Live support by chatbots with artificial intelligence: A future research agenda

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions on the use of responsive chatbots by service businesses. The content was adapted for this blogpost.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Troise, C. (2022). Live support by chatbots with artificial intelligence: A future research agenda. Service Business, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11628-022-00513-9

(Credit: Chatbots Magazine)

The benefits of using chatbots for online customer services

Frequently, consumers are engaging with chatbot systems without even knowing, as machines (rather than human agents) are responding to online queries (Li et al. 2021; Pantano and Pizzi 2020; Seering et al. 2018; Stoeckli et al. 2020). Whilst 13% of online consumer queries require human intervention (as they may involve complex queries and complaints), more than 87 % of online consumer queries are handled by chatbots (Ngai et al., 2021).

Several studies reported that there are many advantages of using conversational chatbots for customer services. Their functional benefits include increased convenience to customers, enhanced operational efficiencies, reduced labor costs, and time-saving opportunities.

Consumers are increasingly availing themselves of these interactive technologies to retrieve detailed information from their product recommendation systems and/or to request their assistance to help them resolve technical issues. Alternatively, they use them to scrutinize their personal data. Hence, in many cases, customers are willing to share their sensitive information in exchange for a better service.

Although, these interactive technologies are less engaging than human agents, they can possibly elicit more disclosures from consumers. They are in a position to process the consumers’ personal data and to compare it with prior knowledge, without any human instruction. Chatbots can learn in a proactive manner from new sources of information to enrich their database.

Whilst human customer service agents may usually handle complex queries including complaints, service chatbots can improve the handling of routine consumer queries. They are capable of interacting with online users in two-way communications (to a certain extent). Their interactions may result in significant effects on consumer trust, satisfaction, and repurchase intentions, as well as on positive word-of-mouth publicity.

Many researchers reported that consumers are intrigued to communicate with anthropomorphized technologies as they invoke social responses and norms of reciprocity. Such conversational agents are programed with certain cues, features and attributes that are normally associated with humans.

The findings from this review clearly indicate that individuals feel comfortable using chatbots that simulate human interactions, particularly with those that have enhanced anthropomorphic designs. Many authors noted that the more chatbots respond to users in a natural, humanlike way, the easier it is for the business to convert visitors into customers, particularly if they improve their online experiences. This research indicates that there is scope for businesses to use conversational technologies to personalize interactions with online users, to build better relationships with them, to enhance consumer satisfaction levels, to generate leads as well as sales conversions.

The costs of using chatbots for online customer services

Despite the latest advances in the delivery of electronic services, there are still individuals who hold negative perceptions and attitudes towards the use of interactive technologies. Although AI technologies have been specifically created to foster co-creation between the service provider and the customer,

There are a number of challenges (like authenticity issues, cognition challenges, affective issues, functionality issues and integration conflicts) that may result in a failed service interaction and in dissatisfied customers. There are consumers, particularly the older ones, who do not feel comfortable interacting with artificially intelligent technologies like chatbots, or who may not want to comply with their requests, for different reasons. For example, they could be wary about cyber-security issues and/or may simply refuse to engage in conversations with a robot.

A few commentators contended that consumers should be informed when they are interacting with a machine. In many cases, online users may not be aware that they are engaging with elaborate AI systems that use cues such as names, avatars, and typing indicators that are intended to mimic human traits. Many researchers pointed out that consumers may or may not want to be serviced by chatbots.

A number of researchers argued that some chatbots are still not capable of communicative behaviors that are intended to enhance relational outcomes. For the time being, there are chatbot technologies that are not programed to answer to all of their customers’ queries (if they do not recognize the keywords that are used by the customers), or may not be quick enough to deal with multiple questions at the same time. Therefore, the quality of their conversations may be limited. Such automated technologies may not always be in a position to engage in non-linear conversations, especially when they have to go back and forth on a topic with online users.

Theoretical and practical implications

This contribution confirms that recently there is a growing interest among academia as well as by practitioners on research that is focused on the use of chatbots that can improve the businesses’ customer-centric services. It clarifies that various academic researchers have often relied on different theories including on the expectancy theory, or on the expectancy violation theory, the human computer interaction theory/human machine communication theory, the social presence theory, and/or on the social response theory, among others.

Currently, there are limited publications that integrated well-established conceptual bases (like those featured in the literature review), or that presented discursive contributions on this topic. Moreover, there are just a few review articles that capture, scrutinize and interpret the findings from previous theoretical underpinnings, about the use of responsive chatbots in service business settings. Therefore, this systematic review paper addresses this knowledge gap in the academic literature.

It clearly differentiates itself from mainstream research as it scrutinizes and synthesizes the findings from recent, high impact articles on this topic. It clearly identifies the most popular articles from Scopus and Web of Science, and advances a definition about anthropomorphic chatbots, artificial intelligence chatbots (or AI chatbots), conversational chatbot agents (or conversational entities, conversational interfaces, conversational recommender systems or dialogue systems), customer experience with chatbots, chatbot customer service, customer satisfaction with chatbots, customer value (or the customers’ perceived value) of chatbots, and on service robots (robot advisors). It discusses about the different attributes of conversational chatbots and sheds light on the benefits and costs of using interactive technologies to respond to online users’ queries.

In sum, the findings from this research reveal that there is a business case for online service providers to utilize AI chatbots. These conversational technologies could offer technical support to consumers and prospects, on various aspects, in real time, round the clock. Hence, service businesses could be in a position to reduce their labor costs as they would require fewer human agents to respond to their customers. Moreover, the use of interactive chatbot technologies could improve the efficiency and responsiveness of service delivery. Businesses could utilize AI dialogue systems to enhance their customer-centric services and to improve online experiences.  These service technologies can reduce the workload of human agents. The latter ones can dedicate their energies to resolve serious matters, including the handling of complaints and time-consuming cases.

On the other hand, this paper also discusses potential pitfalls. Currently, there are consumers who for some reason or another, are not comfortable interacting with automated chatbots. They may be reluctant to engage with advanced anthropomorphic systems that use avatars, even though, at times, they can mimic human communications relatively well.  Such individuals may still appreciate a human presence to resolve their service issues. They may perceive that interactive service technologies are emotionless and lack a sense of empathy.

Presently, chatbots can only respond to questions, keywords and phrases that they were programed to answer. Although they are useful in solving basic queries, their interactions with consumers are still limited. Their dialogue systems require periodic maintenance. Unlike human agents they cannot engage in in-depth conversations or deal with multiple queries, particularly if they are expected to go back and forth on a topic.

Most probably, these technical issues will be dealt with over time, as more advanced chatbots will be entering the market in the foreseeable future. It is likely that these AI technologies would possess improved capabilities and will be programmed with up-to-date information, to better serve future customers, to exceed their expectations.

Limitations and future research avenues

This research suggests that this area of study is gaining traction in academic circles, particularly in the last few years. In fact, it clarifies that there were four hundred twenty-one 421 publications on chatbots in business-related journals, up to December 2021. Four hundred fifteen (415) of them were published in the last 5 years. 

The systematic analysis that was presented in this research was focused on “chatbot(s)” or “chatterbot(s)”. Other academics may refer to them by using different synonyms like “artificial conversational entity (entities)”, “bot(s)”, “conversational avatar(s)”, “conversational interface agent”, “interactive agent(s)”, “talkbot(s)”, “virtual agent(s)”, and/or “virtual assistant(s)”, among others. Therefore, future researchers may also consider using these keywords when they are other exploring the academic and nonacademic literature on conversational chatbots that are being used for customer-centric services.

Nevertheless, this bibliographic study has identified some of the most popular research areas relating to the use of responsive chatbots in online customer service settings. The findings confirmed that many authors are focusing on the chatbots’ anthropomorphic designs, AI capabilities and on their dialogue systems. This research suggests that there are still knowledge gaps in the academic literature. The following table clearly specifies that there are untapped opportunities for further empirical research in this promising field of study.

The full article is forthcoming. A prepublication version will be available through Researchgate.

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Interactive engagement through travel and tourism social media groups

This an an excerpt from one of my latest article that was published through Technology in Society (An Elsevier Journal).

Credit: Joel Saget / AFP

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Kozak, M. (2022). Interactive engagement through travel and tourism social media groups: A social facilitation theory perspective. Technology in Societyhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2022.102098

This study builds on previous academic knowledge on the acceptance and use of social media groups. It relied on valid constructs that were drawn from the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and Theory of Acceptance Model (TAM), as the proposed research model comprised “attitudes toward technology” and “behavioral intentions” constructs. However, it integrated them with perceived interactivity constructs, including “real-time conversation” and “engaging” as well as with “content attractiveness” from Electronic Retail Quality (eTailQ).

This empirical investigation clarifies that the content attractiveness of social media posts as well as their engaging content and real-time conversation capabilities, can have significant effects on social facilitation behaviors of individuals, and on their intentions to revisit social media groups. The findings from this study reiterate the importance of continuously creating relevant content that appeals to social media followers.

Previous research posited that online users should keep their followers engaged through rich media ([77]). Other theoretical underpinnings reported that interactive websites, particularly social media and video sharing platforms, can offer great potential to DMOs to promote tourism and hospitality services ([88]).  Internet domains can showcase a wide array of high-res images and video clips to lure online users to book their travel itineraries to visit destinations ([90]). The digital media and mobile applications (app) ought to be as functional and responsive as possible ([99]). They should load quickly without delays to reduce the likelihood of dissatisfied visitors, who can easily switch to another website or app ([74]).

In this case, the results suggest that there are very significant effects between the online users’ perceptions about engaging content and their intentional behaviors to check out the social media pages (on a regular basis); and between their perceptions about engaging content and their social facilitation dispositions to communicate about social media groups through online and offline channels, in the presence of others. The respondents are appreciating the attractive content, including images or videos, that are disseminated through the social media groups’ posts. Moreover, the findings indicate that they hold positive perceptions about the co-creation of user generated content. Evidently, the exchange of information as well as the responsiveness between two or more online users was leading them to revisit the social media groups.

This study is consistent with the relevant literature that sought to explore the online users’ perceptions about the websites’ interactivity features ([30], [34]). Other researchers maintained that real-time conversations had a positive effect on the online users’ attitudes toward engaging websites ([84]). In this case, this argumentation holds for social media groups, as well.

This contribution underlines the importance of posting engaging content including appealing images and videos through social media. It clearly indicates that interactive content as well as the social networks’ real-time conversation capabilities can foster positive social facilitation behaviors. Arguably, individuals are interested and intrigued to interact with other online users through popular social media groups in the presence of other members. They are likely to join in online discussions and conversations in prolific social media groups, particularly in those that are regularly disseminating attractive content, and in those that facilitate interactive engagement among their members.

The cocreation of user generated content in social media, blogs and review sites is driven by online audiences. This study confirms that the relevance and attractiveness of social media content can have a positive effect on triggering real-time conversations as well as on social facilitation. This reasoning is consistent with the social facilitation theory ([33],[40],[60],[61]). This research corroborates that while the presence of other individuals can increase the likelihood of social engagement, a passive audience may inhibit them from sharing their comments about the attractiveness of interactive content.

The findings of this research also yield plausible implications to practitioners. The researchers indicate that social media subscribers are attracted by the online content that is being posted by DMOs and travel marketers. Online users and prospective travelers are increasingly browsing through interactive content including images and videos of travel destinations. The social media groups are offering a variety of multimedia content that is appealing to online users. Very often, they allow their followers to engage in two-way communications, as members can comment on posts and may also interact with other online users, in real-time. This study suggests that the research participants are visiting the social media groups as they considered them as helpful for their decision making, prior to booking their travel itineraries. Apparently, they were intrigued to revisit these groups and were likely to communicate about their content with other people through offline and online channels, as it appealed to them and captured their attention.

Therefore, travel marketers ought to focus on publishing quality content. This increases the chances of their engagement. Prospective travelers are attracted by multi-media features including high-res images with zooming effects and video content; that are adapted for mobile technologies, including tablets and smartphone devices. Travel marketers and DMOs ought to curate their social media group(s) with appealing content to raise awareness about their tourism products. It is in their interest to share relevant and attractive material to increase the number of followers and their engagement. More importantly, they are expected to interact with online users, in a timely manner, to turn them into brand advocates and to encourage social facilitation behaviors.

In sum, this empirical research clarifies that the attractiveness of online content of social media groups, including their images and videos of destinations, as well as their interactive and real-time conversation capabilities are affecting their subscribers’ revisit intentions. They are also influencing their social facilitation behaviors – in the presence of others. This study raises awareness on the importance of sharing engaging content and of encouraging interactive discussions among social media subscribers. The researchers contend that content creators can lure individuals to visit and revisit their social media pages/groups to generate leads and conversions. Arguably, the more engagement (e.g. through emojis and shares) and conversations (e.g. comments), the greater the chances of captivating the attention of existing followers and of enticing the curiosity of new ones. For the time being, the social facilitation paradigm is still relatively under-explored in academia, particularly within the travel and tourism marketing literature.

Future researchers are encouraged replicate this study in different contexts. They may adapt the measures that were used in this research, including engaging content, real time conversation and social facilitation constructs, in addition to other popular constructs that are drawn from TRA, TPB and TAM. They may include other constructs in their research models, including those relating to psychological theories that can clarify their motivations to engage with other individuals through such digital channels. Further research could focus on the demographic backgrounds of their respondents to better understand who, why, when and where they are engaging with other users through social media groups. Perhaps, there is scope for other studies to employ different sampling frames and methodologies, including inductive ones, to explore this topic in more depth and breadth.

The full list of references are available in the full article. You can download a prepublication version here: 362888940_Interactive_engagement_through_travel_and_tourism_social_media_groups_A_social_facilitation_theory_perspective

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Crowdfunding small businesses and startups: An appraisal of theoretical insights and future research directions

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions on crowdfunding (and crowd investing). Its content was adapted for this blogpost.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Bresciani, S. (2022). Crowdfunding small businesses and startups: A systematic review, an appraisal of theoretical insights and future research directions, European Journal of Innovation Management, https://doi.org/10.1108/EJIM-02-2022-0060

Crowdfunding is an alternative method of raising funds that is independent from financial institutions. Individual entrepreneurs, startups and established businesses can utilize online crowdfunding platforms like Indigogo, SeedInvest and GoFundMe, among others, to access finance for new ventures or existing projects, from a large number of investors, in return for products or equity stakes.

Project initiators would usually specify their financing goals and set time frames with deadlines, for their crowdfunding campaigns. If the pre-set funding goal is not met, they will not be in a position to garner any funds for their project.

The fund-raising campaigns have to appeal to as many investors as possible. Hence, initiators ought to feature engaging content, including texts, images, photos, videos, and the like, to lure investors to support their innovative ideas, startups or business ventures. They launch fundraising campaigns through various crowdfunding platforms, in different markets, to connect with online users, thereby circumventing traditional financial institutions like banks, venture capitalists and business angels.

Therefore, the crowdfunding websites curate the offerings they receive and disintermediate traditional distribution channels by connecting online users directly with project initiators.

More individuals and organizations are turning to crowdfunding sources to raise funds for business ventures, artistic or creative projects and for medical expenses, among other purposes. Alternatively, they use them to donate financial resources to cause-related, socially and environmentally responsible projects.

The crowd-investors would usually put their money in those projects in which they believe will hold lucrative potential. They may be considered as shareholders if they provide capital finance, and contribute to the development and growth of crowdfunded projects.

There are various motivations that could attract individual or group investors to pledge their support to equity crowdfunding campaigns, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending/lending crowdfunding, and to debt-securities crowdfunding, among other crowdfunding products.

Prospective investors might be willing to be involved in the development and success of entrepreneurial projects including startups. They may be seeking a return on investment for their monetary contributions, particularly if they believe that project initiators could deliver exceptional service quality and/or are in a position to develop new technological innovations and cutting-edge products. Hence, they will usually trust and have faith in the investees’ knowledge and capabilities to foster positive change in business and society.

The following sections critically appraise two sides of the same coin. The researchers elaborate on (i) the demand for crowdfunding products, and on (ii) the supply of crowdfunding finance.

The use of crowdfunding platforms to raise capital requirements

Small businesses and startups experience difficulties in raising modest amounts of capital. External threats from the marketing environment including the state of the economy, government regulations, tax laws, labor legislation and fluctuations in interest rates, among other issues, could have devastating effects on such entities.

As a result, they may find themselves in an equity gap, if they cannot raise finance to foster innovation for their business. Their access to equity or debt financing through traditional institutions like banks and/or other financial service providers is usually very limited. Typically, they are required to provide a collateral to obtain finance, even though, young enterprises and startups with promising opportunities for potential investment may usually prefer having a lower debt/equity ratio.

In the past decade, a number of individuals, groups, organizations as well as entrepreneurs and startups resorted to crowdfunding, to finance their ideas, ventures or projects. The most popular crowdfunding products include donation-based crowdfunding, rewards-based crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending/lending crowdfunding, and debt-securities crowdfunding, among others.

⚫The peer-to-peer lending is very similar to traditional borrowing from a bank as crowd investors lend money to a company with the understanding that they will be repaid with interest.  

⚫Equity crowdfunding projects may usually involve the sale of a stake of a business to a number of investors. This type of crowdfunding is very similar to venture capital finance.

⚫Investors may be drawn to rewards-based crowdfunding to receive non-financial rewards, such as goods or services, in exchange of their contributions.

⚫Alternatively, individuals may be willing to donate their funds for charitable, humanitarian or philanthropic purposes, without expecting any financial returns

Project initiators of successful crowdfunding campaigns are capable of communicating their business propositions and solutions, as they raise awareness on disruptive innovations among large audiences through digital media.

The diffusion of innovations theory suggests that there are five key elements that could influence the diffusion of a new idea (through crowdfunding platforms), including the innovation itself, adopters/users, communication/media channels, time, as well as social systems. Crowdfunding platforms allow creators to promote their projects to generate interest and to ultimately lure investors. Notwithstanding, project initiators as well as the crowdfunding investors are affected by various communication channels, including by competing organizations and regulatory institutions.

The subjective norms in society can influence the individuals’ intentions to use innovations like crowdfunding platforms. The crowdfunding projects could attract the attention of competitors, who may be quicker to develop technological innovations or substitute products, as they could have access to financial capital, economies of scale and scope, to mimic small businesses and start-ups’ ideas.

Debatably, this argumentation is synonymous with the resource-based view theory (RBV). New businesses like startups, as well as small businesses may usually possess fewer resources including liquidity, than established businesses. They may also have access to limited competences and capabilities. Notwithstanding, they may not be considered as legitimate as their larger counterparts by their stakeholders, including by the government, creditors, venture capitalists and other investors.

However, in the past decade, a number of regulatory institutions have introduced legislation in various contexts (like the U.S.’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups – JOBS Act). These laws and the revisions that followed, were intended to support early-stage companies and startups to raise their financial requirements through crowdfunding avenues.

Crowdfunding allows for the democratization of funding, as it is essentially borderless and not geographically constrained. Businesses, enterprises and startups can use crowdfunding platforms to raise funds for on their projects. They can appeal to larger audiences through the digital media.

Project initiators are encouraged to engage with online investors through crowdfunding platforms, to provide feedback relating to products or services, in order to increase their chances of reaching their financial goals. Ultimately, it is in their interest to disseminate relevant content to project backers for transparency purposes, and to improve their credentials with stakeholders.

Investments in crowd funding products

Generally, crowdfunding links the creators/proponents of projects with potential investors. The latter ones could avail of crowdfunding digital platforms to reduce their search and transaction costs. These online users hope to identify lucrative investment opportunities that could yield them attractive returns. Such investors may be drawn by high-quality, market-oriented (commercial) projects and by their rewards, as opposed to community-oriented, not-for-profit projects with social or environmental purposes, that may be promoted via low minimum prices, to appeal to sponsors.

Project initiators of commercial entities may be wary of providing details of their intellectual properties (particularly during the early stages of their crowdfunding campaigns), as they may be concerned that someone could steal their ideas, innovations and projects. They could (willingly or unwillingly) decide not to disclose material information like historic defaults or hidden costs, even after the investor becomes a member of the crowdfunding platform.

As a result, investors of crowdfunded projects may not always have adequate and sufficient information on the borrowers of finance, as crowdfunding platforms may not exercise thorough due diligence on their users. This argument is related to the reasoning behind the signaling theory. In fact, many researchers relied on this theory to explore the signals that are communicated by project creators to lure investments from crowd funders.

Notwithstanding, the most popular crowdfunding platforms may or may not operate from the same jurisdiction of the crowd-investors. Hence, they are not always offering complete protection according to local legislation and regulations. Thus, they could not guarantee the same level of comprehensive appraisals that are provided by local financial service providers. This contentious issue could lead to problems related to information asymmetry. In some circumstances, the failure to disclose material information to crowd-investors may result in near-fraudulent consequences.

Investors may usually try to find a tradeoff between potential rewards and risks from crowdfunding opportunities. They could be attracted by (higher than normal) potential returns that certain crowd-funding activities claim to offer. Therefore, they ought to be cautious and vigilant on their possible risks of default.

If equity crowdfunded projects fail, investors could not be in a position to pay back capitals and to provide any returns to their investors. Similarly, the investors of P2P crowdfunding/lending may also risk losing their funds through unsecured loans, especially if the borrowers did not require any collateral. The investors of equity financing may encounter certain difficulties, other than default. They can find out that there is no lucrative secondary market for their shares. As a result, they might find themselves liquidating them at a significant loss, or of diluting their stock value.

Conclusions

This contribution discusses about the benefits and costs of using crowdfunding platforms to raise finance, or as plausible investment options. The authors elaborate about various challenges and identify opportunities for project initiators (like small business and startups), as well as for crowd-investors.

Currently, there are just a few articles that are linking this timely topic with key theoretical underpinnings relating to technology adoption and/or innovation management (e.g. Diffusion of Innovations Theory, Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) or the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT), strategic management (e.g. Decision-making Theory; Goal Attainment Theory or RBV), accounting and financial reporting (E.g. Signaling Theory or Venture Quality Theory), and normative/business ethics research (e.g. Social Capital Theory, Social Responsibility Theory and Stakeholder Theory), among others.

For the time being, there are limited discursive contributions on crowdfunding of small businesses and startups. This research sought to address this gap in the academic literature. It clearly outlines the facilitators and barriers of using crowdfunding platforms for crowd sourcing and/or for crowd investing purposes, to better understand the demand / supply for crowdfunding.

In future, other researchers may explore the crowd sourcing possibilities of different types of businesses including sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), nonprofits, and cooperatives (co-ops), among other entities. They may categorize enterprises, according to their staff count. Prospective authors could investigate the financing of micro enterprises, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), intermediate-sized enterprises and/or large-sized enterprises. Moreover, they could even distinguish among various start-ups like small business startups, scalable startups, buyable startups and/or off-shoot startups, et cetera.

A pre-publication version of this this research is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362223573_Crowdfunding_small_businesses_and_startups_A_systematic_review_an_appraisal_of_theoretical_insights_and_future_research_directions

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Learning from anywhere, anytime: The use of mobile technologies for educational purposes

This contribution is a excerpt from my latest article that was published by Springer’s Technology, Knowledge and Learning (Journal). The content has been adapted for this blog post.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Camilleri, A.C. (2022). Learning from anywhere, anytime: Utilitarian motivations and facilitating conditions to use mobile learning applications. Technology, Knowledge and Learninghttps://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-022-09608-8

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University students are using mobile technologies to improve their learning outcomes. In the past years, a number of academic authors contended that educational apps were supporting many students in different contexts Butler et al., 2021; Crompton & Burke, 2018; Hamidi & Chavoshi, 2018; Sung et al., 2016; Tosuntas et al., 2015). In the main, they maintained that ubiquitous technologies enable them to access learning management systems and to engage in synchronous conversations with other individuals (Camilleri & Camilleri, 2021).

One may argue that the m-learning paradigm is associated with the constructivist approaches (Chang et al., 2018), including those related with discovery-based learning (Camilleri & Camilleri, 2019c). Relevant theoretical underpinnings suggest that the use of mobile apps can improve the delivery of quality, student-centered education (Camilleri & Camilleri, 2021; Camilleri, 2021b; Chang et al., 2018; Crompton & Burke, 2018; Furió et al., 2015; Lameu, 2020; Nikolopoulou et al., 2021; Sung et al., 2016; Swanson, 2020). This research raises awareness on m-learning technologies that enable students to search for solutions for themselves through the Internet and via learning management systems. It also indicated that mobile apps like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, among others, allow them to engage in synchronous conversations with course instructors and with their peers, in real time.

This study explored the users’ perceptions about m-learning technologies. It validated key constructs from TAM Briz-Ponce et al., 2017; Cheung & Vogel, 2013; Granić & Marangunić, 2019; Ngai et al., 2007; Scherer et al., 2019; Thong Hong & Tam, 2002) and UTAUT (Gunasinghe et al., 2019; Yang et al., 2019), as shown in Table 1.

The descriptive statistics clearly indicated that the research participants felt that m-learning technologies were useful for them to continue their course programs. The principal component analysis confirmed that the students’ engagement with their educational apps was primarily determined by their ease of use. This is one of the main factors that influenced their intentions to engage with m-learning apps.

The findings revealed that higher education students were using m-learning apps as they considered them as useful tools to enhance their knowledge. Evidently, their perceptions about the ease of use of m-learning technologies were significantly correlated with their perceived usefulness. In addition, it transpired that both constructs were also affecting their attitudes towards usage, that in turn preceded their intentions to use m-learning apps.

The results also revealed that the respondents were satisfied by the technical support they received during COVID-19. Apparently, their university provided appropriate facilitating conditions that allowed them to engage with to m-learning programs during the unexpected pandemic situation and even when the preventative restrictions were eased.

The stepwise regression analyses shed light on the positive and significant relationships of this study’s research model. Again, these results have proved that the respondents were utilizing m-learning apps because their university (and course instructors) supported them with adequate and sufficient resources (i.e. facilitating conditions). The findings indicated that they were assisted (by their institution’s helpdesk) during their transition to emergency remote learning. In fact, the study confirmed that there was a positive and significant relationship between facilitating conditions and the students’ engagement with m-learning technologies.

On the other hand, this empirical research did not yield a statistically significant relationship between the students’ social influences and their intentions to use the mobile technologies. This is in stark contrast with the findings from past contributions, where other researchers noted that students were pressurized by course instructors to use education technologies (Camilleri & Camilleri, 2020; Teo & Zheng, 2014). The researchers presume that in this case, the majority of university students indicated that they were not coerced by educators or by their peers, to use m-learning apps. This finding implies that students became accustomed or habituated with the use of mobile technologies to continue their course programs.

This research builds on previous technology adoption models Davis et al., 1989; Venkatesh et al., 2003; 2012) to better understand the students’ dispositions to engage with m-learning apps. It integrated constructs from TAM with others that were drawn from UTAUT/UTAUT2. To the best of the researchers’ knowledge, currently, there are no studies that integrated facilitating conditions and social influences (from UTAUT/UTAUT2) with TAM’s perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness and attitudes. This contribution addresses this knowledge gap in academia. In sum, it raises awareness on the importance of providing appropriate facilitating conditions to students (and educators). This way, they will be in a better position to use educational technologies to improve their learning outcomes.

Practical implications

This research indicated that students held positive attitudes and perceptions on the use of m-learning technologies in higher educational settings. Their applications allow them to access course material (through Moodle or other virtual learning environments) and to avail themselves from video conferencing facilities from everywhere, and at any time. The respondents themselves considered the mobile technologies as useful tools that helped them improve their learning journeys, even during times when COVID-19’s preventative measures were eased. Hence, there is scope for university educators and policy makers to create and adopt m-learning approaches in addition to traditional teaching methodologies, to deliver quality education (Camilleri, 2021).

Arguably, m-learning would require high-quality wireless networks with reliable connections. Course instructors have to consider that their students are accessing their asynchronous resources as well as their synchronous apps (like Zoom or Microsoft Teams) on campus or in other contexts. Students using m-learning technologies should have appropriate facilitating conditions in place, including adequate Wi-Fi speeds (that enable access to high-res images, and/or interactive media, including videos, live streaming, etc.). Furthermore, higher education institutions ought to provide ongoing technical support to students and to their members of staff (Camilleri & Camilleri, 2021).

This study has clearly shown that the provision of technical support, as well as the utilization of user-friendly, m-learning apps, among other factors, would probably improve the students’ willingness to engage with these remote technologies. Thus, course instructors are encouraged to create attractive and functional online environments in formats that are suitable for the screens of mobile devices (like tablets and smartphones). There can be instances where university instructors may require technical training and professional development to learn how to prepare and share customized m-learning resources for their students.

Educators should design appealing content that includes a good selection of images and videos to entice their students’ curiosity and to stimulate their critical thinking. Their educational resources should be as clear and focused as possible, with links to reliable academic sources. Moreover, these apps could be developed in such a way to increase the users’ engagement with each other and with their instructors, in real time.

Finally, educational institutions ought to regularly evaluate their students’ attitudes and perceptions toward their m-learning experiences, via quantitative and qualitative research, in order to identify any areas of improvement.

Research limitations and future research directions

To date, there have been limited studies that explored the institutions’ facilitating conditions and utilitarian motivations to use m-learning technologies in higher education, albeit a few exceptions. A through review of the relevant research revealed that researchers on education technology have often relied on different research designs and methodologies to capture and analyze their primary data. In this case, this study integrated measures that were drawn from TAM and UTAUT. The hypotheses were tested through stepwise regression analyses. The number of respondents that participated in this study was adequate and sufficient for the statistical purposes of this research.

Future research could investigate other factors that are affecting the students’ engagement with m-learning technologies. For example, researchers can explore the students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to use educational apps. These factors can also have a significant effect on their intentions to continue their learning journeys. Qualitative research could shed more light on the students’ in-depth opinions, beliefs and personal experiences on the usefulness and the ease of use of learning via mobile apps, including serious games and simulations. Inductive studies may evaluate the effectiveness as well as the motivational appeal of gameplay. They can possibly clarify how, where and when mobile apps can be utilized as teaching resources in different disciplines. They can also identify the strengths and weaknesses of integrating them in the curricula of specific subjects.

Prospective researchers can focus on the design, structure and content of m-learning apps that are intended to facilitate the students’ learning experiences. Furthermore, longitudinal studies may provide a better understanding of the students’ motivations to engage with such educational technologies. They can measure their progress and development, in the long term. The students’ perceptions, attitudes and intentions to use m-learning technologies can change over time, particularly as they become experienced users.

A prepublication of the full article is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/360541461_Learning_from_anywhere_anytime_Utilitarian_motivations_and_facilitating_conditions_to_use_mobile_learning_applications

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The pros and cons of remote learning

This is an excerpt from one of my latest articles that was accepted for publication by the 6th International Conference on E-Education, E-Business & E-Technology (ICEBT2022).

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Camilleri, A.C. (2022). A cost-benefit analysis on remote learning: A systematic review and implications for the future. 6th International Conference on e-Education, e-Business and e-Technology (Beijing, China: 26th June 2022). https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4104629

(image source: CrushPixel)

After the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions were expected to adapt to an unexpected crisis situation. In many cases, they had to follow their policy makers’ preventative measures to mitigate the contagion of the pandemic [1, 2]. As a result, they introduced contingency plans, and disseminated information on the virus, among students and employees. In many cases, educators were coerced to shift from the provision of traditional, face-to-face teaching and blended learning approaches, to a fully virtual remote course delivery [3, 4]. This transition resulted in a number of challenges to students and instructors [5]. Educators were pressurized to utilize digital technologies including learning management systems (LMS) as well as video conferencing programs [6]. Very often, they relied on their institutions’ Moodle or virtual learning environment (VLE) software to share digital resources including videos, power point presentations and links to online notes [7]. During the pandemic educators also acquainted themselves with video-conferencing platforms [8].

Subsequently, when COVID-19 restrictions were eased, a number of educational institutions reopened their doors to students and employees [9]. They introduced social distancing policies and hygienic procedures in their premises [4, 10]. At the time of writing, a number of academic members of staff, in various contexts, are still utilizing learning technologies including LMS and video conferencing programs [6]. Currently, student-centered educators are adopting hybrid/blended learning approaches, as they deliver face-to-face lectures in addition to online learning methodologies. Very often, they do so to support students who are not in a position to attend their lectures on campus.

A synthesis of the literature on the costs and benefits of remote learning

The costs

Many researchers noted that Covid-19 disrupted the provision of education. In the main, they reported that there were various challenges for the successful implementation of remote learning [17, 23-25]. For example, one of the contributions implied that the prolonged use of virtual platforms might negatively impact the efficacy of synchronous learning [27].

Various studies indicated that the research participants were not always pleased with the quality of education that was provided by their educators, during the pandemic [28]. Academic commentators indicated that faculty members were not experts in the delivery of remote/online instruction. They implied that instructors could require periodic developmental training to improve the service quality of their courses [4, 10].

While a few researchers noted that students appreciated the availability of recorded lectures [29], others reported that educators were not always recording their lectures and/or did not share learning resources with them [21]. This issue could have affected the students’ learning outcomes [30, 31]. In fact, some students were worried about their academic progress during COVID-19 [32]. In many cases, they encountered a number of difficulties during remote course delivery. For instance, online group work involved additional planning as well as institutional support [33]. Previous literature suggests that students necessitate counseling, tutoring and mentoring as well as ongoing assurances to succeed [34, 35].

In many cases, the researchers discovered that course participants required adequate training and support to complete their assessments [23, 24, 36]. A few of them also hinted that was a digital divide among students could have been evidenced among those who experienced connectivity and equipment problems, among other issues [5, 37]. Other authors argued about the individuals’ challenges to focus on their screens for long periods of time [6]. Notwithstanding, educators and students may develop bad postures and other physical problems due to staying hunched in front of a screen. Therefore, students ought to be given regular breaks from the screen to refresh their minds and their bodies.

The benefits

Generally, a number of contributions shed light on the benefits of using remote learning technologies, including learning management systems [1, 21, 29, 32] and interactive conferencing programs (1, 6, 17, 33]. Such educational technologies can help in creating rich social interactions [38-40] as well as positive learning environments – that foster learning and retention [41, 42]. Previous research indicated that digital learning resources can enhance the students’ knowledge and skills [43]. Remote instruction approaches can also provide supportive environments to students [39] and could even increase their chances of learning [30, 31]. Virtual lectures may be recorded or archived for future reference [29]. Hence, students or educators could access their learning materials at their convenience [44-46].

Several researchers underlined the importance of maintaining ongoing, two-way communications with students, and of providing them with appropriate facilitating conditions, to continue improving their learning journeys [6, 47-48]. Video conferencing technologies allow educators to follow up on their students’ progress. They facilitate online interactions, in real time, and enable them to obtain immediate feedback from their students [1, 49]. Notwithstanding, there are fewer chances of students’ absenteeism and on missing out on their lessons, as they can join online meetings from home or from other locations of their choice.

Conclusions

This review implies that online technologies have opened a window of opportunity for educators. Indeed, learning management systems as well as conferencing programs are useful tools for educators to continue delivering education in a post covid-19 context. However, it is imperative that educational institutions invest in online learning infrastructures, resources and facilitating conditions, for the benefit of their students and faculty employees. They should determine whether their instructors are (or are not) delivering high levels of service quality through the utilization of remote learning technologies to continue delivering student-centered education.

This paper can be downloaded from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/360474225_A_cost-benefit_analysis_on_the_use_of_remote_learning_technologies_A_systematic_review_and_a_synthesis_of_the_literature

References (these are all the references that were featured in the full paper)

  1. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2021. The acceptance of learning management systems and video conferencing technologies: Lessons learned from COVID-19. Tech, Know and Learning, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10758-021-09561-y
  2. OECD 2020. OECD Policy Response to CoronaVirus: Education responses to COVID-19: Embracing digital learning and online collaboration”, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France.  http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/education-responses-to-covid-19-embracing-digital-learning-and-online-collaboration-d75eb0e8/
  3. Sir John Daniel. 2020. Education and the COVID-19 pandemic. Prospects, 49(1), 91-96. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09464-3
  4. Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2021. Evaluating service quality and performance of higher education institutions: A systematic review and a post COVID-19 outlook. Int J. of Qual & Serv Sciences 13, 2, 268-281. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJQSS-03-2020-0034
  5. Tewathia, Nidhi, Anant Kamath, and P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan. 2020. Social inequalities, fundamental inequities, and recurring of the digital divide: Insights from India. Tech in Soc, 61, 101251.
  6. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Camilleri. 2022. Remote learning via video conferencing technologies: Implications for research and practice. Tech in Society, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2022.101881
  7. Fathema, Nafsaniath, David Shannon, and Margaret Ross. 2015. Expanding the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) to examine faculty use of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in higher education institutions. J of Online Learning & Teach, 11(2), 210-232.
  8. Worldbank 2020 The COVID-19 Crisis Response: Supporting tertiary education for continuity, adaptation, and innovation. Worldbank Group Education, Washington, USA. http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/621991586463915490/WB-Tertiary-Ed-and-Covid-19-Crisis-for-public-use-April-9.pdf
  9. Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2021. Shifting from traditional and blended learning approaches to a fully virtual and remote course delivery: Implications from COVID-19. Acad Letters, Article, 481.
  10. Ronald W. Welch, Robert J. Rabb, and Alyson Grace Eggleston. 2021. Using the SWIVL for Effective HyFlex Instruction: Best Practices, Challenges, and Opportunities. ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
  11. Rabab Ali Abumalloh, Shahla Asadi, Mehrbakhsh Nilashi, Behrouz Minaei-Bidgoli, Fatima Khan Nayer, Sarminah Samad, Saidatulakmal Mohd, and Othman Ibrahim. 2021. The impact of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on education: The role of virtual and remote laboratories in education. Tech in Soc, 67, 101728.
  12. Stephen J. Aguilar, 2020. Guidelines and tools for promoting digital equity. Inf and Lear Sci, 121(5/6), 285-299.
  13. Amy B. Smoyer, Kyle O’Brien, and Elizabeth Rodriguez-Keyes. 2020. Lessons learned from COVID-19: Being known in online social work classrooms. Int Social Work, 63(5), 651-654.
  14. Anthony F. Tasso, Nesrin Hisli Sahin, and Gabrielle J. San Roman.2021. COVID-19 disruption on college students: Academic and socioemotional implications. Psych Trauma: Theory, Res, Practice, and Pol, 13(1), 9-15.
  15. Jingrong Xie, and Mary F. Rice. 2021. Instructional designers’ roles in emergency remote teaching during COVID-19. Dist Ed, 42(1), 70-87.
  16. Lata Kanyal Butola, 2021. E-learning-a new trend of learning in 21st century during COVID-19 pandemic. Indian J of Foren Med and Toxicology, 15(1), 422-426.
  17. William Hurst, Adam Withington, and Hoshang Kolivand. 2022. Virtual conference design: features and obstacles. Multimedia Tools and Applic. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11042-022-12402-4
  18. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2019. The students’ readiness to engage with mobile learning apps. Interactive Tech and Smart Educ 17,1, 28-38. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITSE-06-2019-0027
  19. Andrzej Szymkowiak, Boban Melović, Marina Dabić, Kishokanth Jeganathan, and Gagandeep Singh Kundi. 2021. Information technology and Gen Z: The role of teachers, the internet, and technology in the education of young people. Tech in Soc, 65, 101565.
  20. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2017. Digital learning resources and ubiquitous technologies in education. Tech, Know and Learning 22,1, 65-82. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10758-016-9287-7
  21. Patricia R. Backer, Maria Chierichetti, Laura E. Sullivan-Green, and Liat Rosenfeld. 2021. Learning from the Student Experience: Impact of Shelter-in-Place on the Learning Experiences of Engineering Students at SJSU. ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.
  22. Timothy Boye, and Tania Machet. 2021. Emerging from COVID-19 to future practice. Proceedings – SEFI 49th Annual Conference: Blended Learning in Engineering Education: Challenging, Enlightening – and Lasting, 697-704.
  23. Andrea N. Giordano, and Casey R. Christopher. 2020. Repurposing best teaching practices for remote learning environments: Chemistry in the news and oral examinations during covid-19. J of Chemical Educ, 97(9), 2815-2818.
  24. Mohamed Shaik Honnurvali, Ayman A. El-Saleh, Abdul Manan Sheikh, Keng Goh, Naren Gupta, and Tariq Umar. 2022. Sustainable Engineering higher education in Oman-lessons learned from the pandemic (COVID-19), improvements, and suggestions in the teaching, learning and administrative framework. J of Eng Education Trans, 35(3), 52-69.
  25. Rizwana Wahid, Oveesa Farooq, and Ahtisham Aziz. 2021. The New Normal: Online Classes and Assessments during the COVID-19 Outbreak. J of E-Learning and Know Society, 17(2), 85-96.
  26. Brenda Van Wyk, Gillian Mooney, Martin Duma, and Samuel Faloye, 2020. Emergency remote learning in the times of covid: A higher education innovation strategy. Proceedings of the European Conference on e-Learning, ECEL2020, 499-507.
  27. Andrew Darr, Jenna Regan, and Yerko Berrocal. 2021. Effect of Video Conferencing on Student Academic Performance: Evidence from Preclinical Summative Assessment Scores. Medical Science Educator, 31(6), 1747-1750.
  28. Ji-Hee Jung, and Jae-Ik Shin 2021. Assessment of university students on online remote learning during COVID-19 pandemic in Korea: An empirical study, Sustainability (Switzerland), 13(19), 10821.       
  29. John Michael Cotter, and Rasim Guldiken. 2021. Remote Versus In-Class Active Learning Exercises for an Undergraduate Course in Fluid Mechanics, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings                 
  30. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2017. Digital learning resources and ubiquitous technologies in education. Tech, Knowledge and Learning, 22(1), 65-82.
  31. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2017. The students’ perceptions of digital game-based learning. In European Conference on Games Based Learning (pp. 56-62). Academic Conferences International Limited.
  32. Marilyn Barger, and Lakshmi Jayaram. 2021. Students Talk: The Experience of Advanced Technology Students at Two-Year Colleges during COVID-19, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.  
  33. Kennedy Saldanha, Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, Barbara Muskat, Shirley R. Simon, Ann M. Bergart, Ellen Sue Mesbur, Donna Guy, Namoonga B. Chilwalo, Mamadou M. Seck, Greg Tully, Kristina Lind, Cheryl D. Lee, Neil Hall,and Diana Kelly, 2021. Turning boxes into supportive circles: Enhancing online group work teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Work with Groups, 44(4), 310-327.
  34. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2017. The technology acceptance of mobile applications in education. In 13th International Conference on Mobile Learning (Budapest, April 10th). Proceedings, pp., International Association for Development of the Information Society.
  35. Adriana Caterina Camilleri, and Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2019. Mobile learning via educational apps: an interpretative study. In Proceedings of the 2019 5th International Conference on Education and Training Technologies (pp. 88-92).
  36. Galina Ilieva, and Tania Yankova. 2020. IoT in Distance Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic.TEM Journal, 9(4), 1669-1674.
  37. Emily S. Kinsky, Patrick F. Merle, and Karen Freberg. 2021. Zooming through a Pandemic: An Examination of Marketable Skills Gained by University Students during the COVID-19 Crisis. Howard J of Comm, 32(5), 507-529
  38. Anne E. Drake, Jonathan Hy, Gordon A. MacDougall, Brendan Holmes, Lauren Icken, Jon W. Schrock, and Robert A. Jones.. 2021. Innovations with tele-ultrasound in education sonography: the use of tele-ultrasound to train novice scanners. Ultrasound J, 13(1), Article 6, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13089-021-00210-0
  39. Ming Lei, Ian M. Clemente, Haixia Liu, and John Bell. 2022. The Acceptance of Telepresence Robots in Higher Education. Int J of Social Robotics, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-021-00837-y                                                           
  40. Yuan Li, David Hicks, Wallace S. Lages, Sang Won Lee, Akshay Sharma, and Doug A. Bowman   2021. ARCritique: Supporting remote design critique of physical artifacts through collaborative augmented reality. Proceedings – 2021 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops, VRW 2021, 9419257, 585-586
  41. Vivekananth Subbiramaniyan, Chandrashekhar Apte, and Ciraj Ali Mohammed. 2021. A meme-based approach for enhancing student engagement and learning in renal physiology, Adv in Physio Educ, 46(1), 27-29.                 
  42. Joshua Zavitz, Aarti Sarwal, Jacob Schoeneck, Casey Glass, Brandon Hays, E. Shen, Casey Bryant, and Karisma Gupta. 2021. Virtual multispecialty point-of-care ultrasound rotation for fourth-year medical students during COVID-19: Innovative teaching techniques improve ultrasound knowledge and image interpretation. AEM Education and Training, 5(4), e10632.                         
  43. Vikash Gayah, Sarah E. Zappe, and Stephanie Cutler. 2021.Impact of Remote Instructional Format on Student Perception of a Supportive Learning Environment for Expertise Development. ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings.
  44. Butler, A., Camilleri, M. A., Creed, A., & Zutshi, A. 2021. The use of mobile learning technologies for corporate training and development: A contextual framework. In Strategic corporate communication in the digital age. Emerald Publishing Limited.
  45. Adriana Caterina Camilleri, and Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2019. The Students Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations to Engage with Digital Learning Games. In Shun-Wing N.G., Fun, T.S. & Shi, Y. (Eds.) 5th International Conference on Education and Training Technologies (ICETT 2019). Seoul, South Korea. International Economics Development and Research Center (IEDRC). ACM Digital Library. https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3337682.3337689
  46. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2019. The Acceptance and Use of Mobile Learning Applications in Higher Education. In Pfennig, A. & Chen, K.C. (Eds.) 3rd International Conference on Education and eLearning (ICEEL2019), Barcelona, Spain. ACM Digital Library. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3371647.3372205
  47. Adriana Caterina Camilleri, and Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2019. Mobile Learning via Educational Apps: An Interpretative Study. In Shun-Wing N.G., Fun, T.S. & Shi, Y. (Eds.) 5th International Conference on Education and Training Technologies (ICETT 2019). Seoul, South Korea. International Economics Development and Research Center (IEDRC). ACM Digital Library. https://doi.org/10.1145/3337682.3337687
  48. Mark Anthony Camilleri, and Adriana Caterina Camilleri. 2020. The students’ acceptance and use of their university’s virtual learning environment. In Chen, K.C., Ma, Y., & Kawamura, M., The 11th International Conference on E-Education, E-Business, E-Management, and E-Learning (IC4E 2020). Ritsumeikan University, Osaka, Japan. ACM Digital Library. https://www.mendeley.com/catalogue/037e2920-3bc5-3f9f-8b92-210a2e924156/
  49. Paul Capriotti, Iliana Zeler, and Mark Anthony Camilleri. 2021. Corporate communication through social networks: The identification of the key dimensions for dialogic communication. In M.A. Camilleri (Ed.) Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-80071-264-520211003
  50. Valeria Aloizou, Tania Chasiotou, Symeon Retalis, Theodoros Daviotis, and Panagiotis Koulouvaris. 2021. Remote learning for children with Special Education Needs in the era of COVID-19: Beyond tele-conferencing sessions. Educ Media Int, 58 (2), 181-201.
  51. Yelena Chaiko, Nadezhda Kunicina, Antons Patlins, and Anastasia Zhiravetska. 2020. Advanced practices: Web technologies in the educational process and science. 2020 IEEE 61st Annual International Scientific Conference on Power and Electrical Engineering of Riga Technical University, RTUCON 2020 – Proceedings, 9316567.
  52. Courtney J. Chatha, and Stacey Lowery Bretz. 2020. Adapting Interactive Interview Tasks to Remote Data Collection: Human Subjects Research That Requires Annotations and Manipulations of Chemical Structures during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Chemical Educ, 97(11), 4196-4201.
  53. Phil Legg, Thomas Higgs, Pennie Spruhan, Jonathan White, and Ian Johnson. 2021. ‘Hacking an IoT Home’: New opportunities for cyber security education combining remote learning with cyber-physical systems. 2021 International Conference on Cyber Situational Awareness, Data Analytics and Assessment, CyberSA 2021, 9478251.
  54. Jenifer M. Ross, Lauri Wright, and Andrea Y. Arikawa, 2021. Adapting a classroom simulation experience to an online escape room in nutrition education. Online Learning J, 25(1), 238-244.
  55. Jintawat Sangpratoom, Atima Tharatipyakul, Natnaree Ua-Arak, Kejkaew Thanasuan, and Suporn Pongnumkul. 2021.Comparing Remote Learning between Live Lectures and Self-paced Interactive Tutorials for Learning an Introduction to Blockchain Proceedings – 2021 International Conference on Information Systems and Advanced Technologies, ICISAT 2021
  56. Sharon Wallace, Monika S. Schuler, Michelle Kaulback, Karen Hunt, and Manisa Baker. 2021. Nursing student experiences of remote learning during the COVID‐19 pandemic. In Nursing Forum, 56(3), 612-618.

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Walking the talk about Corporate Social Responsibility Communications

This is an excerpt from one of my latest articles that was accepted for publication by Wiley’s Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (formerly known as Business Ethics: A European Review).

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2022). Walking the talk about corporate social responsibility communication: An Elaboration Likelihood Model perspective, Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/beer.12427

(Source: Camilleri, 2022)

Theoretical implications

This contribution validated the Elaboration Likelihood Model’s (ELM’s) measures and key constructs relating to the Information Adoption Model (IAM). Specifically, this research identified the effects of information relevance, information accuracy, information accuracy, source trustworthiness and source expertise on the individual’ attitudes toward online CSR communications.

The results confirmed that both central as well as peripheral factors (to a lower extent) were having a significant effect on the targeted audiences’ changing attitudes toward corporate communications. In sum, this study indicated that online users appreciated relevant and timely CSR content from trusted sources – that were curated by experts. This finding is conspicuous with relevant theoretical underpinnings on ELM. For instance, Chen and Chang (2018) and even Rawlins (2008) contended that individuals are usually captivated by current, relevant, complete, accurate, reliable, comparable and clear communications.

Relevant academic literature reported that individuals may choose to pursue ELM’s central route, whenever they evaluate the quality of the arguments/information that is communicated to them (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Alternatively, if they are not interested or motivated on the content, they may usually rely on the sources’ credibility to form their attitudes and opinions on their messages. Previous research often utilized ‘source expertise’ and ‘source trustworthiness’ constructs to measure the respondents’ perceptions about the credibility of sources of information.

In this case, this study found that the research participants were more influenced by ELM’s central route processing as information timeliness and information relevance were having nuanced effect on attitudes when compared to the peripheral factors including source expertise. Evidently, the respondents reflected and thought on CSR communications they accessed through the Internet and via social media. This finding implies that the businesses’ elaborated, high-quality content was changing their stakeholders’ attitudes toward CSR information.

Nevertheless, the research model indicated that the participants were somehow affected by peripheral issues, particularly by the source expertise of content curators. Previous literature reported that the recipients of information can still be influenced by the peripheral route’s subjective cues and/or by heuristic inferences (i.e. low elaboration issues). For instance, many individuals are continuously exposed to corporate communications from businesses who have excellent credentials among their followers (Camilleri, 2021a).

The findings from this study revealed that source trustworthiness was the weakest antecedent of the individuals’ attitudes toward CSR communications. This result is similar to previous findings from other studies, where the researchers reported that there were lower effects from peripheral factors like source credibility/source trustworthiness (than from central factors) on information usefulness/attitudes toward information.

This research demonstrated that external stakeholders were mainly processing information relating to the businesses’ CSR activities through the central route, as they considered their communications as elaborate, timely and relevant. However, it also showed that they held positive perceptions about the expertise of content curators who were disseminating information on their CSR credentials via digital media

Managerial implications

This contribution has investigated the online users’ attitudes about CSR communications and revealed their perceptions about the sources’ credibility. It implies that businesses can improve their credentials if they publish quality CSR content that is appreciated by their stakeholders. This research suggests that external stakeholders expected businesses to publish relevant information that is accurate and timely. This finding suggests that there is scope for the businesses to regularly update their CSR webpages with the latest developments. For instance, they can publish certain information and newsfeeds about non-financial matters including on their immediate responses to COVID-19 like sanitization and hygienic measures in their workplace environments. They may disseminate health and safety information through social media sites or via online video sharing platforms. They can use different digital media to promote their businesses’ responsible behaviors toward their employees and the community at large, during different waves of the pandemic.

Ultimately, it is in the companies’ interest to communicate about appropriate ESG matters with different stakeholders (Camilleri, 2021b). Businesses ought to use corporate websites to disseminate information on commercial aspects, corporate governance policies, CSR and/or environmental sustainability initiatives as well as on COVID-19. In this day and age, they should also utilize social media networks (SNSs) on a regular basis, to raise awareness about their website, and to interact on different issues with their followers, in real time. They can publish appealing content including images and videos about their CSR activities to entice the curiosity of stakeholders. They may also share excerpts from their CSR disclosures and could feature forward-looking statements that shed light on their trajectories for a post COVID-19 era.

Limitations and directions for future research

This study is not without limitations. The measures that were used to capture the data were drawn from ELM and from its related IAM. These theoretical models were mostly referenced in previous studies that were mostly focused on the co-creation of content, including online reviews and electronic word of mouth publicity. Therefore, the survey items were adapted for a study that sought to explore the online users’ attitudes toward CSR communications. In this case, the results confirmed the reliability and validity of the constructs. Hence, prospective researchers are encouraged to replicate this study in other contexts.

Future studies may consider different constructs that may be drawn from other theoretical frameworks, to shed more light on the individuals’ attitudes toward online communications, information adoption and/or intentional behaviors. Researchers may adopt other constructs to evaluate different aspects of online content. They may investigate perceptions about information access, information understandability, data richness, interactivity and customization capabilities or information completeness, among others. Alternatively, they could determine whether the information is rhetoric, difficult to understand, confusing, ineffective or even useless for online users. Furthermore, alternative research methods and sampling frames can be used to capture and analyze the data. Interpretative studies can explore other stakeholders’ in-depth opinions and beliefs on CSR communications and delve deeper into their content.  Inductive studies may reveal other important issues on how to improve the quality and credibility of CSR disclosures in the digital age.

References

Camilleri, M. A. (2021a). Strategic dialogic communication through digital media during COVID-19. In M. A. Camilleri (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 1-18. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343294285_Strategic_Dialogic_Communication_Through_Digital_Media_During_COVID-19_Crisis

Camilleri, M.A. (2021b). Strategic attributions of corporate social responsibility and environmental management: The business case for doing well by doing good! Sustainable Development, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sd.2256

Chen, C. C., & Chang, Y. C. (2018). What drives purchase intention on Airbnb? Perspectives of consumer reviews, information quality, and media richness. Telematics and Informatics35(5), 1512-1523.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer, New York, NY.

Rawlins, B. (2008). Give the emperor a mirror: Toward developing a stakeholder measurement of organizational transparency. Journal of Public Relations Research, 21(1), 71-99.

This excerpt was adapted for a blog. The full paper can be downloaded through: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359186812_Walking_the_talk_about_corporate_social_responsibility_communication_An_Elaboration_Likelihood_Model_perspective

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How can we combat climate change?

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2022). The rationale for ISO 14001 certification: A systematic review and a cost-benefit analysis, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, https://doi.org/10.1002/csr.2254

Source: UNFCCC.int

During the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), one hundred ninety-six (196) countries pledged their commitment to implement environmental performance measures to reduce the effects of climate change. This conference has led to the development of the ‘Paris Agreement’ where signatories became legally bound to limit global warming to below 2°C, and possibly 1.5°C (Palea & Drogo, 2020; Secinaro, Brescia, Calandra & Saiti, 2020). They recognized the importance of averting and minimizing the environmental impact that is caused by climate change, by scaling up their efforts and support initiatives to reduce emissions, by building resilience among parties, and by promoting cooperation (Birindelli & Chiappini, 2021; Gatto, 2020).

In the aftermath of COP 21, many countries submitted their plans for climate action (these plans are also known as nationally determined contributions – NDCs), where they communicated about their tangible actions that were aimed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of rising temperatures (Fatica & Panzica, 2021; Gerged, Matthews & Elheddad, 2021).  Consequentially, intergovernmental organizations including the European Union (EU), among others, are increasingly establishing ambitious carbon neutrality goals and zero-carbon solutions to tackle climate change issues (Benz, Paulus, Scherer, Syryca & Trück, 2021).

Many countries are incentivizing businesses across different economic sectors, to reduce their emissions. For example, the EU member states are expected to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2030, and by 60% prior to 2050 (EU, 2019). These targets would require the commitment of stakeholders from various sectors including those operating within the energy and transportation industries, among others.

The latest climate change conference (COP26) suggested that progress has been made on the signatories’ mitigation measures that were aimed to reduce emissions, on their adaptation efforts to deal with climate change impacts, on the mobilization of finance, and on the increased collaboration among countries to reach 2030 emissions targets. However, more concerted efforts are required to deliver on these four pledges (UNFCC, 2021).

This contribution raises awareness on the use of environmental management standards that are intended to support organizations of different types and sizes, including private entities, not-for-profits as well as governmental agencies, to improve their environmental performance credentials. A thorough review of the relevant literature suggests that, over the years many practitioners have utilized the International Standards Organization’s ISO 14001 environment management systems standard to assist them in their environmental management issues (Baek, 2018; Delmas & Toffel, 2008; Erauskin‐Tolosa, Zubeltzu‐Jaka, Heras‐Saizarbitoria & Boiral, 2020; Melnyk, Sroufe & Calantone, 2003).

Many academic commentators noted that several practitioners operating in different industry sectors, in various contexts, are implementing ISO 14001 requirements to obtain this standard’s certification (Boiral, Guillaumie, Heras‐Saizarbitoria & Tayo Tene, 2018; Para‐González & Mascaraque‐Ramírez, 2019; Riaz, & Saeed, 2020). Whilst several researchers contended about the benefits of abiding by voluntary principles and guidelines (Camilleri, 2018), others discussed about the main obstacles to obtaining impartial audits, assurances and certifications from independent standard setters (Hillary, 2004; Ma, Liu, Appolloni & Liu, 2021; Robèrt, Schmidt-Bleek, Aloisi De Larderel … & Wackernagel, 2002; Teng & Wu, 2018).

Hence, this research examines identifies the rationale for ISO 14001 certification (Carvalho, Santos & Gonçalves, 2020; Eltayeb, Zailani & Ramayah, 2011; Lee, Noh, Choi & Rha, 2017; Potoski & Prakash, 2005) that is supposedly intended to improve the organizations’ environmental performance and to enhance their credentials. Specifically, this contribution’s objectives are threefold. Firstly, it provides a generic background on voluntary instruments, policies and guidelines that are intended to promote corporate environmentally responsible behaviors. Secondly, it presents the results from a systematic review of academic articles that were focused on ISO 14001 – environment management systems. Thirdly, it synthesizes the findings from high impact papers and discusses about the benefits and costs of using this standard. In conclusion, it elaborates on the implications of this research, it identifies its limitations and points out future research avenues.

In sum, this contribution differentiates itself from previous articles, particularly those that sought to investigate the introduction and implementation of environment management systems in specific entities. This research involves a two-stage systematic analysis. It appraises a number of empirical investigations, theoretical articles, reviews, case studies, discursive/opinion papers, from 1995-2021. Afterwards, it scrutinizes their content to shed more light on the pros and cons of using ISO 14001 as a vehicle to improve corporate environmental performance.

This paper can be downloaded, in its entirety, through ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358557458_The_rationale_for_ISO_14001_certification_A_systematic_review_and_a_cost-benefit_analysis

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Family businesses in tourism and hospitality

This is an excerpt from one of my latest papers that was published in the Journal of Family Business Management. A free downloadable version is available here. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356603434_Thriving_family_businesses_in_tourism_and_hospitality_A_systematic_review_and_a_synthesis_of_the_relevant_literature


Small and medium sized businesses including family enterprises prevail in their contribution to economic growth and competitiveness of tourist destinations (Getz and Carlsen, 2005; Kallmuenzer and Peters, 2018). Very often, they are resilient entities and proactive forces in terms of innovation, employment and productivity. The family business is the oldest and the most common model of a for-profit organization. Essentially, it is a commercial entity that is usually owned, managed and led by multiple generations of a family members who are related by blood, marriage or adoption. The owners of family firms have the ability to influence the vision of their business and to formulate long term goals. They are usually involved in the organization, leadership and management of their company. However, family firms may also be co-owned by individuals who are not part of the family.

The Global Family Business Index defines a family firm as an entity that is controlled by family as its members hold more than 50% of the voting rights. For a publicly listed firm, a firm is classified as a family business if family members own at least 32% of the voting rights (OECD, 2021). Thus, the vast majority of businesses throughout the world, ranging from small shops to multinational publicly listed organizations who have hundreds of thousands of employees — can be considered family businesses.

In hospitality and tourism, a large number of small enterprises are run by family members (Peters and Kallmuenzer, 2018; Getz and Carlsen, 2005; Getz and Carlsen, 2000) that are operating in various sectors, ranging from hospitality, leisure, recreation and entertainment, among others. Such enterprises are often described as “economic engines” of tourist destinations (Getz, Carlsen and Morrison, 2004; Veloso et al., 2021) and play a critical role in the interface between communities and tourists (Shaw and Williams, 2013).

While there is a wide plethora of literature that explores different businesses including family firms and enterprises, we argue that there is still a gap in the extant academic knowledge about family businesses in tourism and hospitality settings (Arcese et al., 2021; Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Esparza Aguilar, 2019; Kallmuenzer, Tajeddini, Gamage, T.C., (…), Rojas, A. and Schallner, 2021; Rachmawati and Suroso, 2020). Globally, the vast majority of tourism and hospitality businesses comprise small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) (Baggio and Valeri, 2020). These entities are the ‘life blood’ of tourist destinations as many hotels, bed and breakfasts, AirBnBs, restaurants, and small transportation service providers, etc., are usually run by family members in various contexts.

The family business legacy

Several researchers classified different types of family businesses. Very often, they strived in their endeavors to clarify what constitutes a family business. Yet, currently, there is no agreed-upon definition of what a family business is. Experts in the field tend to describe the characteristics of family businesses and discuss about their organizational culture, ownership, leadership, management involvement, strategic control, governance, et cetera (Valeri, 2021; Valeri and Katsoni, 2021). All of these criteria can be considered as very important elements of family firms, depending on where they are, in terms of their lifecycle. Astrachan and Shanker (2003) provided a broad definition on this concept. They argued that family businesses are controlled by members of the family, who have to make decisions regarding their strategic direction.

They were aware that this definition covered a “gamut of possibilities”, ranging from large public companies that are run by descendants of founding family members, to shareholders, board members and low-level employees. In many cases, previous authors contended that firms with the same extent of family involvement were or were not always considering themselves as family businesses, and that their views may change over time. Therefore, there are different definitions for family firms in the academic literature.

Family businesses are business entities that are administered by owner-managers and their relatives. They are different from other companies. Their form of ownership may facilitate their ability to take critical actions quickly and to respond to a changing marketing environment (Mtapuri, Camilleri and Dłużewska, 2021; Peña‐Miranda, Guevara‐Plaza, Fraiz‐Brea & Camilleri, 2021). Family members may usually have closer ties that enable them to come together and do whatever it takes towards a common purpose, to safeguard their family’s health and prosperity. While nonfamily businesses may typically focus on maximizing their financial performance and shareholder value (Camilleri, 2020), family owners are more likely to focus on values like family legacy and reputation.

Many authors argued that a family business involves family members who are exerting their influence or control over the strategic direction of a company. Others discussed about family firm behaviors and shed light on their unique, inseparable, synergistic resources and capabilities arising from family involvement and interactions (Chrisman, Chua and Sharma, 2005; Habbershon, Williams and MacMillan, 2003). For example, Seaman et al. (2017) consider the interactions between family, business and friendship networks. Other authors also advance relevant knowledge on this topic (Valeri, 2016; Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Valeri and Baggio, 2020a; 2020b; 2020c; 2021).

Unlike the corporations’ executives, family members are usually personally as well as professionally involved in their entrepreneurial activities. In this case, there are no boundaries for them. Their relationships with employees are usually characterized by their values of trust, commitment, empathy and transparency as opposed to those held by larger companies. Hence, family firms may not always necessitate formal structures and bureaucratic systems that are prevalent in non-family entities. Family businesses tend to utilize looser control systems, may not rely on procedural hurdles, formal documentation or transactions. Thus, the informal style of family businesses can offer motivating working environments.

Previous research reported that family owner-managers would typically engage in two-way communications with their employees and may usually forge closer relationships with them. This type of enterprise is conspicuous in small organizations where employees are non-unionized, even though they may be expected to engage in varied roles and could be assigned different duties and responsibilities. Such workplaces will usually have low turn-over rates, and still experience fewer industrial disputes and strikes than other businesses.

Conversely, family firms can be dictatorially run by a coercive owner-manager. As a result, employees and family members may have little or no involvement in the running of their business. A typical tension field that may occur in family businesses happens when there is a conflict of interest between the personal needs of the owner–managers and their business. Hence, the business owners’ personal characteristics and attributes may play a key role in the performance of their family firm. Relevant studies on this topic often reported mixed findings on the working environment and organizational culture of family businesses. Some authors noted that while employees of nonfamily businesses seem to enjoy superior employment packages, rewards, employment terms and physical working conditions, the quality of the job environment in small businesses is poorer than what you find in their larger counterparts (Russo and Tencati, 2009).

Chrisman et al. (2005) maintained that two firms with the same extent of family involvement may not necessarily be considered as family businesses; if they lack the intention, vision, familiness, and/or behaviors that truly represent the essence of a family business. They went on to suggest that family firms exist because of the reciprocal economic and non-economic value that is cocreated through the combination of family and business systems. On the other hand, there may be problems arising from close kinship, ownership and management transfers, that may ultimately result in inefficiencies, conflicting intentions and behaviors that could limit the ability of family businesses to create or maintain distinctive familiness (Miller, Steier and Le Breton-Miller, 2003; Steier, 2001, 2003; Stewart, 2003).

For instance, certain family members may want to exert control over their firm in ways that would nullify the value of existing competences and capabilities. Their behaviors could slow down or prevent the development of their organization. The extent to which a firm may be considered as a family business could be determined by the family members’ involvement in influencing the leadership decision in their business (Chrisman et al., 2005; Astrachan, Klein and Smyrnios, 2002). It is important to clearly distinguish the differences between family and nonfamily businesses and to subdivide them into various categories. For example, family businesses can be categorized by their size.

Like other SMEs, small family firms may have limited access to resources including financial capital and human capabilities.  The very size of their businesses may create a special condition, which is often referred to as `resource poverty’ (O’Cass and Weerawardena, 2009). SMEs and family businesses tend to find themselves in an equity gap, where it is very difficult to acquire finance to operate efficiently (Camilleri, 2018). Although banks are key providers of finance through the provision of loans, the availability of unsecured bank finance to these businesses is usually very limited.

The growth of small family enterprises remains severely restricted, particularly if they cannot provide additional securities or collaterals for their investments. Even small businesses with high growth potential may experience difficulties in raising relatively modest amounts of risk capital. Moreover, external forces and potential threats from the marketing environment could have more devastating effects on family businesses than on other companies. For instance, changes in government regulations, tax laws, labor legislation and interest rates may usually affect a greater percentage of expenses in smaller family businesses than they do for other organizations (Brune, Thomsen and Watrin, 2019).

Family-owned businesses may evolve over time as their ownership may be transferred from founder-members to their relatives (Peters, Raich, Märk and Pichler, 2012). Various forms of succession may result in different ownership structures, revised duties and responsibilities of employees of family businesses. The descendants of unrelated founders can find themselves owning and managing their company and may even sit in the same board. In this case, there will be two or more families who have a stake in the business. However, just one of them will be in control (i.e. the largest shareholder) (Astrachan et al., 2002).

For instance, Hoshi Ryokan, Komatsu is one of the oldest hotels in the world. This property has been owned and managed by the Hoshi family in the past centuries. Other popular family businesses in the hospitality sector include Gmachl in Salzburg and Hotel Sacher in Vienna (Austria); Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong (China); Bristol Hotel in Paris (France); Villa D’Este in Como, Italy; Baur-au-Lac in Zurich, Switzerland; Goring Hotel in London, West Lodge Park in Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire (UK) and Seaside hotel Kennebunk in Maine (USA), among others.

The development of family firms in tourism and hospitality

Tourism and hospitality family businesses are characterized by their specific ownership, leadership and organization as well as by their stakeholder relationships, that differentiate them from nonfamily companies (Engeset, 2020; Martínez, Stöhr and Quiroga, 2007; Rosalin et al., 2016; Kumar et al., 2021). Notwithstanding, there are various variables that could enable or disable family firms of different types and sizes, to generate and sustain new business development in the long term (Peters and Kallmuenzer, 2018).

The owners of tourism family firms may try to balance their business objectives with those of their family’s interests (Getz and Carlsen, 2005). Other research indicated that the objectives of such family businesses are different than nonfamily-run companies. The former businesses are usually influenced by family issues and lifestyle objectives. While Getz and Carlsen (2000) found that the majority of businesses considered family goals as more important than their business goals; Andersson, Carlsen and Getz (2002) argued that tourism family businesses ought to operate in a profitable manner, if they want to support their family members, and to maintain a decent quality of life. Their thriving businesses could enable them to create a family legacy and to pass on their company to the next generation (Andersson et al., 2002). Again, this cannot be achieved unless it is financially successful (Erdogan, Rondi, De Massis, 2020; Williams, Pieper, Kellermanns & Astrachan, 2018).

Small family-run businesses may be expected to provide employment opportunities to family members. Hence, they are not always recruiting the most qualified employees for the job. This may result in conflicts among employees (Miller et al., 2003; Peters and Buhalis, 2004). Conversely, multinational corporations are capable of attracting the best candidates for the job. They are usually in a better position to lure investors as well as venture capitalists’ funds. On the other hand, family business owners may be reluctant to accept financial injections from external investors, for fear of losing control over their business. The personal qualities, traits and attributes of the business owners can have significant effects on the long-term prospects of the companies they lead and manage (Hallak, Assaker and Connor, 2014).

Family firms are not always in a position to raise their margins and to allocate financial resources for research and development and toward market research, product development, skills or creativity enhancement (Pikkemaat and Zehrer 2016). Very often, they are not benefiting from economies of scale that are afforded by bigger businesses. Moreover, they may be reluctant to cooperate and forge alliances with other businesses, including with competitors to gain economies of scope, that could enable them to improve their services. Many academic researchers argued that family firms ought to value long-term cooperation and social networking within the communities where they operate their business (Pikkemaat and Zehrer 2016; Camisón et al., 2016). Their networking (Baggio and Valeri, 2020) and innovation management processes (Kallmuenzer, 2018; Vrontis et al., 2016) are often driven by local community needs and by their orientations towards sustainable tourism development (Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Camilleri, 2014; Ismail et al., 2019; Kallmuenzer et al., 2018).

Family members may not possess the networking skills to develop fruitful relationships with corporate stakeholders (Arcese et al., 2020; Camilleri, 2016; Troise & Camilleri, 2021) and/or may lack adequate knowledge to formulate appropriate business strategies for their company (Pikkemaat and Zehrer, 2016).  Their businesses are expected to continuously innovate to guarantee their survival and to improve their performance in the long term (Elmo et al., 2020). In a similar vein, Rachmawati et al., (2020) pointed out that family entrepreneurs need to be more innovative and take risks so that they can compete in the global scenario. They suggested that their internationalization prospects may help their business to improve their reputation in order to enhance their bottom lines, whilst satisfying their families’ interests. Other authors contended that they have to identify innovation opportunities (Arcese et al., 2020; Giacosa et al., 2017; López-Chávez et al., 2021; Valeri et al., 2020) whilst defending their values and traditions in order to guarantee that their family business legacy transcends from one generation to the next (Obermayer et al., 2021; Santos et al., 2021c).

Succession issues may affect the form of ownership structures of tourism family enterprises as well as their governance, leadership, management and strategies. Elmo et al. (2020) maintained that the innovation process is likely to occur after succession periods when there are changes in the ownership of family businesses. They went on to suggest that successors (i.e. incoming owner-managers) of family firms may represent new opportunities, resources, and sources of knowledge and information for them. Other authors delved into family succession matters (Kallmuenzer et al., 2021; Ollenburg and Buckley, 2011; Prevolsek et al., 2017; Steier, 2001). In the main, these commentators recognized that succession remains a contentious issue that may either result in positive outcomes or in negative repercussions that can ultimately hinder the growth and development of family businesses (Miller, 2003; Peters et al., 2012).

Conclusions

There are a number of internal and external factors that can affect tourism and hospitality family businesses long-term prospects (Camilleri, 2017; Camilleri, 2021a; Giousmpasoglou, 2019; Zapalska and Brozik, 2013; Santos et al., 2021a; 2021b), their business development, sustainable development and innovation capabilities (Mtapuri et al., 2021, Peña‐Miranda et al., 2021). This contribution suggests that family firms differentiate themselves from nonfamily businesses as they consider other important values in addition to profit, including family legacy, trust, commitment and reputation. It explained that it is in their interest to engage with different stakeholders (including competitors) (Camilleri, 2019) to benefit from synergistic resources and capabilities, to increase their economies of scale and scope, to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

Currently, many businesses are still feeling the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (Albattat et al., 2020; Camilleri, 2021b; Chemli et al., 2020; Toanoglou et al., 2021).  During this crisis, family enterprises and other companies, faced serious liquidity shortages and became cash strapped after they experienced a considerable decline in their business activities. In many cases, they were resilient as they reinforced their purpose and values to ensure that their business remains intact. Generally, they strived in their endeavors to safeguard their financial and emotional investments, to preserve their legacy. Those family owner managers that have better adapted to the pandemic and who are still operating their tourism or hospitality business are better prepared for economic growth and development in the post-pandemic context.

Limitations

Although this systematic review has carefully considered rigorous articles and reviews that are focused on the development of family businesses in tourism and hospitality, there is scope to investigate different forms of family hotels and family restaurants in more depth and breadth, in terms of their sizes, types of ownership, succession issues, organizational cultures, access to financial resources, et cetera. Future studies can explore the differences between family enterprises and SMEs within the tourism and hospitality industries, in various contexts.

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Valeri, M. (2021). Thriving family businesses in tourism and hospitality: A systematic review and a synthesis of the relevant literature. Journal of Family Business Management,  https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JFBM-10-2021-0133

A full paper can be downloaded here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356603434_Thriving_family_businesses_in_tourism_and_hospitality_A_systematic_review_and_a_synthesis_of_the_relevant_literature

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The European Union’s corporate sustainability reporting directive (CSRD)

The European Union (EU)’s non-financial reporting directive (NFRD) law requires that large undertakings including corporations, listed businesses and government entities, among others, to disclose information on the way they operate and manage social and environmental challenges. This helps investors, civil society organisations, consumers, policy makers and other stakeholders to be in a better position to evaluate their non-financial performance (Camilleri, 2015; Camilleri, 2018; EU, 2014).

Recently, the EU (2021) put forward its proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which would amend the existing reporting requirements of the NFRD. In sum, the proposal extends the audit requirement to large companies and listed businesses in regulated markets (except listed micro-enterprises). They will be expected to introduce more detailed reporting requirements, according to mandatory EU sustainability reporting standards. At the time of writing this contribution, it is envisaged that the first set of standards would be adopted by October 2022 (EU, 2021).

References:

Camilleri, M.A. (2015). Environmental, social and governance disclosures in Europe.  Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(2), 224-242. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/SAMPJ-10-2014-0065/full/html

Camilleri, M.A. (2018). Theoretical insights on integrated reporting: The inclusion of non-financial capitals in corporate disclosures, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 23(4), 567-581. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/CCIJ-01-2018-0016/full/html

EU (2014). Directive 2014/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014 amending Directive 2013/34/EU as regards disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings and groups. European Commission, Brussels, Belgium. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32014L0095

EU (2021). EU Taxonomy, Corporate Sustainability Reporting, Sustainability Preferences and Fiduciary Duties: Directing finance towards the European Green Deal COM/2021/188 final https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52021DC0188

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Advancing community-based tourism approaches for sustainable destinations

This is an excerpt from one of my latest papers on sustainable tourism.

Suggested citation: Mtapuri, O., Camilleri, M.A. & Dłużewska, A. (2021). Advancing community-based tourism approaches for the sustainable development of destinations. Sustainable Development, 

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sd.2257

Image adapted from TravelDailyNews.

Whilst mass tourism service providers, such as foreign owned properties including international hotel chains are associated with economic leakages (Garrigós et al., 2015), locally-owned, smaller businesses, are usually aligned to economic linkages.

Destinations can use community-based tourism (CBT) approaches to increase linkages by attracting high yield, affluent tourists to locally-owned companies (Butler, 2020; Prasiasa, et al., 2020). From a community-based perspective, the limitation of tourism figures can improve the destinations’ sustainability, whilst limiting the impacts on the natural environment (Saarinen, 2006:1129). Tourism businesses can contribute to reduce their impact on the environment by limiting the number of tourists. They can improve the quality of their services to appeal to high-end segments.

To be successful, the proponents of CBT ought to ensure that they retain specific principles and characteristics. Thus, CBT practitioners could differentiate themselves from other business models by offering authentic, local experiences to their guests. CBT can establish itself as a niche tourism product that appeals to lucrative market segments. Therefore, service providers are expected to deliver on their promises. They have to meet and exceed their customers’ expectations without lowering their standards of service.

CBT operators rely on their community’s local resources including environment/natural resources, heritage, culture as well as on knowledgeable human resources. Their employees should possess customer service skills, and ought to be trained about their local tourism products. Local businesses may usually engage native employees to improve their consumers’ experiences with their CBT product.

However, there may be instances where CBT operators may not find local employees in the labor market. In this case, they have to train their imported employees about local cultures and traditions in order to continue delivering authentic CBT experiences. The following figure presents a model for sustainable CBT that relies on the destinations’ effective management of their carrying capacities.

An ongoing evaluation of the destinations’ infrastructures as well as on their human and natural resources, particularly during their high season, is required to ensure that they do not exceed their specific carrying capacities. While each specific context will have its own specific performance indicators, this contribution suggests that destination marketers ought to consider the following issues:

• The participation of local businesses and individual in CBT.
• Local procurement of products (for accommodation establishments, hotels, restaurants, and to other tourism businesses).


It is in the interest of CBT operators to think locally and act globally (Hofstede, 1998). They should consider sourcing their requirements from their local communities, where possible. Hence, tourism planners could utilize local resources to reduce leakages from their economy.

Governments can encourage tourism businesses to support local enterprises, for example, by purchasing local products, and by supporting the local communities. They may also incentivize businesses through financial instruments to pursue laudable activities. They can also provide support to tourism businesses, including small hotels and B&Bs to upgrade their services to attract lucrative tourists in their communities. At the same time, they have to maintain their destinations’ infrastructure and should offer suitable amenities to visitors.

These strategies are meant to foster an environment that promotes sustainable CBT approaches that are intended to increase economic linkages, whilst improving societal and the environmental outcomes in local communities. The following figure clarifies how tourism businesses can optimize the utilization of local resources through sustainable CBT strategies in order to improve their destination’s carrying capacity whilst reducing leakages from their economy.

The effectiveness of this proposed model for sustainable community-based tourism relies on a regular evaluation of the marketing environment. Tourism practitioners are expected to examine and re-examine their CBT strategies to ensure that they are still creating value to their business, to the local community and to the environment at large.

Sustainable CBT approaches can support the local economic development of destinations, however leakages can jeopardize the destinations’ competitiveness and growth prospects. While the degree and types of leakages may vary, according to specific characteristics of certain countries, it can be argued that the proper utilization of local resources can improve the national economies and the quality of life of different communities, including those from emerging economies.

The type of tourism planning and development that is adopted by certain destinations is another factor that can have an effect on their economic leakages or linkages. Based on the above, this contribution puts forward a theoretical model that is intended to address the limitations of the carrying capacities of various destinations. In sum, it suggests that sustainable CBT approaches that rely on the optimal utilization of local resources (including human and natural) may result in economic growth as well as in positive outcomes to local communities and their natural environments. This model is aimed at rebalancing leakages with linkages in the economy, whilst responding to challenges relating to the supply chains of different tourism businesses.

Indeed, there is scope for destinations to maximize the use of resources at their disposal (both human and natural). In a similar vein, companies should avail themselves of local resources, competences and capabilities. It is also in their interest to engage in strategic CSR and sustainable tourism practices to support local stakeholders and to safeguard their natural environment.

A sustainable CBT model would require tourism businesses to forge relationships with different stakeholders including with the government and its policymakers, suppliers, creditors, employees and customers, among others. The advancement of CBT would also necessitate that destination marketers and hospitality businesses work together, in tandem to improve their tourism product. Local stakeholders are expected to safeguard their natural environment, culture and traditions for the benefit of their communities, and for their valued tourists and visitors who would probably appreciate authentic destinations that offer unique experiences to them.

The full paper and the reference list is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/355446004_Advancing_community-based_tourism_approaches_for_the_sustainable_development_of_destinations

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