Information technology has influenced all walks of our lives over the last few decades in a tremendous manner with the Tourism and Travel sector being one of the chief beneficiaries. The introduction of computers can be traced back to the early 60's when the vacuum tube was the primary component of computer systems. This was largely inefficient and error prone and soon gave way to transistors which were replaced by Integrated Circuits. Now the technological advances have allowed advanced graphics integrated with moving images and sound to be incorporated into the modern computers.
The Tourism product being largely intangible stands to gain a lot from technology. Travel was considered a risk in the early days mainly due to the fact that the knowledge about the terrain, climate, culture etc of the destination was limited or unknown. Only the adventurous and men in quest for newer pastures ventured into such journeys. With the advent of IT into the travel sector, things have changed. Travel has become much more enjoyable and comfortable. The modern day traveler has a plethora of options to choose from, with Internet being the favorite haunt for the potential traveler. Places of tourist interest and scenic beauty often do not catch the attention of the customer largely due to the fact that they are not marketed well. Internet in the early days did not support graphics, video, sound etc. Hence the tourism products could not be marketed over the net effectively. Now things have drastically changed with the introduction of protocols like the Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP / IP). This has led to easier transmission of graphical images, music, videos etc over the net with speed and clarity. Thus tourism has been effectively marketed over the Internet. This has led to the mushrooming of Tourism and Travel sites.
There are number of software which cater to the needs of the tourism and hospitality sectors. Travel agencies, tour operators, hotels etc use modern systems equipped with powerful applications that work on huge databases. Computerized front office has lent elegance to the modern offices which are largely paperless. Office automation has led to efficient and accurate information processing. A person armed with the right information is the most powerful in the modern era. Computerized systems are used to extract information out of the voluminous quantities of data store in databases. Querying a database, be it for reservation inquiry or booking a ticket is in the hands of the end user. The customer is the king and rightly so has a number of options to choose from when embarking on a journey or getting information about a tourist spot.
Earlier users of computer systems were required to be experts. Even starting up the system required a computer operator. Only then the application could be run. Now systems with Graphical User Interface (GUI) and the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) technologies, even a layman or a child is able to operate a computer or access internet. A person who doesn't know the local language at a place has information at his finger tips with the advent of touch screen facilities. Almost all banks have now introduced ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) facilities at their premises so as to allow the customers to access their accounts any time of the day.
In the Kerala scenario the advent of IT has been restricted to travel agencies using reservation systems and development of websites by Governmental and non-Governmental agencies. Also office automation is in place in with the accounting process also being computerized. The official website of Kerala Tourism has won many national and international accolades as being one of the best sites in tourism worldwide. In the education sector institutes such as the Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) has imparted IT education in Tourism sector by giving hands on training to students in GDSs (Global Distribution Systems) and computerized applications. Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) has also fully computerized their reservations and a tourist can easily book a room through the net. Hotels have linked their systems to other global systems so as to establish a link worldwide. Let us examine in brief the applications of IT in Tourism.
Global Distribution Systems
Global Distribution Systems (GDS) have evolved over the years and has played a major role in making online travel possible. A Computer Reservation System (CRS) is used to store and retrieve information and conduct transactions related to travel. They were originally developed by airlines, but it was later extended to travel agents as a sales channel. A functionality of CRS has been extended and what is known as the Global Distribution Systems came into existence. The major CRS operations that book and sell tickets to multiple airlines are known as GDS. Many airlines have opted to divest most of their holdings to Global Distribution Systems due to which many systems are now accessible to consumers through Internet gateways for hotels, car rental agencies, and other services as well as airline tickets. A traveler or a travel agent can chalk out an itinerary using a GDS which is a global system interconnecting airlines, hotels, travel agents, car rental companies, cruise liners etc. The four major Global Distribution Systems are AMADEUS, GALILEO, SABER and WORLDSPAN. AMADEUS boasts of a market share of 31% and is followed by SABER with 30% of the market, GALILEO with 26% and WORLDSPAN which has captured 12% of the market.
Today's GDS systems have the following capabilities
- Available and accessible 99.9% of the time
- Process up to 17,000 messages per second during peak time
- Operates on cutting edge enterprise systems architecture
- Enjoys response times of a fraction of a second
- Is capable of booking a multitude of transactions
- Can make itinerary changes up to the last minute and complete complex international routings to every country in the world
- Automates the time consuming and complex process of re-pricing airline tickets when itineraries change
- Permits customers to send e-mail and faxes without exiting from the system
- Allows customers to compare fares and availability in order to shop for the most convenient travel at the lowest cost
- Stores all data related to the tens of millions of travelers securely so that the customers receive the travel preferences they desire
On a given day a GDS can access
- Over a billion fare combinations
- More than 95% of the available seats worldwide
- More than 750 airlines
- More than 50,000 hotel properties
- Over 400 tour operators
- Nearly 30,000 car rental locations
GDS systems are capable of booking
- One way and roundtrip airline seats
- Hotel rooms
- Rental cars
- Bus and rail tickets
- Event and theater attractions
- Dining Reservations
- Itinerary Changes
- Complex international routings
An electronic ticket or e-ticket is a means by which a passenger or a group of passengers can ensure their seat in a commercial airline by booking over the internet. This greatly reduces the procedures associated with issusing a paper ticket, which consists of a number of copies. Both the airlines and the passenger are benefited by this form of ticketing. An image of the ticket is stored in the computer from which the customer can take a print out and board the plane directly if he or she is carrying no luggage. If there is luggage after obtaining the clearance the passenger can board the aircraft. The customer can request that a hardcopy confirmation be sent by postal mail, but it is not needed at the check-in desk. A confirmation number is assigned to the passenger, along with the flight number, date, departure location, and destination location. When checking in at the airport, the passenger simply presents positive identification. Then necessary boarding passes are issued, and the passenger can check luggage and proceed through security to the gate area.
The main advantage of e-ticketing is the fact that it reduces booking expense by eliminating the need for printing and mailing paper documents. Another advantage is that it eliminates the possibility of critical documents getting lost in the mail or being sent to the wrong address. It is estimated that globally about 25% of the passengers book their tickets online which has resulted in the booming of low cost fliers.
The Internet has provided a new economic environment to conduct business. E-commerce is a growing sector and many tourism businesses are involved in developing their internet services including traditional travel agents, tour operators, national tourist offices, airlines, hotels and other accommodation providers and car hire firms. This means of doing business is known as 'e-tourism', or 'tourism e-business'. The key differences from traditional markets are the speed at which information can be communicated, global accessibility and the minimal costs of establishing a business online.
Property Management Systems
As the term indicates, property management systems refer to systems which have been used world wide to manage and effectively control the various day to day and other procedures related to managing large properties. Even in Kerala, these systems are used in large scale.
The core functions which a PMS can handle are reservations, front office operations, some back office operations and some managerial functions. A PMS is commonly used for handling the accounting functions of the various departments in a Hotel. This is in addition to being the hub for all interconnectivity with other systems in the hotel. Just as a person, who is cut off from the rest of his colleagues during work a standalone computer is not of much use. Hence a networked environment is provided whereby a server can cater to the needs of the end-user who may be a manager to receptionist or a waiter. This is achieved by networking the systems and sharing of resources. Software may be developed to suit the needs of the hotel which may have a front end and a back end. A front end is user interface, through which data may be entered or information retrieved. The back end may consist of a RDBMS which acts as the storage hub. Queries and reports may be used to retrieve information. For example, if a guest wants to know details regarding tariffs during off season, a click of the mouse may be sufficient to retrieve information.
Virtual Reality Systems
Virtual reality is a relatively new area which is related to artificial intelligence and neural networks. Artificial intelligence is an area where technology has made rapid strides in recent years. Human beings have been blessed with intelligence which ranges from their ability to remember things to inventing gadgets and making life more meaningful. It goes without saying that human brain is an amazing and intricate organ which has till date not been surpassed by even the fastest super computer. It is doubtful if such thing will happen in future too. But artificial intelligence has paved pathways to new gadgets and robots which help man in potentially dangerous and intricate tasks.
Tourism has in addition to the natural attractions, theme parks, man made rides, simulations etc. Singapore, Disneyland etc house some of most fabulous man made wonders thanks to IT and its applications. Particularly theme parks and rides along with recreation of fantasies and dinosaurs have added mileage to tourist destinations.
With the ever increasing need to use the net, Tourism has entered a new era. Virtual travel has gained popularity and a tourist if he wishes can use the various tools and internet and sit at the comfort of his office or home and do a virtual travel. Earlier there used to armchair travelogue creators who used to design the show from articles and hearsays. But now travel writing has been simplified just because there is a plethora of information in CD's, brochures and on the net.
There are even virtual travel agencies on the net which offers a tour through its gallery and offers a great deal of information. Gone are the days when a guide used to take travelers for ride narrating several cock and bull stories and feeding the customers with false information. Virtual travelers are more informed and many of them do not even need an introduction to a destination which they plan to visit.
In addition to the virtual tour of the real world, artificially created virtual worlds are there, waiting to be explored. These sites offer a free package for a week which can be downloaded. After going through this demo, the user can see the real stuff, if he registers online and pays for it. This is a trend which is fast catching on. After all globalization has shrunk the world and it wouldn't be long time before new destinations in the cyber world comes up.
Travel Recommender Systems
Travel has become a part and parcel in the lives of human beings. Efforts from travel agencies and tour operators coupled with inputs from Governmental organizations have resulted in great changes which have eased the hardships placed on the traveler. The modern day traveler has a plethora of options to choose from when planning his trip. Travel Recommender Systems though in its infancy has established its utility value in travel planning. In the coming years, its importance as tool in aiding travel planning will be indispensable. A few recommender systems are available in the market that give the tour operator or the customer options to remove the intangibility associated with the product. Austria is one of the few countries which have introduced Recommender Systems to the traveling public and have found favorable response from the users. Recommending a travel plan consists of many aspects such as the destination type, location specific information, seasonal specific recommendations etc. All this has to be presented to the user in a customer friendly manner so that he or she can input the options to the system which in turn will suggest the most recommended travel plan. These systems use artificial intelligence and fall under the category of expert systems.
Geographic Information Systems
The usage of maps dates back to centuries. Man has been using maps for guidance and for locating places. With the advancement of computer technology and graphics, maps have been digitised and used for providing accurate and timely information to users. Databases have been combined with computer graphics in the area of GIS.
GIS is used to display and analyze spatial data which are linked to databases. This connection between spatial data and databases is the driving force behind the working of a GIS. Maps can be drawn from the database and data can be referenced from the maps. When the database is updated, the associated map also gets updated. GIS database include a wide variety of information including geographic, social, political, environmental and demographic data. GIS technology is a computer based data collection, storage and analysis tool that combines previously unrelated information into easily understood maps. A GIS can perform complicated analytical functions and present the results visually as maps, tables or graphs, allowing decision-makers to visually see the issues before them and then select the best course of action.
GIS finds wide applications in Tourism especially in mapping Tourist destinations, hotels etc. The end user can pin point a destination and even browse the hotel room in which he or she plans to stay.
On the whole it can be said that Information technology has left an indelible mark in the application area of Tourism and Travel. In the coming years, areas like Travel Recommender Systems, GIS, Space Tourism etc will gain popularity and will help in giving a new dimension to the travel and tourism sector. Kerala Tourism which has established its presence in the global market will bank on these applications to further propel its growth trajectory. The International market which is growing has been given a shot in the arm with introduction of IT and will stand to gain further from it.