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Tourism's failure to innovate or embrace technology

Are we, as an industry, stifling our own innovation?

booking system distribution state tourism organisations technology tourism australia Jan 09, 2024

Recently, I caught up with a friend, an industry veteran, who, like many of my peers, was questioning whether she wanted to remain in the tourism industry.

'It's just,' she sighed, 'I can't see anything exciting to get involved in. It's like we just...stopped. There is nothing cutting edge about tourism anymore; it feels like we are becoming a dinosaur industry.'

We often pat ourselves on the back, saying, 'How lucky we are to work in such a great industry! It's so much fun! We get to travel and show people how amazing our homes/regions are! We could be selling insurance...ha! Sucks to be them!' However, when you scratch beneath the surface, our industry isn't as fantastic as we make it look (and keep telling ourselves).

My friend isn't the first of my peers who have questioned staying in tourism or whether to leave completely (which many did over the pandemic). While it is a fun industry, unfortunately, pay is still low. If we aren't presenting exciting projects and innovative opportunities, we reach a point where 'fun' doesn't pay the bills or offer career and personal growth. We're even witnessing many senior roles going to people who are not from our industry. Why is this?

Recently, at ATEC Meeting Place, Bookable Tourism moderated a panel of ResTechs, and one of the questions asked was, 'What are some of the barriers to innovation?' Rachael from Rezdy replied that we aren't a 'technology-embracing industry' and how this has a flow-on effect on attracting the best developers. If our industry embraced technology, while a developer may not make as much money working at places such as Google and Meta, the ability to build great technology that can truly impact a technology-forward industry holds great appeal.

But this also holds true for our peers within tourism. By not embracing technology and innovation, after achieving so much, where do we go? While attending tourism events can be fun, after you've been 10+ times, what then?

The greatest recent innovation was the launch of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and then modern connected booking systems. It was great to be a part of the shift, as these booking systems opened up live distribution for micro/small tourism businesses (namely tours and activities), who previously could never have worked with distribution beyond being 'on request.' 

This opened up more tourism products to consumers than ever. However, when we look at many programs designed to help tourism businesses distribute and grow, they still fail to meet the needs of these businesses and, astonishingly, fail to include booking systems and connectivity completely.

The other side of this is that there is still a significant lack of digital adoption in our industry (via lack of booking systems/Restech and digital presence through lacklustre websites, poor digital navigation, and messaging). We have the tools, we have access to affordable, optimised websites, yet why the hesitation? Why stay buried in spreadsheets, Outlook/Google Calendars, and email bookings when all this can be automated?

Despite the allure of the tourism industry, our collective hesitance to embrace technological advancements and innovate may jeopardise our long-term growth as an industry. While reminiscing about past milestones like the advent of OTAs and booking tech may make us feel a little better, it's imperative to acknowledge our current shortcomings. Inadequate digital adoption, the struggle in attracting top tech talent, lack of understanding around technology and connectivity across all levels of the industry are the core challenges.

However, recognising these obstacles is only the first step. To revitalise our industry, we must champion change. It's time to foster an environment that encourages technological innovation and invests in digital infrastructure. By doing so, we not only secure a prosperous future for tourism but also empower and attract passionate professionals to thrive in our beloved, and fun industry.

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