Impacts on operations, business models and employees
This week, our CEO, Nicholas Hall, has taken part in the Euractiv virtual conference.
We have been working a lot on Digitalisation - it has been the DTTT's focus for years, although it faded a bit lately, giving space to other major subjects like sustainability, content & storytelling or product development. Yet, Digital is back to its splendour and we have been busy consulting, running workshops, creating models to explain and advise.
In times of COVID, a robust digitalisation strategy is what is really needed by the industry.
Here are more details on the panel, a discussion on how tourism and other sectors are using digitalisation to transform their offerings, ways of working and business models.
- Josianne Cutajar MEP, Member ITRE Committee, European Parliament
- Diego Ciulli, Senior Public Policy Manager, Google
- Nick Hall, Founder and CEO, Digital Tourism Think Tank
- Frederico Mollet, Policy Analyst, EPC
- Frank Rosenberger, CIO, TUI Group
- Brian Maguire, Journalist, Euractiv
Rewatch the panel ⤵️
"COVID-19 has hit businesses hard, interrupting their operations, inducing low consumer demand and causing additional costs. But many companies were still able to make use of these unique circumstances to accelerate their digital transformation. They created customer-oriented technological solutions that tackle COVID-19 challenges, such as reducing physical customer interactions. And these solutions will make their businesses future-proof in the post-pandemic period.
In addition to these practical, short-term changes, companies are using changing customer behaviour and demand to transform their business models, enabling new forms of cooperation with partners and leading to new product and service offerings as well as new forms of company relationships with customers and employees.
While European tourism is currently experiencing the worst of the crisis, it is argued that digital transformation and the adoption of platform-based business models will define the shape of the sector’s recovery. But how can success be ensured? Are there any rules, guidelines or established best practices, and what is the role of the European regulator in defining the future of digital tourism? Can digital transformation alone lead to new business opportunities and growth?"
Josianne Cutajar MEP, Member ITRE Committee, European Parliament
The pandemic has shown us that tourism, along with other sectors, can quickly grow digitally: data shows that we have jumped forward 5 years. The greatest opportunity in tourism is to build back better and more sustainably, always through digitalisation and smart use of data.
It will be key to ensure that every actor is actively involved, from governance and regulators to SMEs. Digitalisation blends the boundaries between markets and sectors, therefore it plays a crucial role when it comes to competition and consumer protection.
Digitalisation has been cutting down on certain jobs, yet skill development is crucial and job opportunities will arise. Digitalisation will not overcome the human component or replace the passion of people.
Diego Ciulli, Senior Public Policy Manager, Google
Google is confirming their responsibility to support the industry throughout its recovery. The objective is to upgrade and upscale the role of tourism and innovation. The priority is to make sure that any company, including the smallest ones like bars or restaurants, can benefit from digitalisation.
The second priority for Google is to contribute to skill development recognising that tourism is a driver for this, as it creates jobs and involves local communities massively. They are offering free courses on every level: for example, they noticed that some businesses do not even know how to take ownership of their business on Google and they want to assist them in that and make it a simple and clear step.
The third priority focuses on data: the aim is to provide data tools and platforms to all the industry so that customer behaviour and trends can be better understood. After the pandemic, tourism will not be able to rely exclusively on historical data anymore, hence leaving space for the analysis of real-time data and consumers intentions.
As people at home have never stopped searching for info related to travel, another objective for Google will be to give space to less-known destinations to be discovered by potential travellers and help diversify the offer and availability of tourism destinations.
Nick Hall, Founder and CEO, Digital Tourism Think Tank
What we have experienced in the last year is what everybody is referring to as forced digitalisation: those who were behind had no choice but to catch up. The terms ‘digitalisation' and 'smart tourism’ are commonly used to define the progressive transformation of the sector, however, the reality of both defining and achieving each are incredibly complex, granular and subject to significant differences of opinion.
We have to understand what is actually happening and the level of maturity when it comes to digital throughout the sector. Yet, right now, we do not have anywhere near as much data as we should have. We need to develop a clear framework and a common set of indicators and we need to be able to address things like mindset and expose ourselves to trends.
All across the EU, many relevant projects support digital development: this is an industry really dominated by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, so it is really key to take into consideration their perspectives and needs. Finally, we need to shift from this urge of getting businesses online, which is still important, to tapping into the bigger opportunities.
Frederico Mollet, Policy Analyst, EPC
While it is true that COVID-19 has forced digitalisation for the tourism sector, it has also absolutely battered enterprises' balance sheets. Therefore, being able to finance the digital transformation will be even more challenging.
Even before COVID hit, financing digital investments was a major challenge for most businesses because the intangible nature of those investments do not come with associate collateral, which means that the banking system underfinances them. As a result, there was already a real financing gap.
In this landscape, it is really critical to try and address this financial gap. As much as businesses may want to digitalise now that they have seen the benefits through the pandemic, to do so, they will have to overcome these gaps and the right policy will have to help that.
Frank Rosenberger, CIO, TUI Group
When travel does not take place, what are we doing? TUI focused on building future-proof technology and tools. They also looked into how to provide new ways of working, taking into consideration different elements: time management, place, relationships between colleagues and availability of data. In this way, people could work from wherever they were without being tied to the workplace.
A second focus was on switching from a vertical market-integrated technology team to working in a more agile way, framing all the competence in global teams and building a domain-centric organisation.
Lastly, TUI focused on building a new programme to set up new digital travel platforms. Across different destinations, SMEs have been hit the most by the pandemic - in certain European countries, they have a dependence on travel and tourism of approximately 50%. Therefore, working on digital transformation is about working in different dimensions, working on the company, culture, people, customers and partners. When destinations will reopen, of course, TUI will be able to practically provide them with customers - this is the first form of support to the industry.
Key Takeaways from the DTTT
The terms ‘digitalisation' and 'smart tourism’ are commonly used to define the progressive transformation of the sector, however, the reality of both defining and achieving each are incredibly complex, granular and subject to significant differences of opinion.
To understand digitalisation across the industry as fragmented as tourism, we need to start with a common set of indicators and a comprehensive process of measurement to understand it. Gaining an understanding of this means considering hard skills, attitudes and mindset, exposure to trends, as well as considering investment in development, research and innovation ecosystems.
Throughout the EU there are incredible mechanisms and programmes designed to identify, address and support the accessibility and opportunities of digitalisation, however, there could be greater clarity and awareness around a broader framework to enable advancements in this respect and a clear understanding of methods, ambitions and opportunities.
Whilst tourism is widely considered as an industry comprising largely micro and small to medium-sized enterprises, it is important to consider the interplay between the technology start-ups, bigger commercial actors and small businesses with a view to levelling up and creating greater accessibility of opportunities through collaboration.
When we think about digitalisation, it’s important to shift thinking forward from the original aims of ‘getting businesses online’ towards a 2021 viewpoint on where digital solutions, especially driven by data, should be considered as pivotal in addressing meta-issues that exist in society today. This ranges from digital as a catalyst for sustainable development, through to addressing issues relating to community and society further impacted by the pandemic to thinking ten years forward about potential disruption from the advancement of things such as AI.
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