What’s next for Digital Tourism?

First published Thursday, January 28, 2016

We all know that the digital world continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and with it the expectations of the consumer and client. Whether it’s social media, video, e-commerce, augmented reality, virtual reality or something else again, the technology doesn’t stand still, and the way in which it can be used is limited perhaps only by our imagination.

I’ve spent today at a conference titled ‘Adventures in Big Data’, hosted in the School of Management on the new Bay Campus of Swansea University. I admit that my knowledge and understanding of the concept of big data is basic at best, however over the course of the day, a number of presentations have given me a great deal to think about and aroused curiosity in what else may be possible.

Presentations have covered a wide range of topics and themes, from utilising data to gain greater understanding of the correlation (or not) between price and occupancy of hotel rooms by different types of customer, to the concept of a digital destination and uses for cognitive computing. Some of the statistics give pause for thought – 65% of tourists look online before deciding where to go for their holiday, and as such the digital presentation of a destination becomes increasingly important if it is to appeal to a potential customer enough to convert interest to booking. Within that it’s not just about how the destination is marketed by the tourist board or equivalent body, but the feedback that is generated by visitors against the attractions, accommodation and so on they have experienced during their holiday, something that falls very much to individual businesses to monitor and respond to.

There is another dimension to consider here as well, as suggested in another of the presentations touching on cognitive computing and technology that can determine your emotional response to something using the camera and an app on your smartphone. That particular technological advance raises many questions for me – I can see how it can be a very useful tool to determine customer engagement and response to an experience, something that would be interesting to explore in more depth, but equally I feel it has the potential to be abused if the data gathered isn’t handled with absolute integrity. Time will tell! What it does mean however, is that it becomes possible to create virtual experiences of destinations, utilising virtual reality (think Oculus Rift, 360 degree video and so on), thereby allowing a tourist to ‘experience’ somewhere without having to physically travel there. I don’t think a truly immersive experience is yet possible in this way, but I doubt it will be that long before it is, and as such, businesses used to dealing with people in person will need to think about how they can engage with and provide something of interest to ‘remote’ guests as well, and at what price (both to the consumer and their own business). Determining how to balance and blend the two however may be something of a challenge, or more positively an opportunity.

Something that has stood out from today for me has been that to take big steps forward, creating new products, or new ways of utilising technology to improve an offering, or develop an existing one, it is essential to take some risks. This isn’t exactly a ‘new’ concept, however I do wonder just how many people there are throughout Wales, and beyond, who have great ideas that they dream about bringing to reality who haven’t yet got beyond the hurdle of fear of failure, or have been unable to raise the capital needed to make it happen. We seem to live in a risk averse world at times, scared to do something that will mean others put us in the spotlight or opens us up to ridicule because we’re doing something that seems ‘strange’. The digital world is expanding constantly, and with it the opportunity to do something different, exciting and new. Sometimes these opportunities are presented as a result of technological advances, sometimes we need to get out there and create them for ourselves. We need to stop being afraid of failure – if anything, failing at something is a good thing as we can learn from it, refine the idea, improve it and make it even better (and as another presentation looking at a particular social media campaign originating in Denmark showed, getting it wrong can ultimately mean you far exceed what you had hoped to achieve, driving traffic and creating interest in your destination far beyond the original targets).

So what is next for digital tourism? As the digital world expands, the physical world becomes smaller, but the customer becomes more discerning, and ever more focussed on quality experiences. It’s not just about what you offer, but how you offer it, and why you offer it. There needs to be a real product involving real people, places and things, from which can be built the virtual product, accessible by even more people, in all kinds of places, in a multitude of ways, and the two can be ‘blended’ together to create broader experiences for an even wider market. These are exciting times, and as the Year of Adventure gathers pace in Wales, it’s a perfect time to begin a new type of adventure, creating, exploring, mapping and developing the digital tourism world.


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