Ever since American Airlines and IBM introduced GDS in the 1960s information technology has long been a driver for change and development in the of the tourism and hospitality industries. Now mobile technology is expected to be the latest driver for change in the world of travel.
Using mobile technology, content providers will be able to reach tourist ends anytime anywhere. Mobile technology in its early days was only about sending basic contents to users, and now we are seeing technology is being used in transaction processing and complex communication, bring great changes to the industry. In fact, mobile technology has created another sales channel that is now one of the fast-growing for airlines. Airlines have also found that mobile/tablet technology can be used to further streamline operations and provide immediate communications and collaboration among employees.
With the development of Internet and wide use of mobiles, not only technology is promoting the development of the tourism industry, but it is now a medium that influences the relationship between suppliers and users, and becoming a new distribution pattern.
Now we have to ask what problems will need solutions from technology? Actually technology is just a tool that can provide rich information to help consumers make a decision and buy quality products. The application of information technology to consumption itself is about making a right decision. If we wish to divide tourism consumers into groups according to different criteria, for example by income, age and education, and design products like vacation, business travel, and leisure based on different demands from clients this can be solved by technology. Technology plays various roles in tourism industry that benefits consumers, such as microblog and group buying. In aviation, technology is not only applicable to buying tickets or traveling from destination A to destination B, it is about building a personal network that can provide transportation service you need via technology. For example guests staying at Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons are also considering how to spend their money. These can all be solved by technology. That is how to collect useful information and present it to users.
The continuous development of the Internet has resulted in more and more demands, and the popularization of smart-phone Internet access has provided time and space for this information communication. According to statistics from China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, China now has more than 120 million mobile Internet users, the number of 3G users is increasing by over a million each month, and the total number of 3G users will soon reach 50 million. The year 2011 is a pivotal one for smart-phone operating systems. CNZZ's latest report shows iPhone accounts for the largest population of smartphone operating system users, and its traffic accounts for 42.75% of the total. IPod Touch and iPad are also generating a lot of traffic, and combined their total traffic is 85% of that of iPhone.
Apple's mobile Internet platform has occupied almost half the market, bringing unprecedented experience to users. The software it has developed brings not only information but changes to people's way of life. Augmented reality is very important in iPhone and iPad. Generally, augmented reality is to overlay the virtual electronic information to people's real world to assist them when they are engaged in various activities. In tourism, augmented reality overlays the information on actual sights, and travel becomes more convenient and interesting. Imagine that you are on the Shanghai Bund. Point camera of your cell phone at an ancient building and it will get the information associated with that building. Location can also be tied in using GPS and compass. The data can be overlaid on anything — street maps, tour guides, hotels, and transport. Augmented reality has fused the real and the virtual, combing traveler's experience and book lore together. Tourism will become more interesting and informative than ever.
Augmented reality was a augmented noun in science fiction or Hollywood movies in the past decades. Nowadays it has become true to integrate the digital world and the real world via computer, bringing many new applications to tourists. For example, these applications will help users to locate a restaurant or gas station nearby using the smartphone. Or users can publish their views about something and provide to other users so they can visit relevant links via smartphones. Another example, you can point your iPhone at one direction, and the app will tell you the name of the nearest subway station and the bus line to there, as well as the distance between each station.
The rise of social networking makes travel companies transparent in terms of quality of service. Companies will need to monitor what is being said about them and their products. For a company, social networking will become the primary interface between the brand and consumers.
In China, widely used social network sites include Weibo.com, t.sohu.com, Kaiixn001.com, renren.com, Douban.com, and Qzone. Information is published on these sites and views are easily forwarded. Other users are savvy enough to identify the true and the false. In social networking, most people use their real names and their fans are mostly friends in real world; that is why honesty can be ensured on social networks. So information and images posted online should also be real; otherwise users will become dishonest and it will cause trouble to other friends.
Hotels are now joining the microblogs in China as VIPs of some social networking sites to promote their dining and room deals. Microblog marketing is still in the trial stage for most hotels. The ultimate goal for their activities on social networks is to promote themselves. Hotels should pay attention to webpage design and even every reply and original information to make a good image.
Ding Xiaoliang, the vice president and North China Region general manager of Ctrip.com, told China Hospitality News that microblog is now an efficient interaction platform for its advantages that are different from the traditional Internet, such as high accuracy, wide coverage, quality effective customer groups, and real time interaction. It will help people to get information they want in a timelier manner.
Microblogs are a good way to promote both companies and individuals. Microblog marketing usually has a specific plan with real content. It is good for seasonal marketing and word of mouth marketing. As smart-phones become more and more popular, it is much easier and quicker for people to login to a microblog to publish and share information real time.
The year 2010 was the first for China's group buying industry. By the end of December 2010, China already has 457 million netizens, and of these 18,750,000 were group buyers. Statistics also show that China had more than 2,600 group buying websites by the end of 2010. It is estimated that ultimately the total sales of the industry will reach CNY16.5 billion — ten times the value in 2010. Travel group buying and hotel group buying are also warming up.
Ding Xiaoliang said that group buying is a useful way of marketing and price negotiation, but it is not suitable for all industries. There are three features in common for industries that are suitable for group buying: low price sensitivity, no time and space limit, and consumers with high price sensitivity. Scenic areas, entertainment, sports tickets, performance tickets, ski resort passes, swimming pool entrance, and movie tickets are all good sectors for group buying. Enterprises with high brand awareness are not, neither are industries with limited stock such as luxury products. Group buying is a new marketing method, and product providers often have some restrictions, so it is not good for every industry.
Ding also stated that it is not appropriate for high-end hotels to organize group buying as most of them focus on business and vacations. Temporary group buying as a means of promotion will improve hotel awareness, but it will probably cause two problems: first, it will disturb hotels' pricing structures; and second, it will impact on existing guests. Temporary promotions are a common marketing tool, but low prices for quality products cannot be maintained for long.