Professor Dimitrios Buhalis of Bournemouth University was recently elected as the President of the International Federation of Information Technology for Travel & Tourism (IFITT) (www.ifitt.org). TravelDailyNews interviewed Professor Buhalis in Beijing China during the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Summit.
TravelDailyNews: How is Technology going to affect the future of tourism?
Dimitrios Buhalis: Technology has been critical for all aspects of life during the last ten years and it has been demonstrating that Tourism Organisations and destinations that can embrace and engage productively with the whole range of technological developments will be able to achieve competitive advantage.
What we see is that now technology adoption in the tourism industry is inevitable and essential. We find that some key players are now really advanced and they are delivering great information and online services on their online channels.By immigrating a lot of their offline services to online they can serve their customers better and also reduce their operating costs and improving their productivity. This is more evident during the crisis periods, such as the recent volcano ash troubles that those that had technology were in a position to serve their clientele better.
TDN: How can technology actually develop experiences?
D.B: This is one of the latest developments that we’ll find in the tourism industry because gradually we see marketing going towards experiential marketing. It is all about what experiences can we create and what feelings we can induce. I am expecting that a lot of organisations will actually use technology to demonstrate what kind of experience they can deliver to their customers and what is their core product and the core services they can offer. This needs to be matched with the requirements of their customer. This can be easily demonstrated particularly for specific markets such as the accessible tourism, as especially for people with disabilities or the elderly population there is a need to know exactly what kind of experiences they can have in a particular place and also what are the barriers that they may face in having these experiences. TIn this case technology is absolutely critical in determining how consumers can engage with the product and deliver the promised experiences.
TDN: In the Summit here we talked a lot about social networking, what do you think is the future of social networking for the tourism industry?
DB.: Actually we see that onlinesocial networking is becoming the new area of competition especially for marketing. This is a totally new and innovative area because the consumer is so empowered. Social networking enables consumers to organize themselves and influence other consumers. They effectively deal with international brands, or any tourism brands for that matter, online. What we find is that increasingly if consumers like your brand and they see value and benefits they will come online to complement you and make sure that all their friends and relatives and everybody who is on their social networking circle will actually hear about these good experiences and get a positive response. This is new form basically of word of mouth but it’s on a global base, utterly transparent and permanent. It’s not based on local communities and is penetrating communities with similar interest globally. That’s why it’s extremely powerful.
The main issue is of course that social networking cannot be controlled by organizations. Quite often organisations find it difficult to deal with their reputation online because they don’t take the proper measures and they may run into danger that their brands may suffer from bad reputation. I have been conducting several interesting seminars recently on the topic of online reputation and I’m presenting in conferences how organisations can actually use networks such as Trip Advisor or Facebook or Twitter to enhance their reputations.
These social networking media are actually media and people are reporting on their experience. If they have a good experience it’s very likely that they’ll report that and others they’ll enjoy their reviews and they would like to try the product. If they have got a negative experience it is quite likely that they will come forward and they’ll say I had a really bad experience and something has to be done to this problem. Tourismorganisations that need to manage their online reputation they’ve got to be able to engage with their customer and they should be able to use complaint management and crisis management in order to deal the complaints.
TDN: What is especially the effect of Twitter on the tourism industry?
DB.: Well Twitter is a new social networking micro-blogging site that enables people to communicate anything about now. Twitter is absolutely critical about communicating thing that they are happening now and especially during the crisis, like the volcanic crisis or the snow crisis earlier this year or any kind of crisis. Twitter is fundamental in engaging conversation with customers and let customers know what is your latest information as it happens. Also Twitter enables consumers to update other consumers on critical matters and critical issues. So, for example when I was stuck in Barcelona during the volcano issue I was following several key words on Twitter to see when Heathrow Airport will open and which are the first flight that is going to go out. Twitter is / phenomenally useful for these things and is the power of the consumer again informing other consumers and engaging this conversation in filtering information about particular hashtags or particular topics in one channel. It is also fantastic for promoting special offers and events that happen now and for creating a public dialogue with stakeholders. Increasingly tweets are search engine optimized and this needs special care as comments and tweets will be easily found in Google. I think the tourism industry will have phenomenal success if they can use Twitter effectively.
TDN: So, to conclude what are the key trends that you see in the future?
D.B.: Well, the key trends that I see in the future is context base services where technology will understand what is your context, where you are, how you are there, with whom are you there, what do you suppose to do and thing like that. So, context base services will be absolutely critical for the future organisations. Some other trends will be total networking on different platforms and that will enable tourism organisations to engage in conversations with all stakeholders using a whole range of platforms from mobiles to different devices to laptops and to normal computers. We see that the perverseness of the internet will dominate. The internet will be everywhere and people will be connected 24/7 and that will engage people on a constant basis and will require an instant answer. That will be a huge challenge especially for smaller organisations and I think this is critical. There are several things that you see around the world demonstrating that technology is moving things forward. For example in a recent visit in a hotel in Beijing there was no reception. The hotel agents were welcoming guests wherever they were coming, wherever they were in the hotel area and they were checking them in there and then, giving them their key and welcoming them to th hotel. So, they wouldn’t expect the customer to go to the reservation desk, because the reservation agent or the hotel agent was going to where the customer was. And we’ll see a lot of innovations that will be emerging in the near future. The problem is of course a lot of the tourism industry is very traditional and is not moving things very forward.
TDN: As the new President of IFITT how do you see IFITT moving things forward and what is your role going to be?
D.B.: I am very privileged to lead IFITT. IFITT is an Organisation of tourism and technology experts from around the world, it’s an established network, it’s a research enabled network and it supports organizations to see cutting edge tourism technology developments. Now IFITT is going to do what has been doing for the last almost 20 years, but it’s going to do it better and will be more focused by bringing closer together more researches with industry people to discuss the cutting edge issues and create innovations. This will take forward the eTourism utilization and their competitiveness. We established the event of ENTER eighteen years ago and is going to take place back in Innsbruck next year and we will have the opportunity to discuss a lot of those things there. IFITT is a catalyst of a lot of movement in this area because it brings together professions from around the world and is engaging this conversation on innovation and excellence and that’s what’s IFITT will be doing, innovation and excellence in eTourism.