Will 2009 be the year of transparency?
By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management
President elect Barack Obama talks about transparency in government as the bedrock of his administration and as tourists increasingly share information about experiences and holidays online, they will expect the same kind of openness from tourism organisations and businesses. In 2009, it will be hard to hide anything, keep things out of sight and the tourist will at the very least know you are hiding something. With the internet they can find nearly everything and tell nearly everyone. Transparency is associated with clarity, clearness, simplicity, precision, intelligibility and accuracy. Futurologist Dr Ian Yeoman talks about transparency, the tourist, brands, technology and business implications.
Why will transparency be more important in 2009?
A number of trends are emerging shaping the phenomena of transparency. The culture of immediacy means we have gone from a world when searching the internet ten years ago might have taken us a few minutes using dial up services to nanoseconds in today's broadband world. Immediacy in the 21st century is a combination of fast capitalism and the saturation of everyday media technologies in which we run our lives. This coming of immediacy, as authored by John Tomlinson is his book the Culture of Speed has inexorably changed on how we think about and experience media culture, consumption practices, and the core of our cultural and moral values. Basically, we are intolerant of slowness and our perception of speed has changed.
The paradox of choice, as illustrated by Aric Sigman in his research 'The Explosion of Choice: Tyranny or Freedom?' finds one supermarket with 83 shampoos, 68 shower gels, 42 deodorants, 77 washing powders and 87 breakfast cereals. Again the question is how ordinary mortals can cope when "each decision whether to take your holiday in Benidorm or Bolivia or which anti-dandruff shampoo to buy is an act of information processing". Today's consumer has so much choice they don't know what to do and the internet makes it worse on one hand and easier on the other. As a result of this paradox of choice, there is a Lonely Planet guide to for every country in the world including Afghanistan, North Korea and the Falklands Islands. Therefore, consumers are become more demanding if you want there monies. Greater competition, globalisation, better distribution channels and the constant invitation for consumers to stand up for their rights to find the best deal resulting in the empowerment of consumers to pursue choice through market forces results of more demanding tourists.
The creeping culture of convenience has been growing stronger over the last decades, to the extent that some traditionalist commentators have seen it gnawing away at the fabric of society ever since the invention of the washing machine. It is a natural urge, we might assume, to spend less time doing things we don't enjoy so that we have more time for the things we do. But the last few years seem to have witnessed a tipping point, where convenience has become a major selling point in almost any market you care to name. This recent explosion has been fuelled by the growth of internet and mobile technologies, as well as shifts in consumer attitudes and expectations as they become more empowered and demand more of the companies they patronise.
In a recessionary world, tourists have come to expect falling prices and intense competitive activity, and in this context, there is virtually no chance that an increase in air fares could be met by an understanding response from travellers. The existence of a 'low-price culture' sharpens resistance to price increases in other sectors of the economy which have not yet witnessed low-price competitive activity. This is the trend of the low cost world as illustrated by Yeoman and McMahon-Beattie in the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management.
Trust in business is constrained by cynicism to some extent. National tourism organizations such as VisitScotland or Tourism New Zealand present a glamorous picture of pure and unspoilt landscapes. However, potential tourists or visitors can discover facts and figures, opinions and options and talk back to the institutions and brands that surround them on a scale unimaginable only a few years ago - in early 1999 the number of homes with Internet access was only 13% in the UK. Yet it is clear today, that the interactive traveller will search the internet, visit several different websites to find information, read books and talk to friends about holiday plans. Less and less they trust advertising. One major consequence is that every tourism organisation or business needs to work hard to preserve whatever authority and trust-worthiness it has accumulated. Every destination brand these days is surrounded by the disruptive cacophony of so much word-of-mouth about its performance and progress. The web is stocked full of comment from dissatisfied customers to ecologically outraged lobby groups to those generously advocating better choices and better deals. With varying degrees of commercial success so far, the Internet has slipped the surly bonds of the hard-drive to appear on telephones and televisions. Invitations to interactivity are wallpapering our lives, bestowing new forms of engagement and dialogue upon consumers, permitting even more whim and change-of-mind.
How technology and transparency are changing the world
In 2009, expect more tourists to have even more transparency at their disposal, as reviews and price comparisons move from hotels to every type of experiences, SatLav allows visitor's to London to know where the nearest toilet is, along with reviews. Zigabid allows culture vultures to buy and sell tickets and interact directly with each other to determine the ticket's price. Therefore treating tickets as commodities and subjecting them to a series of offers and counter offers. Know in geek language as bid pricing.
Liftopia lets ski resorts sell discounted lift tickets online. Visitors simply choose places where they want to ski, and then scroll through a list of budget priced life passes. The site also incorporates up-to-the-minute weather data and trail maps help skiers make their choice. Seat Guru provides information on hotels including rooms that are oversized, which have greater bathrooms or which ones are quieter. Delaycast tells tourists the chance of encountering delays on a particular trip. Its delay tools provide broad overviews of the best days, times and airlines based upon selected airports making predictions six months into the future.
Going out shopping, today's tourist looking for the latest Gucci handbag or Rolex watch can find the best price and location for such a product using price comparison software and Google maps. The T-Mobile G1 phone comes with shopsavvy software which allows the tourist to scan almost any barcode using the phone's camera and then get an instant report telling them where to buy it or they simply use the information to barter with the shopkeeper.
But tourism business will have the right of reply; tripadvisor's management response system allows owners and managers to reply to posted reviews on the website.
Where is this all going?
With so many developments, transparency will move to new platforms such as video. For your business, it means being up to date with information, availability and prices. Examples of developments include the sheer mass of reviews, whether hourly or daily will unmask, outnumber and neutralise fake reviews. Ubiquitous online reviews and access from mobile devices means revises can be documented and posted instantly. For example, Orbitz's Updates promises real-time updates from fellow tourists about security wait time, traffic, and taxi lines at airports and much more. Software developed by Plista allows users to tailor recommendations and information. Bambuser offers technology which allows companies to communicate broadcasts live, using mobile phones as broadcasting devices. It's like Facebook but interactive and real time.
Mind you, with all this information on the internet, the tourist will be faced with a situation of paradox of choice and might decide not to engage with you. You as business, have spent time and effort to promote transparency, but are suffering from suggestion scarcity. Not enough online comments, not enough online tips, no body has visited your blog (except you). Tourists are not telling you want they what and what a wonderful destination you are! Silence, means they no longer care and they have moved on.
There is a counter trend to everything transparent, in which opaqueness is accepted by tourists. Many tourists will accept an opaque offering, if that experience consistently delivers and surprises. Also, a lot of tourists like to keep things simple and stupid. They want to save time. They don't want to make all the decisions. There is a simple reason why billions of people still enjoy listening to the radio instead of searching the internet, a specific rock channel to optimise a news story. Tourists want to be surprised and entertained without any action on their part, hence the importance of making suggestions. When you visit www.amazon.com it knows your cookie and makes recommendations based upon your purchasing and browsing. In other words, if you operate and deliver in a superior way, consumers may actually be happy and they don't want to spend valuable time researching or engaging in conversations with you. They will trust you to do the right thing. Surrender control in order to get on with more important business. If your business or destination is opaque, it means you are one of the best, but you have to work at it to maintain that trust.
Barack Obama has promised transparency in government in 2009. But do you trust politicians to deliver on that promise?
Ian Yeomanis the world's only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In July 2008, Ian took up a faculty position at Victoria University, New Zealand as an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist. Ian's new book, tomorrow's tourist envisions what world tourism will look like in 2030, where tourists will go on holiday and what they will do.
Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.
Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Visiting Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society. Ian is also Editor of the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management.
Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be found at www.tomorrowstourist.com
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