the respondent to enter feedback, based on what the company is researching, such as responses to customer service, prices or any number of topics. The company can also incorporate a 30-second segment to allow telephone participants to record a comment.

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