The International Federation for IT in Travel and Tourism (IFITT), one of the world’s leading tourism and technology organisations, hosted a workshop at the EyeForTravel Travel Distribution Summit Europe in London on 18th April 2012, centred around the cutting-edge topic of “Technology Enabled Tourism Experience Economy”.
Moderated by IFITT President Prof. Dimitrios Buhalis (Bournemouth University), experience innovation leaders from the travel, tourism and hospitality industry and academia discussed how to successfully implement information and communication technologies in order to enhance the experiences for their customers.
Barbara Neuhofer (BU eTourismLab) set the stage with a theoretical introduction to the Technology Enhanced Tourist Experience concept. The presentation was followed by Rainer Schuster (Founder, Pixtri OG), who presented a picture-based search engine to inspire consumers in the dreaming phase of their travel. Adriana Conte (Social Media Programme Manager, VisitBritain) gave insights into how VisitBritain as a national tourism organisation engage consumers through social media. This was followed by a presentation from Noel Hunwick (Owner, Inamo Restaurant London) who talked about the unique dining experience Inamo Restaurants offer to their guest through E-Table, an interactive ordering system. Two presentations from the hospitality industry followed. Carlo Fontana (General Manager, Hotel Lugano Dante) presented on how to enhance the overall guest experience in the hotel by using “High Tech for High Touch”. Finally, Marco Fanton (Social Media Director, Sol Melia Group) showed how Sol Melia Group use social media and technology to engage with and enable their guests to co-create their unique social experience of the Sol Melia brand.
The presentations from different industry perspectives revealed a number of key points of how to enhance experiences in various tourism and hospitality contexts:
1. “Experiences are co-created and technology-enhanced” (Barbara Neuhofer, Bournemouth University)
Today’s tourism experiences are increasingly co-created and technology enhanced. Consumers are now the starting point of experience creation and they are actively involved in co-creating their own personal experiences. It is critical for companies to understand the shift from staging experiences for the consumers to actively engaging consumers, establishing a dialogue with them and facilitating a space of experience creation. New technologies play a key role in this process as they empower consumers and allow creating richer experiences. Technologies accompany tourists in all stages, from the pre- to the during- and post- stages of travel. It is therefore crucial to realise the potential of technology to enhance experiences and create added value for consumers throughout all stages of the travel.
2. “A picture is worth a thousand words” (Rainer Schuster, Pixtri OG)
People have traditionally been searching for travel inspiration and ideas by using keywords. However, as practice shows, people often experience difficulty with expressing their needs in words. This is where PixMeAway comes into place with the key philosophy that pictures say more than thousands words. PixMeAway is a picture based search engine which has been developed to provide consumers a value added service in the pre-trip phase. Rainer Schuster, CEO of Pixtri OG states that this innovative technology provides consumers a new kind of travel inspiration. Consumers select appealing pictures and define their personal travel type which leads to the suggestion of a range of tourism destinations matching these criteria. Rainer emphasised that “trip planning should be fun and pictures constitute a great way to enhance the early stages of travel inspiration and planning”.
3. “Engagement is the key” (Adriana Conte, VisitBritain)
VisitBritain’s Love UK Facebook campaign has allowed the organisation to engage with a large number of fans from all around the world and to promote Britain as a tourist destination by creating a digital ‘global guest book’. As Adriana Conte, VisitBritain’s Social Media Programme Manager shows, combining geo-location and social media (Facebook Places) allows for relationships to be built between overseas tourists and UK visitor attractions. This results in increased exposure for British tourism but also for enhanced tourist experiences in all stages of travel. By ‘checking in’ to places and submitting reviews and recommendations, it is tourists themselves who build content. This can be used by organisations as a source of innovation and new ideas.
4. “Service technologies remain slow to adopt new tech but pace is quickening” (Noel Hunwick, Inamo Restaurant London)
The restaurant business is competitive, and restaurateurs increasingly need to add value through innovative approaches. The Inamo Restaurant in London has been extremely successful in doing just that by introducing E-Table, an interactive ordering system which uses a combination of table touchpads and overhead projection. As the owner Noel Hunwick explains, “the system not only offers core functionality (diners can place orders, call their waiter or order the bill) but also adds charm and theatre to the dining experience”: customers can play games, watch their food being prepared or change the ambiance of the table. Inamo have managed to successfully incorporate technology into the restaurant environment, providing their customers with a holistic immersive experience.
5. “High Tech for High Touch” (Carlo Fontana, Hotel Lugano Dante)
Guest experience constitutes the number one factor when choosing a hotel. Technology provides huge potential to enhance the overall guest experience by engaging guests and staff throughout the multiple touch points during a stay. At Hotel Lugano Dante, iPhones and iPads are used by staff on all levels of the organisation, allowing for full engagement with the guest. Starting from the guest reservation, confirmation, arrival, through restaurant visits and in-room experience, guests are provided with a fully personalised hotel experience. Carlo Fontana, GM of Hotel Lugano Dante, emphasises that “the use of technology can add real value to the service. But the service itself must be of high quality as technology on its own does not provide good service but can only be used to enhance good service.”
6. “Co-create with your audience – make them part of your conversation” (Marco Fanton, Sol Melia Group)
As far as Facebook fans are concerned, Meliá Hotels International is one of the most popular hotel brands in the world. Marco Fanton, the Social Media Director at Sol Melia, believes that following their guests on every step of their journey by engaging in conversations with them is what the Group does best. With a number of original campaigns delivered through various social media platforms, the company has recognised the power of maintaining and managing active conversations with its customers through social media. By letting their staff be part of the conversation or allowing guests to share their culinary experiences with others through various social media channels, the company creates ecosystems of people who conjointly create the brand.
IFITT President Prof. Dimitrios Buhalis says “This event with a strong input from Bournemouth University’s eTourism Lab has shown that technologies and technology enabled services are critical in developing and delivering dynamic tourism experiences.”
See photos of the event here: Flickr