How technology can contribute to more sustainable future of tourism?

The economic importance of tourism globally is recognized. It creates jobs and some places are dependent on it. In recent years its impacts and development have been discussed although these tend to stay behind the focus on the economic benefits. Tourism has negative environmental and socio-economic impacts, and the industry needs to find a balance between the level of economic growth, environmental conservation and socio-cultural impacts. 1 United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was represented in 2015. Tourism was clearly mentioned in goals 8 (decent work & economic growth), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 14 (life below water). 2 The development and role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become evident in tourism, and it is an especially significant player in the implementation of the SDGs in the industry. 3 This blog explains how technology can contribute to sustainable tourism by helping to achieve SDG’s!

The relationship between tourism, technology and sustainable development

Four stages of ICT development can be differentiated in tourism: opportunity, disruption, immersion and usurpation. These stages enabled things like computerized reservation systems, global distribution systems, websites of tourism companies, speed and easiness of reservations, and price competition. Through these stages, ICT became an evident part of the everyday life of many consumers. We use social media and innovations like Airbnb.4 ICT systems are widely used in tourism to support important activities in tourism, like accommodation, transportation and communication benefitting both suppliers and tourists. The adoption of them has been affected by changing the competitive scope. 5

Photo by Danila Hamsterman on Unsplash

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by United Nations consist of 17 goals related to for example environmental conservation, climate, equality and poverty alleviation. According to the UN, “tourism can and must play a significant role in delivering sustainable solutions for people, the planet, prosperity and peace” and it “has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly to all of the goals”. 2 The broad categories, in which the 17 SDGs for tourism can be grouped under, are economic (Goals 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), environment (Goals 6, 13, 14, 15), social-cultural (Goals 2, 3, 4, 5, 16) and governance (Goal 17). 3 ICT innovations in turn are often perceived as socially enriching and supportive of the SDGs. 4 Below are listed three things enabled by technology and how these contribute to the SDG’s!

Sharing economy platforms

 Let’s start with a small bite. A potential contributor to a sustainable future with promising outcomes for SDGs is the sharing economy with its platforms widely used in tourism enabled by technology, like Airbnb and Couchsurfing. These platforms may enhance for example cultural learning and intercultural friendships and economic sustainability by providing access to the market for people from developing countries, women entrepreneurs and empowering small or rural businesses. It can be said that platforms provide access to underutilized resources, generate employment and could reduce resource consumption. 6 Thus, sharing economy platforms could contribute to multiple SDG’s 2:  no poverty (1), gender equality (5), decent work & economic growth (8), industry innovation and infrastructure (9), sustainable cities & communities (11) and responsible consumption & production (12).

Tools for DMOs

 Applying ICTs in destination management can boost sustainable tourism. Information and communication technologies can help destination management organizations (DMOs) in their work for sustainable tourism development by enabling several applications or tools that can be used for information management, fulfilling tourist satisfaction, supporting community participation, and trying to manage energy usage and its impacts, among others. These include for example Destination Management systems (DMS), Environment Management Information Systems (EMIS), Location Based Services (LBS), Community Informatics (CI), virtual tourism and carbon calculators. 7 ICTs can also offer new distribution channels and raise the level of communication and interaction with and between stakeholders. They have a major role in information collection, analyzation, management and distribution. They help to measure impacts, monitor and report. 8

Photo by Windows on Unsplash

One of the most important tools for destination managers for supporting efforts in sustainable tourism development is Destination Management Systems (DMS) which can be used for actions such as information management, marketing, resource management and tourist education. Environment Management Information Systems (EMIS) helps tourism planning and decision-making by offering valuable data on tourism impacts at the destination and monitoring emissions and waste management. Location Based Services (LBS) provide information on tourists’ specific locations helping destination management in terms of informing the tourists about sites and attractions to visit and educating them about sensitive locations, appropriate tourist behavior and sustainable choices in the destination. Community Informatics (CI) can be used to aid community engagement, heritage and tradition preservation, interpretation, community cohesion and education of tourists. It includes community involvement in decisions regarding tourism development and planning at the destination. Virtual Tourism (VT) in turn offers a new option for experiencing tourism products or service offerings. It can reduce the degradation of attractions by reducing tourist numbers and providing information about the destination leading to positive environmental impacts. Finally, a carbon calculator is a product innovation that informs tourists about their carbon footprint before and during their trip. 8 The use of technology-based tools in destination management help to achieve at least the SDGs 2 of reduced inequalities (10), sustainable cities & communities (11), responsible consumption & production (12), climate action (13), life on land (14) and partnerships for the goals (17).

Empowerment of local communities

ICTs can have significant direct and indirect impacts on the local community. Tourism literature has emphasized local communities as a key resource for sustainable tourism development, indicating the importance of their inclusion and involvement of them. Tourism, often utilizing the natural and cultural heritage of the communities, is important for community development and poverty alleviation offering employment also to women. With the help of ICTs, it is possible for small businesses to promote and manage their business and bookings. In addition to economic benefits for locals, it enables benefits such as skills development, better access to education, exposure to the world outside the community and strengthened confidence and community engagement. For example, the research found that ICTs had a big role in community development in Malaysia. The use of ICTS in homestay accommodations enabled the community more opportunities for education and ICT training. The local community learnt to use the various booking platforms for accommodation. Communities could improve their access to higher education and skills in hospitality due to the success of the business enabled by ICTs. In addition, with access to the internet the locals were able to educate themselves about environmental conservation. 9

Photo by Adismara Putri Pradiri on Unsplash

Wrap up

The use of ICT is not new in tourism, but it could be said, that the use for trying to move towards sustainable tourism is.8 For tourism, technology has enabled innovations and phenomena, such as sharing economy platforms, tools for destination management and empowerment of local communities. These contribute to several SDG’s aiming at poverty reduction, creating employment, economic growth and battle against inequality, simply a more sustainable future. Technology-based tools used by DMO’s help to tackle environmental issues in destinations and make their work more efficient and effective. Involvement of ICTs in tourism has been important, especially for local communities of destination as those help in support and inclusion of local communities in decisions, education of both locals and tourists, and provides opportunity and help to communities to preserve and share their local cultures and languages. The negative impacts of tourism can be mitigated with the help of ICT. 7

United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals some years ago and stated that tourism can contribute to all of the goals. The application of technology for tourism and hospitality can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. This blog post gives only some examples. The recovery of COVID-19 is, by the way, a unique opportunity in the tourism industry to evaluate the supporting role of tourism in the achievement of SDGs with the use of technology. 3 Could we say that technology is the way to sustainable tourism? At least it is safe to say that it is one of those that will get us there.

Sources

  1. Ali, A. & Frew, A.J. 2014. ICT for sustainable tourism: a challenging relationship? Information Technology & Tourism 14, 261–264. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40558-014-0020-x
  2. Tourism for SDGS 2021. Tourism & Sustainable Development Goals. [Tourism for SDGS website] Referenced on 15.12.2021. https://tourism4sdgs.org/tourism-for-sdgs/tourism-and-sdgs/
  3. Ali, A., Rasoolimanesh, S.M. & Cobanoglu, C. 2020. Editorial – Technology in Tourism and Hospitality to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology,11(2), 177-181. DOI:10.1108/JHTT-05-2020-146
  4. Gössling, S. 2021. Tourism, technology and ICT: a critical review of affordances and concessions. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 29(5), 733-750. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2021.1873353
  5. Morais, E., Cunha, C., Sousa, J. & Santos, A. 2016. Information and communication technologies in tourism: Challenges and trends. Paper presented at 27th IBIMA Conference, 4-5 May 2016, Milan, Italy.
  6. Gössling, S & Hall, C.M. 2019. Sharing versus collaborative economy: how to align ICT developments and the SDGs in tourism? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 27(1), 74-96. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2018.1560455
  7. Ali, A. & Frew, A. 2010. ICT and its Role in Sustainable Tourism Development. Paper presented at the ENTER 2010: 17th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism, 10-12 February 2010, Lugano, Switzerland.
  8. Ali, A. & Frew, A.J. 2014. Technology innovation and applications in sustainable destination development. Information Technology and Tourism 14, 265–290.
  9. Gan, S., Inversini, A & Rega, I. 2018. Tourism, Development and Digital Technologies: Insights from Malaysian Homestays. In: Stangl, B. & Pesonen, J. (eds.) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2018. Cham: Springer, 52-63.
  10. Roztocki, N., Soja, P. & Weistroffer, H.R. 2019. The role of information and communication technologies in socioeconomic development: towards a multi-dimensional framework. Information Technology for Development, 25(2), 171-183. DOI: 10.1080/02681102.2019.1596654

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Tourism Think Tank 2019 – Day 1

#DTTT 2019 What did I learn?

 

I had a great possibility to participate in Digital Tourism Think Tank Global 2019 on 4rd and 5th of December, which this year took place in Espoo. DTTT Global is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting conferences as it gathers a bunch of tourism DMO’s and other professionals to hear the latest innovations and good practices made around the globe. As it was my first time in participating anything this big of an event, it was a great chance for me to test what I have learned during my year in UEF Master’s Degree studies and put that knowledge in practice.

The overall impression from the two days was, well, impressive! Both days were all about technology and digitalization, but the theme was viewed from different angles; the first day was all about how technology can be used in sustainable destination design and the second-day topic was all about AI and digitalization. We saw great examples from around the globe on how to do things a bit different view. The repetition, which still rings in my ears, was: DMO’s role is shifting, DMO’s role is changing. I will try to cover a few examples of how this topic emerged during those two days. You can see the whole program and key take-aways here

DMO’s shifting role – What’s this about?

Traditionally DMO, a Destination marketing organization, focuses on MARKETING. Building a brand, getting the stakeholders together, promoting the place and focusing on tourism flows. However, in most presentations, you could hear how DMO role was merged as DMMO (destination marketing management organization) or DxO where x stands for anything that the future holds for us and tourism organizations must be ready to modify their actions on how the digitalization and travel behavior change. As written in the article at Atta.travel

“A DxO is better-equipped to manage disruptive business methodologies, to pivot when it comes to times of change and to be agile in the face of challenges. For example, A DMO in a time of water shortages cannot simply sit back and continue to market a destination as if oblivious to the challenge faced by locals and, ultimately, visitors. A DXO tackles the challenge head-on, collaborating with relevant bodies in the private and public sector to drive tangible change, having a positive impact on the very environment in which tourism takes place.”

As the growth of tourism flows has not only had a positive effect, UNWTO, (United Nation’s World Tourism Organization) has instructed DMO’s not only to focus on marketing and sales but also to the elements of government and coordination towards collaboration. Therefore, DMO – or should I say – DxO’s role is constantly shifting towards more holistic governance of the area and tourism flows.

So, how this is seen in practice?

Case: East Iceland

I was impressed by the work done in East Iceland (Austurland) and in the Faroe Islands on how they have managed to do collaborative work together with the locals, aiming at the commitment and destination loyalty and most importantly – that the locals are proud of their destination. East Iceland current destination strategy and branding building process started in 2012 when they got familiar with Swedish Destination Designer Daniel Byström. Two years later East Iceland DMO together with Byström started to blueprint the touchpoints and putting the stakeholders in the center of the whole design process.

They did a lot of workshops and interviews with local residents and formed a brand tagline “Think outside of the circle” referring e.g. to the circle (1-road) going around Iceland and from which you have to deviate from to get in most of these cities in East Iceland. (I accidentally visited Seydisfjördur and Egilsstadir in 2017, as we were circling the ring road and thought on do a day-trip to this city, and especially first mentioned it is worth stopping by!). They build a strong brand around local people, around emotions and storytelling. The brand was build and communicated openly with stakeholders and local people. The brand mission is as follows:

Our mission

“We are communicating experiences and emotions with a personal the approach that inspires and surprises the audience, while working with every visitor, resident, and company as a part of the Austurland story”

I think they have done a splendid job in brand building and designing collaboratively with visitors and locals. They’ve managed to build up the communal spirit and “proudness” towards their homeplace. One great example from creating value together was one walking road to church, which became a “landmark” of Saydisfjördur after a bit of a fine-tuning. The story behind it was that there wasn’t enough money to repair the old brick road. Therefore, instead of repairing the road, they painted the road with rainbow colors together with residents and local artists.

(Source: María Hjálmarsdóttir & Daniel Byström’s presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

I think this is a great example of DMO’s shifting role: instead of just marketing, DMO’s role is also bringing local people together, coordinate and encouraging and committing them to build up a destination in where they are proud to live alongside tourists.

Case: Faroe Island

Another marvelous example from that what DMO could do with literally 0-budget – do it as they do in Faroe Island – Do it viral. It was ridiculous to see how many viral hits the Faroe Islands got just being creative. Google Sheep View and Faroe Islands Translate have got. However, it is not all. Collaboratively with locals, they built up a strategy and a brand “Preservolution” – aiming not to have over-tourism, but sustainable tourism.

Unique and authentic experiences are in the focus, instead of mass-events. As for one another example, they did a one-day event where the stage was in private homes. Over 20 concerts in local’s home sound like an experience you can’t get from anywhere else!

However, after successful viral hits and events, it became clear that not everyone wanted Faroe Island as a playground for tourists. Tourists were not always welcome and landowners mind their land to getting ruined by a tourist. Added to that, complicated legislation was ambiguous in topics liability and who takes care of the land if tourists “ruin” it. It created opposition within landowners creating their way of doing things and creating e.g. cash per visit -systems

(Source: Levi Hanssen’s & Jóhan Pauli Helgason’s presentation on DTTT 4.12.)

For that, they built up an idea: Closed for Maintenance – open for voluntourism. The whole country is closed from “ordinary” tourists but open for volunteers who construct and help locals to preserve nature. Collaboratively with locals landowners, local people and tourists they build more sustainable destination and have less annoyance from residents towards tourism. All these actions created by a DMMO of Faroe Island created proudness towards the home country, and willingness to move back and do things for it. More importantly, it connected people to do things together with tourists and destination stakeholders. Another great example of DMO’s shifting role.

Wrap up #DTTT Day 1

This was just a scratch from Day 1 of DTTT. After the first day, my head was filled with ideas and I got the same inspirational feel what I got after their presentations and immediately I started to compose ideas: Could we do something similar in Finland and around Saimaa Region? Maybe we can start a project around these issues to develop a strong place brand around Lake Saimaa and ECoC –process, to build a stronger feel towards the place – for example. Do open workshops and interviews and build a strong destination brand and strategy around Lakeland and Saimaa region. Well, even these cases could not be modeled in these contexts; the key thing for me was realizing how wide scope DMO has to control. I do not envy you guys, who are doing this as your daily job!

For me, these two above-mentioned presentations were the ones, which stood up from the ground from the first day, as there were many touchpoints where I could relate. Not to say that other presentations were bad – the opposite! For example, Lyon have done a great job as a sister “smart city” to Helsinki on the year 2019 in connecting technology to culture by creating a “visitor database” which is shared by the entire destination stakeholders to maintain loyalty and understanding visitors better and communicating with them, referring visitors nearby activities during city visit. That’s how you use technology to create collaboration with destination stakeholders!

(Source: Camille Lenoble & Blandine Thenet presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

Finally: Finland as a sustainable and smart destination – how are we doing?

I cannot end the post without mention our dear beloved Finland. I was proud to see how good work we’ve done in Finland. Comparing to strategies, sustainable travel goals and such things that were seen during the few days. The place, Dipoli in Espoo was a great spot for this kind of event. Espoo in many ways surprised me with all the tech innovations that the “happiest city in the happiest country” had come up to. Automatic transportation pilot Gacha, Uber-style boat on-demand –service Bout, Airbnb-style rent your boat – SkipperiAutomated helicopters which deliver food just to mention a few examples to which I immediately could see business models in Saimaa region as well.

We are ahead in building a sustainable tourism destination, where e.g. MyHelsinki has focused on by encouraging stakeholders to act more sustainable. However, to be frank, in Finland collaborative work still needs some work to do – but we are slowly getting there and seeing the benefits of what we could achieve by creating and innovating our tourism flows sustainably and responsibly. This is also a recognized problem by Visit Finland and noticed in for example in a report where they dive deep to examine the operating models of Finnish tourism agencies (in Finnish).

When we identify and speak out from our problems, it is much easier to solve and develop them together.

Read more about the event on my Day two recap.

Complexity of academic research

To understand the world

I’ve started my university (academic research) studies this autumn. I´m 32 years old, and I like my age. At least for me, the somewhat life experience gives a better feeling in this rather complex overall feeling that I am having at the moment. I will get back to this later.

I’ve realized the complexity of dealing with academic research and creating my personal content into it, in this world of “no- black and white, “no- single wrong or right”- dilemmas of academic studies in general. This is not totally new founding for me – but now I am really in this in practice, because of my master degree studies in Tourism marketing and management programme.

Accepting, and using common sense

Recently I asked from my professor during one lectures discussion – How I can know whether it is fine or correct to use some “basic” theory as a background of some subject from what I’m trying to write about, or not?  She answered (looking at me first with the facial expression of “exactly- good question, but…” and then she gave me and the group the answer of her that there is no clear answer for this, you need to use your common sense in these cases for making your decisions and choices.

I´m little surprised that it feels so disturbing for me, (or whoever involved in the academic research), that it is, at least usually, very hard to find the one and only truth or theory for some subject or theme that we are studying. I happen to be quite flexible and highly spontaneous personality myself.  So it makes it even weirder. I come back to my age-thing. Because of it, and maybe other reasons too, I’m still very happy not to be stressing this issue too much. I’m fine with it, I understand that I’m not alone with it, – I’m just reflecting it.

Dreaming about getting that absolute truth out…

Though I’m very curious to know, whether I’m actually capable at some point during my studies to get use of the theory or truth which I can use as an “absolute” for some subjects research findings or as a suggestion of my own for some topic.

My teacher said that “the only constant thing in this world is change”, as a starting point for further discussion. I agree mostly with this statement, however, I cannot say it is an absolute truth to everything. It is somehow easy, comfortable and kind of highly secured for me to realize and feel, that example the most important theories for researchers to use, apply and form formulate something new (!) already exists.

Hong Kong, 2011 (Jenni Kaitila)

Or not

This gives me huge importance when dealing with the almost absolute complexity and no- single truth experiences while I’m studying the life of academic research. I remember also, that this same teacher stated the truth about also agreeing that in fact, the main theories and typologies in general already have been founded before. And the timeless value of sources which exists in those. He said this during the information technology- courses discussion session, and I absolutely liked the moment and the fascinating, yet somehow secured feeling of having the experience of learning same time about the new world and information technology – and somewhat it’s relying on still in the theories presented and founded already from decades ago.

Hong Kong (Macao), 2011 (Jenni Kaitila)