Through travel, people will be able to better understand each other, creating familiarity, enhancing tolerance and bridging the cultural divide of global communities.
Travellers are expecting more interactive, enriching travel experiences — and using data to understand them will give travel service providers an edge in attracting them. That was among the themes touched upon over the first education-packed day of World Tourism Conference.
Held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the gathering brought together more than 1,000 delegates from 82 countries for wide-ranging discussions of how traveller demands have changed, and where they are going.
“The tourism industry needs to adapt and update its offers, products and skills of its workers,” said Zhu Shanzhong, executive director of the UN World Tourism Organization, in his welcome remarks. “We at the UNWTO encourage our members toward innovation and digital advancements and upgrade human capital — an asset which will be needed to respond to new types of tourism business.”
It was a theme touched on by many other speakers throughout the event, the fifth iteration of the World Tourism Conference, which first launched in 2007. Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad himself highlighted the big-picture role played by tourism, both for the destination and the traveller.
“The tourism sector has contributed immensely in increasing value and cultural understanding between countries and people,” said Dr Mahathir. “Through travel, people will be able to better understand each other, creating familiarity, enhancing tolerance and bridging the cultural divide of global communities.”
But he also touched on how tech and drilling down into traveller data is helping deliver these big-picture experiences for destinations, Malaysia included, such as “social media integration as well as big data analytics to customise tourism experience offerings to specific demographics across the world.”
The day was divided into two main sessions. The first, “Future of Tourism: New Resources and Growth,” offered a series of presentations tackling topics about new sources of growth for global tourism and perspectives on how best to understand the factors impacting it.
Ali Waheed, Minister of Tourism for the Maldives, discussed the destination’s attractions — 149 resorts, 33,515 beds, with steady growth in tourist arrivals — but stressed that his job was to look beyond the traditional romantic couples and vacationers seeking a relaxing getaway if the destination is to position itself for continued growth. He described his team’s plans for tourism diversification — emphasising new areas such as medical, adventure, sports and Islamic tourism. Mr Waheed also stressed the importance of sustainability and finding ways to protect the archipelago in the face of consequences from climate change.
“We believe rather than bringing artificial islands, if we maintain the beauty of our history it will define our future,” said Mr Waheed.
Ozgul Ozkan Yavuz, Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism of Turkey, shared her own destination’s strategy for broadening and deepening its appeal to foreign travellers, from working with the Ministry of Education to raise the quality of hospitality education, to launching Turkish Culture and Tourism Year in Japan and Russia, and putting increasing emphasis on cultural productions such as opera, ballet and film festivals.
“In our industry, it’s always important to create a balance. With mass tourism, every movement you make is disturbing nature in some way,” said Ms Yavuz, who said that while Turkey receives 50M tourists annually, in last 16 to 17 years, the country has invested heavily in rehabilitation of heritage areas. “We are doing a lot to create this balance.”
Speakers also looked beyond their individual destinations to regional or global trends that could mean opportunities or challenges for attracting travellers.
Professor Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee, professor of the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts at Taylor’s University, looked at the growing demand in tourism throughout the ASEAN region, citing expected tourism growth of 6.2% between 2016 and 2026. But he pointed out that each Southeast Asian destination would benefit in different ways, depending on its offerings and level of infrastructure. For example, he suggested Laos and Vietnam are on-course to meet growing tourism demand while Myanmar, Cambodia and Philippines may face capacity constraints because of under-investment.
Xu Jing, regional director of the Asia and Pacific for the UN World Tourism Organization, returned the conversation to a big-picture perspective, summing up two major trends his organisation was seeing: “travel to show,” displaying our travels on social media. A second trend: “travel to change,” wanting to feel good, participate in the local communities.
The second roundtable session tackled the theme of “Smart Tourism – Great Expectations,” with speakers delving into the nuts and bolts of technology and how it can enhance the experience of travel or understanding travelers.
“Consumer expectations are changing,” said Lim Huey Chin, head of travel and tourism for Google Malaysia, pointing to the company’s data such as 65% of travellers who use a digital assistant would like to be able to complete travel-related tasks by speaking to a voice-activated assistant and 67& of consumers want travel companies to provide them with personalised recommendations.
Ms Lim walked through the tools a travel seller could use through every step of the booking process, from inspiration to research to booking a stay and reviewing the trip — and how these can be used in a more systematic way for security travel.
Lau Yin May, group chief marketing officer and customer experience officer for Malaysia Airlines Berhad, discussed how by working with Adobe Experience Cloud and Amadeus, they have better personalised their offerings, synchronising user IDs and sharing segments as well as developing a bot for social media and WhatsApp customer service channel.
“We are using data to create memorable experiences for our passengers,” said Ms Lau. It was an observation shared by many of those on stage.