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Is this the beginning of a new era for the tourism industry?

'We need smart cities to attract smart tourists,' says tourism expert Marianna Sigala

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08 November 2017

On Tuesday 21 November the University of South Australia's Centre of Leisure and Tourism Management will present a workshop on 'Smart Services in Tourism and Smart Destinations' with seven keynote speakers hosted by Professor Marianna Sigala of UniSA' School of Management.

"Technology plays an increasingly important role in the decision-making process of tourists. Therefore, cities worldwide need to have the ability to satisfy the increasing tourism flows and the sophisticated travellers' demands by enhancing the quality of life and experiences of these short-term citizens," Professor Sigala says in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

"Tourists are, without a doubt, an economic blessing for local communities. The cities who choose to become smart destinations by using technologies, by allowing their short-term visitors to coordinate all their tourist activities, collect information and enjoy high quality services in real time are more likely to gain the advantage and experience a balanced economic growth with sustainable development in the future," she continues.

According to Sigala, numerous cities worldwide have adopted smart tourism as a strategic priority for enhancing destination performance, sustainability and competitiveness.

"China declared 2014 as the year of smart tourism and established the Smart Tourist Service Center in Zhenjiang to facilitate the conversion of 40 Chinese cities to smart destinations by 2020. Numerous cities in Japan, Korea, the US and Europe are becoming smart to manage tourist numbers and balance economic growth with sociocultural and environmental benefits," says Sigala.

"It is the smart citizens and tourists of these destinations using smart services in their daily life and holidays who are now visiting Australia, or we wish them to do so. Smart tourists use technologies for planning everything in their lives, from entertainment to shopping routines."

If that's where the world is heading, and we are now about to embrace and move into the new updated era of 'Big Brother', how does that concept tie in with the idea of going on a holiday just to disconnect from the rest of the world and unwind?

"A number of research studies show that tourists travel with an average of three smart devices including smart phones, iPads, and cameras. Therefore, if tourists genuinely felt the need to be disconnected from the rest of their world, then they would not carry and expect to use these devices in a similar way as at home," she explains.

"Smart cities need to satisfy smart tourists. Tourists will not select a destination without smart applications. In a similar way, tourists do not go to hotels and cafes not offering free wi-fi."

In an analogous manner to their daily life, smart tourists expect to use smart applications enabling them to manage all their tourism experiences in a seamless way at any time and on any device and during their whole journey: before, during and after the trip.

"From conceptualising and planning an itinerary, selecting points of interests, booking and paying for services, and finally, sharing their experiences, smart destinations provide: smart destination cards with digital payment options, smartphone applications allowing tourists to design, plan and pay a personalised tourism itinerary, Social Context Mobile (SoCoMo) marketing applications empowering tourists to make real-time and personalised travel planning decisions by analysing personal and contextual data. As a result, smart applications do not only increase tourists' satisfaction, but also the time and money they spend.
"Tourists also expect smart applications to enrich their experiences such as interpretation, curation and translation apps, and to enable them to move within destinations efficiently, safely, fast and easily, for example smart parking, sharing cycling platforms/schemes, smart, seamless and integrated public transport solutions," explains Sigala who believes that Australia, and Adelaide in particular, is well-placed to become one the world's smartest cities as it is already embedding the latest digital technology into its services and infrastructure.

"In saying all this and even though technologies support smart tourism, this doesn't necessarily mean that they are the panacea for enabling smart destinations, because smart tourism is not only about software, hardware, netware or infoware. It is also about humanware that can make creative use of technologies, intelligently decide what big data to analyse, interpret and act upon by taking smart actions. The activation of grassroot and open innovation are also critical for smart destinations and technologies and data may be the oil of the new economy, but humanware is needed to light the fire.
"The future is bright. We just need to be smart about it," concludes Sigala.

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