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.

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:

Buolamwini, J. &amp; Gebru, T.. (2018). Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification. <i>Proceedings of the 1st Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency</i>, in <i>Proceedings of Machine Learning Research</i> 81:77-91 Available from: https://proceedings.mlr.press/v81/buolamwini18a.html.

Cifti, O. Choi, E & Berezina, K. 2021. Lets face it: are customers ready for facial recognition technology at quick-service restaurants? International journal of hospitality management Vol. 95, 102941

Delta-airlines news hub. 2021. Retrieved 14.10.2021 from: https://news.delta.com/delta-launches-first-domestic-digital-identity-test-us-providing-touchless-curb-gate-experience

Hertzfeld, E. 2018. Agilysys adds facial recognition to its PMS, hotel management, available at: https://www.hotelmanagement.net/tech/agilysys-adds-facial-recognition-to-its-pms

Ivasciuc, I. 2020. “Augmented reality and facial recognition technologies. Building bridges between the hospitality industry and tourists during pandemic”. Available at: https://www.proquest.com/docview/2491984008?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=11739

Jain, A.K., Ross, A.A. and Nandakumar, K. (2011), Introduction to Biometrics, Springer, New York, NY.

Koc, E. & Boz, H. Development of hospitality and tourism employees emotional intelligence through developing their emotion recognition abilities. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19368623.2019.1608885

Norfolk, L. & O’regan, M. 2020. Biometric technologies at music festivals: An extended technology acceptance model. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/15470148.2020.1811184

Mills, J. Meyers, M & Byun, S. 2010. “Embracing broadscale applications of biometric technologies in hospitality and tourism: Is the business ready?” Available at: https://www-emerald-com.ezproxy.uef.fi:2443/insight/content/doi/10.1108/17579881011078377/full/html#b21

Marriott International, Alibaba Group trials facial recognition check-in. (2018). SMB World Asia (Online), http://ezproxy.uef.fi:2048/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/marriott-international-alibaba-group-trials/docview/2069110987/se-2?accountid=11739

Morosan, Cristian. (2019). Disclosing facial images to create a consumer’s profile: A privacy calculus perspective of hotel facial recognition systems. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. ahead-of-print. 10.1108/IJCHM-08-2018-0701.

Morosan, C. 2020. Hotel facial recognition systems: insight into guest’s system perceptions, congruity with self-image, and anticipated emotions. Journal of electronic commerce research, VOL 21 (1) Available at: http://www.jecr.org/sites/default/files/2020vol21no1_Paper2.pdf

NEC Corporation, Face Recognition Solution Lemon Tree Hotels – NEC Corporation. 2018.
Norberg, P.A., D.R. Horne and D.A. Horne, “The privacy paradox: Personal information disclosure intentions versus behaviors,” Journal of Consumer Affairs,, Vol. 41, No 1:100-128, 2007.

Pai, C. Wang, T. Chen, S. & Cai, K. 2018. Empirical study on Chines tourists perceived trust and intention to use biometric technology. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10941665.2018.1499544

Parker, J. 2021. First look:delta, tsa launch facial recognition at atlanta airport. Retrieved 12.10.2021 from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferleighparker/2021/10/27/first-look-delta-tsa-launch-facial-recognition-at-atlanta-airport/?sh=19ee4e454dc2

Samala, N. Katkam, B. Bellamkonda, R & Rodriquez, R. 2020. ”Impact of AI and robotics in the tourism sector: a critical insight” available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JTF-07-2019-0065/full/html#sec003

The guardian magazine, 2021. Privacy fears as moscow metro rolls out facial recognition pay system. Retrieved 15.10.2021 from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/15/privacy-fears-moscow-metro-rolls-out-facial-recognition-pay-system

Vinpearl, 2021. Check-in by facial recognition technology at Vinpearl. Retrieved 15.10.2021 from: https://vinpearl.com/en/check-in-by-facial-recognition-technology-at-vinpearl

Wang, J. 2018. You can now check-in with a facial scan at marriott in China. Retrieved 12.10.2021 from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennawang/2018/07/24/you-can-now-check-in-with-a-facial-scan-at-marriott/?sh=498547393f7a

Xu, F. Zhang, Y. Zhang, T. & Wang, J. 2020. Facial recognition check in services at hotels. Journal of hospitality marketing & management, Volume 30, 2021, 3

 

 

 

Why should Smart Tourism Destinations invest in IoT solutions – or should they?

In recent years, the tourism industry has embraced the idea of Smart Tourism Destinations, emerging from the concept of Smart Cities. In both, the beating heart is the marketing word ‘smart’, representing all things that can be embedded or enhanced by technology¹. In fact, technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), and their application to complex logistic problems within cities, originally triggered the concept of ‘smart’ to arise².

IoT particularly has been stated as the next big thing and put at the vanguard of digitalization over the last decade. Somehow, however, this technology still hasn’t hit the great breakthrough in tourism. Why is it so, as it has such a strong correlation with smart destination development? What is holding the tourism destinations back from investing in IoT solutions big time? 

Ok wait – a short recap on IoT, please

IoT is a paradigm that involves the presence of a variety of connectable devices such as gadgets, sensors, machines, actuators, and other objects that become interconnected to each other and to higher-level systems and protocols (e.g. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS), producing automatically-collected data to create services and applications adapted to users’ needs ⁴ ⁵. Sounds complex but is more straightforward in practice. For instance, IoT technology can help making your home smart by enabling you to adjust your lighting, washing machine and other connected devices at your house through one mobile application. In a smart tourism destination, it can denote monitoring the mobility of tourists or tracking visit times in each attraction by turning the presence of nearby devices into statistical data – all in order to gain actionable insights for destination development and for tourism businesses benefit.

Development gaps of IoT

The use of aggregated data, which is integrated into a single decisional platform, has been said to make the IoT concept the key technological solution for the development of smart urban environments⁵. Furthermore, IoT’s capabilities to collect data and transfer it over a network, based on defined algorithms, all without the need for human intervention in the process, have been praised⁶.

If it only was that easy.

Indeed, the economic value of IoT platforms originates from their ability to connect a mass of diverse sensing and actuating devices, yet each solution has different restrictions and capabilities. The gap in the IoT platforms is caused by the lack of communication standards and communication protocols⁴. Jérémy Robert et al. translate the whole IoT abbreviation into “Intranets of Things”. They refer to vertical silos, which cannot easily and efficiently interact with each other⁷. We simply don’t speak the same language – not us nor the IoT systems. 

In the context of DMOs (Destination Management Organizations) and their adoption of IoT, running one IoT project is already demanding, not to mention if the collected data should also be harmonized with other data sources. Additionally, there are different IoT solutions available for different purposes: one efficiently tracks the number of visitors while the other intelligently models the mode of transportation. This means you would need multiple IoT solutions to be able to cohesively understand your visitors’ behavior. Moreover, the tourism industry retains such a diverse variety of other kinds of data. Combining all this into a single decisional platform seems practically impossible.

Impediments for DMOs

In reality, IoT still needs quite a lot of human touch. What’s more, IoT solutions most often produce massive, dynamic, varied, detailed and inter-related big data². Big data solely on its own is like the ocean: it’s unbearable and infinite if you don’t know how to navigate with it. Somehow it seems that especially the DMOs tend to be lost at this sea. 

Kim Boes, Dimitrios Buhalis and Alessandro Inversini studied the core components of smartness in tourism destination development⁸. By running an in-depth case study analysis on forefront smart destinations, including also IoT projects in their analyzed data set, they found out that along with the distinct presence of technology, there are four additional components of soft smartness: social capital, human capital, innovation and leadership. Technology on its own is insufficient to introduce smartness. Correspondingly, IoT technology can automate the collection of desired data, but someone still needs to plan it, implement it, analyze it and turn it into actions. So what is holding the DMOs back?

Scarcity of suitably qualified staff

This leads us to a burning question of human resources. Being able to sort, analyze and visualize big data consists of a diverse set of skills and knowledge, and DMOs rarely have such resources in-house⁹. If the tourism industry’s future is set to be built on big data, practically all of us who work in destination management would need to be some sort of data gurus. We can of course acquire external services, but we must also look in the mirror: do we have the right skills and knowledge or are we still living in the previous era with our skillset?  

Culture of experimentation

Another impediment is agility. Deploying IoT solutions is ideal for agile experiments in smart tourism destinations but are DMOs agile enough as organizations to run them? It’s also a skill to adopt new technologies and these technologies evolve fast. In other words, by the time a DMO makes the decision to acquire an IoT solution, after a thorough investigation and procurement process, the exact technology might already be outdated. Therefore, we should focus on building a culture of using the Internet of Things¹⁰.

Cost-effectiveness

Concerns are raised about the length of time required to implement IoT solutions and their economic viability⁴. These are not necessarily long-term investments, but still, the experiments should be long enough in order to be able to point out regular and irregular fluctuation in the collected data and draw conclusions out of it. And they cost money. Moreover, IoT is developing technology and unexpected costs can occur during the process of deployment. For DMOs, these are red flags.

Dependency on others

Smart tourism destinations are dependent on smart city infrastructure. DMOs cannot assemble IoT infrastructure alone. Such things require collaboration and collaboration within the smart city requires finding mutual goals and interests. However, the tourism industry might have niche requirements. Moreover, IoT integration should follow a certain vision and idea¹⁰ and the architecture needs to be designed in line with the requirements of the destination⁵.  It might be challenging for a DMO to drive the change for tourism purposes.

IoT in overtourism management

Despite the obvious challenges, some destinations did still succeed with IoT. In Ávila, Spain, IoT technology was successfully deployed in overtourism management as a part of a wider visitor-flow monitoring system¹¹: An IoT based pedestrian monitoring system was installed in the historic centre of Ávila. Together with urban 3D modelling Mikel Zubiaga, Jose Luis Izkara,  Alessandra Gandini, Itziar Alonso and Unai Saralegui were able to calculate occupancy patterns and through this create a dynamic occupancy monitoring system. Smart tourism management applications were introduced both for tourists and city managers. These applications were designed to tackle the imbalance of overcrowding in one place and emptiness in another.

Eventually, the research findings resulted in the creation of a sustainable management strategy for the Ávila historic centre. Moreover, the deployed system has proven its value in assuring long-term social, environmental, and economic sustainability of tourism activities, securing the heritage conservation of the historic center. Outcomes like these are immeasurably valuable, especially when it comes to tackling sustainability issues such as overtourism.

IoT might still be an effort worth taking.

It’s a risky business?

The dangers related to data risks and confidentiality issues have been recited as the main disadvantages of IoT¹⁰ . Data risks include security, protection, quality, accurate analysis and compatibility, whereas confidentiality issues emerge from legal issues and, as already mentioned earlier, the lack of standards, protocols and interoperability.

These disadvantages seem to be the major roadblock for DMO adoption of IoT. Echoing from the disadvantages, reputation risks possess probably the greatest impediment for tourism destinations. Is it ethical to follow the behavior of tourists, even if only statistically? No tourism destination organization wants to be labelled as a ‘big brother’. This might even be a legitimate fear. Only recently the Dutch city of Enschede was fined 600,000 euros by the national data protection authorities for the city’s use of Wi-Fi sensors to measure the number of people in the city center¹². Despite the evidence of not having intentions to track individual people, the authorities still interpreted the case to be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This is of course an example of an escalated case, and it should be noted that such technologies can still be deployed in a privacy-compliant way. Respectively, GDPR compliance has grown to be the core requirement for IoT solutions¹³. So, are DMOs just risk-resistant? We could argue that smart destinations don’t even dare to test IoT solutions as they are so afraid of the ethical and legal issues.

Rule no.1: ask the consumers what they think

The adoption of IoT technologies in tourism has been carefully studied from the system design, data analysis and risk management point of view⁶. However, research on consumer behavior has been left vague.

Interestingly, Vasile Dinu, Sorin Paul Lazăr and Iustin Atanasiu Pop examined the causal relationship between the level of IoT adoption in tourism applications and consumer trust in these systems⁶. Their research hypothesis was that the level of adoption of IoT technologies in tourism is influenced by TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) components: convenience, social influence, habits, confidentiality and safety, awareness, and costs. With an ordered logit model, using a database consisting of 431 Romanian tourists, they were able to showcase a significant influence of behavioral variables connected to awareness, convenience, habits, and cost. However, there was no correlation between the frequency of IoT use and privacy or data security issues found. Consumers seemed to not be seriously concerned about these issues with tourism-related products and applications.

Adam D. Thierer connects the dots by addressing security concerns without derailing innovation¹⁴: “Privacy and security are important values worthy of attention, but so too are innovation, entrepreneurialism, economic growth, price competition, and consumer choice … Although formidable privacy and security challenges are ahead, individuals and institutions will adjust in an evolutionary, resilient fashion, just as they adjusted to earlier disruptive technologies.” 

Hence, if the applications enabled by IoT technology are what the customers ask for, then IoT experimentation in tourism needs to continue. Privacy and security concerns about IoT are legitimate and deserve responses, yet DMOs should not paralyze in front of them. Consequently, consumer adoption of IoT enabled applications should be addressed by further research.

Defining end-value

The probing question regarding IoT’s worthiness for smart destinations seems to be the end-value. What do these solutions bring in as a return of investment? For this tourism destinations should weigh the social, economic and technical value these solutions create. At best, IoT technology can help to optimize the whole tourism service chain by producing truly customer-centric solutions: services and applications that the visitors need, not what destination managers or tourism businesses think they might want. Consequently, it can enhance visitor experience and destination competitiveness.

Then again, for smart destinations, the greatest value of IoT might simply lie in innovation. We cannot speak about smart destinations if we don’t have the guts to try something new. Kim Boes, Dimitrios Buhalis and Alessandro Inversini state that “smartness is driven by innovation and innovation drives smartness”⁸. Smart destinations should therefore consider that succeeding with IoT might even make them gain a good reputation. Do you want to be the first mover with IoT technology or let other destinations figure it out first?

References 

¹ Boes, K., Buhalis, D., & Inversini, A. (2015). Conceptualising smart tourism destination dimensions. In Tussyadiah, I. & Inversini, A. (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2015 (391-403). Lugano, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.  

² Kitchin, R. (2014). The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism. GeoJournal, 79(1), (1-14).

³ Nicolescu, R., Huth, M., Radanliev, P., & De Roure, D. (2018). Mapping the Values of IoT. Journal of information technology33(4), 345-360. 

⁴ Albastroiu, I. (2021). Challenges of IoT Technologies for Businesses and Consumers. Amfiteatru economic, 23(57), 321-323. 

⁵ Nitti, M., Pilloni, V., Giusto, D., Popescu, V. & Ardagna, C. (2017). IoT Architecture for a Sustainable Tourism Application in a Smart City Environment. Mobile information systems, 2017, 1-9. 

⁶ Dinu, V., Sorin, P., & Pop, I. (2021). Factors That Influence the Adoption of the Internet of Things in Tourism by Romanian Consumers. Amfiteatru economic, 23(57), 360-375. 

⁷ Robert, J., Kubler, S., Kolbe, N., Cerioni, A., Gastaud, E. & Främling, K. (2017). Open IoT Ecosystem for Enhanced Interoperability in Smart Cities – Example of Métropole De Lyon. Sensors , 17(12), 2849. 

⁸ Boes, K., Buhalis, D., & Inversini, A. (2016). Smart tourism destinations: ecosystems for tourism destination competitiveness. International Journal of Tourism Cities, 2(2), 108-124. 

⁹ Zach, F. (2016). Collaboration for Innovation in Tourism Organizations: Leadership Support, Innovation Formality, and Communication. Journal of hospitality & tourism research, 40(3), 271-290. 

¹⁰ Angelova, N., Kiryakova, G. & Yordanova, L., (2017). The great impact of internet of things on business. Trakia Journal of Sciences, 15(1), 406-412. 

¹¹ Zubiaga, M., Izkara, J., Gandini, A., Alonso, I. & Saralegui, U. (2019). Towards Smarter Management of Overtourism in Historic Centres Through Visitor-Flow Monitoring. Sustainability 11(24), 7254. 

¹² Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens. (2021). Dutch DPA fines municipality for Wi-Fi tracking. Retrieved 30 October from: https://autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl/en/news/dutch-dpa-fines-municipality-wi-fi-tracking 

¹³ Badii, C., Bellini, P., Difino, A. & Nesi, P. (2020). Smart City IoT Platform Respecting GDPR Privacy and Security Aspects. IEEE access, 8, (23601-23623).

¹⁴ Thierer, A. (2015). The Internet of Things and Wearable Technology: Addressing Privacy and Security Concerns without Derailing Innovation. Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, 21(2). 1–118. 

Digital Tourism Think Tank 2019 – Day 1

#DTTT 2019 What did I learn?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how this is seen in practice?

Case: East Iceland

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

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

Our mission

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

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

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

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

Case: Faroe Island

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap up #DTTT Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the event on my Day two recap.