Can service robots replace human labor in hotel industry?

Technology human touch background, modern remake of The Creation of Adam

How would you feel if a robot welcomed you when arriving to a hotel instead of a human? Would you be more pleased of robot’s convenience or the real face-to-face interaction that a human being can offer? Robots in hotel industry can bring so many opportunities yet so many challenges. Nobody knows about the future, so would it be possible that robots will replace human labor in hotel industry?

The impact of robot employees has been gaining attention in recent years. It is not a news flash that technology has been replacing human employees for years, but especially after Covid-19, the conversation around replacing humans in customer service has gotten even louder 4. The development of Artificial Intelligence has given more opportunities for developers to take robots to so called “humane” fields, such as hospitality industry. The concern that are robots really replacing humans has become more and more real.

Many faces of Artificial Intelligence

Diving into the world of robotic employees, we need to understand what Artificial Intelligence actually means and how to use it in hospitality field. AI, short for Artificial Intelligence, has ability to collect and handle enormous amount of data to help gain more knowledge of certain subject. According to Knani, Echchakoui and Ladhari, AI is depending on three different attributes, which are algorithm, processing capacities and data. Algorithm, big data and capacities help solve difficult tasks that need intelligence that can take less time than humans do, which is a great advantage for companies.2

AI technology brain background digital transformation concept

AI has been developing robots to manage human services and has gotten attention from different companies in hospitality field. A really good example is Henn-na Hotel, in Japan, which was opened in 2015, is the first fully automated hotel with only robot employees. Customers have no human employee contact in the whole time they are a guest. The reception area is managed by a female android robot and a dinosaur that help guest with room log in and log out. A customer uses different buttons to get a reaction from the front desk robots. Robots are also in charge of cleaning the rooms, and with a help of Tulie, a guest can use a voice-command to control the TV, lights or rooms temperature. In this scenario, AI has been used to run the entire hotel, without usage of human employees. These sorts of hotels are a niche market in the hospitality world and experts have been trying to develop robots to more and more human-like, which can be done by characterizing robots to do certain tasks and add more social elements to the mix. 3   

Robots are coming – are you ready?

Labor shortage, cost-saving and the sanitation policy has increased the number of robot employees in hotel industry. Usage of robot employees are getting more popular in different parts of the world and it lowers the costs and lifts efficiency in work related scenarios.1 Cost-effectiveness in robot employees can be seen in the fast work pace and the fact that employers don’t have to pay them salary, sick leave or bonuses, because, well, they are not human.

Due to Covid-19 pandemic, labor force in hospitality industry has decreased rapidly. When thinking about outside of the efficiency that technology provides to hospitality industry, contactless service and sanitary policies are the ones lifting their heads. Robots can offer no-contact services and can fight against infections which could bring comfort and shut down negative feelings towards hotel industry.4   

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

When talking about AI, we can’t ignore the fact that it can bring negative impact to the mix. Robot employees and other technological features directly affect to hotel employees and it can cause job losses. This can lead to stress, reduced productivity and negative atmosphere among hotel employees and workplace.

Robots also lift questions about privacy and personal data. AI has rapidly grown in recent years and it brings up concerns about ethical issues. Customers share personal information in many settings and collecting and sharing that data would be all in the hands of robots.2 For my own point of view, it would be important to study this subject more in detail and collect customers perceptions on data collection and does it affect customers trust in companies using robots. In this way, we can measure trust and find ways to handle it with more care.

So how do customers feel about robotic employees then?  It has been shown that robots spark more sensorial and intellectual experiences than human employees but creates less affective experience4 . This may not come as a surprise, but robots have a hard time replacing communication with a real human employee and it reduces social interactions rapidly, which is why we move on to the next question – is cheaper always better?

The power of a simple smile

With increasing use of robots in the hospitality sector, it naturally decreases the human interaction. This means, that a robot is responsible for the emotional experience that the customer will perceive. Easy right? Not quite. Kim, Kam Fung So & Wirtz has said that one of the ways a human can read emotions from another human is through their facial expressions, it can be an impossible task for robots to create this sort of interaction6.

Robots can express emotions, but they stay rather superficial and it is not enough to give customer a satisfaction. Fuentes-Moraleda, Diaz-Oerez, Orea-Giner, Munoz-Mazon and Villace-Molinero studied the customer satisfaction between robot and human employees. The study showed that even though customers found robots interesting, they still wanted to rely on human employees instead5 . In this kind of situation, the importance of social presence and interaction enters the picture. With the help of this theory, we will understand more about the importance of communication in different settings and in this case, contact between a customer and hotel employee.

Even though technological features are important in hotel industry and I do believe that robots are giving great amounts of opportunities in hotels as said before, experts are still trying to connect technologies with communication, which explains the need for socialization. Social presence has an effect on customer experience: good, authentic face-to-face experience can be the reason a customer comes back to that certain hotel7 .

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Fast decision-making, problem solving and showing empathy comes more naturally to humans and that is a valuable asset in hotel industry. Human employees can be a link between customers and technology and can bring them closer together and in that way, increase its acceptance.9 Technology and human employees don’t rule each other out, but we can see them helping each other by using both of their strong suit by making customer service and other parts of hotel services as smooth as possible. Robots bring data collection, fast work phase and contactless option to the hotel world as well as human employees bring emotions, problem solving and warmth to the environment.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Robots and humans – better together?

With understanding the importance of technology, communication and human labor, we must start to see robots replacing different chores, but not jobs. There is still much to be studied, but I believe we need to look at the big picture and see how much robot usage is affecting customer trust in different scenarios, whether it’s handling data or measuring service quality. Suppressing human interaction creates low communication which can lead to unwanted service8.

Robots are still great with handling huge amount of information and can be used in a cost-effective way, but I don’t see the chance that robots could fully replace human labor any time soon. This is due to the fact that robots cannot make connections or build strong customer relationships nor do they have emotional intelligence that humans have. In hospitality industry – and in customer service in general-, problem-solving is an important skill to require and robots are not the first ones to solve issues that calls for sensitivity and understanding. I do see robot employees being used in other various tasks, that includes for example cleaning, luggage carrying or using them as assistants. Hotel industry is and will be more efficient with the help of robots due data collecting and speed, but I see them more in an assisting role to human employees than replacing them fully. I believe real face-to-face communication is too valuable asset to go to waist.

 

References

  1. Song, H., Wang, Y., Yangm H. & Ma, E. 2022. Robotic employees vs. human employees: Customers’ perceived authenticity at casual dining restaurants. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol 106 No. 9. Referenced on 27.10.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0278431922001633?token=01F7633DB1DE16A35E947B8648256D8C3299201C46A76DB4AA78B90015BEBC66D3B1A117FF070B2469D79B54BD5F8C16&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221026121030
  2. Knani, M., Echchakoui, S. & Ladhari, R. 2022. Artificial intelligence in tourism and hospitality: Bibliometric analysis and research agenda. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol 107 No. 10. Referenced on 27.10.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0278431922001797?token=1911CD69B3218590D037275390B968AD012808153CBCC3D629E9F14540CF7FA07934E19BC936A09A465F99F6868E123C&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221027122007
  3. Reis, J., Melao, N., Salvadorinho, J., Soares, B. & Rosete, A. 2020. Service robots in the hospitality industry: The case of Henn-na hotel, Japan. Journal of Technology in Society, Vol 63 No. 11. Referenced on 27.10.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0160791X20308290?token=C0D2551AA292530EBD7CEEFEA124ED2129929A7636BAA0FB2656AB1CBA15BEE5533FFC3A151CB92CEBC8291B043A6B0B&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221027123614
  4. Parvez, M., Özturen, A., Cobanoglu, C., Arasli, H. & Eluwole, K. 2022. Employee’s reception of robots and robot-induced unemployement in hospitality industry under COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol 107 No. 10. Referenced on 28.10.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S027843192200202X?token=67B4516FD32C8D89A5B5A6551917BA65AC4E4DC8887613C2F52D07C0563C211EFC9B31C1D3517E4920BA2A96A1211831&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221027120103
  5. Fuentes-Moraleda, L., Diaz-Perez, P., Orea-Giner, A., Munoz-Mazon, A. & Villace-Molinero, T. 2020. Interaction between hotel service robots and humans: A hotel-spesific Service Robot Acceptance Model (sRAM). Journal of Tourism Management Perspectives, Vol 36 No. 10. Referenced on 3.11.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2211973620301185?token=1C98D48EF847CF713F0D290B1BEBDE725CEE7E00F2D5C3F477FFC238AC2F0B89E4DF9F16C3B09654A248AB2A9DE82D1B&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221103102134
  6. Kim, H., Kam Fung So, K. & Wirtz, J. 2022. Service robots: applying social exchange theory to better understand human-robot interactions. Journal of Tourism Management, Vol 92 No. 10. Referenced on 3.11.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0261517722000504?token=B0374897BCB3C983F680EE1138A5CD278874BA52211584E1BC67909E1AD421A9DB43160F7E0EE89BC3354BEB20D621AB&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221103104545
  7. Wu, C., Huang, S. & Yuan, Q. 2022. Seven important theories in information system empirical research: A systematic review and future directions. Journal of Data and Information Management, Vol 6 No. 1. Referenced on 3.11.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2543925122001048?token=BE259680C2013901F2C313EADAB015919065DA9BCD1760FE185A1779673831EBA58658BB3B380FC8081061449B88D851&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221103104327
  8. Osawa, H., Ema, A. Hatori, H. & Akiya, N. 2017. What is real risk and benefit on work with robots?: From the analysis of a robot hotel. Referenced on 7.11.2022. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314296083_What_is_Real_Risk_and_Benefit_on_Work_with_Robots_From_the_Analysis_of_a_Robot_Hotel
  9. Fan, H., Gao, W. & Han, B. 2022. How does (im)balanced acceptance of robots between customers and frontline employees affect hotels’ service quality? Journal of Computers in Human Behavior, Vol 133 No. 8. Referenced on 7.11.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0747563222001091?token=F989CC8257598A9E209157427B75D22BEF5E57FCDFA7D5E575FF6B821EBBCFAFA653BD244FD215CF15304D2D32E25FC8&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221107145658
  10.  Wang, L., Ho, J., Yeh, S. & Huan, T. 2022. Is robot hotel a future trend? Exploring the incentives, barriers and customers’ purchase intention for robot hotel stays. Journal of Tourism Management Perspectives, Vol 43 No. 7. Referenced on 7.11.2022. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2211973622000496?token=89FED05404FE666973AC4E7AD221C2D900A7EDE99855A532EFE0F5875EC60279D5D8055B328EB08FC2E018FF34DD1588&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20221107160740

Research: The impact of sustainability communication on tourists’ willingness to pay for a cottage holiday

The goal of this research was to examine how communicating different sustainability dimensions affects German tourists’ willingness to pay for a Finnish holiday cottage. Sustainable tourism is traditionally divided into three dimensions: environmental, socio-cultural and economic.

Finnish holiday cottage in the forest
Photo: Author

This research also was aiming to find out whether socio-demographic factors have an impact on the formation of willingness to pay. The research was conducted as a quantitative study, and it employs a contingent valuation method to examine German tourists’ willingness to pay for each sustainability dimension.

An online questionnaire was distributed through five different German social media outlets and influencers, whose focus is on traveling to Finland. The data collection took place in June 2022 and resulted in 279 responses, out of which 241 were valid for data analysis.

The respondents were shown four versions of the same cottage, which, by the way, was based on a real-life cottage product. One version was a so-called baseline cottage presenting the basic attributes and the price per night. Each of the three other cottages were representing one dimension of sustainable tourism through their attributes. The environmental cottage featured renewable electricity, thorough recycling opportunities and energy efficient technologies, whereas the socio-culturally sustainable cottage feature local design and traditional activities, and the economically sustainable cottage was emphasizing fair salaries and local sourcing of materials, just to name a few. The respondents were asked to state their willingness to pay for each of the three options. The respondents were also asked about their experiences on traveling to Finland as well as their socio-demographic characteristics.

Pier and a lake
Photo: Author

The results show that environmental sustainability is the only sustainability dimension that has a statistically significant effect on the tourists’ willingness to pay. On average, the respondents were willing to pay 15,1% more for an environmentally sustainable cottage accommodation option compared to a regular option. Employment status was the only socio-demographic factor to have a significant effect on the tourists’ willingness to pay.

The main conclusion is that there are differences in how tourists value different sustainability causes. The results suggest that investing in and actively communicating about environmental sustainability would be a successful business strategy for Finnish cottage businesses targeting German tourists. Future research is still needed to uncover the reasons why environmental sustainability is preferred over other sustainability causes.

Text: Markus Rantsi

Can technology make tourism more transformative ?

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Transformative tourism (TT) is a type of meaningful and purposeful tourism. Traditional tourism is often used as an escape mechanism from everyday life (5). Transformative tourism is motivated by seeking (10). In transformational tourism the tourist seeks personal growth during their travels, which can take place in areas such as well-being, spirituality and education. The transformative experiences tourists have can be physical, emotional, attitudinal changes as well as the acquisition of context-specific skills (17). These types of tourists are motivated to return home with some personal tools enriched by the experiences of their journey (16) – the purpose of travel instead of escaping reality is about possibly making the reality somehow better or more meaningful. 

Transformative tourism is about change (hopefully) for the better and it can provide meaningful experiences. Because of this, it has gained a lot of attention during recent years; it has the power to change human behaviour and have a positive impact on the world (17). These explanations should be enough to support the idea that this type of tourism should be encouraged and developed further.

What makes designing and developing transformative tourism tricky is that it can be different for every tourist. By enhancing the experiences by deepening them, and making them more immersive, can support the occurrence of unintentional transformative tourism and elements of it. There are three different kinds of experiences that are considered transformative: epistemically transformative experience (having a first time experience), personally transformative experience (changes your point of view, your core preferences or you learn something that expands your mind) and epistemically and personally transformative experience, which is a holistic experience that possibly changes the course of one’s life (15). 

Technology has changed the value creation process in customer service as it has become a key contributor to consumer experience; a big part of the hospitality and tourism products and services are nowadays delivered by different technologies (8). Technologically enhanced tourism is also changing travel behaviour and activities (7). As technology is said to enhance the customer experience (1), could it also be used to develop and enrich tourism to be and to have more transformative elements?  What kinds of solutions are already out there that could be used to make tourism services and experiences possibly more transformative? 

There are two critical digital technology stimuli that can lead to a rich customer experience: personalisation and interactivity (14). Based on my readings, I would also add immersion to the list of stimuli. Immersion is the level that describes a feeling of ‘being there’ (20). These can be considered to be the key factors in any tourist experience maximization and thus important factors to consider when talking about whether technology can make tourism more transformative. 

Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash

Smart tourism’s transformative possibilities 

Let’s look into the question through the concept of Smart Tourism, which means technology enhanced tourism. A Smart Travel Destination uses technology based tools in its products, services, spaces and experiences (7). These tools are Smart Tourism Technologies that refer to both general and specific applications that can enhance tourists’ experiences as well as generate added value (25). These applications can be anything from ubiquitous connectivity through Wi-Fi to sensors, smartphones and virtual reality (7; 8). Let’s have a look at how Smart Tourism Technologies (STTs) with the most transformative potential have to offer transformative tourism.

Gamification 

Gamification is the use of game design elements and game thinking in a non-gaming context (6) so it is more of a point of view when using smart technologies and designing transformative tourist experiences. With the help of gamification, tourists can get more engaged with the information and the experience they are receiving. If the tourist engagement rises, it can enhance the tourist experience in terms of flow, motivation, pleasure, immersion, enjoyment and presence (3). An example of using gamification and technology together to create a more transformative tourism experience could be an application that teaches the tourist history in the form of a game on a self-guided city tour. 

Augmented reality 

An augmented reality system merges physical and virtual objects in a natural environment, aligns them, and runs them interactively in real time (22). The goal of augmented reality is to support user interaction with the world around them (2). Augmented reality systems can be wearable computers, such as a smartwatch or smart glasses (26). How smart watches can enhance the tourist experience and possibly make it more transformative is that they extend the tourist’s sensory, cognitive, and motor limitations (2) and adapt the tourists behaviour to the changing environments. A wearable device can shape how tourists orient themselves, interact, and control their interactions with tourism attractions (21). Wearable computers, like any other computer, can also model behaviour and predict the future actions of the tourist so they are said to have potential to transform touristic experiences (21). 

Photo by My name is Yanick on Unsplash

Augmented reality has already been applied to destinations and to tourist experiences to assist tourists with retrieval and processing of information on points of interest at physical structures, national parks, walking experiences, historic and cultural objects, museum exhibits, art galleries, and indoor theme parks by overlaying exhibits with additional information through touch-screen displays, smartphones, and/or wearable devices (21).  With the help of technology assisted immersion, in this case augmented reality, tourists can be engaged in a more unique and interactive way than in traditional tourism (12). Also, if information is presented through augmented reality (or virtual reality), the information can become more memorable (11) and thus possibly more transformative.

As an augmented reality system merges physical and virtual objects in a natural environment to support tourists’ interaction with the world around them there are clear indicators of experience enhancement, which could make the experience more transformative. If we think about the gamification application example (the history teaching, game-like self-guided city tour application), it could also have augmented reality elements to it. These elements could be for example Google glasses type of images and videos of the historical events. Maybe they could even be holograms in the future. Whether or not the information provided to the tourist is transformative by itself, its transformative qualities could be enhanced and supported with augmented reality. 

Virtual reality 

When it comes to virtual reality there are more indicators of possible experience enhancement which could make the experience more transformative than augmented reality; the whole tourist experience can be designed from start to finish to be as transformative as possible. According to NASA virtual reality is “the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence.” In tourism it is used to capture destinations, attractions, to re-create events or to create totally new destinations, events and experiences (24). Virtual reality experiences have three key elements: visualisation components, immersion into the experience is a key factor and interactivity is involved in the experience (4). In the future these can most likely be personalised which means that there will be technically everything (personalisation, interactive and immersion) needed for a tourist to have an experience – whether or not that experience can be transformative depends on the tourist. 

Other Smart Tourism Technology possibilities

If we look at Smart tourism from a less futuristic and a more practical lens, STT is already capable of making experiences and customer touchpoints more interactive and personalised according to tourists’ preferences (13,11). With the help of STTs almost everything can be personalized and tourists can be provided with the most relevant and context-specific information, expertise, and experiences delivered in real-time or just when they need it (14). To have more personalized services and experiences can support transformative experiences happening, because each tourists’ experience and transformativity is highly objective. 

Tourism products can also be tailored to be more interactive with the help of STT (11). Interactivity gives buyers a sense of control so they can feel like they are in control of their own experience (27) – this can support the possible transformativity. At the same time, tourists can also interact with local residents within destination business ecosystems and the larger tourism ecosystems (7). This can support transformation as socialising with people from different cultures or just people outside your own circle of people can teach you something or show you a new point of view. Also, the use of STTs might affect the engagement and immersion of tourist experience (11). 

Smarter the more transformative?

Even though smart technologies are slowly getting more popular to use in tourist experiences and at smart tourism destinations, research on smart tourism destinations is limited. Research about gamification in tourism is also limited and the application of gamification in tourism is still in its infancy (8). There’s also no clear definition of what a consumer technology experience is or what a technology experience is. Because of the lack of research, the impacts of consumers’ technology experience on their overall experience  remain unknown (11). Needless to say, this means that there are also no studies about whether technology can make tourism more transformative so we have no way to answer whether or not technology can actually make tourism more transformative.

Regardless of the lack of research,  the introduction of guest-facing technologies is changing one of the industry’s key characteristics, human-to-human interactions, into guest-technology interactions. Tourists are already interacting with artificial intelligence chatbots, service delivery robots (11), and mobile tour guide apps have partly replaced the traditional human travel guide and information desk. Travellers are also creating their own travel itineraries with the help of the internet. Social contacts and socialising with new cultures is a big part of travel; a cross-cultural interaction can already be a transformative experience. Is there a possibility that technology could be making tourism less transformative? Technology is also making travelling a lot more convenient and easy. Yet somehow it seems that the reward of seeing the sunrise is much more transformative if you have climbed a mountain to witness it.

Also, a big part of the tourist experience is about immersion. Technology can of course help with immersion, but it can also hinder it. The term selective unplugging refers to being partially connected or disconnected from technology during travel to be more connected and present in the moment (19). To be more connected and present is essential for transformative travel, but what if connection and the feeling of being present are provided with the help of technology? Maybe then the tourist has chosen the wrong destination to travel to, but it’s an important topic to think about when designing and promoting technology-mediated travel experiences. Also when thinking about transformative travel, the tourists who decide to unplug are most likely tourists that are escaping their reality. They are not seeking something, which means that most of them are not transformative tourists. Still, the possible avoidance of technology makes it challenging to create transformative elements to tourist destinations and experiences with smart tourism, if people are not motivated to use technology during their trip.

Even though technology is changing the way we travel, its power and possibilities are yet to be harnessed when it comes to transformative tourism. Smart tourism in tourist experiences and in tourism in general is often in a supporting role; most smart technologies tourists use are STTs like maps/navigation apps, ride-sharing programs, city guide apps, mobile payment, and parking apps (14). Yet we can see that technology, especially augmented reality and virtual reality, has great potential to make tourism experiences more transformative in the future. Still, what is transformative to the tourist will always depend on the tourist itself – meeting a local in a travel  destination can be a far more transformative experience to the tourist than an augmented reality city tour. The city tour can just be a memorable and unforgettable experience at a smart tourism destination, which doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Accenture (2019). Accenture-China-Digital-Transformation-Index-2019. Accenture.
  2. Barfield W. & Caudell T. (2001). Basic Concepts in Wearable Computers and Augmented Reality. In Fundamentals of Wearable Computers and Augmented Reality.
  3. Brown, E. & Cairns, P. (2004). A grounded investigation of game immersion. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – Proceedings. 
  4. Cruz-Neira, C., Sandin, D. J., Defanti, T. A., Kenyon, R. V. & Hart, J. C. (1994). The cave: audio visual experience automatic virtual environment. Communications of the AMC.
  5. Cohen, E. (1996). A phenomenology of tourist experiences. The sociology of tourism: Theoretical and empirical investigations.
  6. Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. E. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”. Mindtrek 2011 Proceedings. Tampere, Finland: ACM Press. 
  7. Gretzel, U., Sigala, M. & Xiang, Z. (2015). Smart tourism: foundations and developments. Electron Markets, 25.
  8. Huang C.D., Jahyun, D., Kichan, N.  & Woo, Y.C. (2017). Smart Tourism Technologies in Travel Planning: The Role of Exploration and Exploitation. Information & Management 54, 6.
  9. Huotari, K., & Hamari, J., 2012. Defining gamification: A service marketing perspective. In: Proceedings of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference, Tampere, Finland: ACM.
  10. Iso-Ahola, S. E. (1997). A psychological analysis of leisure and health. Work, leisure and well-being. New York, NY: Routledge.
  11. Jeong, M., & Shin, H. H. (2020). Tourists’ Experiences with Smart Tourism Technology at Smart Destinations and Their Behaviour Intentions. Journal of Travel Research, 59, 8.
  12. Lee, H., Lee, J., Chung, N. & Koo, C. (2018). Tourists’ happiness: Are there smart tourism technology effects? Asia Pacific J. Tour. 23.
  13. Oh, H., Fiore, A. M., & Jeoung, M. (2007). Measuring Experience Economy Concepts: Tourism Applications. Journal of Travel Research, 46, 2.
  14. Parise, S., Guinan, P.J. & Kafka, R. (2016). Solving the crisis of immediacy: How digital technology can transform the customer experience. Business Horizons, 59, 4.
  15. Paul, L.A. (2021). Teaching Guide for Transformative Experience. Yale University Department of Philosophy.
  16. Robledo, M.A. & Batle, J. (2015): Transformational tourism as a hero’s journey, Current Issues in Tourism.
  17. Rus, K.A., Dezsi, S, Ciascai, O.R. & Pop, F. (2022). Calibrating Evolution of Transformative Tourism: A Bibliometric Analysis. Sustainability 2022, 14.
  18. Shin, H.H., Jeong, M., So, K.K. & DiPietro, K. (2022). Consumers’ experience with hospitality and tourism technologies: Measurement development and validation. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 106.
  19. Tanti, A. & Buhalis, D. (2016). Connectivity and the Consequences of Being (Dis)connected. In: Inversini, A., Schegg, R. (eds) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2016. Springer, Cham.
  20. Torabi Z., Shalbafian, A.A., Allam, Z., Ghaderi Z., Murgante. B, & Khavarian-Garmsir, A.R. (2022). Enhancing Memorable Experiences, Tourist Satisfaction, and Revisit Intention through Smart Tourism Technologies. Sustainability 2022, 14.
  21. Tussyadiah, I. P., Jung, T. H., & tom Dieck, M. C. (2018). Embodiment of Wearable Augmented Reality Technology in Tourism Experiences. Journal of Travel Research, 57, 5.
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  26. Rauschnabel, P. A., Brem, A., & Ivens, B. S. (2015). Who will buy smart glasses? Empirical results of two pre-market-entry studies on the role of personality in individual awareness. intended adoption of Google Glass wearables. Computers in Human Behavior, 49.
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How can mobile app boost your tourism business to success?

Picture from Unsplash.com

Did you know travel applications are the seventh most popular category of most downloaded apps and over 60 percent of travelers choose to use mobile apps while traveling?¹ In the future, there will be thousands of new mobile applications with new facilities that offer travelers daily movement without the assistance of humans while traveling. Therefore, it is important for the tourism industry and mobile technology developers to improve or create a mobile application that understands the landscape of mobile applications in the market and sees what is absent.² After reading this blog post, you should gain more information about mobile apps and how can they benefit the tourism industry.

Mobile Apps in a nutshell

In 2019 there were over 3 billion mobile app users and it has been studied that the average mobile app user spends proximately 3,7 hours a day in applications. Mobile applications have been designed for smartphones and tablets for micro-problems that the app designer has identified, and the app’s purpose is to come up with a solution. ³ Currently, there are two major App stores that are designed for specific devices: Apple Store (for iOs devices, iPhones, iPads) and Google Play Store (for Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi). There are mobile apps that are free to download and apps with a fee. The mobile app’s idea is to be an easy and quick way to use and it can be downloaded whenever you want or where ever you are. In addition, mobile apps are designed for several purposes: To offer entertainment, gaming, helping users in everyday life tasks (E.g., counting calories, budgeting, food delivery, etc), social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc), seeking company, finding a transfer and sending messages or video calls. ³ The app’s purpose can be educational, ideal for business, or for a daily lifestyle.

A mobile app can also consist of help in augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). Mobile AR technology has developed nowadays greatly and travelers can access tourist resources for their travel choices directly by using smartphones.

The behavior of tourism apps users

It is clear as of the day that a successful mobile app is an app that benefits the user. By understanding the user’s behavior as well as motives and needs it is possible to create an app that is useful for the user. Moreover, external and internal motivations, cognitive beliefs, contextual promotion, and tourists’ past experience of smartphones during a trip and experience of smartphones affect tourists’ acceptance and apprehension of mobile apps.

I found out that research shows that mobile AR apps have an important role in tourist behavioral intentions in making unexpected purchases. Notably, as the utility, user-friendly, and interactivity of the apps increase, the perceived enjoyment, and satisfaction of the user increase and give rise to a stronger impulse buying behavior. In addition, many researchers have noted that the role of AR in mobile apps has affected tourist intention to visit a particular destination.⁵

According to research done by Google, over 70 % of leisure travelers have downloaded or used travel applications during their trips and over 60 percent of business travelers use the application for reservations. More than half think applications are convenient, and over 40 percent think it’s easier to book through the application than a mobile browser: Intention to more frequently search for information from the brand, having a bonus point, and using loyalty systems. Friends, family, or colleagues acting as recommenders such as reviews and recommendations in app stores. In addition, consumers think that a poorly designed mobile app drives potential customers to competitors and it affects negatively the brand image. ⁶ To summarize this chapter, smartphones are used throughout the travel process, including for inspiration during the trip for buying activities or ancillary services. Almost half of those who use their smartphone for leisure travel inspiration ultimately book through another method. ⁶

Picture from Unsplash.com

Benefits of Mobile Apps

For many tourism businesses, mobile apps are very important tools to help customers quickly search for specific information or make quick reservations. According to previous research, mobile devices have the plausible to have an enormous effect on the tourism business. The key elements in the development of mobile applications must be taken into consideration. The key elements are, costs, opportunities to operate on a wider range of devices, and accounting for the specific needs of users. Mobile applications not only serve the purpose of being smart and fast but to overcome the dependency on human work and reduce costs. ³

Travelers prefer mobile apps over websites since there are many benefits mobile apps can offer. Mobile devices offer for tourist do last-minute purchases which are used in all phases of the tourist service process, from a destination survey and online booking to post-travel suggestions and reviews. In addition, travel agencies see efforts and invest money in mobile apps which put wise to that service providers surely see benefits in the mobile apps.7  Here are listed some of the top advantages of mobile apps:

–  Purchasing services: Flight tickets, ancillary services, accommodations

– Accessibility & having information at any time of the day, even without wifi connection

– Tourism mobile application improves and shows the best available trip packages for the destination. Users can get details from the destination and view the itinerary.

-Travel apps assist in planning the trip, routes, and travel guides give precise information  about various famous and even lesser known

– The app can be a travel guide and even a map to take the traveler to the destination

-Usage of simple tags such as Quick Response codes, that can greatly enrich the tourist experience at a destination.

-AR technology in destinations is a fun and immersive way to learn more about the destinations

As a result, tourists can have an immersive, more favorable, and gain richer experience. Mobile apps have a positive impact on the tourism business: Gaining new leads, service quality and competitiveness, providing information, encouraging customers to use your services, brand awareness, the possibility to promote new products, and the chance to gather customer data.7

Tips to design a successful mobile app

Van Baker, vice president at Gartner, states that effective app development requires businesses to rethink business processes and a mobile employee works to take advantage of the benefits that technology offers. When designing a mobile app that improves business productivity with a real return on investment and satisfies user needs. ⁸ You must take into account three elements:

  1. User experience (UX) – means how someone feels when interacting with an app, well designed UX takes into account user attitudes and behaviors and it compasses under the control of a developer or designer. An easy and clear user interface (UI) is also important to take into consideration in context.⁸
  2. Architecture—  Proper architecture in a mobile app is critical to designing successful mobile apps that positively impact the business and facilitate the rapid development of apps that work with existing record systems. They incorporate services that improve the mobile app’s functions.⁸
  3. Business process – By changing and extending the current offers in the tourism business process it can create an impactful mobile app. This can be done by adding new abilities to the business concept.⁸

The quality characteristics that affect mobile applications quality are: portability (if an application has a tendency to run on multiple platforms or not), extensibility, and adaptability as applications adapt to changes from their environment like adaptability in input methods and different orientations of handheld devices, efficiency, maintainability, usability (user-friendly), and data integrity.¹¹  Forbes’s research on mobile apps states that mobile all should be simple and ensure that users can use the app with the fewest possible taps and swipes, use chatbots, and promoting the app on social media and optimize app store content and elicit user reviews. You should also spread awareness of the mobile apps through ads, encouraging downloads via SMS and email offers, and adding the app download QR code to your website homepage. 9

Recognizing your target demographic is important when designing an app since different individuals have their own unique habits when it comes to smartphones. Understanding the needs of different generations, you can design an app that serves many users.¹⁰ When creating an application, you must also think about if your target group is iOS users or Android users and whether AR technology would benefit the users.

Conclusion & suggestions

To summarize this blog post, mobile apps are highly appreciated and their usage is continuously rising. A well-designed mobile application serves the user and creates value for the user as well as for the tourism business. There are many different types of mobile applications with different purposes. I brought up here three of the most important benefits that mobile applications serve for tourism businesses, sales leads, or clients. To put the most important components in one figure, I create this module to understand clearly the whole context more. Blue boxes describe the benefits for tourism businesses and green boxes describe the benefits for the customers or sales leads that mobile apps offers.

Source: Author

Businesses can gain data on their customer’s paths in a mobile app, the business can improve its UX when they gather more data about the client’s path in the application. To improve the mobile application in tourism businesses, industries could have surveys in the application that the customer could answer and earn rewards. By using surveys they could lead the app user to different platforms in the app and after visiting all platforms, the customer could give reviews about the app. Regularly reading online reviews from app users will help firms prioritize features that matter to users by gaining data about clients’ needs, motives, and UX by an improve mobile applications all the time to meet the needs and expectations of the customer or potential leads.¹²

In addition, there are many travelers who have a disability or they are oldster, I could suggest that the mobile app designers could concentrate the mobile app marketing for older people to reach out to them.  By marketing mobile apps as user-friendly they could also target older users. Perhaps, marketers could market mobile apps by marketing how simple it is to implement and use. Another suggestion is that the mobile app could speak and direct the user to use the app’s features since older travelers can have impaired vision. In this way, tourism businesses could have more value for the app.

Every new step that tourism industries take to develop mobile applications to meet customer needs, is a win for the company and key to success. As earlier mentioned, mobile apps can reduce human work and thus generate savings, create brand awareness and competitive advantage, and many other advantages. These advantages are all very important aspects to head up for success.

References

¹GoodWorks Labs. 2015. How mobile app benefits travel and tourism industry. https://www.goodworklabs.com/how-mobile-app-benefits-travel-and-tourism-industry/

²Roswati Abdul Rashid et al 2020 J. Mobile Apps in  Tourism Communication: The Strengths and Weaknesses on Tourism Trips. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254250344_Tourism_and_the_Smartphone_App_Capabilities_Emerging_Practice_and_Scope_in_the_Travel_Domain

³Lupton, D. 2020. The Sociology of Mobile Apps. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341568463_The_Sociology_of_Mobile_Apps

⁴Chen, S. 2020. Mobile Technology in Tourism.https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/2239
Do, H., Shish, W., Ha, G. 2020. Effects of mobile augmented reality apps on impulse buying behavior: An investigation in the tourism
field.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S240584402031511
⁶Google. 2014. __qs_documents_918_2014-travelers-road-to-decision_research_studies.pdf.
7 Iskren Tairov 2017. Tourism mobile applications – development benefits and key features. ttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/344467609_Tourism_mobile_applications_-development_benefits_and_key_features
⁸Gartner. 2016. Three Elements of Successful Mobile Apps. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/three-elements-of-successful-mobile-apps

9. Rao, A. 2021. Seven Ways To Create A Successful Mobile App Strategy.https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/02/17/seven-ways-to-create-a-successful-mobile-app-strategy/?sh=5b95308e5279

¹⁰A Definitive Guide to Mobile App Stats and User Behavior. 2021.https://www.webiotic.com/a-definitive-guide-to-mobile-app-stats-and-user-behavior/
¹¹ An Efficient and Effective New Generation Objective Quality Model for Mobile Applications. 2013. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274048560_An_Efficient_and_Effective_New_Generation_Objective_Quality_Model_for_Mobile_Applications
¹² App Development Tips for Small Businesses. 2021. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354418736_App_Development_Tips_for_Small_Businesses?_iepl%5BgeneralViewId%5D=25k5u8Xb3cPIJpVc1HqGzqFMLDH0Ik72QQWI&_iepl%5Bcontexts%5D%5B0%5D=searchReact&_iepl%5BviewId%5D=FUNJkGq0CUuPy9QCxFfTCmREvf2oqp1GX7r7&_iepl%5BsearchType%5D=publication&_iepl%5Bdata%5D%5BcountLessEqual20%5D=1&_iepl%5Bdata%5D%5BinteractedWithPosition4%5D=1&_iepl%5Bdata%5D%5BwithoutEnrichment%5D=1&_iepl%5Bposition%5D=4&_iepl%5BrgKey%5D=PB%3A354418736&_iepl%5BtargetEntityId%5D=PB%3A354418736&_iepl%5BinteractionType%5D=publicationTitle

What causes people to buy from OTAs?

Today millions of travelers around the globe use Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) to plan their leisure and business travel. OTAs are getting popular among travelers even though there are still people who prefer travel agents expertise instead. Although, OTAs evolved their introduction in the 1990s, the corona pandemic provided new and exciting opportunities for them to attract more users and increase revenue. Due to the pandemic, people barely visit travel agents expertise and choose online service for information and booking. According to Statista, the global online travel market is expected to reach $833.52 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 10%.

What’s OTAs?

An online travel agency (OTAs) is a web-based marketplace that allows consumers to research and book travel products and services, including hotels, flights, cars, tours, cruises, activities and more, directly with travel suppliers (Expedia group). Expedia, Orbitz, Airbnb, bookings.com, tripadvisor, Travelcity, Hopper, and Priceline are some familiar OTAs.

So the question arises, what influence these travelers to purchase from OTAs?

Below we will discuss about five influencing factors with supporting reviewed scientific publications.

Values:

People are certain about getting good value and benefits with the purchase from OTAs. A result imply that quality of benefits, monetary, social status, preference, and information values predict purchase intention toward OTAs, with the chief driver being the quality-of-benefits value, followed by the preference value.1

Payment and refund policies are also important drivers for OTAs. Results from a study show that refund rate has great effect on the customer’s payment decision, while transaction cost has great influence on the hotel’s operational decision.2 When the refund rate is greater than a threshold, the customer prefers online payment.

Additionally, sentiments plays vital role to understand customer buying intention and brand attitudes.3 The qualitative aspects of OTAs can help service-providers understand customers’ brand-attitudes by focusing on the important aspects rather than reading the entire review, which will save both their time and effort.

Price:

Social currency have become an essential factor in motivating the customers to co-creation content related to products and services (Zinnbauer & Honer 2011). Social currency, attitude and subjective norms influence customer experience concerning online travel agencies.4

Quality:

Further, the quality of content on OTAs portal aids as drivers influencing booking intention among travelers. The study explored localization, website quality, product information, perceived interactivity, price and promotion, e-security, customer value, service quality, electronic word of mouth (eWOM), marketing and brand promotion amongst the identified determinants to define the relative dependence and driver powers.5 Another study supported this by showing the positive impact on electronic loyalty from the quality of services, website quality, infrastructure and electronic purchase.6 Research which carried out a questionnaire survey on Chinese tourists visiting Korea with experience of using the online travel agency web also favor that in the e-service quality, convenience, interactivity, information validity, credibility had a positive impacts on perceived value and satisfaction.7

Increasing levels of competition are faced by OTAs thus, experience an ever greater need to evaluate the effectiveness of their Web sites. The study was conducted to examine the influence of perceived Web site quality on willingness to use online travel agencies. Ease of Use was found to be the most important dimension in determining Willingness to Use, followed by Information/Content, Responsiveness, Fulfillment, and Security/Privacy.8

Loyalty:

The result of research conducted to analyze factors that influence e-Loyalty of customers indicates that customer e-Loyalty is predisposed by e-Service Quality through e-Perceived Value and e-Trust. Hence OTAs popularity depends on innovation, convenience it offers as well as how trustworthy it is.9

Sentiments and duration of trip:

Does length of stay, demographic and socio – economic characteristics impact on purchasing behavior of OTAs. It was founded that short-duration travelers were more intended to use online travel agencies, where Long-duration travelers preferred their traditional travel agencies.10

From my point of view, online travel agency is growing popularity not only in developed countries but also in developing countries travel industry. Online travel agencies have rather advantage of reaching out to the larger audience. Fast processing of information and transaction is crucial aspects of OTAs for its popularity. The quality of portal, details about the product and service are another important factors affecting OTAs success. Users also gets best price from OTAs, easy payment and refund policy which aids on its utilizations.

Looking into future if vulnerability in booking system (altering or cancelling service) is improved to ensure trustworthiness, OTAs future is very bright.

References:  

1ShaliniTalwar, AmandeepDhir, PuneetKaur, Matti Mäntymäki (2020) why do people purchase from online travel agencies (OTAs)? A consumption values perspective, International Journal of Hospitality Management 88:102534

2Guang-XinGao, Jian-WuBi (2021) Hotel booking through online travel agency: Optimal Stackelberg strategies under customer-centric payment service, Annals of Tourism Research 86(2):103074

3ArghyaRay, Pradip KumarBala, Nripendra P.Rana (2021) Exploring the drivers of customers’ brand attitudes of online travel agency services: A text-mining based approach, Journal of Business Research 128(2):391-404

4AnuragSingh, Nripendra P Rana,  Satyanarayana Parayitam (2022) International Journal of Information Management Data Insights, Volume 2, Issue 2, 100114

5MahakSharma, RoseAntony, Rajat Sehrawat, Angel Contreras Cruz, Tugrul U. Daim (2022) Exploring post-adoption behaviors of e-service users: Evidence from the hospitality sector /online travel services Technology in Society, Volume 68, 101781

6S. H. Jafarpour, A. Mahmoudabadi and A. Andalib, “The impact of quality of service, website, shopping experience and infrastructure on online customers’ loyalty,” 2017 3th International Conference on Web Research (ICWR), 2017, pp. 163-168, doi: 10.1109/ICWR.2017.7959322.

7G. G. Ronsana, M. R. Shihab, B. H. Syahbuddin and W. R. Fitriani, “Factors Influencing Customer’s E-Loyalty in Tourism E-Marketplace,” 2018 International Conference on Information Technology Systems and Innovation (ICITSI), 2018, pp. 237-241, doi: 10.1109/ICITSI.2018.8696021.

8Young A. Park PhD, Ulrike Gretzel & Ercan Sirakaya-Turk (2007) Measuring Web Site Quality for Online Travel Agencies, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 23:1, 15-30, DOI: 10.1300/J073v23n01_02

9Niu LX, Lee JH. The Intention of Repurchase on e-Service Quality by Online Travel Agency Site. The Journal of Industrial Distribution & Business [Internet]. 2018 Jul 30; 9(7):61–70

10Sujay Vikram Singh, Rajeev Ranjan, “ONLINE TRAVEL PORTAL AND THEIR EFFECT ON TRAVEL AGENCY: A STUDY ON OUTBOUND VISITORS OF VARANASI.”, IJRAR – International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews (IJRAR), E-ISSN 2348-1269, P- ISSN 2349-5138, Volume.6

 

Does AI in tourism have unlimited possibilities?

Does AI in tourism have unlimited possibilities?

Are all possibilities positive? Will there be a new level of crime, automation and robots displace workers and ICT has stifled human interaction?

Are we ending up in a circle of choises or does this lead us to pilgrimage unknown paths? Have hardcore tourist ended up to be unsung hero of software tourism?

Pixabay
Pixabay

During era of 21st century Artificial Intelligence has made dramatic changes. Tourism has been one of fastest growing industries. Between 2005 to 2015 it has made global change of international tourists from 528 million to 1.19 billion visitors. Most of this increase is studied to be result of digital marketing and would exceed 800 million crosses by the year of 2020. Some studies have been made with some major operators like Google Travel or Trip Advisor and was found out that 85% of the customer used AI serviced during reservation process.¹ Compass to navigate through all these options needs lot of effort, when you have too much to choose from and endless options, I wonder will it start to be harder to makes actual decision.

 

Internet of Things IoT is in key role of all these possibilities that include electronic shopping guides, self-guided tours, electronic navigation, fast data processing combined secure online payment systems giving tourists endless possibilities to plan and execute travels from anywhere and anytime. With all the information available, tourism management sector can provide all the useful data all the way to destinations and local governments, so things are made efficiently.² Here we come to the question how efficiently and effortless should it be or is the actual tour guide still giving extra value to that moment, not to forget if something happens, there is always some one to help or at least knowing where to get help.

 

 

Main role and the star of the show is of course tourists. It has been welcoming sight from both sides of the parties, the service providers and tourism marketing travelers. This leads to better understanding of customer need, by providing more simpler and quicker tourism production, change to conquers wider market and option for destinations to grow independently when they are no longer under the mercy of tour operators. Web marketing is the most cost-effective way to gain access to the customers and provide multiple options for theirs to choose.³

Pixabay

Lord of the holidays sounds like I have American black master card to rule them all and yes, money do make things possible, and it works vice versa.

 

Time of Covid-19 world was basically lock down. Tourism and hospitality were a business that took the biggest hit of all, including flight operators and everything else. Drop in sales was 51% and total of 2.86 trillion U.S dollars. People had more time and they started to use more social media platforms for information, including travel-based apps for more need of more open information from real people, not from google and basic tv news. Many tourists were hold in their hotels as quarantine stations. This gathered data will help tourism businesses to prepare in case of next major happening, but also it has taught improvision and forcing them to find new solutions to keep business alive.⁴ With sustainability in mind digitalization offers chance to overcome the markets for enterprises that had lots of restrictions. Government still has vital role of supporting XR based solutions. ⁶

Fantasy, Virtual Reality, Vr, Vr Glasses
Pixabay

During Covid-19 tourism came to halt and gave time to different destinations to think how to proceed. People from Amsterdam voted that they would rather focus on quality tourism instead of mass tourism. This though will affect to similar cities which most of the money revenue comes from tourists. Over tourism of course will create needs of accommodation and restaurants etc. but also unwanted social acts start to happen like assaults, robberies, money laundry and drug trafficking. ICT gives destinations and smart cities better awareness of present tourism situation at the location so number of police officers can be temporarily increased. ⁹

 

One example, study shows that ICT has leverage to promote agricultural and rural tourism since ICT plays big role in agribusiness and local development. That way farmers can promote their services directly without travel agencies, giving them better profit and control of tourism markets. By time of writing research were most other tourism genres using lot of ICT in their promotion but those small operators at cultural field having lack of money and expertise to use these methods. Taking e-tourism to part of rural tourism enables preserving and balancing to be achievable equation between these two. ⁷

 

Internet began the era when it was key to access to information and it did not happen more than some years ago around 2010 when it changed to be necessity to engage for people. It has been said that if you are not online, you do not exist and for businesses it is true. Measured by citations at tourism studies, digitalization is the largest field and increasing year by year. When these studies are taken to the practice ICT and AI enables to observe customers pre order, on the time and postal ways to make decisions. ⁸

 

We must remember if it is too good to be true, usually it is not true. This also the case of AI too. All these positive things mentioned before in this blog are followed by some critical things to keep in mind. Research done by TripAdvisor shows results of job loss, security issues, privacy concerns and loss of human contact, that might be side effect of technology where AI is involved. AI is in, even huge leaps that has been done in early stage now and it takes several years if not more to solve these unwanted little side effects. ¹⁰

Looking the future scenarios from the customer’s perspective, AI will allow them to prepare their travels more faster, with significantly lower transaction costs and a fully personalized package that suits their needs and interests. They will receive predictive offers that fit their requirements. During the trip, technologies will help tourists to navigate unknown environments seamlessly, reducing the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Language and cultural differences will not be barriers to tourism, but an additional attraction instead. 11
There is almost a vortex in tourism industry how it will operate in the future and most likely we see much more human-AI robots interaction. This may come in form of service consepts or hospitality. Not even AI aircrafts to transfer commercial tourist is not far in the future.

Depending on the purpose of the travel, to destination, it varies how much human based services you encounter, wanted or not. Even remote places it is useful to know nearest hospital and grouser store, little about up coming weather and know a person to ask help from. Still help of ICT companies that use it, can overtake through multiple tasks like online booking and free their staff to serve you better. ⁵ So, I think AI is here to stay and provide many yet unknown possibilities to tourism.  “To bot or not to bot” Would maybe Shakespeare ask in a play today.

 

Pixabay

 

References

  1. Samala, N., Katkam, B.S., Bellamkonda, R.S. and Rodriguez, R.V. (2022), “Impact of AI and robotics in the tourism sector: a critical insight”, Journal of Tourism Futures, Vol. 8 No. 1, 73-87.

 

  1. Wang et al., “Realizing the Potential of the Internet of Things for Smart Tourism with 5G and AI,” in IEEE Network, vol. 34, no. 6, 295-301

 

  1. Nikoli, G., & Lazakidou Α. (2019). The Impact of Information and Communication Technology on the Tourism Sector. Almatourism – Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 10(19), 45–68.

 

  1. Abbas J, Hassan S, Mubeen R, Zhenhuan L, Wang D (2022) Tourists’ Health Risk Threats Amid COVID-19 Era: Role of Technology Innovation, Transformation, and Recovery Implications for Sustainable Tourism

 

  1. Bethapudi A (2013 )The role of ICT in tourism industry National Institute of Tourism & Hospitality Management, Telecom Nagar, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, A.P., India JOURNAL OF APPLIED ECONOMICS AND BUSINESS, VOL.1, ISSUE 4 – DECEMBER, PP. 67-79
  2. Andrei O, Kwok J (2020) COVID-19 and Extended Reality (XR) 1935-1940

7. Shanker D (2008) ICT and Tourism: Challenges and Opportunities, Conference on Tourism in India – Challenges Ahead, 15-17

  1. Gössling S (2020) Tourism, technology and ICT: a critical review of affordances and concessions 733-750
  2. Lee P,Cannon ,Hunter W and Chung N (2020) Smart tourism city: Developments and transformations, Smart tourism city roles

 

    1. Grunder L, Neuhofer B (2020) The bright and dark sides of artificial
      intelligence: A futures perspective on tourist destination experiences Journal of destination marketing & management 18 November 2020, 3-4
    2. Bulchand-Gidumal J (2020) Impact of Artificial Intelligence in Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality. Hand book of E-tourism. Springer, 17

Is smart tourism better tourism?

Nowadays, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are omnipresent. The digital age and its innovations in ICTs have changed society as well as economic and environmental development profoundly. ICT innovations are perceived and identified as one of the crucial game-changers in reaching Sustainable Development Goals.1 In this context, “smart” has become a buzzword. Gretzel, Sigala, Xiang and Koo define the concept as technological, economic, and social developments supported by technologies that are based on big data, exchange of information and the interconnectivity between different technological innovations in the physical and digital world. For instance, economies benefit from innovation, competitiveness, and entrepreneurship by allowing value creation and new forms of collaboration through smart technologies.2

Given that tourism, as an information-intense industry, is highly dependent on ICTs, it is no surprise to see the concept of “smart” being applied to the field of tourism. 2 In recent years, smart has become a new industry standard, especially within public organizations, and is somewhat praised as the new solution for pressing problems and challenges such as sustainability, overtourism or the efficient use of resources. The European Commission, for example, implemented the “Smart Tourism initiative” in order “to promote smart tourism in the EU, network and strengthen destinations, and facilitate the exchange of best practices”3. The initiative awards cities for their innovative achievements regarding sustainability, accessibility, digitalization, and cultural heritage as tourism destinations.

 

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Smart tourism, the saviour?

To understand the challenges as well as opportunities of smart tourism, it is crucial to get familiar with the concept itself. As stated by Gretzel et al., smart tourism can first and foremost be identified as the logical progression from traditional tourism and e-tourism.2 While e-tourism refers to the broad adoption of ICTs or social media within the tourism value chain, smart tourism takes you even one step further in the transformation process of ICTs in the industry. Instead of only implementing new and innovative ICTs, the smart tourism concept follows a more holistic approach to bridging the digital and physical world. Through the application of advanced and intelligent ICTs, stakeholders at tourism destinations collect, exchange and process data from different sources (physical infrastructure, government, organizations, etc.) and transform it into on-site experiences and business value propositions. Hereby the focus lies on efficiency, sustainability, and experience enrichment.2

Moreover, smart tourism consists of smart destinations, smart experiences, and smart businesses. Finally, as noted by Pencarelli, the optimal outcome or vision of smart tourism are smart tourists that are supported by smart technology to behave more responsibly towards the environment as well as the local community.4 Taken one step further, they even go through a transformation process towards establishing sustainable daily habits for greater well-being and sustainability. The theoretical concept of smart tourism almost sounds too good to be true. Therefore, I asked myself the question if the smart tourism concept is feasible. Does smart automatically mean good solutions for everyone? And does smart tourism really make tourism better, and hence, more sustainable? Or does the smart tourism conversation produce tunnel vision?

The ecosystem challenge

In contrast to a tourism business-centric ecosystem supported by technology, a smart tourism ecosystem is much more complex. It includes a variety of stakeholders such as touristic and residential consumers, DMOs, different (non-touristic) suppliers and social media companies, that are not necessarily interacting with or are not dependent on each other in a linear value chain. Furthermore, a smart tourism ecosystem is not a closed system and allows new business models to enter at any time.5 For example, touristic and residential consumers are capable to act as producers, becoming destination marketers by sharing their experiences on social media or directly consuming data provided by others in the ecosystem. Moreover, data, as well as ICT, is used by businesses to create new services of value or enrich tourism experiences.

 

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From my point of view, this complexity of the smart tourism ecosystem makes it more difficult for destination managers or decision-makers in businesses and governmental organisations to identify and understand the relevant interaction points to form and prioritize their strategies, objectives, and tactics accordingly. DMOs are not yet agile enough to address the challenges arising from the ever-changing environment in which they are operating. This could involve risks of mismanagement and potential negative impacts for all tourism stakeholders that are difficult to even be considered in the first place.

In this context, it should also be noted, that smart tourism ecosystems cannot be created but rather evolve from the technological infrastructure and regulatory foundations provided by external (non-touristic) stakeholders5. Therefore, the outcome of smart tourism development and its formation of smart tourism ecosystems might not even lie within the managerial control of tourism decision-makers. This becomes clearer by looking at the impacts of sharing economy concepts in tourism: next to its benefits sharing platforms have had also disruptive effects on the competitiveness of e.g. hotels, leading to tensions in the housing markets and hence, have resulted in historic centres with little authentic local communities to be experienced by tourists.

The data challenge

The involvement of new, innovative technology and the use of big amounts of personal data brings its own challenges to smart tourism development. Here, the effects of technology-supported life should be explored in more detail. ICTs, such as the smartphone, are part of daily routines and their influence alters global economies, society, and individuals. In the past, consumers used technologies to mainly support their lives. Nowadays, they form digital identities with social networks and the dependency on ICTs is ever-growing. As a result, social interactions, identity formation, mental capabilities, opinion-making, and of course consumer choices are impacted profoundly by the ICT economy.6

 

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According to Gössling, ICT innovations are widely accepted as a positive input to the development and its many affordances, meaning its support with information and advice, services related to tourism, social networks, or orientation, are embraced by consumers – and businesses. However, this overlooks the many social costs and risks of ICT innovation.6 Today, consumers are willing to share their personal information and data concerning social interactions, health, views and opinions, personality, and economic situation mainly with corporations such as Facebook, Google, Airbnb etc. Those have almost limitless opportunities for private data collection and can easily gain consumer control for their own economic benefit.6

Yes, data can be helpful, but how it is used and managed lies still with humans. In the context of smart tourism, it is important for destination managers and decision-makers in the public sector to understand the affordances and concessions of ICTs, so the purpose of smart tourism development is not to just track and profile tourists for simple revenue growth. Especially social but also environmental issues need to be considered. Therefore, smart tourism development should aim to gain certain independence from big players in the ICT economy, implement supporting and ethical regulations and drive its own ICT innovations and investments. This comes with another challenge. DMOs, which often exist solely for marketing purposes, do not have the power within the ecosystem to influence or even implement certain guidelines or regulations needed to build a sustainable, smart infrastructure.

In addition, privacy concerns and cyber security can be identified as key factors for touristic and residential consumers to use smart tourism technologies. If governmental and public organisations, as well as businesses within the smart tourism ecosystem, fail to address tourists’ needs for privacy and security, it would present a definite exclusion criterion for visiting the destination. 7 Although the need for privacy and security can vary from one individual to another, it must be a conditioning variable for governmental and public organisations in smart tourism development.

The technology challenge

The trust in smart technology and enjoyment of technology-enriched experiences also plays a critical role in smart tourism development. To benefit from experience co-creation, smart tourism destinations must capture touristic and residential consumers’ level of acceptance and usage of smart technologies. However, this is rather complex. At destinations, consumers’ willingness and ability to use technology vary widely. Moreover, the potential negative impacts of intensive technology use on consumers and their experiences should be considered. Such effects could be information overload or loss of authenticity.8 Consequently, not every destination might be equally suitable for smart tourism development and implications for smart technology should be examined carefully according to their target groups. Furthermore, once smart technologies are implemented, it is important to evaluate and analyse their real impacts.

 

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Towards better tourism

Research shows that ICTs and specifically social media, support and can assist in sustainable development in tourism9. By using technological, human, and social resources smart tourism destinations seek sustainability to improve the life of local communities and enrich the tourist experience. However, it should not be the goal of destination managers and decision-makers in public organisations to just implement smart technologies to follow a megatrend. And although the theoretical concept of smart tourism is indeed promising better tourism, smart tourism ecosystems and the development of smart tourism destinations bring several challenges – especially related to the human factor, hence, the managers, decision-makers etc. Those call for further research to get a deeper understanding, develop comprehensive frameworks and identify managerial implications.

To fully benefit and create competitive and sustainable destinations, collaboration between the different stakeholders is key.10 Governmental and public organizations in cooperation with the local communities and the relevant tourism stakeholders need to become more agile and provide strategic and regulatory groundwork as well as the relevant technological infrastructure. Moreover, smart destinations and tourism businesses should concentrate on a human-centric experience design approach.11 By understanding how humans are impacted by smart technology, and how technology can assist in creating more meaningful experiences or even support transformations to greater well-being and sustainability, smart tourism can become better tourism.

 

References

1 Sachs, J. D., Schmidt-Traub, G., Mazzucato, M., Messner, D., Nakicenovic, N., & Rockström, J. (2019). Six transformations to achieve the sustainable development goals. Nature Sustainability, 2(9), 805-814.

2 Gretzel, U., Sigala, M., Xiang, Z., & Koo, C. (2015). Smart tourism: foundations and developments. Electronic markets, 25(3), 179-188.

3  European Commission. (2021). European Capitals of Smart Tourism. Retrieved 13th October 2021: https://smart-tourism-capital.ec.europa.eu/index_en

4 Pencarelli, T. (2020). The digital revolution in the travel and tourism industry. Information Technology & Tourism, 22(3), 455-476.

5 Gretzel, U., Werthner, H., Koo, C., & Lamsfus, C. (2015). Conceptual foundations for understanding smart tourism ecosystems. Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 558-563.

6 Gössling, S. (2021). Tourism, technology and ICT: a critical review of affordances and concessions. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 29(5), 733-750.

7 Jeong, M., & Shin, H. H. (2020). Tourists’ experiences with smart tourism technology at smart destinations and their behavior intentions. Journal of Travel Research59(8), 1464-1477.

8 Femenia-Serra, F., Neuhofer, B., & Ivars-Baidal, J. A. (2019). Towards a conceptualisation of smart tourists and their role within the smart destination scenario. The Service Industries Journal, 39(2), 109-133.

9 Gössling, S. (2017). Tourism, information technologies and sustainability: an exploratory review. Journal of Sustainable Tourism25(7), 1024-1041.

10 Cavalheiro, M. B., Joia, L. A., & Cavalheiro, G. M. D. C. (2020). Towards a smart tourism destination development model: Promoting environmental, economic, socio-cultural and political values. Tourism Planning & Development, 17(3), 237-259.

11 Stankov, U., & Gretzel, U. (2020). Tourism 4.0 technologies and tourist experiences: a human-centered design perspective. Information Technology & Tourism22(3), 477-488.

How can a chatbot influence the customer experience of your tourism business?

With the constantly ongoing advancements of Industry 4.0, several interconnected developments can be seen affecting both the digital and operational environments of tourism businesses. These so-called Tourism 4.0 innovations refer to Industry 4.0 innovations (Big Data, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence etc.) that have been specifically refined to suit the needs of the tourism industry, ultimately bringing additional value to customers¹. To scratch the surface of this multidimensional phenomenon, this blog post will focus on technology-mediated communication tools, specifically chatbots, and their influences on customer experience.

Yet, we must notice the other side of the equation. In addition to addressing the influences of chatbots on customer experience, the issue will also be appraised from the perspective of Customer Experience Management (CEM). But first, as stated by Opute, Irene and Iwu², it is vital to define the concept of “customer experience” before addressing topics related to the leveraging of digital technologies. Thus, in order to fully comprehend the complexity of the topic, we first need to create a framework of understanding.

Understanding the fundamentals of customer experience

Customer experience is a common topic of interest in both general business research and tourism-specific research. Due to differences in industry-specific characteristics, it is vital to understand the difference between online customer experience and (overall) customer experience.

In their conceptual model of online customer experience, Rose, Clark, Samouel and Hair³ identify various antecedent variables affecting the Cognitive Experiential State (CES), as well as the Affective Experiential State (AES) of customers. While antecedents affecting CES are closely related to the concept of flow (e.g., interactive speed, online presence, challenge, and skill), antecedents influencing AES are often associated with individual perceptions of website functionality, aesthetics and assumed benefits. The above-noted Experiential States lead to the preferable outcomes of an online customer experience: (1) customer satisfaction; (2) trust; and (3) repurchase intentions.

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Stankov’s and Gretzel’s¹ conceptualization addresses similar concepts in a different context. Their conceptualization showcases the role of Tourism 4.0 technologies in creating tourist experiences. Similarly, concepts related to the state of flow (i.e., object-oriented factors) are seen to have an effect on the user experience. Conversely, their Human-Centered Design (HCD) approach gives great emphasis to additional variables, specifically subject-oriented factors (e.g., previous experiences, behavioural patterns, and contextual differences). Ultimately, the aforementioned factors result in a subjective user experience. However, this is just a part of the full story. The main idea of the conceptualization is to illustrate the user experience as a mediator, supporting the formation of the overall tourist experience. In other words, a user experience is a tool creating either goal-surpassing or goal-limiting effects, which have an essential impact on the overall experience.

Hwang’s and Seo’s⁴ findings also emphasize the role of technology-mediated experiences as middlemen between the customer and the overall customer experience. Their conceptualization reviews the topic from a CEM perspective, thus giving greater emphasis to the characteristics and consequences of the overall customer experience. According to this broader description, the overall customer experience is shaped according to a set of internal factors (e.g., customer demographics) and external factors (e.g., online environment, technology, and service attributes). As a result, the overall customer experience revolves around aspects of co-creation, authenticity, transcendence, and transformation. What is the final outcome of the overall customer experience? Mentioned outcomes include emotional and behavioural outcomes, changes in brand perception, as well as other subjective outcomes.

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Chatbots: What, How, Why & Why not?

What are chatbots?

Essentially, chatbots are auto-generated software having some sort of ability to interact with its user. This interaction can take place in the forms of audio or text⁵. These natural language-based dialogues between chatbots and users⁶ take place on multiple platforms, including company websites and mobile applications⁷, to name a few.

How do chatbots work?

Chatbots require certain prerequisites to function. At this point it is vital to understand the differences between the two most common chatbots of today – rule-based chatbots and AI-chatbots. Rule-based chatbots operate on a basis of set rules. These chatbots can only function within the framework of these set rules, which limits their functionality⁸.What happens when a rule-based chatbot is not able to process your request? Melian-Gonzalez, Gutierrez-Tano and Bulchand-Gidumal⁷ highlight the complementary relationship required between chatbots and humans. Consequently, when a chatbot is not able to process a piece of information, the request is transferred to a human (i.e., a customer service representative of a company). Another limiting factor is the inability to learn from previous interactions; rule-based chatbots cannot storage processed information into a knowledge base or a data storage⁸.

Conversely, AI-chatbots have the ability to utilize complex datasets and even predict customer behaviour (to a certain extent). These highly intellectual chatbots have a Natural Language Processing (NLP) layer, or they utilize an Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) to obtain and process customers’ textual and/or oral requests. Moreover, AI-chatbots are often associated with the concept of Machine Learning (ML). ML functions enable AI-chatbots to not only process customers’ requests, but also to make assumptions about customer behaviour and deliver suggestions accordingly⁹.

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Why do customers choose or choose not to interact with chatbots?

In Pillai’s and Sivathan’s¹⁰ study, a total of 1480 Indian customers as well as 36 senior managers were surveyed to identify different antecedents of chatbot adoption. Their findings indicate that the main antecedents of chatbot adoption include perceived ease of use, perceived trust, perceived intelligence, and the human-like characteristics of the chatbot (anthropomorphism).

Conversely, a more recent study identifies several negative antecedents affecting the adoption intention (AIN) of chatbots. In the above-mentioned study, undergraduate students from two Spanish Universities were surveyed, obtaining a total of 476 valid responses. The findings imply that individual habits, such as previous use of chatbots, inconveniences in communication (i.e., having to adopt own language in order for the chatbot to understand), as well as having a negative general attitude towards Self-Service Technologies (SSTs) have a negative effect on adoption intention⁷.

Chatbots & customer experience: providing value or increasing frustration?

Chatbots contribute to the customer experience in various ways. A recent Malaysian case study, conducted in co-operation with Air Asia Berhad, analyses the influences of chatbots on customer experience. The study presents a variety of positive outcomes. Firstly, the ease of use is highlighted; utilizing a chatbot requires little or no technical competence. Secondly, the constructed AIRA chatbot is able to operate 24/7, providing immediate responses to customers’ queries. This notion was greatly emphasized, since prior to the case study, the service quality of the company was on an insufficient level¹¹.

The findings of Suanpang’s and Jamjuntr’s¹² case study add to the above-mentioned notions. During their study, an AI chatbot was constructed for tourists visiting the Active Beach Zone in Thailand. Their findings indicate the following: (1) chatbot usage minimized the cognitive overload of customers; and (2) chatbot usage contributed to overall customer satisfaction. A mention-worthy element adding to the overall customer satisfaction was the chatbots ability to provide personalized information and customized content.

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Boiano’s, Borda’s, Gaia’s, Rossi’s and Cuomo’s¹³ case study addresses the opportunities presented by chatbots in the context of museums and heritage organisations. The results of their pilot project in Milan imply that chatbot usage increased the immersion of museum tours, encouraging younger customer segments to pay more attention to historic environments and objects.

Conversely, a vital element of experiences, co-creation, divides opinions among scholars. While Bowen and Morosan¹⁴ state that chatbots among other technical developments add to the co-creation of remarkable visitor experiences by efficiently utilizing customer data, other scholars recognize the disruptive elements of the same phenomenon. According to a statement, autonomous devices are seen to “dehumanize co-created experiences” because of their power of overtaking the responsibilities of human beings¹⁵.

Be ahead of the game: identifying future opportunities and threats of chatbots in tourism

By now you should understand the following topics:

      1. The fundamentals of customer experience
      2. The adoption, use, and functionality of chatbots
      3. How do chatbots influence the customer experience?

Adding to the understanding of these topics, a conceptual framework has been constructed.

Source: Author
What about the future of chatbots? What kind of opportunities and threats do you need to acknowledge as a manager?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager is to focus only on the more direct outcomes of chatbot usage. Chatbots can certainly minimize labour costs, create additional value for customers, as well as give you a competitive edge over your competitors. However, there are additional (indirect) focus points that you should consider.

Firstly, we must acknowledge that advancements in technology increase customer expectations. Consequently, you must consider how your chatbot can be developed to suit the changing needs of customers. Could you utilize Deep Learning practices or additional Application Programming Interfaces to train your chatbot? Do these training practices fit your budget?

Secondly, let us review the situation from an experience design perspective. As said, technology is just a mediator for the overall experience; the overall experience includes holistic and human-centred elements¹⁶. Still, as technology develops, Bowen and Morosan¹⁴ question whether it is the technology that primarily drives value creation. In other words, this would require rethinking the whole experience, since technology can provide more value to the client in the form of a better product, a lower price, or both.

Thirdly, we must address the threats of chatbot usage. The more apparent negative outcomes of chatbot usage include frustration and skepticism towards technology. Could this be affected by determining whether it is mandatory or voluntary for customers to use your chatbot? Furthermore, there is a future threat to consider. Researchers have questioned whether the trend of replacing the human labour force with chatbots will have negative influences on how customers perceive chatbots. This negative perception ultimately affects adoption intentions⁷.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information and Communication Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References:

¹Stankov, U., & Gretzel, U. 2020. Tourism 4.0 technologies and tourist experiences: a human-centered design perspective. Information Technology & Tourism, 22(3), 477-488.

²Opute, A. P., Irene, B. O., & Iwu, C. G. 2020. Tourism service and digital technologies: A value creation perspective. African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, 9(2), 1-18.

³Rose, S., Clark, M., Samouel, P., & Hair, N. 2012. Online customer experience in e-retailing: an empirical model of antecedents and outcomes. Journal of retailing, 88(2), 308-322.

⁴Hwang, J., & Seo, S. 2016. A critical review of research on customer experience management: Theoretical, methodological and cultural perspectives. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.

⁵Kumar, V. M., Keerthana, A., Madhumitha, M., Valliammai, S., & Vinithasri, V. 2016. Sanative chatbot for health seekers. International Journal Of Engineering And Computer Science, 5(03), 16022-16025.

⁶Dale, R. 2016. The return of the chatbots. Natural Language Engineering, 22(5), 811-817.

⁷Melián-González, S., Gutiérrez-Taño, D., & Bulchand-Gidumal, J. 2021. Predicting the intentions to use chatbots for travel and tourism. Current Issues in Tourism, 24(2), 192-210.

⁸Alotaibi, R., Ali, A., Alharthi, H., & Almehamdi, R. 2020. AI Chatbot for Tourist Recommendations: A Case Study in the City of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Interactive Mobile Technologies, 14(19), 18-30.

⁹Calvaresi, D., Ibrahim, A., Calbimonte, J. P., Schegg, R., Fragniere, E., & Schumacher, M. 2021. The Evolution of Chatbots in Tourism: A Systematic Literature Review. Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2021, 3-16.

¹⁰Pillai, R., & Sivathanu, B. 2020. Adoption of AI-based chatbots for hospitality and tourism. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.

¹¹Kasinathan, V., Abd Wahab, M. H., Idrus, S. Z. S., Mustapha, A., & Yuen, K. Z. 2020. Aira chatbot for travel: case study of AirAsia. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1529(2), 022101. IOP Publishing

¹²Suanpang, P., & Jamjuntr, P. 2021. A Chatbot Prototype by Deep Learning Supporting Tourism. Psychology and Education Journal, 58(4), 1902-1911.

¹³Boiano, S., Borda, A., Gaia, G., Rossi, S., & Cuomo, P. 2018. Chatbots and new audience opportunities for museums and heritage organisations. Electronic visualisation and the arts, 164-171.

¹⁴Bowen, J., & Morosan, C. 2018. Beware hospitality industry: the robots are coming. Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes.

¹⁵Buhalis, D., Harwood, T., Bogicevic, V., Viglia, G., Beldona, S., & Hofacker, C. 2019. Technological disruptions in services: lessons from tourism and hospitality. Journal of Service Management.

¹⁶Tussyadiah, I. P. 2014. Toward a theoretical foundation for experience design in tourism. Journal of travel research, 53(5), 543-564.

Will blockchain shake the paradigm of tourism?

Understand the Blockchain

Traditionally, when referring to information and communication technology, we are familiar with the concepts of the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, contactless technology, and social media since these technologies are highly implemented in our everyday life.

Conversely, when blockchain is addressed on the table, we tend to avoid this concept due to its complex nature. Like a ghost cat, the concept of blockchain gradually infiltrates and blends into our life at an unnoticeable pace.

So, what is blockchain after all? Blockchain is a list of transactions or a record that is kept up by a network of clients (Sharma et al., 2021). To understand the blockchain in a simple way, a block is an entity to store the information, and each block is connected to its initial block while can build up new connections with new blocks, which enables all the blocks linked together within the same data structural system (Sharma et al., 2021).

Also, what can we do with blockchain? Several applications such as smart contract, tokenization, inter-organizational data management, governmental digital system construct, healthcare system, and financial service have been proposed, implemented for revolutionizing our society (Sharma et al., 2021).

Understand the Paradigm of Tourism

It is without a doubt that new technologies are required to be implemented in tourism, could blockchain become the next tipping point in the tourism industry?

Before answering this question, it is necessary to review the current paradigm of the tourism industry from a broader perspective and investigate whether blockchain technology is an appropriate fit for certain stances.

What is a paradigm? This question bothers me as I had encountered this term quite often. From the explanation of the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model’. In the book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, Thomas Kuhn (1962) introduced the phenomenon of a paradigm shift, which to me is a better way to understand the paradigm.

In my understanding, a paradigm shift occurs where new disciplines, conceptual models, and theoretical frameworks could not fit into the existing body that encompasses all knowledge and theories, which requires a shift to a new body. In another word, the paradigm is the body that includes all relevant knowledge and theories that fits into its system.

Now we understand the term “paradigm”, but what’s the paradigm of the tourism industry? To see the bigger picture, Tribe et al. (2015) raised three critical questions: “How is the tourism knowledge system constructed?”; “What are the dynamics of change in the tourism knowledge system”, and “Paradigms, global structure, and processes”.

By reflecting on his own article “The Indiscipline of Tourism” (Tribe, 1997), Tribe concluded that tourism exists in the emerging fields of traditional academy knowledge and knowledge that is yet set within a disciplinary framework. In a broad sense, tourism till today can be considered a field of study instead of a discipline, which answers the first question.

As we understand the position of tourism as a field of study, two approaches cover the field of business of tourism (Fletcher, Fyall, Gilbert, & Wanhill, 2017) including:

• Tourism Demand
• The Tourism Destination
• The Tourism Sector
• Marketing for Tourism

and social science (Hannam & Knox, 2010).

• Regulating Tourism
• Commodifying Tourism
• Embodying Tourism
• Performing Tourism
• Tourism and the Everyday
• Tourism and the Other
• Tourism and the Environment
• Tourism and the Past

Tribe et al. (2015) pinpointed that ideology and discourse aspects should be added as an addition to complement Kuhn’s explanation of “paradigm”, while from the perspective of neoliberalism, the core concepts address:

• Competitiveness
• Deregulation
• Efficiency
• Free Markets
• Profit
• Consumerism
• Capitalism
• Globalization
• Individualism
• Growth

However, neoliberalism cannot stand for the ultimate universal worldview. Hence, Tribe et al. (2015) addressed the other values:

• Inclusivity
• Equity
• Equality
• Beauty
• Sustainability

Furthermore, Tribe et al, (2015) reflected on the consequences that tourism is mainly driven by the forces of the neoliberal’s values and ideology, while tourism research in a sense amplifies and re-visits these core concepts, which deepen the imbalance of tourism development as “tourism paradoxes”.

Discussion of the Practicality of Blockchain in the Tourism Industry

Since we understand the paradigm of the tourism industry, its evolving development, and its deeper values, it is time to put our attention back to the blockchain once again.

Kizildag et al. (2015) argued that blockchain could result in a paradigm shift, though blockchain technology is still at the “early adopter” stage. Two theories are suggested to implement blockchain technology including the diffusion of the innovation theory, and the agency theory.

The diffusion of the innovation theory indicates that hospitality and tourism companies are distant from blockchain technology unless the concept of value co-creation is recognized by those companies as indicated.

The agency theory on the other hand emphasizes the forthcoming contradictions that can be caused by the distinctive interests of the principals and the agencies. As the agents and the principals have different interests (Jesnsen and Meckling, 1976), the inconsistency of the operation and management may result in miscommunication (Altin et al., 2016).

Studies of the agency theory implied that blockchain could resolve the pain points of institutionalized communication, such as information asymmetry, trust issues, transaction transparency, and security issue (Altin et al., 2016). Additionally, Kizildag et al. (2015) highlighted the decentralized feature and the transparent environment of blockchain technology.

Accordingly, three research propositions were presented to further the practicality of blockchain in the tourism industry (Önder & Treiblmaier, 2018):

• Research proposition 1: New forms of evaluations and review technologies will lead to trustworthy rating systems.

• Research proposition 2: The widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies will lead to new types of C2C markets.

• Research proposition 3: Blockchain technology will lead to increased disintermediation in the tourism industry.

Proposition 1 addressed that the user identities do not need to be revealed since all online reviews will go through an end-to-end private system so that nobody can duplicate their reviews to manipulate the rating system (Önder & Treiblmaier, 2018).

Proposition 2 discussed that business can be doable without the unnecessity of trustworthy intermediaries, while the adoption of cryptocurrencies can trigger the formation of new C2C business markets (Önder & Treiblmaier, 2018).

Proposition 3 implied that the increasing disintermediation effect caused by blockchain technology (Colombo & Baggio, 2017) has the potential to eliminate new intermediaries (Ford, Wang, & Vestal, 2012), which is good for the smaller business to remove the entry barriers (Önder & Treiblmaier, 2018).

Similarly, Tyan et al, (2021) emphasize the positive impacts of the application of blockchain in sustainable tourism based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the UN. Other than the disintermediation, review system as we discussed, four more extensive applications were addressed as:
• Food supply chain management and food waste mitigation
• Service customization and tourists’ satisfaction
• Awareness rise
• Tourists’ sustainable behavior

In comparison to the previous research, identical implementations are revisited, and that is how I realize that the research of blockchain technology used in tourism has come to a saturated state. Looking back to the question: will blockchain shake the paradigm of tourism, here are the final wrap-ups and the takeaways of my thinking.

Connected floating cubes background

Will Blockchain Shake the Paradigm of Tourism?

To enable the paradigm shift, it requires the disruptive innovation of technology, while large amounts of research, hypothesis-building, and theory-construction are necessary. From a development perspective, we observe tourism being questioned as indiscipline to an extent, while we also notice that tourism extends its reach from business and social science to other disciplines.

It is very difficult to deconstruct the previous built and long-lasting theories and knowledge, meaning that the process of shaking the well-built paradigm is a long journey. But it is common when new things are introduced and threaten the existence of the current paradigm, which occurs in the case of blockchain technology as well.

In a sense, the inevitable appearance of blockchain indeed commences the process of research, but to what extent that blockchain reaches a state of having the absolute influential power to trigger further and deeper research is yet to be uncovered. Without a doubt, scholars and researchers had invested their efforts to investigate the positioning of blockchain in the tourism industry, while it appears that a bottleneck is reached as identical conclusions are drawn.

To recap this article, we are aware of blockchain technology, but seldom actually understand what it is and how to use it. It occurs to me that the increasing attention to blockchain technology has aroused many researchers, and that many of them have established the relevance of blockchain and tourism is solid proof that the blockchain is shaking the paradigm of tourism. However, to what extent that blockchain affects the development of the tourism paradigm requires a tremendous of cooperative work among researchers who share the similar field of studies.

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2. Colombo, E., & Baggio, R. (2017). Tourism Distribution Channels: Knowledge Requirements. In N. Scott, M. De Martino, & M. Van Niekerk (Eds.), Bridging Tourism Theory and Practice (Vol. 8, pp. 289–301). Emerald Publishing Limited. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2042-144320170000008016
3. Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D., & Wanhill, S. (2017). Tourism: Principles and Practice. Pearson UK.
4. Ford, R. C., Wang, Y., & Vestal, A. (2012). Power asymmetries in tourism distribution networks. Annals of Tourism Research, 39(2), 755–779. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2011.10.001
5. Giannopoulos, Antonios, Skourtis, George, Kalliga, Alexandra, Dontas-Chrysis, Dimitrios-Michail, & Paschalidis, Dimitrios. (2020). Co-creating high-value hospitality services in the tourism ecosystem: Towards a paradigm shift? https://doi.org/10.5281/ZENODO.3822065
6. Hannam, K., & Knox, D. (2010). Understanding Tourism: A Critical Introduction. SAGE.
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8. Kizildag, M., Dogru, T., Zhang, T. (Christina), Mody, M. A., Altin, M., Ozturk, A. B., & Ozdemir, O. (2019). Blockchain: A paradigm shift in business practices. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 32(3), 953–975. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-12-2018-0958
9. Kuhn, T. (2021). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In Philosophy after Darwin: Classic and Contemporary Readings (pp. 176–177). Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400831296-024
10. Önder, I., & Treiblmaier, H. (2018). Blockchain and tourism: Three research propositions. Annals of Tourism Research, 72, 180–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2018.03.005
11. Sharma, N., Shamkuwar, M., Kumaresh, S., Singh, I., & Goje, A. (2021). Chapter 10—Introduction to blockchain and distributed systems—Fundamental theories and concepts. In S. Krishnan, V. E. Balas, E. G. Julie, Y. H. Robinson, & R. Kumar (Eds.), Blockchain for Smart Cities (pp. 183–210). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-824446-3.00002-8
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13. Tyan, I., Yagüe, M. I., & Guevara-Plaza, A. (2021). Blockchain Technology’s Potential for Sustainable Tourism. In W. Wörndl, C. Koo, & J. L. Stienmetz (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2021 (pp. 17–29). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65785-7_2

Facial recognition systems – the key to a more seamless future of tourism services?

Biometric systems are becoming a more mundane part of our everyday lives. We use for example our fingerprints and facial recognition systems to unlock our devices, to make mobile payments and to pass the border control routines at airports. These technologies are developing all the time, making them more accurate and simpler to use, pervading to a growing extent of the services and systems we use. One of the fields that could benefit from the opportunities that biometric systems create, is the tourism industry and its different sub-fields. In tourism, technologies like this are already widely in use in some areas, and during recent years, partly because of the pandemic situation that forced the companies in this field to develop themselves further, the adoption of contactless services has been increasing rapidly (Ivasciuc, 2020).

Although biometric technology has a huge potential to make businesses better and create more satisfying service experiences for the customers, there are still some concerns and suspicion amongst the customers towards these solutions. (Pai et al. 2018) These doubts can prevent the greater scale implementation of these technologies, regardless of the convenience and possibilities they create. Biometric systems can refer to a variety of technologies that examine human characteristics to verify the user. (Jain et al. 2011). This blog post focuses mainly on the usage of facial recognition technology (FRS) in the tourism industry.

Utilizing facial recognition technologies can create several advantages for tourism businesses, as well as for businesses in general. Adopting FRS based solutions is particularly useful in the tourism field, because of the specific features that the industry has. For example, in hospitality, the businesses must simultaneously take care of two major areas, security and customer satisfaction. Morosan (2019) suggests that FRS represents an ideal solution for hotels that are constantly balancing between these two quality challenges. (Morosan, 2019)

According to Mills et al. (2010), biometric technology creates advantages for the tourism and hospitality field in the areas of safety, customer convenience and operational efficiency. An increased level of convenience can lead to greater customer satisfaction when customers do not have to carry their key cards or loyalty cards and wait in massive lines of people. Biometric solutions, or in this case, facial recognition systems, could also lead to an increase in sales and revenue when payments are being made easier for the client. And even though FRS creates advantages in customer satisfaction and safety, perhaps the most critical benefits are related to operational efficiency, since tourism businesses and services usually must handle large volumes of people for example at airports. (Mills et al., 2010)

Facial recognition systems are already widely in use in the aviation industry, where passengers usually must undergo a repeated set of identification processes and check-ins at airports. Travel documents are usually presented to a variety of authorities such as the immigration department or customs, and of course to the airlines themselves. Since this process is very time-consuming and frustrating for the passengers, automation via FRS is an efficient tool to make air travelling more comfortable. At airports, FRS solutions are already a popular solution for example in border-control formalities. (Samala et al. 2020)

To make the airport experience even more convenient, some airports started to offer a fully automated airport experience. For example, at the beginning of 2021, Delta airlines launched the first domestic digital identity test in the U.S which makes the contactless airport experience possible. Customers can now use facial recognition as an identification verification in every service touchpoint with their mobile application. Traditional ID verification is not needed at any point of the travel. (Delta-news hub, 2021; Parker, 2021) The growing numbers of tourists are forcing the aviation industry to increase its performance with more efficient contactless solutions, and of course, the development has also been pushed by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Ivasciuc, 2020).

Facial recognition in the hospitality industry

One other field within tourism that would gain benefits from the FRS is the hospitality industry. As Pai et al. (2018) demonstrate with their findings, as users start to trust biometrical systems such as FRS, they will eventually become more satisfied with hotels using this technology. FRS is still at an early adoption stage in the hospitality industry, which means that the early adopting companies could gain a competitive advantage. (Pai et al. 2018)

Even though there are some existing examples of hotels implementing FRS in their services, especially in the Asian countries, automated hotel services that utilize FRS are not widespread regardless of the possibilities that they create. Automated FRS services have been launched for example in China, in two of the Marriott-chain hotels. At these facilities, it is possible for the client to execute the whole check-in process simply with an ID and facial data. (Marriott international, 2018). A more recent example comes from Vietnam, where a pioneering Vinpearl-resort chain launched the use of FRS in its hotel facilities in Nha Trang (Vinpearl, 2021).

What are the advantages of FRS for hotels?

As Wang (2018) presents, at Marriott hotels, an intelligent check-in system reduces the check-in time from three minutes to one minute which is a remarkable advantage compared to more traditional hotel services (Wang, 2018). According to Morosan (2020) FRS is a promising technology for the hospitality industry since it makes it possible for hotels to optimize consumer tasks such as authentication and payments and increase security in the facility. FRS brings major possibilities to enhance both security and service quality. (Morosan, 2020) Intelligent property management systems could use integrated FRS to identify familiar guests already when they are approaching the service desk to offer a more personalized experience (Hertzfeld, 2018).

Utilizing FRS would be a major step for businesses operating in the hospitality field toward a more seamless and satisfying customer experience. According to Morosan (2020), it is the legacy process of guest authentication that creates the most critical service bottlenecks in the hospitality industry. These bottlenecks are very frustrating for both the guests and the workers, especially during peak hours.  Even though solutions such as self-check-in kiosks or mobile check-in systems have already been deployed by some hotels to answer this problem, service bottlenecks seem to still be an inevitable part of hotel services. Self-check-in solutions create a possibility of security risks, which may be one of the reasons why many hotels prefer to operate on traditional patterns. (Morosan, 2020) However, FRS differs from other self-check-in solutions with its ability to create automated services accurately and also safely (NEC Corporation, 2018).

In the hotel service ecosystem, guests are identified in many service touchpoints, such as in the check-in situation, payments and when accessing different facilities such as the guest’s room, gym or spa area. As Morosan (2020) describes “a repeated need for guest authentication is one of the idiosyncrasies of the hospitality industry”. Typically, guests use keys or key cards to access different areas of the facility, but often these keys end up being lost or damaged, which creates frustrating, unnecessary situations for the guests during their stay. With FRS, it would be possible to create a key that is rather hard to lose, the customers own face.

FRS brings possibilities to create more personalized service encounters and ultimately, it could even be used as a tool to understand the guests’ feelings more deeply as AI is increasingly becoming better at recognizing human emotions. The so-called emotion recognition technology (ERT) aims to detect emotions from facial expressions and is a growing multi-billion industry.  (Hagerty & Albert, 2021). This could also be used as a tool in the hospitality industry, where the staff’s ability to recognize customers’ feelings play a critical role. As Koc & Boz (2019) argue, as the emotion/facial recognition abilities of the staff improve, it is likely that also the interactions between the customers and the employees improve too. According to them, improving staff’s ability to recognize customer feelings drives the development in service encounters. (Koc & Boz, 2019).

For example, far-fetched and simplified, if the check-out kiosk that is utilizing ERT technology recognizes that a significant number of guests leave the facility showing more stress signals than when arriving, it might be an indicator that there is something terribly wrong with the service provided. This kind of data is something that the service employees could never be able to collect and examine during their hurries. Of course, applying these kinds of solutions collides with privacy issues very quickly and sounds more like a dystopian future in some people’s ears than service development.

What does research tell about customer attitudes towards FRS?

Applying facial recognition technology raises concerns in people’s minds, which may be one of the factors putting breaks into this development in the tourism industry. (Morosan, 2019) For example, in Russia, privacy issues were quickly brought up when Moscow launched its new FRS based payment option in the city’s metro system. (The Guardian magazine, 15.10.2021).

Privacy issues have also been brought up by Xu et al.  (2020). They argue in their study on FRS usage in hotel check-in services, that perceived privacy has an even bigger impact on customers’ trust than security. Their research demonstrates that perceived privacy, security and trust in the system significantly affect the acceptance of FRS in hotel services amongst the guests (Xu et al., 2020).

Pai et al. (2018) studied the Chinese tourist’s perceived trust and intentions to use biometric technology in Macau. Their study also revealed that privacy and security concerns were the main sources creating distrust of biometric use in hospitality. (Pai et al. 2018). There are also concerns regarding the accuracy of these systems and their equality. For example, research done by Buolamwini & Gebru (2018) demonstrates this by pointing out algorithmic fairness, as FRS technology examined in their research was more capable of recognizing white males than females with a darker tone of skin. (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018)

However, some studies indicate that privacy seems not to be that big of a deal in preventing the adoption of FRS, especially among young people. Norfolk & O’regan (2020) studied biometric technologies in the music festival context using an extended technology acceptance model. They found that as opposed to security and convenience, privacy, accuracy, and reliability did not have a significant impact on the acceptance of biometrics in a music festival setting. Their findings argue against the very common view that privacy, accuracy, and reliability are the most critical factors impacting the usage of biometrics. For young festival-goers, it seemed to be more about the actual usefulness of the technology than fears of lost privacy and security. (Norfolk & O’regan, 2020)

Cifti et al. (2021) studied the customer acceptancy of FRS in fast-food restaurants, which is another industry heavily pushing automated encounters to provide quicker service. Their findings support the notion that the impact of perceived privacy on the willingness to adapt FRS is not that significant. As Cifti et al. conclude, the differences regarding the issue of privacy might vary depending on the nationality of the user, culture type or hospitality service level. (Cifti et al. 2021)

Examining the existing research and cases of the adaption of FRS in the tourism industry, it seems an opportunity for many businesses in this field. FRS solutions have already spread into a variety of service encounters, that must handle large volumes of people and verify their personal details. FRS makes these encounters more fluent for the traveller as well as creates efficiency for the service provider.

As research points out, adopting FRS raises concerns amongst some people. Is my data safe and how is it used? That’s a question many people are asking when given an opportunity to use biometrical identification for the first time in a business setting. This is what companies adopting FRS should put emphasis on to create pleasant encounters between the customers and the technology. Overall, adopting FRS would develop tourist business’s security, efficiency and convenience, but only if the critical points that are preventing the usefulness and the trustworthiness of the system in the customers’ eyes are addressed and dealt with properly.

References:

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