Smart Tourism May Mean Less Technology

We recently had the privilege of attending in Chengdu, China the General Session of United Nations World Travel Organization, an esteemed gathering of more than 130 countries and the many groups that service their tourism initiatives.

There were two major themes: Sustainable Tourism and Smart Tourism, which this post will focus on. The discussions evolved to “smart technology;” specifically, how technology can enable better tourism development.

Technology is, for the most part, good and enables much of today’s travel innovation. But it alone cannot drive sustainable tourism growth. Think about it this way. In its simplest form, a travel technology application is just a set of logical instructions that analyze relational data to take an action. This is how a booking engine works. So, any technology applied to a travel experience typically is only as good as the instructions and the data contained within it. The fact is, the instructions are derived by humans, who have flaws. Therefore, many consumer-facing technologies in some ways miss the mark. Even though the problems to be solved often make complex tasks quite simple and conquerable, the technology is only as good as those who have designed the applications or the business rules that govern the tasks.

The topic turned to the idea that we, as developers, marketers, and communicators, must strive to not leave travelers hanging in often the most stressful of conditions. When you’re traveling and things don’t work, you’re trapped. We need to treat empathy not as an adjective, but as a verb. How does each step in the process help the traveler get to what they want, when they want it? How does it fit organically into their entire experience? This kind of thinking about technology translates into a better tourism business from the outset, and we’re not forcing ourselves into solving problems that may not exist. Sure, the location may not deliver food but maybe that’s the point. 

Our work on a series of travel loyalty programs is as much about filtering out unnecessary functions and workflows as it is in creating the tools and technology platforms that aid the traveler’s experience. And when we venture into new uses of technology, we test in-market before we go all in. We are doing this right now with a travel destination client and will measure the impact of 360-degree video experiences, social game design and a philanthropic initiative where we plan to partner with a corporate brand. Only if these initiatives work will we look to scale them next travel season.

ICF Olson has a unique perspective in that we are digital yet truly ruled by human needs. We push for more than business rules and advocate the role of the human experience, regardless of platform.

To learn more about our insights from the 2017 General Session of the United Nations World Travel Organization, or about ICF Olson in general, please contact Michael Hunter, our Chief Growth Officer, at or 612.244.2108.