Factors influencing visitor loyalty at an agri-festival in South Africa
The agri-tourism sector is an important sector, especially in South Africa, since there are rural areas that can still be developed for these purposes. Agri-tourism can be achieved when both the agricultural and tourism sector work together in achieving an entrepreneurial advantage. Some of the benefits of agri-tourism include job creation, new ideas and innovation, it serves as additional income and it has an educational aspect attached to it. Agri-tourism is a form of rural tourism and agri-festivals such as the NAMPO Harvest Day is part of the numerous categories of agri-tourism. The NAMPO Harvest Day is the largest agri-festival in the Southern Hemisphere which attracted over 72 000 visitors in 2013. The NAMPO Harvest Day started in the Bloemfontein district in 1967 and continued its success in Bothaville, Free State. To ensure that a decrease in ticket sales and attendance of the agri-festival does not take place or a decrease in the product life cycle of the agri-festival, it is important for the management team to focus on the factors that may have an influence on loyalty such as image and customer satisfaction, visitor attributes, behavioural intentions, festival attributes and travel motives. Competition is increasing in South Africa, which means that the management must have a distinct advantage over the other agri-festivals hosted in South Africa. Loyalty occurs when a customer repeatedly invests in a product or service where the result will be positive word of mouth and positive recommendations to others. Seeing that the NAMPO Harvest Day is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere that also attracts international visitors, it is important for management to focus on the loyalty factors to ensure continuous success. The goal of this study was to thus assess the factors that influence visitor loyalty to this agri-festival in South Africa. In order to achieve this goal, a survey was conducted at the NAMPO Harvest Day in 2014. A total of 422 questionnaires were administered over a period of 4 days. Various statistical analyses were performed: descriptive statistics were used to profile the respondents where after factor analyses were used to firstly identify the factor Loyalty and secondly to identify the factors that may influence loyalty to the festival. Nine factors were identified (in order of importance): Agricultural exposure and edification, General management, escape and socialisation, Price and quality of implements, machinery and livestock, Price and quality of food and beverages, Amenities, Signage and marketing, Networking and trade, and Value. T-tests, ANOVAs and Spearman’s Rank Order Correlations were used to determine whether statistically significant differences existed between the respondents’ socio-demographic and behavioural characteristics and the factor Loyalty as well as between the contributing factors, so as to establish where differences occur between two groups and more groups. There were statistically significant differences based on demographic and behavioural intentions and loyalty factors. Spearman’s Rank Order Correlations were used to determine which demographic and behavioural aspects correlate with one another. In addition, Structural Equation Modelling was used to determine the relation between the factors and Loyalty. In preparation for the Structural Equation Modelling, Spearman’s Rank Order Correlations were also used to determine the relation between the factor Loyalty and the contributing factors as well as between the different contributing factors. The model provided evidence of a good fit since the CFI was between 0.0 and 1.0 (0.819) and the relative/normed chi-square was 3.987 and acceptable chi-square ranges between 2.0 and 5.0. The factors that had a direct relationship and are supported at 5% significance level with Loyalty were Agricultural exposure and edification as well as Lifestyle, escape and socialisation. The contribution of this research is twofold: firstly, to the authors’ knowledge, agri-tourists to a specific agri-festival in South Africa were analysed in terms of their demographic profile and behavioural characteristics. Therefore this research greatly contributes towards the literature base regarding these types of tourists. Secondly, this research identified the factors that contribute towards loyalty at an agri-festival and how organisers and marketers can effectively use these factors to sustain loyalty among not only repeat visitors, but first-timers as well. The results from this research can aid this agri-festival to remain competitive and remain in a growth phase of its product lifecycle. This is imperative for the future success of agri-festivals such as the NAMPO Harvest Day.