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Dr Cody Paris writes about Technology and Tourism Mobilities for World Tourism Day


Technology and Tourism Mobilities

The emergence and adoption of mobile and social technologies – including smartphones, tablets, mobile applications, social media, and mobile broadband – have expanded and modified the traditional contours of tourism.  These new technologies are reconfiguring the tourists experience and providing both challenges and opportunities for the industry. As these technologies continue to become more advanced and ubiquitous in parts of daily life there will be continued spillover between every day and ‘vacation’ contexts.  A majority of tourists engage in different forms of virtual, imaginative, and mediated travel today that were considered ‘new’ only a decade ago.   

Tourism today is not just about the physical destination, but instead can be viewed as a complex ‘assemblage’ of mobile technologies, technological infrastructure, virtual and networked spaces, and bodies that flow through various mobilities. The emergence of cyberspace has reconfigured and mobilised the concept of space itself, where virtual spaces are configured based on human interest rather than physical proximity.

New advancements in social networking technologies have allowed for the decentralisation and democratisation of tourism information as word-of-mouth communication now moves online. These technologies have sped up and spread out the dissemination of information among tourists.  Within virtual spaces, where tourism communities (re)assemble online, the powerful force of ‘peer production’ enables individuals to create and engage with user generated content, often while travelling, through mobile devices.

The vast amounts of user generated content combined with the immediate access to this content through mobile devices provides tourists with the ability to ‘see backstage’ and redistributes the power and control of staging and portraying tourism destinations and services.  Review websites such as Trip Advisor have tremendous power to impact consumer behaviour because they offer a medium for millions of tourists to provide their own reviews and for these reviews to be corroborated.

Complementary advances in geo-based technology, context-aware mobile technologies with ‘push’ capabilities, recommender and other intelligent information systems, and location-based social networks have allowed for new opportunities for marketers by allowing them to provide real-time recommendations relevant to an individual’s exact location that can shape, change, or alter tourists’ spatiotemporal movement at a destination. Recent research has examined how these technologies can help mitigate destination crowding through systems that offer incentives and information on mobile devices as a means of routing tourists to less crowded areas.

The use of mobile and social technologies has also led to augmentation and hybridisation of space, as tourists, destinations, and businesses are producing new types of places and spatial experiences through these technologies. The proliferation of these technologies supports the further problematisation of the notion place. Advancements in mobile, social, communication, and location based technologies have augmented and mediated tourists’ senses and experiences of space through emotional, aesthetical, informational, playful and social enhancements. Some researchers have suggested that these advancements allow for tourists to be more creative and spontaneous.

Advances in Location Based Services (LBS) are arguably making places more immersive and captivating for tourists. Location based services have only recently come to prominence. Location Based Services use mobile internet access, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and a wide range of mobile ‘apps’ to locate and provide location specific information for people. These technologies allow for differentiated forms of personal mobility, personal experience of mobility, and personal control over mobile experiences.  All of these geo-based technological advances have been suggested to help tourists to have more meaningful and, even more playful experiences.

Previously, several researchers pointed to the advancement of ‘virtual reality’ as a potential threat to physical travel and tourism. However, the continued exponential growth of the number of global tourists, despite the continued technological innovations, seems to support the alternative view.  While physical travel is likely to continue, the increased popularity and amount of leisure time spent exploring MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) and other 3D virtual worlds, has some scholars suggesting that they can be treated as ‘digital destinations’ and surrogates for corporeal travel experiences. In doing so, a small body of literature has focused on ‘virtual reality tourism’ within these digital spaces.

Virtual worlds could be developed into ‘sustainable tourist spaces’ where there is little impact on the natural environment or fragile heritage sites.  One of the main disadvantages of travel in virtual worlds, though, is that it does not allow people to develop relationships within the real world, and instead requires full immersion into a simulated environment.  New advances in augmented reality (AR), however, may overcome this issue.

Recent advances in the computing power, computer graphics, wireless connectivity, and sensor technologies of smartphones have converged with faster networks and cloud computing to make mobile augmented reality more popular and accessible to a mass market.  Augmented Reality mobile apps permit users to browse, search, and overlay virtual ‘layers’ of spatially relevant information allowing them to browse their surrounding areas through their screens. Many destinations are starting to develop and launch their own Augmented Reality (AR) applications, including Tuscany, Korea, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Trip Advisor has launched a new tool that allows tourists to take a virtual walk through their destinations with information and reviews superimposed over Street View in Google.

Mobile Augmented Reality (AR) has been used to enhance tourists’ experiences through different processes of augmentation that blur the boundaries between physical and imaginary places: narrativisation, fictionalisation, and the construction of a ‘mixed-reality’. Narrativatisation occurs when tourists’ experiences of an objectively authentic place is augmented through mobile technologies. For example, the Museum of London’s Street Museum Augmented Reality ‘app’ allows users to point their phone at a landmark, upon which a historical photo and caption is superimposed. Fictionalisation is a process of augmenting a tourists experience using a place as a setting for a work of fiction. Many literary and film-induced tourists, or ‘set-jetters’, visit locations made famous by popular authors, and mobile Augmented Reality (AR) technologies can now make visits to these ‘fictionalised landscapes’ more immersive.

Finally, there is also the hybrid mixed reality in which the physical place is augmented with a story space. These can also include the use of Augmented Reality (AR) in the gamification of physical space. The future of Augmented Reality (AR) is already advancing beyond smartphones as wearable mobile technologies are starting to become available on the consumer market. Recent prototypes suggests that there will be further convergence between individuals, technology, and their physical surroundings, leading to important considerations for the future of tourism mobilities.   

This article provides a summary of key ideas presented in previously published papers:

Hannam, K. Butler, G. & Paris, C. (2014). Developments and Key Issues in Tourism Mobilities. Annals of Tourism Research. 44, 171-185.

Germann Molz, J. & Paris, C. (2015) Social Affordances of Flashpacking: Exploring the Mobility Nexus of Travel and Communication. Mobilities, 10(2), 173-192. 

Paris, C., Berger, E.A., Rubin, S., & Casson, M. (2015). Disconnected and Unplugged: Experiences of Technology Induced Anxieties and Tensions While Traveling. In I. Tussyadiah & A. Inversini (eds). Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2015, p. 803-816.

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