There is little doubt that the tourism industry as a whole owes its ongoing rapid expansion to a large extent to technological progress. It is, quite simply, easier to travel than ever before. Bookings and boarding systems are becoming seamless. Planes are bigger, faster and more fuel efficient than ever. Road transport systems are improving. With GPS technology and mobile connectivity it is nearly impossible to get lost; updated information is available online about nearly every corner of the world.
No wonder that tourism is fast becoming the preeminent global pastime and that traveller numbers keep on increasing, for both leisure and business. February believes that the single most important effect of technological progress on tourism is that it has caused it to boom, making it so much easier for business owners to start, manage and grow their operations compared to those in stagnant or shrinking industries.
Although it is not limited to tourism, enterprise management technology is also making life easier for tourism business owners. It is becoming increasing affordable to integrate cloud-based booking systems with online banking, book-keeping and stock-control system, even for small operations.
Setting up such an integrated system for a business is not free, but it allows a business to cut down on administrative staff.
Crucially, modern IT systems that are properly set up for tourism businesses allow entrepreneurs to seamlessly capture and crunch data about their clients, helping them to recognise patterns and trends, which in turn inform their growth strategy.
Where do most of my customers come from? Who stays the longest? Who comes back? Is it changing in any way? These are all questions that tourism businesses, especially the smaller ones, used to answer purely on gut feeling, if at all. Nowadays it is becoming increasingly affordable for even small operations to subscribe to management software that helps to answer these questions on an ongoing basis.
Marketing a tourism business is in many ways easier than in the past, when expensive magazine ads were out of reach for most small operators and the fight to get onto the radar of a few key travel operators was vicious.
Now, targeted internet search means anyone interested in visiting a certain region or city is able to find local services directly online, or on platforms such as bookings.com or Airbnb.
Are there any downsides for business owners to the technological revolution that has seized the tourism industry? February believes that chief among these are the costs - in time and money - of curating a tourism business’s online presence.
A few years ago a mere listing on Google maps may have been sufficient to make a business visible online. Now virtual indoor tours linked to Google Maps, for example, can show potential customers what a restaurant or guest house looks like inside. Creating such marketing material and making sure it works is expensive, even when tourism business owners learn how to do it themselves. All of this has to remain compatible with and accessible via constantly changing social networking platforms and technology.
Who knows what the content requirements will be in a few years’ time when virtual reality technology becomes commonplace. The only certainty is that tourism business owners have to keep up, or fall off the map. Information technology has also made the tourism industry particularly unforgiving. Before social media, a tourism business could get away with the occasional unhappy customer without much danger to its reputation. Today, a single nasty review by a complaining customer on TripAdvisor can do a huge amount of damage to the marketing effort of a business.
Apart from maintaining top service levels, the only way to deal with this risk is for tourism entrepreneurs to remain fully engaged with the social media activity around their business, to respond immediately and diplomatically to any negative comments online, and to prompt happy clients to post positive reviews.
Another challenge particularly for accommodation businesses is the sharing-economy model pioneered by Airbnb. Now guest houses and hotels suddenly compete with private home owners who take in tourists. Fortunately so far, the tourist boom seems to have been big enough to offset the effects of the increased competition, and accommodation businesses seem to be making use of Airbnb themselves as a marketing outlet.
It could be argued that the impact of new technology on the tourism industry has scarcely begun, and that any entrepreneur involved in tourism must constantly be ready to adapt as technology changes. Fortunately, says February, the one thing that will remain constant in the industry is that it is primarily about people. Technology stands to enhance the interaction between business owners and their clients, making tourism an even more satisfying, happy industry.