Push for information technology in tourism

technology in tourism

In a bid to strengthen Thailand’s flagship tourism industry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Tourism Technology Association (TTA) are urging local tourism businesses to adopt the latest technologies, ranging from use of the Internet to Web 2.0, social networking and digital marketing.

The two organisations believe technology could give tourism businesses greater capabilities and competitiveness in the current challenging situation brought about by the economic downturn and the type-A (H1N1) influenza pandemic.

Within the next two months, TAT plans to launch a new tourism industry website, which is expected to become the leading marketing and sales channel for Thai tourism businesses. The authority has been developing the one-stop tourism-online service so that tourists around the world – as well as those within Thailand – can develop their own trips via the website.

The concept is a tourism community website, based on web 2.0 architecture, which is an online marketplace for Thai tourism products and services. The website will offer tourist destinations with more than 100,000 points of interest and will design trips for individual tourists.

TAT chairman Weerasak Kowsurat said that initially, the new website would be part of TAT’s main website – thai.tourismthailand.org. However, within three to five years, it will be spun off.

It will be embedded with a business-intelligence software engine capable of designing and developing tour packages specific to the requirements of individual tourists.

Would-be visitors need only enter details such as destination zones, type of travel, the number of days for the trip, the number of tourists and a total budget. The website’s system will process the details automatically, drawing on TAT’s large database of tourism information. In this way, it is expected that tourists will enjoy a wider range of choices when planning a trip.

“TAT is in the process of receiving this website from a private company, which has already developed it and created the template. We are partners and will co-operate in using the website,” Weerasak said.

At the “back office” end of the website, TAT will allow local tourism businesses to easily plug in to the online tourism market. About 95 per cent of the organisations involved in Thai tourism are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have never adopted information technology. However, with their participation and the integration of TAT’s official tourism information, the website will soon become the country’s largest source of information about the products and services of Thai tourism.

The website will also offer information on related services such as travel and tour reviews, a travel Web board, and trip recommendations from members of the public and a call-centre service using machine-generated translations for people not familiar with the languages of the website.

Weerasak said that in the future the website would be enhanced and turned into one of Thailand’s largest social networks, catering for the country’s tourism community. To achieve this step forward, the website will need a lot of applications to add on and many participating partners. Nevertheless, it is expected to be achieved within three years.

“In the second phase, the Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa) will join us to develop second-tier websites containing a lot of add-on applications and services, allowing local tourism companies to become involved easily. It will also encourage local software companies to develop applications and solutions according to the specific needs of tourism companies.

“This time – during the economic downturn, when tourism is subdued – is the right time to encourage SMEs in the tourism industry to improve their competitiveness and strengthen themselves,” Weerasak said.

He said that within three years, TAT planned to increase its information-technology spending from the present 1 per cent of its total annual budget – averaging between Bt3 billion and Bt5 billion – to 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Technology Association (TTA) – which was officially launched last week after operating for one and a half years – will play a supporting role in the TAT project.

Association president Apichai Sakulsureeyadej said the TTA would recruit members from both the tourism and technology industries, and was expecting to get around 100 members by the end of this year, in a 70:30 ratio between tourism and technology companies.

The association will work to create an awareness of technology among tourism operators, train people and encourage the deployment of technology to enhance the competitiveness of local firms.

He said the tourism industry normally contributed about 7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and employed between 1 million and 2 million people. As well, related industries employed about 2 million people. Therefore, when tourism was subdued it immediately impacted on the lives of large numbers of people.

Technology can help to challenge the current downturn, he said.

“The TTA has trained 3,500 tourism operators throughout the country. Training is important because once tourism businesses understand how technologies can benefit their businesses and which technologies to use, then adoptions will be rapid and widespread,” Apichai said.

SMEs in the tourism industry cannot ignore the power of technology, especially the Internet and web 2.0, because more than half of tourists around the world search for travel and tourist information on the World Wide Web. They are reluctant to accept information provided by tourism operators, but will believe the comments and recommendations of tourists who have already visited interesting destinations, he said.

“So it is a challenge for local tourism businesses to attract these customers. It is beyond the development of websites for information and bookings, but how may local tourism operators realise this?” Apichai asked.

This year, TAT expects the total number of tourists visiting Thailand will fall short of its target of 12 million people, because the first half of the year saw about 20-per-cent fewer visitors. The Nation