Hospitality services, such as accommodation and food and drink, are an essential part of the tourism product [1
]. This means that there is no adequate tourism product without quality accommodation service and food and beverage service [3
]. Hospitality services, therefore, present an integral part of every tourism product [5
A necessary condition to participate in either tourism or sports activities is motivation [7
]. Tourism motivation is a very popular topic in the scientific literature from the tourism field [8
]. There have been many studies that have presented the most important aspects of tourism motivation [9
], as well as in sports tourism [11
]. Wann et al. [12
] developed and tested a sport fan motivation scale (SFMS) to identify intrinsic and extrinsic sport spectators’ motivations, which was later modified by Daniels and Norman [13
] for the purposes of equestrian tourism.
Equestrian tourism (so-called horse tourism or horse-based tourism) is a special type of tourism [14
], usually very sustainable, to which more attention has been paid in the last two decades. Research in the area of equestrian tourism has included different topics, including betting [15
], the history and structure of ownership and racing [16
], the characteristics and behavior of equestrian tourists [17
], their motivations [13
], and the process of loyalty formulation in equestrian events [18
]. Equestrian tourism has also been investigated as a part of local development strategies. Such studies aimed to identify equestrian tourism as a support tool for quality improvement in promoting tourism objectives [19
], and to investigate the impacts of equestrian tourism development in national parks and protected areas as a part of sustainable development [20
]. More attention was also given to the economic impact of equestrian tourism [22
], including public strategies for local equestrian tourism development [23
], treating equestrian tourism as a microcluster [24
]. Equestrian tourism was also treated as an integral part of sustainable community tourism development models [25
], as a part of domestic tourism strategies [26
], or as a combination of two activities in relation to other kinds of tourism or hospitality activities [27
In spite of researchers’ interest in equestrian tourism and the impact of hospitality services quality on the overall tourism experience, too little space has been given to the sustainable role of quality hospitality services in equestrian tourism, particularly to accommodation service quality and food and beverage service quality and their possible mediating effect. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to investigate how equestrian tourists’ motivation is associated with the service quality. This study also has three specific objectives:
to assess the relationship between equestrian tourism motivations and both accommodation service quality and food and beverage service quality;
to measure the mediating roles of both accommodation service quality and food and beverage service quality on the association between equestrian tourists’ motivation and service quality; and
to test the association between these constructs: overall service quality, value, overall satisfaction, and behavioral intentions in equestrian tourism.
This study has both theoretical and practical perspectives. On the one hand, it investigates potentially significant influences of equestrian tourism motivations, which increase both the overall service quality and the accommodation and food and beverage service quality. This relationship may reveal the behavioral intentions, especially in the area of tourists’ loyalty. This study, therefore, suggests how motivation affects behavioral intentions in the equestrian tourism area and its sustainability. On the other hand, this study helps practitioners in equestrian tourism to manage different aspects of integrated tourism product in equestrian tourism, in order to provide quality accommodation and food and beverage services to equestrian tourists.
Explaining the motivation in sports and recreation activities, Bernthal and Graham [29
] stated that people are motivated based on the specific sport. Talking about equestrian tourism, Daniels and Norman [13
] modified the 23-item SFMS scale for the purpose of equestrian tourism to a 20-item scale with seven dimensions: escape, eustress, aesthetics, self-esteem, group affiliation, entertainment, and family. They also determined the relationship between sport identification and fan motivation and investigated differences in equestrian tourists’ motivations in terms of sex. In her Australian study, Buchmann [26
] identifies a variety of motivations of equestrian tourists, such as experiencing a variety of skills in horseback riding, staying up to date with the latest developments in horseback riding, being able to take time off work, getting away from it all, having the opportunity to progress in horsemanship, meeting like-minded people, and networking.
Kline et al. [25
] identified equestrian trail riders’ perceptions and attitudes about equestrian tourism development in a local community. According to the results presented, the main areas for equestrian tourism development are marketing, education, and support from officials, organization and development of additional trails. Studies conducted by Schmudde [21
] and Pickel-Chevalier [20
] present equestrian tourism as a potential method of regional sustainable development. Sigurdardottir [28
] states that the future of equestrian tourism development is in combination with wellness tourism, especially combining slow adventure, wellness, and outdoor recreation in Iceland.
In the literature, there are a few studies related to the quality in equestrian tourism. Helgadottir and Siguardardottir [22
] included interviews with horse farm owners involved in equestrian tourism and a survey of their business practices. According to the results, their concept of quality was based on the horsemanship, quality of horses, and riding skills rather than standards and measures of tourism quality. Researchers also state that in equestrian tourism tourists arrive with traveling companions or friends. This is why the concept of quality in equestrian tourism differs from that of the hospitality industry in general [22
]. Sigurdardottir and Helgadottir [30
] investigated customers’ satisfaction and visitors’ attitudes to several aspects of the service quality in equestrian tourism: staff performance, horses, riding trails, facilities, and riding gear. The authors identified the important factors, which correlate to customer satisfaction in equestrian tourism. In the study presented by Akhoondnejad [18
], the determinants of tourists’ loyalty in horse tourism are presented. Concepts used in this study are the effects of event quality, event value, tourists’ emotion, tourists’ satisfaction, and tourists’ loyalty. The presented results show that the most important predictors of tourists’ loyalty in equestrian tourism are event quality, event value, and tourist satisfaction.
Despite the fact that equestrian tourism motivations and service quality in equestrian tourism are concepts that have already been widely researched, the relationship between equestrian tourists’ motivation, value, overall service quality, and behavioral intentions regarding tourists’ loyalty has not been explored. The potential mediating role of accommodation quality and food and beverage service quality in equestrian tourism on the mentioned relationship is still not sufficiently presented in the literature. The importance of hospitality service quality (accommodation service and food and beverage service) in equestrian tourism is still not researched enough, either. To fill the mentioned research gaps as well as to test whether the concept of quality in equestrian tourism is based on passion and skill with horses and people, that is horsemanship, rather than business acumen, as proposed by Helgadottir and Siguardardottir [22
], six hypotheses put forward by similar studies [31
] are projected.
Motivations of equestrian tourism will positively influence the overall service quality.
Motivations of equestrian tourism will positively influence the accommodation service quality.
Motivations of equestrian tourism will positively influence the food and beverage service quality.
Both accommodation service quality and food and beverage service quality in equestrian tourism mediate the association between equestrian tourists’ motivations and overall service quality.
High perceptions of overall service quality in equestrian tourism will positively influence the overall satisfaction with equestrian tourism.
Higher satisfaction levels will positively affect the future behavioral intentions of equestrian tourists.
shows the proposed research model.
This study aimed to understand the relationships between equestrian tourism motivations and sustainable hospitality service quality, overall service quality, equestrian tourists’ satisfaction, value, and behavioral intentions. Although there were a few studies that researched the concept of the service quality in equestrian tourism [22
], the mentioned relationships in equestrian tourism had not been investigated yet.
The results of this study showed that equestrian tourists’ motivation is positively related to the overall service quality, food and beverage service quality, and accommodation service quality. Equestrian tourists who feel a higher level of any dimension of equestrian tourists’ motivations (escape, eustress, aesthetics, self-esteem, group affiliation, entertainment, and family) will rate F&BSQ, ASQ, and OSQ more highly than others with a lower level of motivation. These results are in line with similar research [37
]. At the same time, the relationships between ASQ and OSQ and F&BSQ and OSQ are positive and statistically significant, which further confirms the importance of hospitality services quality in the evaluation of the overall service quality. Similar relationships in the motel industry were investigated in the study by Clemes et al. [5
], as well as in studies conducted by other authors on other types of tourism [4
Overall service quality in equestrian tourism had a positive correlation with equestrian tourists’ satisfaction, and equestrian tourists’ satisfaction was positively related to their behavioral intentions regarding loyalty. The overall service quality therefore had a direct, positive, and statistically significant impact on equestrian tourists’ loyalty. The same relationship of constructs is presented in the study by Clemes et al. [5
Both ASQ and F&BSQ are statistically significant mediators of the cause‒effect relationship between equestrian tourists’ motivation and overall service quality perception. These results are consistent with previous research [2
]. Once again, it is confirmed that the quality of hospitality services such as accommodation and food and drink plays a very important role in how tourists evaluate the overall service quality [5
This research has both theoretical and practical implications. Regarding the theoretical implications, it fills previous gaps in the research and explains the influences of equestrian tourists’ motivation on their overall perception of service quality, as well as on their perceptions of the quality of hospitality services, accommodation services, and food and beverage services. This study also presents how equestrian tourists’ perception of overall service quality influences their satisfaction and potential behavioral intentions in the equestrian tourism field. Similar studies [5
] have explained such relationships, but not in the field of equestrian tourism.
Moreover, this study treats perceptions of hospitality services quality as a first-line mediator of the cause‒effect relationship between equestrian tourism motivation and, less importantly, as an effect of equestrian tourists’ motivations. These findings show that the level of equestrian tourism motivation has a strong impact on tourists’ perception of accommodation service quality and food and beverage service quality on a tourism farm. Equestrian tourists’ motivation also has both a direct and an indirect significant impact on the overall service quality in equestrian tourism, while perceptions of hospitality services quality mediate this statistically significant relationship.
This research also has a few practical implications. Farmers and practitioners in the tourism industry could use this research in the process of strategic planning for sustainable equestrian tourism development. This study also helps with knowledge improvement for understanding the factors needed for quality equestrian tourism product development. Equestrian tourists who decide to visit a tourism farm again help to improve a tourism farm’s business results and to move them towards their future sustainability goals.
The results of this study show that improving equestrian tourists’ perceptions of hospitality services quality advances their behavioral intentions regarding loyalty to equestrian tourism activities. Accordingly, farmers should always make an effort to provide quality accommodation and food and beverage service to equestrian tourists. As mentioned before, equestrian tourists have multiple accommodation options, one of them being tourism farms. The proposed model in this study may be a useful basis for identifying similar relationships in other accommodation facilities used by equestrian tourists.
Talking about the concept of sustainable equestrian tourism, Pickel-Chevalier [20
] reported that it plays an important role in sustainable tourism development in rural settings. This specific tourism niche always goes together with some other form of sustainable tourism development to fulfill economic, social, and environmental criteria, such as cultural tourism, nature tourism, soft adventure tourism, ecotourism, or sports tourism [41
Hospitality services quality on agritourism farms with equestrian tourism, therefore, fits into sustainable criteria such as local development and employment, especially for women and young population in rural areas, and social cohesion by involving the tourist population in everyday activities. Farmers are an important stakeholder in equestrian tourism development [42
], and hospitality services presents an essential part of quality equestrian tourism products. Therefore, the presented model proposes crucial aspects of hospitality services quality to ensure the sustainable development of farms offering local food and beverage products and accommodation. Local, sustainable equestrian tourism development enables the tourism development of the rural area and improves the quality of life for both tourists and farmers [43
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
Although this study has both theoretical and practical implications, there are a few limitations, which point to the potential for future research. The identified subdimensions of ASQ and F&BSQ are suitable only for tourism farms and may not be applicable to all hospitality facilities. For other types of accommodation used by equestrian tourists, it would be necessary to revise the subdimensions and potentially include some others. Those dimensions may also vary across different cultures. The equestrian tourists participating in this study stayed at one of the tourism farms in Slovenia. This may limit the ability to generalize the results because they could be different in other cultural settings. The third limitation is related to the number of other predictors and moderators of the overall satisfaction, which are not included in this study (e.g., farm image, previous visits, sports activities offered on the farm). The fourth important research disadvantage is the limited data regarding the described market of equestrian tourism in Slovenia (number of entities, characteristics, sales volume, etc.) because there are no official statistics in Slovenia to collect data about this important tourism market niche. Finally, one of the most important limitations of this study is its self-selected sampling method basis, which may lead to it being unrepresentative of the population.
Future research should use the presented modeling approach to measure the importance of ASQ and F&BSQ for equestrian tourists who stayed in different types of accommodation (e.g., sport hotels, motels, apartments). It is also recommended that future studies employ a qualitative approach, such as focus groups and/or interviews, to get a deeper understanding of equestrian tourists’ motivations, the different dimensions of hospitality services quality in equestrian tourism, and tourists’ behavioral intentions. Future research should also include other constructs, proposed above, that were not included in this study.