Tourism is one of the key industries that has been focused on investment in many countries. The development and digitization of tourism play a crucial part in the implementation of digital economy.
Technology is a leading factor in accelerating adaptation to the ‘new normal’ and the pace of changing market demands after the Covid-19 pandemic. With the rapid development of technology, the application of digital initiatives and technology solutions can help the tourism industry build a smart tourism ecosystem with high economic and social value towards sustainable development.
The trend shift from e-tourism to smart tourism
E-tourism (or online travel) is the application of Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) to the tourism industry to digitize all processes and value chains with the aim of maximizing the efficiency of travel service businesses.
In particular, the efficiency of e-tourism focuses on three main operating divisions: business administration, information system management, and finally tourism business. The application of IT allows travel companies to spread the word about products and services to attract visitors from all over the world (1).
Online travel has become popular in many places, especially during the Covid 19 pandemic, which has facilitated many experiential tourism activities entirely on the internet to flourish. However, online travel is limited to the connection between sectors in the tourism industry and has not created seamless and diverse experiences for visitors.
To truly develop sustainably, it is necessary to connect the key sectors in the tourism industry together based on technology, in order to create a more efficient environment for data collection and processing, improving the user experience. This is the key factor to enter a smart tourism ecosystem.
Smart tourism relies on databases to deliver innovations in the way tourist destinations and visitor experiences are managed: from managing a citywide transport network based on accumulated data on traffic congestion, to the marketing of a well-known monument to the right audience based on travel history data. Connectivity capabilities through digital platforms and data analytics have the potential to improve quality and increase the sustainability of travel models (2).
Smart travel ecosystem model
Developed based on the platforms of smart cities, the tourism ecosystem with digital technology is used to enhance the experience of tourists through a network connecting service providers as a smart ICT infrastructure.
The model of developing a solid smart tourism ecosystem, associated with promoting economic and social development includes 6 main areas focused on bringing higher value to tourists and opening up economic development opportunities for the province, region, and businesses engaged in commerce in the tourism industry.
Smart security uses digital technology as leverage to help regions where tourism is the key economic sector create competitive elements in products and services geared towards a safe experience. For example, IoT Internet of Things technology allows the connection of traffic data and key locations that have been integrated with surveillance cameras to ensure the security of travelers; or GPS technology that assists in finding destinations.
Marius Island waters have adopted a new ICT system to enhance security, proactive monitoring, emergency assistance and crisis management. With a strategy focused on safety, Marius has gradually revived the growth of its tourism business (4).
Smart apps are transforming the travel industry with many new built-in features. In addition to the basic features that allow users to search for information, hotel reservations, air tickets, applications can also use AI to provide experiences for each individual’s needs such as a list of attractions, restaurants, or unique experiences based on previous journey history.
The trend of super-apps with built-in features has made it possible for service providers to connect into an ecosystem that provides a more efficient travel itinerary. For example, the AroundMe app suggests tourist attractions around its current location and integrates with other apps that allow you to book, pay, and interact with other travelers (5).
Smart ICT networks are built on a combination of digital technologies such as virtual-AR, robotics, AI, 3D shaping or big data. This is also a key factor in the planning strategies for the development of tourist urban areas with smart-grid.
This network distributes electricity more efficiently and can help save energy. Therefore, the smart ICT network is also considered as one of the green solutions for sustainable ecotourism development. Jeju Innovation Economic Center, South Korea has implemented and recognized the first successes of smart grid technology in its strategy to make Jeju Island a leading island in green tourism (6).
Smart mobility includes a network of public transport routes that connect most tourist attractions in the regions to create the most favorable conditions for visitors to travel for sightseeing, shopping, entertainment, and resort. In particular, the combination of ICT into the existing infrastructure will help the transport network improve the quality of service.
For example, the tourist city of Barcelona has an On-demand Bus Service model that has been successfully tested since 2018. Anyone can travel from one point to another and use other public transport with tickets and travel cards in an integrated system. Users only need to sign up and request the service using the app or contact via a free hotline. The car will then arrive at the station at the required time.
In addition, visitors can use public bicycles to travel throughout the city and can check their location through the smartphone app. This will encourage more environmentally friendly travel activities (7).
Smart training, which includes providing appropriate training programs, is an important part of the sustainable sector economic development strategy. The emergence of online platforms and digital technology will create a demand for human resources with digital skills. Digitally based work-enhanced training programs are needed to increase their ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Vocational training centers and tourism schools will play an important role in this model of sustainable development.
For example, career-oriented associations in South Korea provide career-oriented services that support young workers in the industry to equip the necessary skills for the market. In addition, the role of the government also plays an important role in the introduction of human resource development policies.
Another example is that the Singapore government offers Workforce Skills Certificate (MOM SG 2016) programs and the SkillsFuture SG website that allows workers to plan career development in the industry and businesses with data to assess their immediate and future human resource needs (8).
The smart network includes a system of hotels, resorts, travel, small and medium-sized local enterprises (SMEs) providing entertainment, food, tourism training schools, and tourism transportation services. This close linkage will help local SMEs participate in the economic growth model.
For example, Mexico’s ‘Tourism Connectivity’ program encourages and facilitates SMEs in the industry to connect with each other to develop together, especially at the local and regional levels through online interactive platforms on all devices. In addition to benefiting from suppliers, the local SMEs are also funded by development banks in Mexico to build new tourism products, specific to each locality (9).
In short, smart travel has become an inevitable trend, in which technology plays a very important role. Vietnam is just starting on the path of exploiting the potential of wealth, building a sustainable tourism industry. Vietnam’s tourism and travel competitiveness index ranked 63/140, according to the WEF’s 2019 ranking showing an improvement of 3.8 points compared to 2015 (10).
However, this indicator is still low compared to other countries in the region. Vietnam will need policy mechanisms to support the application of technology, improve infrastructure and promote investment in technology application for tourism management and business activities.
Therefore, developing a smart tourism ecosystem with close cooperation and coordination from relevant ministries and sectors as well as the participation of localities and businesses will be the answer to this problem to help provinces/cities with tourism as a key economic sector have enough resources to overcome the challenges of the pandemic to develop sustainable development in the future.
(1) OECD. 2004 E-tourism: An Innovative Approach For The Small And Medium-sized Tourism Enterprises (Smtes) In Korea
(2) Springer link. Smart tourism: foundations and developments
(3) Researchgate. 2018 The 6th Asian Academic Society International Conference (AASIC) A Transformative Community: Asia In Dynamism, Innovation, And Globalization The Novel Paradigm Of “Economic Driven Smart City” To The Sustainability
(4) Huawei. Building a Safe Mauritius, the Inspiration for Heaven
(6) Gsma. 2012 South Korea: Jeju Island Smart Grid Test-Bed Developing Next Generation Utility Networks
(7) CRM. 2021 The CRM collaborates with the on-demand bus service expansion in Barcelona
(8) APEC. 2017 Developing the Tourism Workforce of the Future in the APEC Region
(9) APEC. 2019 SMEs’ Integration into Global Value Chains in Services Industries: Tourism Sector
(10) World Economic Forum. 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index