Can SMART technologies be applied to developing and emerging countries for tourism and hospitality purposes? Can SMART technology enable SMART people and SMART services? This is the core of the ‘Smart Host-Guest Relationship’ research project carried out by EHL Hospitality Business School and the American University of Beirut with the Lebanese startup Daskara app. Thanks to this collaboration, the rich database of cultural and natural landmarks collected by social mapping by Daskara has been made ‘actionable’ – i.e. with the possibility of designing experiences - to support a meaningful exchange between host and guest of rural communities.
The concept of smart technology has been gaining traction in different domains. In the last years we have been witnessing the rise of smart cities, smart services, smart production and even smart destinations and smart hospitality. The idea of smart technologies lies in the application of new forms of digital technology to enable communication and interaction among objects that were in the past considered inanimate. This is enabled by an extensive use of sensors and technology which enables devices to interact and exchange information. Therefore, the quest for a definition of SMART technology is arduous due to the constantly evolving and ever changing digital landscape. However it is possible to identify the core of it by looking at a cluster of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analysis which can enable these interconnected smart devices and sensors enabling the so called ‘internet of things’ (IOT).
Within this hyper technological landscape, one of the main goals of smart technology is to enable value co-creation between actors (Boes, Buhalis and Inversini, 2016). That is to say, that smart technologies in a service environment should be seen as a tool to enable the rise of smart people. Smart people are those actors in the service co-creation chain who can customize a service and make a difference to the end user by leveraging the deep and multi-touch point information provided by smart technologies. It is therefore possible to say that in the service industry, high tech (i.e. smart technologies) should enable high touch (i.e. smart people) for the delivery of a unique and co-created service.
Moving on from this perspective, the following question arises: How can smart devices support smart people? We investigated this issue thanks to a HES-SO project funded by the Entrepreneurship and Appropriate Technology strand named ‘Smart Host Guest Relationship’. The project was designed in collaboration with the Nature and Conservation Center of the American University of Beirut leveraging the experience of the Daskara Project.
This project developed a mobile application that allows for geo-localization of more than 3,500 nature and culture based attractions within 200 rural communities in Lebanon. The application also allows individuals to explore small local businesses and municipal social initiatives, and aims to benefit explorers, tourists and rural communities alike by increasing the visibility of areas of interest, thus exposing them to possible national and international visits (daskaraapp.com).
The app is aimed at valorizing the incredible amount of information collected by the Daskara team during their activities by creating an experience based platform featuring local services providers as advocates of their communities. Through the mobile application that strives to enable its users to connect with each other and therefore engage in the co-creation of experiences, the Daskara smart host-guest relationship function goes one step further by empowering travelers and experience providers alike to play an active role in the development of tourism and hospitality in rural areas of Lebanon.
Enhancing host-guest communication
The development of such functionality was done through a participatory action research program, where local service providers were invited to iteratively contribute to the design of the application and to the definition of the technological sophistication of the tool, making sure that the mobile application could be effectively used by tourism and hospitality providers.
The research results were quite surprising: community-based contextual elements and culture, along with appropriate technology literacy auditing, should be considered to design digital solutions that foster a meaningful and value driven host-guest relationship. The new version of Daskara was in fact designed taking into consideration even counter-intuitive functionalities which have been specifically requested by local travel players and travelers. One example above all is the direct integration of WhatsApp as a channel of communication between host and guest: even if this can be disputable from a design point of view because the exchange happens outside the Daskara mobile application environment, the filed work done with the community dwellers showed it as a critical factor of success of the application.
Yet, as the application focuses on a community-driven approach, its success will depend on the critical factor that is the active engagement of the local community as well as the experts’ contribution to the expanse of its database. Daskara, with its new smart host-guest relationship functionality has now been deployed on Lebanese mobile application stores and its initial impact is being measured by the research team.