One of the best places to understand the state of digitalization in tourism is the annual ENTER conference. It provides a unique overview of what people from all over the world are doing in the field of eTourism, what are the current issues and latest developments. This year, ENTER2018 was organized in Jönköping, Sweden. The conference is basically divided into two tracks, academia and industry. This means that the participants can choose from a wide range of presentation the ones that fit their thirst for knowledge the best.
Academics and eTourism
This year the cutting edge academic topics were virtual reality, gamification, sharing economy, crowdsourcing, coopetition, information search, travel behaviour, social media, mobile tourism, data mining, sentiment analysis, recommender systems, education/learning, and big data. As you can see, there is a lot of information here! All the participants receive the Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism book, which has all the papers that the presentations are based on. Great reading for anyone interested in eTourism!
There were also some topical keynotes in the conference from academic experts. We enjoyed learning how the Hat makes it possible for us to own our own data in the online world and use that data any way we please instead of just giving different platforms ownership of our data. Katarina Graffman brought some sense into the world of data by stressing how important understanding humans in a deeper level is. Technology is fundamentally changing human behaviour and understanding this change is of utmost importance for academics as well as businesses.
Rotem Shenor gave an excellent overview of what crowdfunding is and what is the scale of the phenomenon as well as several examples of how it is used in tourism. It provides a novel way to collect investments through the crowds and for example in Finland skiing centres have used this to sell their winter passes cheaper when there have been more backers.
Digitalization in the tourism industry
We had excellent keynotes from many industry speakers. Technology that allows us to analyze the world cognitively is developing rapidly. It is amazing how fast technology is developing on this front with IBM Watson already used in many places and companies all over the world. This kind of technology is the key to create smart tourism destinations and ecosystems as the data from these systems can be analyzed only with the help of technology.
We also heard about the latest developments in how teleoperators utilize the data created by their customers. Tracking mobile phones locations allows teleoperators to know where international tourists go to, where they stay the night and which places they visit during their trips. This data is also a part of smart tourism destination development as it provides almost real-time information about tourism flows.
STR Research is using digitalization to collect a wide range of data from hotels from all over the world. They have a fantastic database that academics can use to help the industry solve topical problems. Steve Hood showed many interesting examples how STR data has been used in the past and what kind of problems we can tackle with it. This was also a starting point to bridge the gap between academia and industry, something that the ENTER conference has always aimed to do. It is clear that both parties are interested in co-operation, but the means to do that are still far from perfect.
Summary of eTourism in 2018
Based on what I heard at the ENTER 2018, some eTourism trends can be seen as prominent. First of all, we are finally understanding that the customer experience is the central concept in tourism digitalization. Digitalization contributes mostly to three different business areas in tourism: creating customer value throughout the customer journey, making new business models possible, as well as improving business efficiency. We are talking a lot about big data, optimization and measurements, but it was great to hear from Katarina Graffman that we should not forget about the people. eTourism is actually all about the people: the customer and the people working in the organization. It is also obvious that technology is now finally starting to be on the level that smart tourism destinations are becoming a reality.
Reducing household food waste in tourism
I was also happy to present the results of our research on what kind of research agenda is needed to reduce household food waste in tourism, a research conducted together with my colleagues Jamie Murphy, Ulrike Gretzel, Anna-Liisa Elorinne and Kirsi Silvennoinen. In this study, we identified four research topics to be explored in the future in order to understand the phenomenon better.
Enter conferences are not only places to learn and meet the best minds in eTourism, but there are also many opportunities to have fun. In Jönköping, we had great dinners, there were many opportunities to enjoy the city and participate in a big bowling part. Next year, ENTER2019 will be organized in Nicosia, Cyprus and it will definitely be yet again a great place to be for everyone interested in eTourism.
I study how changes in technology and consumer behaviour affect tourism marketing. Professor of Tourism Business at University of Eastern Finland and IFITT President.