As one of the leading tourism research hubs in the UAE, Middlesex University Dubai celebrated World Tourism Day on the 27th of September. The university was particularly excited to learn that theme of the day was Tourism and Digital Transformation and as such collaborated with Kiyany Media to offer attendees a virtual reality experience before attending an expert panel discussion on tourism and technology in the region.
The esteemed panel included Arva Saleem Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures, renowned hospitality consultant Martin Kubler, multi-award winning Emirati filmmaker Hassan Kiyany and leading tourism researcher Dr Cody Morris Paris from Middlesex University Dubai. The multidisciplinary panel engaged attendees in a lively discussion of the role of tourism and the past, present and potential future of tourism in Dubai. The opportunities afforded by social media for smaller businesses were dissected and a prominent theme centred on the importance of storytelling via a variety of mediums such as social media and even virtual and augmented reality.
Arva Ahmed shared her own experiences, and reflected upon the difficulties of gaining a visibility in today’s competitive virtual environment. She noted that the quality of content is key for businesses, and that they may need to keep an open mind and continue to adapt their strategies for sharing that content to ensure that they are able to share a louder story. When asked about the influencer revolution, Arva stated that ‘everybody is an influencer today, even your friends, and they will find you whether you look for them or not’.
The panel discussed in detail how the tourism experience is increasingly becoming shaped by finding ‘instagramable’ moments and how, for some tourists, their entire experience is often mediated through the screen of their phones. Cody Paris drew on his own research on ‘being disconnected’ while traveling, noting that tourists are starting to disconnect by choice when on vacation. While Arva agreed that this might be a phase, Martin Kubler worried about which of us will still be connected.
Martin commented on the democratization of restaurant reviews, and how popular ‘fast food’ photography was becoming among a segment of society that over shares. Even, Hassan Kiyany, who is a filmmaker that appreciates the great potential in VR as an immersive medium for filmmaking, noted that while VR can enable a variety experiences for those who might otherwise find themselves unable to travel (such as people of determination), the first thing you should do in the morning is still drink you coffee – not put on your VR headset!
Technological advancements, including social media and mobile technologies allow for a more technology enhanced tourism experience, affording us new ways of experiencing the destinations we visit, engaging with people we meet, and sharing these experiences with our virtual networks, noted Dr Paris. The panelists agreed that until you can eat (in the case of Frying Pan Adventures), smell, taste, touch virtually - technology will not replace travel, only enhance it. Dubai was designed before Instagram, but as one of the most instaworthy cities in the World, the future of tourism and technology is very bright!