USI - Promoting Knowledge, Innovation & Learning in Tourism

E-Learning can educate and give people awareness of Tourism trends, issues, and industry technology in a relaxed and fun environment.

In this case study we will explore:
  • How industry knowledge is created and shared.
  • How communication and business skills are specifically applied to the international tourism industry.
  • How cutting-edge tools are used to successfully interact in an ever more digital tourism environment.
  • How innovation is used to train the tourism leaders of tomorrow.

At USI - Università della Svizzera Italiana headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland, a pioneering qualification in Tourism has been developed. The Master in International Tourism is a programme at the forefront of industry training. It explores innovation in the tourism sector and the opportunities to solve specific challenges. It offers insight into the industry and guidance for future tourism leaders. We interviewed Professor Rico Maggi - Director of the Institute for Economic Research and the founding director of the Master in International Tourism, and Professor Lorenzo Cantoni - Director of the Institute of Digital Technologies for Communication and Director for Education and Students to learn more about this innovative educational course.

In this case study we will explore:

  • How industry knowledge is created and shared.
  • How communication and business skills are specifically applied to the international tourism industry.
  • How cutting-edge tools are used to successfully interact in an ever more digital tourism environment.
  • How innovation is used to train the tourism leaders of tomorrow.

About USI: Being at the Forefront of Industry Training

As one of the leading Universities in Switzerland, USI has produced a Tourism education programme for its students: The Master in International Tourism. This programme equips students for a high-level career in the International Tourism industry.

Leading the way in Education and Innovation

Innovation is at the heart of the programme, and throughout it, students apply innovation in both the thinking and learning process and also in the research that's conducted. Being at the forefront of industry training, the University provides students with unparalleled access to the industry. These opportunities give students key industry insights to develop solutions that will benefit the industry.

Professor Rico Maggi, founding director of the Master in International Tourism, explains how the philosophy of the master has always been from the beginning about 'ways of thinking'. The aim is to train students in understanding the tourism phenomenon in its complexity and to get students into jobs that allow them to apply their skills.

The University understands the need for tourism education on a global scale and has created a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) titled "E-tourism, communication perspectives" which was attended by almost 9000 participants from all over the world. In collaboration with the Paris-One Sorbonne University, a new MOOC titled "Tourism Management of UNESCO World Heritage Sites" has also been launched. This is an effort of 11 different universities across Europe, Israel, and South America. Currently, there are about 6000 participants from 140 countries.

E-learning as a tool to connect and educate people worldwide

Educating people in Tourism on a global scale is not only vital to achieving sustainability but also to teach people about their heritage and the environment. It is important for future generations that iconic landscapes and landmarks throughout the world are maintained and protected. The increasing environmental issues we are facing negatively impact the preservation of our natural and cultural heritage. What is the solution? How can we educate people around the world how to survive and thrive in their destination whilst encouraging tourism and still protecting the environment?

The University believes that large scale online learning could be a big part of the solution. The open online courses have emerged as a way of offering top-quality learning opportunities for people who cannot afford to travel to a major university centre or attend regular courses. This type of access to Tourism education is essential for destinations struggling with environmental and financial issues. Not only can destinations educate themselves, but they can also connect with other destinations and share knowledge.

E-Learning can educate and give people awareness of Tourism trends, issues, and industry technology in a relaxed and fun environment. A MOOC can make the learning process more enjoyable, more social and more interactive. The end result will be highly engaged industry professionals, who are proud and knowledgeable about their destination. This will also have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and visitor advocacy to a destination. If customer satisfaction is good and visitors are happy then the E-learning has been a success.

E-Learning - The Benefits:

  • Ongoing training to ensure industry professionals have the required knowledge and skills
  • High-level and accessible education in Tourism
  • Flexibility and convenience: training available any time, anywhere. Perfect for active, on the move tourism industry professionals
  • Easy to use, innovative, well-designed and structured courses
  • A fun learning environment through gamification and engagement
  • Mass reach to a diverse and widespread audience
  • Opportunities for people to network and connect on a global scale
  • Opportunities for people to learn and share knowledge
  • Increased awareness of key tourism issues and of ways to tackle them
  • Increased awareness of tourism trends and digital technology designed for the industry
  • Highly engaged tourism professionals and increased customer satisfaction

Where DMOs can really succeed with e-Learning

How can DMOs use e-learning to their advantage? Well, not only does the promotion of knowledge and digital technology through e-learning connect people in the Tourism industry, but it also provides new opportunities. For example, people in Goa are able to connect with people in Latin America, who are experiencing similar problems to themselves and they can work together to find solutions. E-Learning is, therefore, a great way for DMOs to share knowledge and find solutions.

National Tourism offices have understood the importance of e-learning as nowadays many of them are offering free online courses for international travel agents selling tourist destinations. The University believes that most of the travellers based in Europe or in North America are 'Fully Independent Travellers' (commonly known as 'FIT' amongst industry professionals), buying their own tickets and designing their own experiences. This differs, for example, from people in India and China, many of whom are travelling in groups and need interpreters. This means they don’t buy directly but go to travel agents instead, as most travellers from China have never travelled themselves. As a matter of facts, many Chinese travel agents have been mostly selling places they've never actually visited.

This is why online learning initiatives such as the 'Switzerland Travel Academy', developed by the University in collaboration with Switzerland Tourism, can offer a solution for this. Thousands of international travel agents have already attended the free online course to learn in-depth about Switzerland. Those travel agents will now be able to serve their clientele better because they better understand the destination and who it appeals to. On the other side, Switzerland Tourism will also be happy because tourism becomes more sustainable, as travel agents will need to travel less and at the same time they will be able to sell the right products to the right customers.

Digital Technology: Opportunities to solve specific Challenges

The Always-Connected Travel Experience: A Shift and Challenge in Tourism.


As Professor Cantoni points out, the 'always-connected' travel experience represents one of the biggest shifts in Tourism. Travel is becoming social and also mobile. The widespread adoption of powerful mobile devices and the corresponding exponential growth of social media activity continues to have profound effects on the global travel industry. This relates to aspects of service delivery for international travellers, but also on the ways in which prospective travellers seek out and share information about travel.

Digital Technology: Travel Trends


As we know, before and during travel, visitors want to access good quality travel information online to enhance their travel experience. In a 'Mobile-first', digital era, visitors are 'Always-on' and connected with mobile phones and wi-fi. As a result of this, DMOs now have more opportunities to reach prospects all over the world through digital technology and through today’s digital technology travel trends such as:

  • Location-based services
  • Augmented Reality  
  • Selfies
  • Travel Influencer blogging

However, despite these trends towards a more connected world, there is another trend happening in contrast to this, the so-called 'dark web’. Increasingly, we are seeing a more reserved and private online consumer, with a huge shift towards private messaging apps as a break from sharing every moment in life with peers on social media like Facebook. Today, consumers are becoming more selective in what they share on social, posing a challenge to brands built on social influence.

Digital Technology: The Challenges DMOs are facing

1. The Always-On Visitor

From start to finish, a smartphone can manage and document a visitor’s whole travel experience, which can then be shared in real-time with friends and colleagues. However, the downside is that people are not able to switch off and actually enjoy all these new experiences. People can be in the remotest place but still be connected with the world through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

During our sit-down with Professor Cantoni, we discussed some of the bigger trends that he and his team of researchers within USI are seeing. Among the key trends emerging there is the need to find ways of integrating digital technology with a good quality tourist experience. The challenge facing us today is that people want to experience life like a local on one hand, but without being totally disconnected from their life and job.

Digital technology does a good job of connecting travellers with locals and the place they are visiting. However, the downside is that some platforms are 'pushing' locals outside of their cities in order to accommodate more travellers. Digital technologies are therefore a blessing and a curse with the issue of overtourism. DMOs need to take all this into account and understand that it’s not just a case of 'the more the better', it’s about using digital technology to enhance the destination experience for both tourists and locals.

2. Overtourism and Destination Sustainability

The big issue in Tourism right now is sustainability. It is a global challenge for destinations to be smart and sustainable. It is not surprising that Professor Rico Maggi alludes that the biggest interests of students on the programme are sustainability and all the related challenges we will be facing in the future. Professor Lorenzo Cantoni also explains how sustainability, the issues of overcrowding, better support for development and educational learning are still key challenges all over the world. Technology is either contributing to some of those problems or part of the solution.

Digital Technology: The Solutions

Here at DTTT we are focused on providing solutions and we think that DMOs can implement the solutions mentioned in their strategies to improve both the visitor experience and the destination's sustainability.

1. The Always-On Visitor

  • Easy Planning on Apps

Improved features on smartphone apps have made them more user-friendly for planning and booking travel. For the first time ever, the number of mobile transactions is set to surpass desktop ones in 2020. As apps keep improving their usability, the number of travellers booking via mobile apps has soared.  Apps are now making the planning and booking of travel easier than ever before. Therefore as a DMO it is a good idea to invest in an app that will take potential visitors from the planning stage to conversion.

  • Better Customer Service Through AI

We no longer have to rely on humans for good customer service. With Artificial intelligence (AI), ChatBots are here to help visitors and give them solutions. AI can keep visitors happy and informed, leading to a stronger reputation for your destination. The amount of time ChatBots can save to guests and employees at a destination is priceless! DMOs can create maximum engagement for visitors with personalized messages and suggestions.

  • Speedy Wifi and more Networks

With the rise of smart gadgets, accessible and speedy wifi and networks are highly valuable. Destinations need to give visitors greater coverage and faster internet service to enhance their visitor experience.

  • Voice Searches

Voice command and verbal searches are on the rise, thanks to the ever-improving capabilities of smart devices. It is worth noting that from 2020 onwards, half of all internet searches will be voiced. This technology can also be incorporated into hotels and attractions, making the visitor experience as effortless as possible.

  • Convenience in Wearable Devices

Wearable technology is becoming more popular as technology giants produce more products. This extends into the tourism industry as tourists can use these devices to get to know unfamiliar areas and maintain security.

  • Real Reality, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Mixed reality is also another innovative digital solution. Combining Real Reality, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in order to improve the visitor experience. Augmented Reality allows customers to view their room and their travel destination through digital surroundings. DMOs can produce immersive experiences which inspire travellers and help them with decision making.

  • Big Data: Big Solutions

Destinations can use the information they gather from data to make specific adjustments to what they offer. Destinations can also use data to analyse performance. For example, hotel owners can use big data and other past trends to better anticipate levels of demand. When demand becomes predictable, pricing and promotional strategies can also be optimised.

  • Internet of Things (IoT) Personalisation

Stored data of visitors' preferences and implementation of their feedback through likes and dislikes can dramatically enhance customer satisfaction. Linking appliances in hotel rooms through the Internet of Things adds a rare level of customisation for visitors.

  • Fast, secure online payments

Safer payment methods and a huge variety of different payment options are transforming global travel. Payments and transactions can be fast-tracked on mobiles. The infrastructure of blockchain technology can set destinations apart.

2. Over-tourism and Destination Sustainability

  • Overcrowding

As overcrowding is becoming one of the major challenges faced by the tourism industry today, destinations such as Amsterdam and the Faroe Islands are all working hard to manage visitor flows and overcome issues related to overcrowding in tourism hotspots.

This can be achieved through digital technology and real-time data, using them to re-route people to avoid overcrowding. Professor Lorenzo Cantoni suggests there is a need for further development in this area using digital analytics and for destinations to be smart and connected.

  • Sustainability

Social media is a powerful technology tool. Travellers can showcase beautiful tourist hotspots, inspiring and motivating others to travel, but if travellers continue to ignore unsustainable practices across destinations, then this will have a huge impact on the destination in the future.

Digital transformation and technology are vital for nature, wildlife and environmental work in the tourism sector. Globally, people are starting to be more aware of human’s impact on our ecosystems, biodiversity and climate change. People want to reduce their carbon footprints.

Sustainable tourism not only requires social and economic information but also environmental data. Such data is vital to improve tourism planning and strategies. Healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are hugely important for many destinations. Biodiversity is thus a key tourism asset and fundamental to its sustained growth.

  • Educating Tourists

In 2013 USI signed an agreement with UNESCO to establish a UNESCO Chair with the main goal being to attain how digital technologies can help to sustain and promote sustainable tourism in heritage sites.

It is key for the programme to develop the right narratives for visitors so that they have an in-depth understanding of these places. Cultural tourism can benefit a lot from new technologies because by adopting such technologies it will be able to provide better quality and contextual information about what the traveller will experience in a place.

A Redefinition of Roles: The Challenges for DMOs

One of the key challenges for destinations is the redefinition of their role, in a time where the role of DMOs is increasingly in question. With so many new developments and trends in technology, what we see is that marketing has moved from websites to apps, as opposed to image and positioning. DMOs are not just marketing organisations, they play a key role in managing the destination and everything that goes with it.

Destinations should work with the relevant stakeholders to get the most out of the data they have. Destinations should broadcast fewer messages and just listen to what tourists are looking for, experiencing and sharing. It is important to include the locals in DMO strategy, working together with them to create the image and experience of the destination. Educating locals is also vital to help local micro-enterprises to grow, not only in financial terms but also in terms of awareness of what's happening around them and in terms of being more competitive in an ever more competitive tourism market.

DMOs are in a unique position: they are seen as leaders for the destination. They can bring together all the different pieces to improve the visitor experience through a better kind of digital experience. It’s no longer about quantity, but about quality and value.

Emerging Markets: a Challenge and an Opportunity

Travel is for everyone and we have seen a rapid increase in international travel. This is a result of the lowering of travel barriers, falling costs, income growth, expanding middle-class population and greater openness to international travel in markets around the world. International travel is now within reach for millions, particularly for emerging markets.

In light of this, the challenge for DMOs is the rise of emerging markets, who are leading the growing demand for international tourism. Emerging markets will not only become larger source markets but their countries will also become attractive destinations too. The University acknowledges that this a key area of focus.

UNWTO's study on international tourism trends in EU countries predicts that a large proportion of tourists visiting the EU until 2030 will originate from emerging source markets in:

  • Asia
  • the Americas
  • Africa
  • the Middle East

DMOs must adapt to this challenge and cater for a whole new audience. Destinations must ensure they know the characteristics, tastes and preferences of these emerging markets so that they can tailor their products and services accordingly. When managing the expectations of emerging markets, DMOs must ask the following questions:

  • Do they travel for business or leisure?
  • Does this market book through travel agencies or the internet?
  • How far in advance do they book their trips?
  • What time of year do they normally travel?
  • What type of trips do they book? e.g Package trips with a guide?
  • What do they travel for? History and Culture? Excursions? Shopping? Nature?
  • Do they prefer to travel alone or in groups?
  • Do they travel with friends or family?
  • What is the typical age of visitors?
  • What is their social class?
  • What is their average spend per trip?
  • What do they spend their money on? e.g. Shopping or Activities?
  • What level of accommodation do they prefer?
  • What are their preferred countries to visit?

Once this information has been collected, DMOs must use it to their advantage. Every aspect of managing emerging markets has to take into account language requirements, cultural differences, technology preferences and other factors that contribute to the overall customer experience.

It may all seem like an overwhelming (and expensive) process, but it doesn’t have to be. DMOs can direct their efforts towards strategic, high-impact touch-points and implement best-practice workflows and technology for efficiently managing global content. The result will be a significant ROI for the efforts made.

Emerging Markets: The Challenges

  • Visa Requirements

Travel barriers for emerging markets exist in the form of visa requirements and security provisions at airports. These factors continue to prevent travel growth and there are calls for increased use of technology to smooth visa and security processing.

  • Traveller Insecurity

Expanding on the case for technology-led security and processing improvements, we are also faced with a complex geopolitical landscape and the rise of physical and e-terrorism and a surge in populism and xenophobia. It is important for destinations to make visitors feel as safe and welcome as possible.

  • Demand vs Infrastructure

Public and private infrastructure investments in airports, accommodations, and other travel support is lagging behind demand in many markets. Tourists want to move quickly and seamlessly and will choose alternative destinations if access is difficult.

  • Translation of digital assets

Translations.com says multilingual content typically doubles conversion, therefore translating digital assets is vital, from website content (which also boosts local market search) to mobile apps and booking engines.

Emerging Markets: The Opportunities

Looking at things from a more digital perspective, the challenge from DMOs is to be aware of digital technology travel trends and how the emerging markets use them. There are huge opportunities for destinations who make the effort to adapt to emerging markets who can prove to be very lucrative. DMOs can increase customer acquisition by reaching out to the emerging markets, understanding their needs and adapting their strategy. This will make their destination more successful and prosperous.


The role of Academia in guiding future Tourism Leaders


As an industry, tourism generates nowadays around 200 million jobs worldwide and accounts for 10% of the world global GDP.  Therefore the demand for more university-level education in tourism is well-founded.  

The International Tourism industry needs skilled and creative managers who understand how to tackle the sustainability challenges of tourism and their impacts on society. The industry needs to master various ways of critical thinking to solve complex problems and be able to change quickly between perspectives of tourists, residents, and service providers to create a sustainable future for travel and tourism.

The University-level courses pave the way for students to make an impact and transform the industry particularly in the following areas:

  • Consultancy
  • As Stakeholders in the tourism industry
  • Upper Management
  • Start-Up Businesses owners, often on the startup tech side, in e-tourism but also in sustainable tourism or as a destination development consultant.
  • In the Public Sector

We believe the role of Academia in tourism is to equip industry professionals with the right level of skills and understanding to discuss and resolve key issues but also as a source of industry innovation. This level of knowledge and innovation is required to overcome issues and work with the sort of challenges elaborated on this case

Key Takeaways

1. “There is a need for more university-level courses.”

As the tourism industry continues to grow and generate around 200 million jobs worldwide, the International Tourism industry requires more and more highly skilled creative managers who understand how to tackle the sustainability challenges of tourism and their impact on society. University-level courses provide a way to recognise skilled professionals in this field, those who can improve and enhance the industry with their knowledge and acumen.

2. “E-Learning is a great way to educate, connect and improve destinations worldwide”

Connecting and educating the industry worldwide is essential to tackle sustainability and all the complex issues related to the industry. E-Learning allows the mass creation and sharing of industry knowledge by providing accessible quality online education, not just to students but to travel agents, locals and anyone affiliated with the industry. Knowledge is power and destinations can benefit and improve through E-Learning.  

3. “Digital Technology can provide solutions for today’s tourism challenges”

In the "Always-on" world we live in, digital technology is always present and prevalent in the industry. Digital technology can provide solutions to today's tourism challenges. It can be used as a solution to avoid overcrowding and to encourage sustainability. It can connect travellers to their destinations, but the key is to find ways of integrating digital technology with a good-quality tourist experience.

4. “Adapting to emerging markets is key to a destination’s success”

Today, travel and tourism has become more accessible. There is a surge of tourists from emerging markets such as China and India. Destinations need to adapt and respond to cultural differences and cater to this influx of visitors if they are to succeed. Emerging markets provide opportunities and challenges and destinations need to respond to these if they are to prosper.

5. “Academia can enhance the quality of future tourism leaders"

University-level courses provide students with direct access to the industry, allowing them to gain practical hands-on experience whilst applying their knowledge. Their university-level understanding of tourism allows them to discuss key issues in any area of the business. They also have industry connections from networking and consistent mentoring from key industry players. Therefore academia can enhance the quality of future tourism leaders.

Published on:
November 2020
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