Tourism Goes Uber-Tech at World Travel Market

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Artificial intelligence is impacting on the way we travel-whether it is self-driving cars, chat bots or speech recognition, technology is the future of tourism, so says projections from World Travel Market 2017. Much against today’s perception of tourism being just about heritage and culture, it is indeed more controlled by data and is a whole lot SMARTer. Omolola Itayemi writes on the key to capitalising on these emerging new opportunities

Of course, culture was a staple with the creativity, innovation, and sheer extravagance displayed by this year’s exhibitors, not to mention the heavy foot-traffic wearing grooves into the exhibition floor despite rail disruption at Excel Centre, all point to the same. From rich display of culture to very attractive and sometimes outlandish display of stands, culture, luxury and wow factor came to fore as destinations, airlines and other top travel and tourism organizations put their best foot forward.

No small feat with more than new 1200 new exhibitors joining the large throng of previous years. Wither the double decker Indonesian stand or colorful masquerades from the Caribbean Islands, the vibe of the exhibition hall wore a carnivalesque atmosphere. But that didn’t take the shine off the more serious aspect of business as guests mingled business with pleasure. Having said that, what a lot of people may have missed is a new development in travel which is bound to seize their imagination.

Tech Revolution

The industry is growing, and it’s exciting for those who stand to gain from such growth. Tech Travel threw up discussions bothering on how data is driving travel business, the impact of big data, how bots are changing the way we travel, the role of influencers and ROI on business. The three main focus of Artificial Intelligence – Smart Info, Contextual Relevance and Speech Recognition in use now will play bigger roles in the future. Tech geeks turned billionaire merchants David Gouch, Alex Bainbridge, Henry Shi and Eltan Reisel shared their experiences and future projections at these classes.

It’s clear to everyone that the industry is already very much in the throes of a technology-driven revolution and we’ve far from seen the end of it.

Trivago’s Global Head of Hospitalty, José Murta, rounded off day one of WTM London 2017 on the Global Stage discussing “The Future of Technology in Travel and Hospitality,” along with fellow panellists Guy Stephenson, Chief Commercial Officer, Gatwick Airport; David Chappell, Head of Technology, Gray Dawes Group; and Andy Mallinson, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer, Stackla; as well as moderator, Paul Richer, Senior Partner, Genesys Digital Transformation.

The industry thought leaders examined what’s on the hotel-tech horizon, how evolving technologies are going to shape and shake up the industry, and how these changes can be embraced and even capitalised on.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and technology that’s faster, smarter and more affordable than ever before — this is the stuff of the future of technology.

It’s thrilling — but also alarming, because it would seem that the development of fancy new technology is largely out of synch with hoteliers’ needs. This is especially true when it comes to independent hoteliers, José revealed. Before even considering integrating innovative new technologies to say, personalise the guest experience with speech recognition, hoteliers need to focus on the most basic of technological advances: actually getting online.

“Everyone is talking about direct bookings, but most hotels don’t even have a website to be able to get those bookings,” José said, underlining the urgency to remedy this situation. “It’s 2017!” Considering that online bookings are predicted to overtake offline bookings in just a few years, his insistence that it’s time for hotels to embrace technology is understandable

Toward greater responsibility and sustainability

Responsible and sustainable tourism is a big topic of discussion these days, little surprise, UNWTO theme for 2017 world Tourism Day is sustainable tourism. Exhibition organisers dedicated an entire stage as a platform to increase awareness about responsibility and sustainability in tourism: how far we’ve come as an industry, and how many hurdles we have yet to overcome. And overcoming them is not an option. It’s a moral imperative. Tourism is both a cause and a victim of climate change, not to mention its entanglement in other nefarious areas, such as “orphanage tourism” and human trafficking. The good news is that the industry is steering itself on a more ecologically and socially responsible path. There’s a growing trend of hotels taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and water usage, to empower staff to recognize and reports signs of human trafficking.

Smart Tourism…In pursuit of personalisation

Every speaker at WTO 2017 touched it – and certainly every event speaker who’s discussing any kind of technology is diving into it. So what is personalisation, and how can it be applied?

Simply, it’s the science and art of providing the best experience possible by treating each guest as an individual at every stage of their customer journey. It is science, because it involves leveraging data and technology and an art, because actually, there is no one single way to personalise the guest experience. It’s about finding the right style.

Fostering and nurturing relationships with potential, present, and previous guests through personalisation can be as simple as collecting basic data on guest preferences and using it to make their stay all the more memorable. Of course, it can also be as complex as harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning. But when it comes to personalisation, more isn’t necessarily better, that’s Smart Tourism. From targeting the right audience with the right marketing content to recommending relevant auxiliary services, the trick to personalisation is finding a balance that works.

Nigeria

Although Nigeria as a country maintained no stand at WTO 2017, but its absence was felt at the African section especially as many Nigerians both from the private and public sectors were on ground.

The Director–General, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Folorunso Folarin Coker, was seen holding meetings with organisers of WTM London and consulting with a lot of organisations.

Other Nigerians present include President, Federation of Tourism association, FTAN, Mallam Rabo; president NANTA, Bankole Bernard; Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi; Plateau State Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Hospitality, Peter Mwankon; John Likita Best, Senior Special Adviser to Governor on Tourism; C, Akapo Emmanuel, President Ten Strings Musical School, Lagos among others

Ken Oloye, Belgium-based Nigerian tourism promoter said: “We are not happy that Nigeria did not have a stand here today. On the other point, going by what is happening here; I think it is a blessing in disguise for Nigeria not having a stand. It could have been disastrous if we had a stand that is non-functional as some of the African stands here. I want Nigeria to make sure that come 2018; Nigeria’s Stand should not only be present, but should be well funded, well organised, well- structured and the best. For what is worth doing at all is worth doing well”.

Mr Akapo in his remark said: “I am happy that Folarin Coker is here. I have seen him making notes and observing how the market is doing. I am sure he is understudying the market. For, as a new person in the saddle, one expect him to observe, identify the market niche, understand how the market is being ran, make contact for the future and network for our great participation next year. I agree that our non-participation this year is a blessing in disguise and a preparatory providence for a bigger re–entry in 2018.”