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Technology key to accessing global village

Cresta column

By Dr Ute Salle

TOURISM has been part of human culture for the last two millennia and it will be for the next millennium.

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More people, and a greater percentage of them, will travel than ever before. In some industrialised nations, tourism is often viewed as a consumer good and no longer a luxury item.

Tourism is nowadays a global industry and spans all continents. That globalisation is exactly what makes it vulnerable. Incidents involving tourism, no matter where and when, ring the alarm bells around the world.

The events of September 11, Sars outbreak and Birdflu are therefore felt everywhere in the tourism industry.

Although Zimbabwe is still developing in terms of technological infrastructure and advancement, it is worthwhile to keep abreast of technological trends for forward planning purposes.

Technology’s impact on the tourism industry of the future will be all-encompassing, greatly changing how companies organise and market themselves globally. Its biggest impact, however, may be the way it facilitates the delivery of additional products and services to the guest in both physical place and virtual space.

The 21st century will bring the era of the fully automated hotel, connecting the customer to a universe of diverse products and services offered by an array of providers. Technology may ultimately drive change in the very nature of the hospitality industry as the lines separating lodging from the office, retail, and entertainment sectors continue to blur.

The international tourism industry is in an intense state of change and industry leaders will need to adapt to changes transforming the marketing of hospitality products, the product itself, the hospitality organisation, the ability to attract capital, and the technological revolution. With the focus on the customer as the organisation’s chief asset, new industry standards will emerge based on the use of customer information systems, the extension of hotel services into the virtual marketplace, and the embracing of Revpar and other performance measures.

Insight about a wide array of forces that will shape the future of the industry in both business and leisure travel will be essential to success.

At present, the local tourism industry is highly dependant on the use of wholly-owned company websites or web page links on travel agents/tour operator websites on the Internet and a few industry players have subscribed to Global Distribution System partners such as Amadeus and Galeleo.

However, according to Michael Hartmann, director of industry marketing hotels for Siemens ICN, the mobile Internet will be the next big thing to hit the business world. With the proliferation of non-PC Internet devices, business travellers are no longer tethered to a computer to access the Web.

The challenge for hoteliers, said Hartmann, will be to spot alternative revenue opportunities, because if a guest has mobile Internet access, he won’t use the hotel infrastructure.

For example, with a wireless LAN, the hotel could play the role of an Internet service provider and provide a portal, earning a percentage of the transaction fee. To be successful, he emphasised, hotels must be “embedded” in strategic partnerships, for example, with airports, rail networks, and other providers in the travel chain.

In Germany, where mobile Internet users are predicted to outnumber those relying on landline telephone access, services in the m-business environment will differ from existing Internet services.

Success will depend on having an online real-time distribution network, a big range of e-distribution partners, and a truly global presence. Most important will be multimedia content management that allows the customer to buy what they see.

E-commerce and m-commerce will change the hotel managers’ perspective from the local to the global.

Take for example the following question; “What will traveling be like 10 years from now?” The preparation today: Call the travel agency, speak with a more or less informed agent. Get the paperwork sent. On travel day: Stand in line for hours, with airplanes delayed sometimes for several more hours. Miss connecting flight; Get bumped off overbooked flight. Arrive at destination, with more hassles to get to the final lodging place.

It is predicted that in the new millennium: The computer finds you a perfect destination. Arrive at the airport. Check in biometrically with luggage already sent and no paperwork. Be automatically alerted for rare delays. Roll on transport bands to the gangway, where you are screened for safety. Luggage tested for explosives in a detonator box. Arrive and be shuttled to your destination, where the concierge has already rolled out a plan for you, based on your profile. Look it up on the monitor in the room. Just choose and relax.

In the United States where technology has reached such alarming levels that question privacy, security and humanity it is predicted that direct customer relationships is where the next wave of innovation will be seen. Caroyn Viens, from IBM Travel Related Services, predicts a scenario of the travel experience of the future:

* a WAP phone that allows remote check-in and in-flight movie selection before arrival at the airport;

* WAP phone notification of flight rescheduling information to the traveler and his/her home and office;

* In-flight video-conferencing with colleagues on other planes;

* Hotel scanners that identify the guest upon arrival, allowing instant key delivery and customised information on the guestroom TV;

* Automatic transfer of hotel e-folio to the guest’s corporate expense report; and

* Biometric scanning to pass customs at the airport.

This could be happening sooner than anticipated, said Viens, as the technology on which these features are based is already being experimented with. IBM is currently testing a “travel card” that will allow a personal digital device to receive a boarding card electronically within 10 seconds of check-in.

* Dr Ute Salle is author of the book The Tourism Industry in the Third Millennium.

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