Few economic activities have been as affected by the coronavirus crisis as the tourism industry, dragged down by travel restrictions that were widely implemented. A sector that, before the pandemic, represented 14.6% of Spanish GDP and concentrated 2.8 million jobs, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC, for its acronym in English). In 2019 alone, tourism left more than 176,000 million euros in the economy of Spain, and almost 84 million people visited our country. However, the health emergency situation has meant that in 2020 up to 75% of this income is lost.
Recovering this sector is therefore a priority, although the uncertainty about the immediate future leads experts to think that full recovery will take some time to come: “It is difficult to make forecasts, but a probable scenario could place the recovery of tourism in our country in 2022, when the 2019 levels are reached again, ”says Concepción García, Vice-Rector for Employability and Entrepreneurship of the Complutense University Madrid (UCM). By then, he says, the activity will not be different from how it was before the pandemic, “apart from paying more attention to aspects such as health security, which could previously go unnoticed.”
Then what? The future of tourism will necessarily go through overcoming a series of technological and sustainability challenges. “We all know that tourism has a high climatic and ecological footprint, since it requires high consumption of energy and fuel,” says Miguel Ángel Sastre, Vice-Rector for Quality at the UCM. “Greenhouse gas emissions from tourism-related transportation are estimated to constitute 5% of man-made emissions. We must evolve to a less carbon-based sustainable tourism activity ”.
Technology and new teaching methodologies
Technology will play an essential role both in reducing the environmental impact of tourism and in ensuring its sustainability and efficiency. For this reason, different research, innovation and training initiatives have been launched that involve both educational institutions and companies: these are the cases of, for example, Les Roches Marbella or the future Travel Tech School by Amadeus, a initiative of the Gran Canaria Turismo Innova Cluster, The Wise Dreams and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, with the support of Amadeus, an educational project based on new teaching methodologies and the intensive use of technology, with which the Canary Islands intends to become a center for the development of digital skills in tourism.
The Travel Tech School proposal is based on solving challenges that respond to the real needs of the tourism sector, in a blended, collaborative, personalized and immersive context, but above all more flexible than what is normally allowed by rigid university structures. . A format “where the master classes are replaced by initial classes that give way to an inquiry process that addresses the challenge from different perspectives” and even originates startups, says Edu William, co-founder of The Wise Dreams and promoter of the new school. “I have tried to teach this methodology in my classes as an associate professor at the university, but then the faculty comes to me and says:“ Look, Edu, you are not teaching ”. So, just like that … “What do we mean we haven’t taught? If we’ve even got patents … “” No, but you have to stand there and sing … “. An attitude that is explained, he argues, by the rigidity of the teaching projects and the degree certification system.
The teacher, he adds, is there to accompany the student and that what you learn can be implemented in record time. “Get on the Internet right now and you will see how, if you are skilled, you can learn to program robotics in two weekends. What I can do, with my experience, is see practical cases and learn together so that you can really apply the theoretical content ”. The Canarian project will offer training both in transversal skills (soft skills such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, leadership capacity or entrepreneurship), as well as in those highly specialized in tourism: programmatic, robotics, CRM or revenue management.
Always, yes, with the aim of covering where neither the university nor the company reach, and with formats that nurture and recycle current professionals in the sector, but also offer complementary training to university students: “Do certain itineraries so that students can do their degree and then an expert course in digital transformation, for example. That in first they can do two or three complementary subjects; second, another two or three; in third, the same … ”, explains William.
The key role of technology
Technology was already transforming the tourism sector long before the 2020 health crisis. Travel agencies started years ago in the digital age, and in accommodation and restaurants “the use of big data It allows us to get to know our clients better and offer them a more complete experience, personalizing each stay with the client’s tastes ”, says Sastre. “And it has been used for a long time to optimize the income of tourist establishments, thanks to the dynamization of prices according to demand.” On the other hand, digital marketing and online positioning also acquire special relevance in this sector.
The central role of technology in the tourism of the future, and therefore in the training aimed at its professionals, is reflected in the future educational work of Travel Tech School, which gives priority to four lines: artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, neuroscience and virtual reality. The first two, in particular, stand as key elements for transformation, since they improve efficiency and allow, in the case of AI, to make decisions with a significant level of success, due to the ability to predict.
“Robotization does not oppose people against robots, because what it is about is to generate greater capacities in the people who are working, so that you can be more efficient”, says William. So, for example, a headset and a smartwatch They can make it possible for an employee who does not know languages to communicate with a customer who, for example, speaks Russian, thanks to the voice assistants with whom they are working; and the use of augmented reality glasses can provide vital information about each customer in real time. Ultimately, technology will make it possible to massively personalize care while maintaining costs, something that was not possible before.
Its virtual reality training equipment will make it possible to offer a training system and neuro-evaluation of transversal competences: how to prepare for a negotiation, a person in a moment of leadership … “With the help of virtual reality helmets equipped with sensors, and through eye tracking, facial recognition, tone of voice and sweating, they get biomarkers that enrich your implicit behavior ”. It is not just about how you act, but about how you have behaved, even if you have not done so explicitly. “Through this, we get you some results, and some levels of behavior in which we ask you if you have to improve or not, and we classify you at different levels of those competences”, illustrates William.
The future is closer than it seems
Among all the consequences that the pandemic has had on the economy, the restriction of travel has undoubtedly been the most damaging for tourism. But what if this is not necessarily a factor? “We must begin to reflect and make decisions about teleportation. The tourism ecosystem has always been governed by displacement, but what people really want are experiences. Can I enjoy experiences from my home? Is that tourism? ”Asks William.
For this Canarian teacher, it is perfectly possible that, within five or ten years, “a significant number of people (perhaps up to 20%) will eliminate some of the trips they now do impulsively, and replace it with some weekend experiences in virtual reality, in real time, walking with friends in Hong Kong or Turkey ”. The technology, he continues, will exist in just three or four years, and it is about addressing this debate in order to be pioneers and not be late, “because that way you cannot innovate. We want to start developing talent, innovation and R&D projects ”such as the one they already have underway with the Domingo Alonso group. “The tools already exist. I can be broadcasting the park of my house right now, that you and I put on the virtual reality glasses and that we are walking together, or that even I can create, in real time, an avatar of mine that you cannot differentiate if I am me or not. We are technologically closer than you think ”.
Another thing, he points out, is how it is deployed and how it is used, “because sometimes it takes more time for usability in the sector than for technology development.” The technology already exists – the NBA offers virtual reality boxes to watch games at the foot of the court – but we must see how it is perfected and, above all, if it becomes popular: it is necessary for the devices to improve and lower the price. “This is an innovation that will completely change tourism: the main axiom, displacement, leaves its place to experience … I think that, in just three or five years, we will be seeing experiential products in virtual reality in a massive way through travel agencies or other distribution platforms ”. The goal is to be developing the content and utility by the time the technology is fully developed and implemented.
Can it be done in a realistic way? For William, this is where the elements of neuroscience come into play: the more we know our brain, and know how to generate certain environmental, sound and immersive stimuli, the more real the experience will be. “It is not the same, but there is a great proximity. I’m not telling you not to take your summer and Christmas vacations, but maybe, on a bridge that you were going to take, maybe you prefer to spend it at Euro Disney with your children, you save a little money and they can also even to coincide with their cousins, who live in Australia … Other possibilities open up that must be assessed; we can’t put them under the rug. “
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