Our holiday destinations will increasingly be determined by data analytics

As destinations compete among themselves for visitors, the industry must act on what the numbers say

FILE PHOTO: Tourists take photos at the entrance of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, December 23, 2018. Picture taken December 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

This week I attended the first ever Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum, which was organised by Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) at the Manarat Al Saadiyat art gallery. The forum was dedicated to data scientists, researchers and analytics teams and I was inspired by the level of collaboration in the local industry and the overall advances in tourism meant to optimise visitor experience and increase customer satisfaction.

Conceived to determine how to better leverage technology to drive the UAE's tourism industry, it also underlined DCT Abu Dhabi’s commitment to reinforcing the capital's position as a forward-thinking tourism destination.

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A tourism destination not adopting data and analytics in this day and age is akin to a city running without electricity or fuel

In the tourism sector, we consider data and analytics to be a crucial part of our mission to grow. We are big believers in using the latest innovations to tackle challenges and we diligently scour the globe for the latest technologies that we can adopt.

We believe that in this day and age a tourism destination that does not adopt data and analytics is akin to a city running without fuel or a city welcoming tourists with no lights in the streets.

Tourism is a global competition. Destinations compete head-to-head for visitors and income. The number of global travellers has crossed the 1.4 billion threshold annually, according to the World Tourism Council. This is a vast market. We believe that in a few years, destinations that are driven by data will feature holistic, customised offerings: personalised itineraries, optimised airport experiences, and trip schedules tailored for each visitor.

Leveraging advanced analytics as part of our strategy will bring important potential benefits for all sectors of the tourism industry. Emerging capabilities such as cloud computing, data lakes and the Internet of Things in the era of 5G connectivity will allow us to personalise experiences for travellers in real time.

Data and analytics have already had a significant impact on the travel sector. Under initiatives such as dynamic pricing, hotels will be empowered to optimise pricing through predictions based on a deeper understanding of the travel needs of individuals, the demand in the market and the availability of rooms. Mass personalisation is no longer a theme of innovation but a basic expectation of customers.

Data amassed will allow hotels to curate promotions for visitors on the property through mobile applications. But this use for analytics and artificial intelligence will go beyond recommendations. In time, innovators in the sector could use data to improve efficiency of operations and deliver even more sophisticated services.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 23, 2019.  Chinese tourists enjoy the sights at the Heritage Village, Corniche, in spite of the humid weather.
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And this is not science fiction. Today retailers have already perfected such personalisation, albeit on a much more limited scale. So our challenge is how to apply this to entire destinations. Understanding each visitor’s journey, their likes and dislikes, will give stakeholders vital insights as they craft the perfect tourist experience.

Today, destinations face fundamental risks from unpredictable travellers whose tastes can shift almost instantaneously after seeing a post on Instagram or a video clip on Facebook. This means that for destinations hoping to attract spontaneous travellers, long-term planning is in the past. Now, dynamic responses and personalisation are the way forward. Data-driven destinations will deliver the flexibility needed to accommodate such visitors – able to adapt offerings and experiences with a click.

Every destination has a wealth of information from its visitors and the potential to transform visitor experience. However, simply having the data is not enough to be able to use it effectively.

The era of data and analytics also comes with its challenges for tourism stakeholders. From government entities to hotel and cruise ship owners, people will need to collaborate and implement conclusions the data offers.

Without doubt, there will be winners and losers. By organising the forum, we are saying that we want to be ahead of the curve. Initiatives such as the forum demonstrate how committed we are to this vision. They show how data is now a key pillar to our growth and a fundamental ingredient to our success.

My personal belief is that an agenda such as this is just as important as building world-class attractions and we can only future-proof our destinations if we have a data-driven mindset, culture and infrastructure.

Saif Saeed Ghobash is undersecretary at the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism