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How changing technology preferences are redefining the Caribbean travel industry
A tectonic shift is taking place in the global tourism sector. It is being triggered by advances in information and communications technology that are changing consumer expectations, industry operations, management, products and promotion. For tourism dependent regions like the Caribbean, technology is opening access to new markets and creating exciting new opportunities. However, for markets unable or unwilling to adapt, the changing landscape may signal their demise.
High Stakes, High Rewards
Tourism is big business globally. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “international tourism accounted for 9 percent of global GDP (direct, indirect and induced impact), one in every 12 jobs, and six percent of world trade.”
Tourism is the largest contributor to economic growth in the Caribbean contributing an average of 14.7 percent to all of the Caribbean GDP in 2011. However, in Caribbean countries that are tourism dependent this figure rises to as much as 74.2 percent of GDP. To put these figures in context, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) describes the Caribbean as the most tourism dependent region in the world.
Rise of the Connected Tourist
Technology is being increasingly used in the tourism sector to distinguish players in an increasingly crowded global market. The December 2012 ITB World Travel Trends Report predicts, “consumers will demand more individual and authentic travel experiences in future and will rely more than ever on technology to plan and enjoy their trips.”
This radical changes taking place in the global tourism sector has a direct bearing on Caribbean economies. A new, connected tourist is emerging, packing a plethora of gadgets, blurring traditional lines between business and leisure travel. Travelers are increasingly expecting to find at their destination at least the same technology-enabled conveniences they have at home.
From online booking to in-room conveniences, business and leisure tourists alike are demanding more for their travel dollars. Service providers, from travel agents to tour operators and hoteliers, are increasing their focus on how technology can best be used to cater to travelers’ needs. Destinations, big-brand hotel chains and boutique properties alike have to adapt to cater to this new reality.
Effective technology-enabled tourism requires investment in plant, systems, re-engineered processes and, of course, in people. Much greater effort and investment also has to be directed to data gathering, research and data sharing. Primitive methods of paper-based surveying and reporting have to be supplemented with more modern Internet-enabled digital approaches.
In a world where the travelers’ needs and source markets are constantly changing, investing in research is vital. Timely access to up-to-date information allows investors, policymakers to track trends and make more informed decisions about services, product development and marketing.
But upgrading an industry to match pace with the technology developments is no easy proposition. Upgrading immigration processing systems, renovating properties, procuring software and training staff does not come cheaply. However, the cost of not doing so may be even steeper.
In a world with many options for sun, sea and sand tourism, the Caribbean’s slowness to upgrade infrastructure and build a robust national and regional technology ecosystem, compromises its capacity to evolve its tourism product. These, by extension, can all have a disastrous spill-over effect on economies throughout the region.
The time is ripe to design, develop, distribute and support Caribbean tourism technology products and services that meet both local and global needs. The sheer size of the global market means there is room to develop new, more effective technology to empower consumers to locate, customize and purchase tourism products.
In small fragile markets like the Caribbean, working together provides the best opportunity for success. Individual countries can attempt go it alone or to import solutions. Alternatively, the region can seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that our natural talent and creativity can be channeled into creating solutions most relevant to our context.
Opportunities abound. Collaborative approaches between the public and private sectors to investing in the regional talent pool to build technology platforms tailored to local markets and economies of scale. Done right, building indigenous technical capacity to support the region’s tourism sector, can simultaneously support development of region’s technology sector.
The global tourism industry will only continue to be shaped by technology innovations. A tech-hungry-guest today, will simply be a guest in the future. For tourist dependent regions like the Caribbean the choice is simple - adopt new approaches or fade into irrelevance. The trend lines are clear; we must prepare for that future now.
Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer at Congress WBN and an Internet Strategist with Packet Clearing House. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding or: facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at [email protected]
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