Under the guidance of Dr. Robertico Croes and Dr. Manuel Rivera, six Ph.D. candidates from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida recently presented their findings from a year-long exploratory study involving Central Florida’s Bok Tower Gardens. The national historic landmark, centrally located between Tampa and Orlando in Lake Wales, served as the framework for the students’ research, which could be used in the future development of the garden attraction market.

The report, Maintaining Relevance in a Changing World, builds on past studies of the supply perspective of Bok Tower Gardens by adding a detailed exploration of the visitors’ standpoint, which has never before been analyzed at the garden attraction. The study explored the impact of the visitors’ experience on post behavioral intentions to return to the garden or to talk favorably about the attraction.

“This study is a major contribution to the garden attraction market, as it offers a dynamic approach that has never before been examined,” said Croes. “We analyzed the intangibles of the visitor experience, and learned that nature isn’t the core of their experience, but rather the medium that helps facilitate it.”

Through a variety of quantitative and qualitative techniques, the report reveals that employee performance, atmosphere, promotion and social activities, ambiance, and amenities are the five main factors that shape a visitor’s experience at the Bok Tower Gardens.

Bok Tower Gardens’ management will use the report to develop strategies to raise awareness and increase visitation for their attraction.

“We identified relevant variables and trends that influence the business, and proposed strategic and tactical planning to Bok Tower Gardens,” said Ph.D. candidate “Jenna” Seung Hyun Lee.

The unique study began as a five-stage assignment in a doctoral-level course taught by Croes, but evolved into a research partnership between the Bok Tower Gardens and the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies – the college’s research arm for public and private enterprises.

“The report was originally part of my Foundations in Hospitality and Tourism Research class, but the students and I quickly realized the potential of this unique study, and we decided to take it beyond the scope of the course,” said Croes. “We presented a research proposal to the Bok Tower Gardens’ management team, and after it was accepted, the students worked as a team to complete the study.”

Bok Tower Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Its mission is to share Edward Bok’s gift of a beautiful and serene garden with music, architecture, and nature, so that all who visit will be inspired by his vision: “Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”