Converting Data to Revenue: The Big Challenge for Travel and Tourism
By Tim Bird, Tue Feb 04 14:41:27 GMT 2003

"Information has to be linked to sales in order to keep its value," says Josef Margreiter, Director of the Tirolean Tourism Board and President of the International Federation for IT and Travel & Tourism.

The on-line, always-on society represents a fast-growing market place for the travel and tourism businesses. This is the confident view of Josef Margreiter, Director of the Tirolean Tourism Board and President of the International Federation for IT and Travel & Tourism. The IFITT held its tenth International Conference in Helsinki, Finland on January 29-31, and Margreiter used the opportunity to stress the need for tourism and travel companies to adapt more quickly to the technological challenges available to them.

The Conference, Enter 2003, chose as its theme Technology on the Move and brought together over 400 academics, IT experts and travel destination management representatives from over 40 countries. The repeated emphasis in the 150 presentations at Enter 2003 was on how the widespread information made available to tourists through mobile technological media must be converted to revenue for the industry.

"The main challenge for tourism is how to deliver on-time our tailor-made products to this fast growing market place," says Margreiter. "Tourism is already committed to e-Business, and the opportunities of mobile technology inspire everybody from the practising side of tourism. Our Conference brings together a mix of scientists and academics with practitioners and technology suppliers, as a meeting place for the three areas. We are able to question the researchers. It helps to demystify a lot of things."

Business in the travel industry arena is having to struggle to come to terms with threats of war, while airlines bear the burden of increased security and fuel costs. Yet the mood at Enter 2003 was one of long-term optimism and opportunity. "Especially in tourism, the wheel is being reinvented so many times, again and again," says Josef Margreiter. This makes predicting the future more difficult. Yet if just 50 per cent of the IFITT's Conference forecasts are realised the exercise of analysis and prediction is worthwhile.

In 1996 and 1997, Margreiter recalls, the big issue under discussion in travel was whether all observers of new technological options would end up being users of them. "Another big question was about the viability of the 'one-stop' web travel shop or portal. Now we can see that you must have the one-stop shop, or you lose out. Users appreciate the convenience. So in fact our predictions are often exceeded.

"We predict that there will be 1.4 billion wireless communications handsets in the world by 2007," says Margreiter. "In a few years time this will be the number one portal for communications, even taking over from PCs. There is clearly a growing market and a need to sell services in this growing market. But which structures will be ready for delivery? The public bodies, such as tourist authorities, are not ready. At present they have to go into partnerships to provide mobile travel services. But they will have to move ahead. The landscape of tourist authorities and destination management is changing, but they are not ready yet. Technologies are moving so fast that we will all have to learn how to adapt better."

A lack of preparation will allow new players to enter the business, to the cost of more established companies and organisations. "If you are a leader in the information technology business, it is now also possible for you to be a leader in tourism," Margreiter explains. "Information and services structures behind travel management are on the move. New systems and new players are taking the consumer's interest more and more. The big question remains: Who will get ready fast enough to partner the business player with the tourism competence? For example, a country like Austria may have half a million travel-related web site players, updating daily in a decentralized structure. If these sites are not linked in a way that can be easily accessed by the customer, then you lose the customer."

In tourism and travel, the successful provision of information, Margreiter emphasises, is central to success in business. "You can't try a holiday before you take it, like you can test-drive a car then decide you don't want to buy it," he says. Information is crucial to your travel purchasing decisions. That information has been provided in traditional ways using brochures and books, and these remain important. The opportunities of mobile technology, however, open new doors to the business.

"That's why the partnerships between IT and travel are so interesting, because we are the most complex and interesting playground for these technologies," Margreiter continues. "New players in the tourist business, with their competitive experience in information and entertainment, have been integrating into the main travel and tourist business. Some players have fallen out of the business, but small start-ups can become big global operators."

The setting of Helsinki for a conference titled "Technology on the Move" was doubly appropriate, says Margreiter. "In Finland, we are in one of the world's leading technological countries. This was seen when participants were given a multi-media messaging tour of Helsinki using their Nokia Communicators. The multi-media challenge is growing. We must not neglect the traditional, person-to-person markets, and mobile technology won't take all of what's on offer, but it's one new opportunity to sell to the traveller on the move."

The Nokia Communicator tour was organised by the Finnish-based Adaptia company which, like Nokia, was an official conference partner. One of the company's products is Adaptia Mobile, a mobile phone interface to the Adaptia Interactive Internet browser service that allows data searching and eBusiness transactions to be performed while on the move. This is one example of how information can be converted to revenue for the travel business.

"Information has to be linked to sales in order to keep its value," says Margreiter. "The challenge is to integrate information competence into multi-channel distribution systems. The consumer wants a high level of information, but that in itself is not a business."

Tim Bird is an English journalist who has been living in Finland since 1982. He has learned to like his mobile phone, but likes to think that he can resist becoming a slave to it.