We all want to understand where the world is going. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of tourism is more obscured than ever before. Some sense to all of this can be found by talking and listening to various stakeholders in the industry. I had the pleasure to do that in January 2021 by organizing (I am an IFITT board member) and participating in #ENTER21 eTourism conference, organized by IFITT. Based on what I heard and saw at the conference I have identified some insights into future tourism industry trends from technology (eTourism) perspective.
The tourism industry is facing completely new challenges now and in the near future. There is no doubt that collaboration on a completely new level is needed to match these challenges. For example, digital vaccination pass to allow travelling within travel bubbles requires collaboration from many tourism stakeholders such as airlines, destinations, technology providers, travel agents and many others. Information needs of tourists have increased considerably and collaboration is needed to provide tourists with the information they need in a way they want to consume information. Academics have much to give in finding out how we can build better tourism after the pandemic and collaboration is needed to take research results into policy and business decisions. Some researchers are calling for tourism de-growth and slow and sustainable rebuild of the industry. However, it seems that most stakeholders want to see tourism grow back to earlier numbers as quickly as possible. Destinations suffering from overtourism before the pandemic are the ones that are are now findings ways to rebuilt tourism back in a bit different way than what it was before. It is nonetheless obvious that almost every destination is looking for some kind of bounce back. The common goal should make collaboration easier, but it is nonetheless important to listen to other opinions. Recent Dasgupta review states that the costs of human actions to nature should be accounted for in the prices of products and services. If this is applied to tourism, it should drive tourism quality instead of numbers.
Strong tourism demand
Various studies presented at the conference demonstrated that consumers are, first and foremost, afraid of the COVID-19 virus and the situation will not return to normal even if travel restrictions would be lifted. Only by making tourism safe again rebound is possible. I was nonetheless surprised to see for example from STR data, that there is a surprisingly big market of tourists who do not care at all about the virus when making travel decisions. If travel restrictions would be lifted, there would certainly be fast growth in tourism numbers even if the COVID-19 situation would get worse. There are quite many tourists who could not care less about the virus and these will also be the ones that are first in line to book a holiday when travel restrictions are eased.
We have the tools for sustainability but are reluctant to use them
Professor Sara Dolnicar presented the results of many academic studies relating to experiments in sustainable tourism. The research has demonstrated many ways to have more sustainable tourism services such as hotels and restaurants without any negative sides. Reducing water consumption, cleaning needs, food waste, and electricity consumption without compromising customer experience is actually quite easy to do with small changes to the hospitality company. I was quite surprised to find out about professor Dolnicars experiences that businesses are reluctant to adopt these innovations even though it is easy and proved to work well. If every hotel and restaurant would hear her presentation and adopt the changes, it would have a tremendous sustainability impact globally.
Resilience and technology
One of the issues I have always had with eTourism research is that there doesn’t seem to be an underlying goal for the research community. Resilient tourism ecosystems and how technology can be used to make tourism more resilient to shocks that are waiting for us in the future could definitely be one important direction for eTourism research. The tourism ecosystem was, in the end, quite vulnerable to COVID-19 and it decimated the whole ecosystem. This cannot happen again. For eTourism researchers, one of the main questions then becomes how technology can support resilience in tourism. Probably smart tourism research has a lot to give to this topic. Building up resilient tourism ecosystems should not be only a research trend but also a tourism industry trend.
Quality vs quantity
Tourism ecosystem is build around huge numbers. Business models are dependent on filling in the planes, trains, hotels, and restaurants to the last seat. Probably for the next several years this business model is threatened. Tourism needs to develop more quality-based business models, but for that also tourism demand needs to change. We are seeing some changes now as tourists are preferring places without large crowds, but how long that will last is another question. In the long run tourism needs to change to be more valuable, quality based industry, but how that can be done for 2 billion tourists is a big question mark. Could technology help to achieve that?
Research is needed
The decisions made now resonate far into the future. These decisions, also in tourism, need to be based on knowledge as much as possible. That is why the academic community has so much to give for the tourism industry. The research presented at the conference discussed and provided insights for many topics in information and communication technologies in tourism, especially regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. It is easy to see why scientific knowledge is valuable especially during these times. One of the best things about this year’s conference is that all the research presented at the conference can be downloaded and read for free at https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-65785-7!
This book also has two papers from me and my colleagues and we have also presented the papers on Youtube videos! In the first paper, we look at the slow tourism phenomenon through a netnographic analysis of a Facebook community whose members are interested in travelling by land. The results provide interesting insights into slow tourism in Europe and especially travelling by trains and busses in Europe. Watch the presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNduRVwggcQ
In the second paper, we examine the perceptions of destination marketers about measuring the success of social media marketing. The results demonstrate how difficult social media marketing measurements are still to connect to the destination marketing strategy goals. Watch the presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep3PKcgjV4o
Reflections on past tourism industry trends
Two years ago I wrote a similar kind of blog post from ENTER2019 conference. It is nice to reflect on the development that has happened since then. The trends I identified then are actually now even more topical because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism work has definitely changed and automation is breaking through. 360-media and virtual reality have been used as alternative business models for many tourism businesses. With COVID-19 trackers data has become even more valuable than what it was before. I would say that ENTER-conference is a fantastic place to identify where the eTourism field is moving! Or then just read my blog. 🙂
How do the trends look like? Do you agree or disagree? Is there something I am missing? Leave a reply below.
I study how changes in technology and consumer behaviour affect tourism marketing. Professor of Tourism Business at University of Eastern Finland and IFITT President.