How digital evolution can be achieved in tourism

The tourism industry faces one of the most challenging times it has ever encountered.

Hotels have missed out on months of income, attractions are beginning to open but with limited facilities and visitor numbers and the whole economy is bracing itself for a deep recession and unemployment levels not witnessed in generations.

The situation is challenging to say the least – but it has also highlighted the opportunity and need for digital innovation in the industry, one of the key solutions to the crisis pointed out by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and Visit Britain.

With hotels, pubs, restaurants, theme parks and more able to reopen from July 4th and customers comfortable in digital decision-making and purchasing, business owners face a potentially critical choice to make: push forward, innovate and deliver powerful customer experiences or be left behind.

Adoption and innovation

Digital transformation has been identified by the Government as being at the heart of driving the UK economy forward.

In its UK Digital Strategy policy paper, the Government states: “At its core, that is the ambition of this strategy – to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. It is part of this government’s Plan for Britain, strengthening our economy for the long term as we take advantage of the opportunities that leaving the European Union provides.”

The reality is that while some businesses and industries have pushed forward, digital transformation remains a hugely untapped area for many. Some businesses are unsure of the direction they should take, some are overwhelmed by the software choices while others are still not completely sold on the idea, fearing a costly project which isn’t implemented correctly and which isn’t adopted by staff.

If looked at as a product, digital transformation is following the well-known Rogers Adoption/Innovation Curve.

How digital evolution can be achieved in tourism

Applied to the tourism sector, businesses are in one of the above categories:

  • Innovators – driving innovation to meet the changing needs of customers
  • Early adopters – trying out new ideas but in a carefully managed way
  • Early majority – willing to change but gradually
  • Late majority – skeptical and will only change when the majority have
  • Laggards – prefer the ‘old way’ and will only accept change when it becomes mainstream

There’s little or no chance that a return to any ‘old way’ in tourism is on the horizon so businesses need to decide where they sit on the curve and when, and how, they will make the adjustments required to meet their customers’ requirements, drive efficiency-savings and not get left in the laggards zone.

Leading tourism organisations are encouraging businesses to push forward to ensure the sector keeps up with the increasing use of digital technology.

Only recently, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The past weeks have highlighted the enhanced role technology plays in our lives and furthering the digital transformation of tourism will make the sector more resilient and create opportunities for people all around the world.”

And one of Visit Britain’s recommendations to the Government to help the industry recover from the covid-19 situation is ‘to use the crisis as an opportunity to drive innovation and improve productivity and boost the UK’s profile as a destination’.

Start small and build

For those worried about spiralling costs and months-long projects, it is important to point out that digital transformation doesn’t have to be a grand, multi-million-pound piece of work.

There are different levels of digital transformation and projects should be tailored to suit your needs.

For small businesses, it could simply mean being set up to take bookings online and particularly with mobile in mind.

For some, it could mean ensuring that booking systems – often operated by third-party suppliers – talk to your internal systems for a reduced level of staff manual input and an improved customer experience.

For others, it could mean creation of advanced systems which track all customer interactions and a need for a change in business models and the retraining of staff.

And if you’re unsure of where to start, the best place is to speak to companies who can help and partner with you along your digital transformation journey.

Only recently, I presented to more than 200 businesses at the Tourism+Tech online event, organised by Tech East.

There, I spoke about a number of areas within digital transformation such as:

  • Delivering mobile-first experiences
  • Making the best use of your customer data
  • Personalisation to make customers feel special
  • Automation and systems integration
  • The potential to build strategic partnerships.

There really is no need to ‘go it alone’ if you’re unsure or uncomfortable. Plenty of businesses are in the same situation and going forward with a common goal will drive success for all.


I finished my talk to tourism businesses by encouraging owners to take responsibility. Nobody is going to start your digital evolution for you – but there are partners-in-waiting, ready to help.

Some analysts are predicting a dire time for the UK economy, due largely to our reliance on tourism and service sectors.

But do we have to lie down and accept that? Or can we innovate and prove them wrong?

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