In this webinar, Julia Sutherland spoke to leading experts on the future of digital tourism. From personalised data to GPS-enabled rubber ducks, the panel explored how new technology will transform the way we experience travel.
Ross Tuffee co-founded DOGFI.SH Mobile, which has helped tourism businesses get the most out of digital for seven years. The company now specialises in building apps for mobile devices, improving customer experience and increasing sales for clients such as Legoland and Merlin Entertainments.
Also on the panel was Kim Kjaerside, manager of meetings, sales, and events at Apex Hotels UK. He’s also a respected travel blogger, writing about trips all over Scotland.
Joining them was Professor Chris Speed, chair of Design Informatics at The University of Edinburgh. He works with students at the cutting edge of technology design – from pop-up social networks to opening up datasets in interesting new ways.
The key trend: personalisation
Advances in digital technology will allow businesses to get extremely clever when it comes to communicating with their customers. It’s all about delivering the right information at the right point at the right time.
For instance, Ross has worked with Legoland to design a way to target messages at just the right moment. When you’re about to leave the attraction, at around 3pm, the app will ping you a message giving you a discount for a ticket the next day. It’s worked to increase sales for ‘bounce back’ tickets – and is effective precisely because it’s so targeted.
Apex Hotels don’t have anything quite so advanced, says Kim, but they do a lot of work to personalise the experience before, during and after their guests come to stay. A recent example? The social media team picked up on a guest worrying about the rain in Edinburgh for their upcoming stay. So Kim and his team made sure there was a poncho and an umbrella in the room for their arrival. “It’s about those little touches,” says Kim.
The future relies on good data
Chris is a connoisseur of data. None of the clever apps could do anything without large, meaningful datasets. “The city and its community have lots of databases, but they’re quite often in silos,” he says. Organisations want to hold onto the value of their data, and so it’s almost always locked away. But if we can take these databases and relate them to each other, we can find new and interesting ways to open up the city.
He worked on a project recently to connect two databases in Edinburgh: the catalogue of the Museums of Edinburgh, and the timetables of Lothian buses. They may seem totally unrelated, but the buses pass all the museums. So Chris and his team designed a game for smartphones, where the buses would ‘steal’ objects from the museums, and leave them at bus stops. It was up to the player to find these objects with their smartphone, and return them to the museum. It turned out to be a great way to engage children with the collections at the museums – getting families out and about on the buses, exploring the city.
Finding the right technology for your business
One barrier that many businesses face – especially small businesses – is deciding on what technology to adopt. How do you know what’s right for your business? Well, says Kim, keep an eye out for what’s popular, and what’s working for other people. It’s important to measure everything you do, and get rid of the things that aren’t helping you.
And when it comes to booking platforms and consolidators like Booking.com, be wary of who owns the data. For example, Booking.com won’t automatically give you your guest’s email address. So make sure that you have other ways to collect that information – and ask your guests plenty of questions throughout their time with you.
How do you stand out in the digital world?
It’s hard to get heard online. Images are good, of course, but people need more than just a picture of the view from your rooms, or the food that you serve. As the online world becomes more and more saturated, you need to do things a little differently. The trick, says Kim, is to make it a little bit quirky. Apex Hotels has introduced Edwin the rubber duck. Each hotel's rubber duck has a different colour, and you’ll find one in your room when you stay. Edwin is enormously popular. People take the ducks all over the world with them, posting photos of adventure and strange places this duck has travelled to. It’s good exposure for the brand, of course – but it’s more about engaging with a community of people who travel all over the world, making sure they have Scotland first in mind when they next book a holiday. “It really works,” says Kim, “and people are very attached to them.”
The Uberisation of experience
How have companies like Uber and Airbnb transformed the travel industry? And what does the future look like? Chris calls it the Uberisation of experience: residents of a city are no longer so divided from tourists. Suddenly you have a world where everyone has a hotel – their spare room – and everyone, potentially, has a taxi. There are threats to traditional business in these models, but there are also plenty of opportunities.
Top tips for staying ahead
How do the experts keep ahead of all the developments in the tech world? For Kim, staying on top of social media and staying relevant is the key. For Ross, it’s about reading as widely as possible to keep informed about future trends. And for Chris? Well he has access to the students who will be creating the next big things that will change everything, again.
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