eTourism Trends from ENTER2019 conference

What could be a better place to see the latest eTourism trends (information and communication technologies in tourism) than annual ENTER-conference, organized by the International Federation of IT in Travel & Tourism. At ENTER, academics and practitioners come together to look at and discuss innovative topics in eTourism. Based on what I saw and heard during the conference, some issues seem to trend in the field at this moment.

Everything is connected, no room for silos

I feel like the three first issues presented here belong strongly together. We are witnessing a huge increase in data availability and use. All that data can be used to provide personalized recommendations and design experiences. However, it all seems to be different aspects of the same phenomenon, which is the rapid digitalization of the tourism field. This means that various parts of businesses and different stakeholders in tourism destinations need to increase collaboration, especially regarding data they have.

Participants of the ENTER2019 PhD workshop

Data, data, data

This is not a new trend, but it feels like it is becoming stronger and stronger every year. It is hard to imagine a future where data would not be important. There were excellent presentations from Austria and Slovenia that demonstrated what data can do for destination marketing and management. We are moving fast in data and knowledge-based management, both in businesses as well as in destinations. Especially calculating the impacts of tourism is getting easier and more accurate thanks to the increasing amount of data available. Data is also creating new possibilities to interact with customers and co-create value with them, for example through personalization and recommendations. The increasing importance of data also means that the tourism industry and research will need mathematicians and computer scientists to effectively utilize these new possibilities.

Personalization and recommendations

We need tools to fight information overload. When everything is digital, we start to have an abundance of options to choose from. With too many choices, it becomes almost impossible to choose the right product or service for you. If you manage to choose one, you are left wondering whether you made the right choice. This is where recommendation systems and personalization of digital services comes into play. The idea is that you found what you are looking for as easily as possible. However, different people seem to have different opinions about personalization, some find it useful whereas others hate it. Thus, also personalization needs to be personalized. All this needs data. The more data the service provider has about the traveler, the better recommendations and personalization they can create. Professor Marianna Sigala also brought up the next step in tourism marketing when we are moving from marketing for people to marketing for intelligent agents.  

eTourism trends: robots are coming!
Professor Pierre Benckendorff, me, and the tourism expert of the future

360-media is coming strong

The next step in media consumption is the transition to 360-degree video content. The internet started with text, then came pictures, and finally videos. The next step is clearly the implementation of 360-degree videos. They are starting to see wide adoption. Start-ups such as Virtual Traveller are built around 360-degree content, which is also eagerly and increasingly consumed by travelers. 360-degree media gives the tourist a good opportunity to see and feel the destination or business before traveling there, increasing trust. Our study presented at the conference found out that even though the viewing experience is a bit different depending on what kind of device is used to watch 360-degree content,

Work in tourism is changing

There were also some keynotes and studies on how work in tourism is changing because of technology. One development I am enthusiastic about is how technology is enabling women in developing countries to start and develop their own tourism businesses. The other aspect is of course automation and robots. Many consider them a threat that will take work from humans. However, professor Stanislav Ivanov pointed out that actually in developing countries birth rate is falling rapidly and societies have to find ways how to tackle the problem ageing population will soon become. Robots and automation could provide the tools to improve work efficiency. This could be a solution to the problem, especially as many are reluctant to accept foreign workers. It seems that we are only at the beginning in automatization in travel and tourism, and this will be an interesting research stream in the future.   

Destinations are becoming really smart

One of the core venues for implementing new technology in tourism is the tourism destination. I am especially interested in this topic as I am teaching destination marketing in our master’s programme. For example virtual reality is becoming a valuable tool for destination marketing. Holger Sicking from Visit Austria gave excellent examples of what is happening in digital marketing at destination level. Technology opens new segmentation and targeting options, guest surveys are now digital, analytic dashboards provide more and more real-time and actionable information, and advertisements can be designed to have a greater emotional impact. Slovenia is implementing a huge Tourism 4.0 programme in which they are for example implementing blockchain technology to create personal digital passports for tourists and to measure and manage tourism impacts in real-time.

ENTER2020, University of Surrey, UK

All in all ENTER2019 provided yet again interesting insights into eTourism trends. The conference was also very well organized, and a big thanks for that goes to EasyConferences. All the research papers presented at the conference are published in the proceedings book, and all the research notes are free to download at e-Review of Tourism Research. In 2020 ENTER will be in Surrey, UK, January 7th-10th, with me chairing the conference with the local organizers, so I hope to see you there!

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