We spoke to CABI author and professor, Alfonso Vargas-Sanchez, about the disruptive power of technology and its impact on the management of tourism today. Here’s what he said about how Destination Management Organizations can adapt for the most sustainable growth and development.
Q. Why do we have to revisit the governance of tourism destination management?
A. Lots of research efforts have been deployed to understand how tourism destinations work and how to face the challenge of its management. As a dynamic phenomenon, at this point of the 21st century, in a truly global, digital and hyper-connected industry, the topic of tourism governance needs to be revisited by Destination Marketing (or Management) Organizations (DMOs).
Q. In Chapter 10 you draw on “Technology Management in Tourism” – can you comment on the recent advances in “smart tourism” alongside these technological developments.
A. As a matter of fact, tourism destination can be observed as a business ecosystem with a higher and higher level of complexity – which, in addition, smart technological developments are enabling us to analyse. As a result, a new lens is necessary, built as the result of the integration of three originally isolated theoretical approaches: Business Ecosystem Theory, Complexity Theory and Smart Tourism. The recent developments of smart tourism destinations, based on a cutting-edge technological infrastructure, are presented in chapter 10 of my textbook Strategic Management in Tourism.
Q. What kind of new tech developments are being brought out?
A. Unavoidably in the 21st century, fast and amazing tech developments represent the most powerful source of disruption in the whole economy, and tourism is not an exception. In this line, Artificial Intelligence is likely the most disruptive expression today in the most advanced travel and tourism environments. The greatest efforts are being made in areas such as machine learning, natural language processing, voice recognition and chatbots. Artificial Intelligence is playing a key role in all of them.
Q. Do you think these tech developments are the most important factor for the tourism industry?
A. In my understanding, the deepest transformation of tourism will come from its social side, for several reasons:
- New generations (Millennials and Post-Millennials) see life and spend their leisure time differently from my generation (Baby Boomers).
- The word “experience” is all around the tourism world: instead of products, what it is sold are experiences. But something else is needed: their authenticity.
- Local people (hosts and residents) should be empowered when developing tourism plans in destinations.
Tourism business is still under the control of two lobbies, mainly (paladins of mass tourism and standardization) big tour operators and hotel chains. But this is changing (not without their resistance, of course), leading to a new scenario with different agents at the heart of tourism universe.
Q. How do you suppose we adapt to and understand the changing market for tourism destinations, as the shift seems to be towards the needs of older generations?
A. We need to pay more attention and make efforts to understand new generations’ expectations, habits and what they look for when touring. Psychologists and sociologists are called to make a very significant role in this endeavour.
Q. How can the DMOs make tourism experiences more authentic?
A. Explaining what makes people perceive an experience as authentic is hard, but its social dimension is likely its most significant one, which calls for interaction with local people. Local cultures, traditions, ways of living, are embodied in local people, who represent an enormous source of personal enrichment (growth) for visitors. Paradoxically, they have been neglected in many destinations. DMOs have to follow this transformation. If they don’t lead their own transformation, we will see how many of them will survive.
Q. What do you see for a successful future in the industry of tourism?
A. Generalization is unrealistic, because of the variety of destinations and their different stages of development, but I can anticipate a transformation from traditional public-private-partnership (PPPs or 3Ps) to new forms of Public-Private-People Partnership (PPPPs or 4Ps). Without the inclusion of the fourth P, DMOs will not be able to respond to the new reality of tourism, more rooted in meaningful, purposeful and customized travel experiences.
Dr. Vargas-Sánchez’s main research interests are in the Strategic Management discipline and in the tourism industry, both in companies and in destinations. At present, he is a full professor at the University of Huelva, where he has been distinguished with the 2002/2003 Teaching Excellence Diploma, and the 2006/2007 Teaching Excellence & Quality Award as a member of an online teaching group. The new edition of Alfonso’s co-edited textbook, Strategic Management in Tourism, is available to buy now from the CABI Bookshop.