Directing The Spotlight On ‘Big Data’, Technology And Sustainability


This year’s European Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC) will be held April 9-11 in Palma de Mallorca, welcoming industry experts and delegates to inform and educate them on best practices and the latest trends that shape the community. On the agenda are topics that touch on digital transformation, integration as well as big data, data analytics, security and GDPR. Other sessions will be held on guest recognition and interaction as well as improving the employee technology experience.

In essence, commerciality and business strategy are at the forefront of what will be discussed – no doubt an accurate reflection of what is of interest to travel and tourism business stakeholders. Yet, considering the global impact of the travel and tourism sector, should delegates not raise the topic of sustainability and how technology and big data can help drive change? Is that not the topic that should keep everyone up at night?

Changing The Topic Of Conversation

It is understandable that industry stakeholders are keen to focus in on business strategies and best practices and/or innovative ways to better leverage technology to drive commercial success. Yet, it seems that there already is a healthy and ongoing discussion around these topics. In fact, savvy executives will find, and have access to, a plethora of research that centres on and focuses around the commercial aspects of technology and its integration and application within the hospitality industry. Most notably, a lot of recent studies have honed-in on cloud computing, interconnectivity and interoperability (e.g., Buhalisa, D. & Leung, R. [April 2018]. “Smart Hospitality – Interconnectivity and Interoperability Towards An Ecosystem”, International journal of Hospitality Management, Vol.71, PP. 41-50). Facilitated by big data, industry stakeholders are eager to enhance overall communication between the various parties involved, with a view to ultimately drive efficiencies, create more targeted service and product offerings and leverage tailored marketing campaigns to drive profits. Enhanced business intelligence, facilitated by systems, tools and devices, which all speak to one another and exchange valuable information, is – in most cases – the ultimate end goal, pursued to drive the bottom line.

In contrast, it seems that those discussions and research papers that centre around sustainability often fall to the wayside. Sure enough, industry executives are talking about food waste, banning plastics and conserving water and/or energy. Yet, ask a randomly selected list of 100 delegates at the upcoming HITEC (or any of the other hospitality events that attract an international delegate list) whether they were aware that 2017 was announced as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development” by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and you will probably find out that the majority were not – not because they do not care or do not value sustainability, but because it is not at the forefront of their everyday discussions.

Given how intertwined technology is with sustainability, and the potential positive impact it could have on driving change, surely there is somewhere a missed opportunity for the industry to gather and identify, share and/or develop best practices to leverage technology, artificial intelligence and big data to drive the sustainability agenda. This is not to say that it does not happen at all, but in an age in which everything is discussed ad infinitum via social media, one would hope that ‘sustainability’ finds its way into a more prominent spot at some of the larger hospitality conferences around the globe. Presumably, for example, big data and user-generated content (UGC) might help destinations better manage (and anticipate and prepare for) tourism crowds. Furthermore, big data should prove extremely valuable when assessing social and environmental impact of tourism – and what to do about it. Moreover, results of business intelligence might help identify ‘quality’ tourists who generate real value-add and who foster positive social transformation for destinations and their local economies and communities whilst supporting sustainable practices. Integrated and interconnected systems might help ‘push’ sustainable tourism packages to those travellers that are more susceptive to such ideas and dissuade others of going to Venice, Amsterdam or Barcelona, for example, when those cities are already suffering from over-tourism. And, of course, technology can be – and already has shown to be – effective when pursuing waste reduction and energy preservation initiatives.

There is no doubt that technology can transform tourism management and prove impactful when promoting sustainable tourism; however, for this to happen, we need to stop thinking of technology as merely a utilitarian (and commercial) tool. Instead, we need to think of it as a mean to transform and positively impact change.