Smart Tourism 2020

One of the seminar sessions I am running at this year’s Arabian Travel Market is called Smart Tourism 2020.  I do work in both the tourism and travel industries and there is, of course, a definite overlap between the two. I think of tourism is more about the destination, whether this is the products within the destination or simply promoting a destination’s virtues. Travel is about the whole trip of which the destination is a subset.

Destinations are typically the concern of government tourism organizations who invest in their promotion. Even though government funds are often limited due to necessary budgetary constraints there is a substantial multiplier effect to investment in tourism promotion.  An interesting study by Webber Quantitative Consulting carried out in 2014 estimated the multiplier for return on marketing investment for Australian Inbound to be between 13 and 15. That is, for every Australian Dollar invested there was a return of between 13 and 15 Dollars.

I mention this because the Internet was just made for tourism promotion.  Tourism is an inbound product.  A destination has to reach out across the globe to bring in tourists from around the world.  Pre-Internet, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) would have to choose specific overseas markets in which to promote their destinations. With the advent of the Internet, the reach of DMOs was extended to the whole world.

At the time, I believed that those DMOs that were fast enough to grasp the opportunity could become the primary tour operators for their destinations. They could position themselves as the authoritative experts on their destinations and associated tourism products.  They could put the technology in place to put the products on sale and could easily provide a whole-trip booking capability by linking to a flights provider. This never came to be. Trailblazers such as VisitScotland and VisitHolland that sought to do this, do not yet offer bookability of their product. VisitScotland provides links to accommodations’ own websites. VisitHolland links to booking.com for accommodation bookings.

So what is Smart Tourism about in the 21st Century if it is not about providing bookability?  I see it as being about the application of technology to provide a satisfying and frictionless tourism experience from the very start of the tourism life cycle, ie. researching the destination through trip planning, to the in-trip experience where tourists need the tools to access the information and services they require whilst in the destination.

In-trip tools that deliver a smart tourism experience are very simply stated from the tourist’s point of view:

  1. Low-cost, mobile data-communications, whether this is wifi or cellular.
  2. An all-embracing portal – an app or website – that brings together all the information and services the tourist needs whilst on the trip.

From the destination’s perspective, this is not simple.  For example, provisioning a citywide wireless network would require considerable investment.  Bringing service providers such as transport, attractions, and accommodation into one portal might be organisationally impossible.

The challenges of delivering a smart tourism strategy are considerable.  However, there is a large prize to be won – tourism dollars being spent in your destination rather than your competitor’s.  If the Australia Inbound example is anything to go by then the battle to deliver smart tourism is one worth fighting.

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