Contactless interaction, automation and AI are building a new Customer Experience (CX) for the travel and tourism industry. Open Data is pushing tourism and hospitality in new and unpredictable directions. Only the right CX strategy can re-ignite the passion consumers have for amazing experiences. Going forward, hospitality and travel spaces need investment in CX innovations. CX hinges on the ability to assess the level of engagement customers want. It is about delivering experiences that are contextual, real, personal, and authentic. Tourism businesses are realigning priorities to provide effortless and “in the moment” experiences.

Digital technologies have significant implications for tourism businesses, and for the structure and operation of tourism value chains. Facilitating and enabling digitalization in tourism is a major policy challenge. While basic e-marketing and e-commerce have been adopted, data analytics, cloud computing and geotagging have received only transient uptake.

Digitalization has transformed tourism by connecting tourism products and services with travellers anywhere, in real time.  Travellers are using digital technologies like Skyscanner and Momondo to search, plan and book travel experiences. This makes it obligatory for tourism businesses to leverage advanced capabilities. A particularity of the tourism sector is that tourism enterprises operate globally while supplying a unique local destination offer. The geographical distribution of offers is truncated only by the digital attractiveness and accessibility of destinations. CX becomes a major differentiator.

The digital economy has transformed the process of communicating with tourists and the way we market tourism services. In addition, it is opening up highly creative ways of delivering tourism services, enhancing visitor experiences, and growing the experience economy. The experience economy is based on the idea of delivering key moments of authenticity and value. The digital transition offers the opportunity to leverage AI and the IoT to handle transactions, and capture and process information and data on tourism supply and demand.

On the demand side, this will be driven partly by the travel habits of Generation Alpha, who are the children of Millennials, and Generation Z who along with other emerging generations, will comprise the bulk of domestic and international tourists by 2040. Digital natives are tourism influencers. Trends include widespread use of: 1) mobile platforms like Teleport, and Kayak to plan a trip; 2) a propensity to remain connected in the destination to explore, share and get updates in real time; and, 3) the use of new payment rails. Millennials and Gen Z have embraced the sharing economy including accommodation sharing, ride sharing, currency swap and crowdsourcing.

Destinations, SMEs and the wider tourism sector will need to fully embrace the digital transition if they are to remain competitive, and to take advantage of the innovation, productivity and value creation potential of digital transformation. Digital transformation has birthed unparalleled opportunities for tourism SMEs to access new markets, develop new tourism products and services, internationalize operations, adopt new business prototypes, upgrade their market position in global tourism value chains, and integrate into digital ecosystems.

Terminals now offer smart contactless journeys with bag drop services completely controlled by personal mobile devices. No need to touch public screens. New contactless shopping solutions allow perfumes, jewellery and food to be delivered to you as you sit in the concourse, lounges and boarding gates. Smart Reading Airports offer passengers more than 7,000 magazines, newspapers, journals and comics. Paper currency is sanitised using UV technology. Smart Gates require no documents or scanning.

The tourism sector is fragmented and heterogeneous, and covers a wide range of industries with many demonstrating a dual structure, characterised by a very small group of large businesses, juxtaposed against a large group of SMEs/micro-businesses. Although they constitute the majority of tourism businesses, SMEs and micro-companies face more difficulties to vertically integrate than hotel chains in the accommodation sub-sector, and to reach potential clients.

At Airbnb vacation homes, fashionable boutique hotels and specialized inns, 5G and AI already enable swift check-in and check-out using facial recognition. This lifts service quality, and improves customer satisfaction and safety. Robots provide information to guests, and point visitors to resort facilities, and offer delivery services. 5G provide guests with faster, secure internet access, that work with 4K/8K, VR/AR, cloud, AI, and other technologies to provide wide ranging applications, including UHD video, cloud PC, cloud gaming, Multisport VR Fitness, and personalized recommendations.

For conference and business meetings, 5G solves network congestion problems and supports 4K UHD/VR live streaming and holographic interactions. The evolution and smart deployment of digital technologies have altered the way people live, work, travel and experience a destination. The scope and uptake of digital technologies varies across destinations. The resulting opportunities and barriers to uptake culminate in an uneven market.

This is worsened by a widening gap between technology driven and globally connected tourism businesses and traditional micro businesses that are often ensconced within traditional low-tech commercial practices. Inns and hotels are now important facilities that enable intelligent connectivity. Productivity-enhancing technologies like data analytics, open data and revenue management software have generally experienced slow uptake in tourism. Already, innovative technologies are generating, customising and delivering – in ever more novel ways – new visitor products, services and tourism experiences.