Content, context, co-creation and other eTourism predictions for the next 20 years

This article by Prof. Dimitrios Buhalis, Director eTourismLab appeared on Tnooz.com

Predicting technology is a thankless task, as it changes dramatically. It becomes more complex when trying to apply it to the tourism and travel industry; an industry that is extremely volatile, fragmented and dynamic.

Nevertheless at the eTourism Lab of Bournemouth University, the team is developing a range of Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions that will engage the most cutting edge technology with the most innovative strategic management and marketing techniques in the tourism marketplace.

It is evident that the world is going to be totally interactive, using personalisation, context information and a variety of inter-connected devices to facilitate dynamic interaction. These are some of the predictions emerging through this research.

Social Transformation

Two major trends can be observed in the generation change. First, Generation X (Gen X, baby boomers born after 1950), which in 2010 had already reached 21% of the world’s population, becomes more active and enjoys travelling in their newly found leisure time. This generation is also known as ‘digital travellers’ making use of new technologies in all stages of the customer journey (mobile devices, tablets, desktop PCs etc.).

The other rising trend is ‘digital natives’ (20th century kids) growing up with technology and interacting with digital technology from early stages in all lifetime situations. Therefore, the increasing adoption of ICT by consumers will be a catalyst for changes in the tourism industry as well as for the development of sustainable strategies and lead to a competitive advantage within the market sector. This as a result, brings transparency, cocreation and interoperability in the marketplace.

Customer Co-Creation

Through extended value chains and co-creation between organisations and consumers as well as consumers with each other, the new tourism industry is evolving to one that is based on engagement and value added services, all amalgamated due to technology. Value in tourism is co-created by tourists themselves, as they engage in meaningful interactions and relationships not only with the tourism provider but also with each other. Technology will provide increasingly crucial tools that will support and facilitate tourists’ co-creation processes.

Tourism enhanced-experience with ICT

Creation of meaningful and memorable experiences constitutes a key concept in today’s tourism industry. Integrating emerging technologies in consumers’ everyday lives and travel activities will be critical in order to facilitate successful tourism experiences throughout all stages and touch points of travel. Research will deliver key knowledge of how to strategically use technology as a source of innovation, strategic differentiation and competitive advantage.

The tourism industry will benefit from creating high-touch technology-enhanced tourism experiences in the future by empowering customer co-creation, one-to-one engagement and personalisation.

Content & Context

Content will still be ‘king’ in the future as it is essential to convince potential tourists. However content presentation and amalgamation will change fundamentally. The power of pictures transmitting authentic experiences made in a tourism destination, hotel or any tourism attraction is what tourists are striving for.

Videos and increasingly interactive videos will also be of critical importance to demonstrate the experience and narrate the story. For tourism players, it will be more essential than ever to build up a strong online marketing strategy to (re-)position the brand on the web and at the same time meet the customer’s needs. Consumer generated context will be so much more powerful and convincing.

Therefore, a two-pronged strategy will be vital. On the one hand it will be needed to spread media rich data on different social media channels/platforms and on the other, to curate user-generated content on the tourism organisation platform and enrich it with unique content to make it more valuable and personalised.

New features such as private cloud computing, internet TV and face/pattern/image recognition will provide more exciting ways for interaction and visualisation.

Social Media, Location Based and Mobile (SoLoMo) Marketing

SoLoMo marketing is increasingly becoming a critical and pivotal tool for tourism marketing. It combines social media, location and context based marketing as well as mobile devices. Interactions are no longer bound by the constraints of stationary computers, as they are becoming digital real-time experiences at a physical location. SoLoMo represents a powerful opportunity in the field of social commerce, allowing marketers to serve better today’s multi-channel, multi-experience consumer.

Service of Now and Real Time

Enabled by social media and mobile internet devices, travellers are sharing their experiences, opinions and sentiments about products and brands during the consumption stage. Therefore, monitoring the social media sphere, and responding to or proactively engaging with the customer, becomes critical for competitiveness. This includes instant adaptation and personalization of services, immediate recovery of service failures and pro-active development of customer surprises and delights on the spot; all based on real-time social media input. This so-called ‘Service of Now’ concept will require employees across the company to drive social media engagement.

The industry will see a shift towards greater agility and flexibility of service operations, flattening of corporate hierarchies and increasing empowerment of front-line employees.

Augmented Reality and Gaming

Together with NOW, enhancing the environment with highly relevant, personalized and contextualized content is a fundamental to creating meaningful and unique destination experiences. Intelligent, location-based and context-aware Augmented Reality (AR) information systems are a key in realizing this vision. AR has the potential to augment a number of important activities, as well as different types of environments (hotels, parks, airports) and services (entertainment, education). Further research will deliver fundamental knowledge regarding the successful design, development and implementation of effective AR information services which disappear in the background but at the same time are constantly aware about the needs, motivations and attitudes of tourists.

In this context, mobile gaming will also play an important role providing the opportunity to immerse the tourist on-site throughout exciting storytelling and role-playing, challenges and social interaction with other players. AR in combination with gaming will open more opportunities for tourists and visitors: to engage with a destination and its history, architecture, heritage and traditions; to interact not only with the physical surroundings but also with other people (residents and visitors). By challenging the player throughout the destination visit, an AR gameplay can merge the virtual and physical worlds and enhance the tourist experience in a fun and enjoyable, but more importantly memorable and unique way.

Online reputation and E-Branding

The internet has transformed brand management in travel and tourism. To a large extent, it has shifted the brand creation that for so many years worked in favour of brand managers. However, with the interactive power of social media, more business to consumer, consumer to consumer engagements and dialogues are further encouraged.

Successful brand management in Web 2.0 is not conducted by brand managers alone, but instead co-created through on-going interactions among brand users so that establishing a common understanding of the brand concept. Stories about travel brands, products and services that are posting and sharing by travellers in social media create a central concern for tourism providers who try to manage their online reputation. Successful online reputation management in Web 2.0 and social media, require tourism providers to carefully curate the content available in their own platforms, for instance, official website in Facebook and Twitter, regularly monitoring content, and systematically monitoring all forms of social media such as third party online review websites.

It is evident that the world is moving real fast, with interconnectivity between systems, proximity marketing and context driving a range of these changes. However it is critical to remember that it is not about technology but about value generated, packaged and delivered to the right customer, at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price. Technology enables the interactivity, engagement and co-creation of this but it is fundamental to focus on the needs of the consumer, co-create the experience and ensure that all stakeholders work in harmony together. A small task considering the challenges, unpredictability and dynamic nature of both tourism and technology.

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