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Information Technology: Its Uses in Tourism Industry

Mekonnen G/Egziabher (Catering and Tourism Training Institute)


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Abstract
Information and Communication Technology in tourism sector is of special significance. This is due to its
special product behavior. Accordingly, various high tech information and communication technologies are
in use in the tourism sector around the world. They are used for tourism product development, marketing,
distribution and training of tourism sector personnel. These technologies are so indispensable in order to
find out and satisfy the ever-changing demands for tourism products.
This article looks at different uses of information and communication technologies in tourism sector around
the world. It also examines its current level of use in Ethiopia’s tourism industry and indicates future areas
of application if the country is to get the maximum benefit thereof.

Introduction

Though there are many definitions for tourism, it could be simply defined as a
“travel and stay of a non-resident”. In order to travel to a particular area there must be a
reason. For example a person may travel for leisure, business, visiting friends and
relatives, health, education etc. He/she chooses a destination for one or the other reason.
Transport is necessary to travel and accommodation to stay at the destination. So,
tourism as an industry has three major components: Attraction, Accommodation and
Transport. In the developed world, today, all these components have reached at their
zenith in satisfying their customers’ needs aided by modern technology. These
components have also came a long way to offer a range of products which suit the needs
of multitude tourists around the world, and are still working hard to cater to an ever
changing test of them.
Tourism is ranking the top ahead of all other categories of international trade.
This is evident from the statistical information compiled from all over the world by WTO
(World Tourism Organization). The number of international arrival shows an evolution
from a mere 25 million in 1950 to 657million in 1999.The trend shows a tremendous
increase both in the number of tourists and income in the coming years. With respect to
the income generated through tourism, in 1998, international tourism and international
fare receipts (the receipts related to passenger transport of residents of other countries)
together accounted for an estimated US$ 532 billion (WTO, Tourism Highlights, 2000).
This growth of tourism activity clearly marks tourism as one of the most remarkable
economic and social phenomena in the world.

Information technology and the tourism industry components


As indicated above the tourism industry is made up of three major components: namely,
(i) Transport sector, which includes air, water and surface transport,
(ii) Accommodation sector, all types of establishments that offer lodging to visitors
(Hotel, Motel, Guest houses, caravans etc.)
(iii) Attraction sector which comprises manmade and natural attractions which are
developed to satisfy visitors educational, recreational, aesthetic needs etc.
TRANSPORT SECTOR
Transport provides the essential link between tourism origin and destination areas and
facilitates the movement of holidaymakers, business travelers, people visiting friends and

relatives and those undertaking educational and health tourism. Before setting out on a
journey of any kind, every traveler makes sure which Transport Company has a good
safety record. To this effect, airplanes coaches and even taxis are equipped with good
communication equipment. An Airplane flies with the help of modern information
technology equipment which provides information ranging from weather, altitude and
other information to the pilot to communication made during emergency by the pilot with
other airplanes and air traffic control stations. In-flight entertainment is also a product of
information technology, video games, video films are examples.
In the case of buses/coaches and taxis, in many countries with developed tourism
business, they are equipped with radio communication systems for various uses. For
example, the driver or the tour guide updates the Tour Company headquarters about the
progress of the tour throughout the touring period. This communication ensures the safety
of tourists. Fast and easy information flow is of paramount importance to build
confidence in the travelling public. In recent years, the confidence built due to the use of
modern IT has been demonstrated by a tremendous increase in the number of travelers
worldwide.

ACCOMMODATION SECTOR

In the accommodation sector also the contribution of information technology is


prominent. Any individual or group wishing to travel to any part of the world now has an
easy access to the accommodation service providers. A visitor can access an information
about the kind of hotels at the destination, their ranges of product, the price and other
relevant information without leaving his/her office or home. What one has to do is to ring
up a travel agency and get the expert advice. This will help any visitor greatly as to where
to stay during any kind of away from home. Here the information can be obtained aided
by still or moving pictures in order to give an exact feature of an accommodation,
facilities and services of ones choice. At a destination also visitors are at ease during
their stay in every respect, in getting information about their business, family or other
information back home. They are also at ease to relax with the videos and television
entertainment programs, which nowadays are part and parcel of many accommodation
units.

ATTRACTION SECTOR

In the case of attractions both manmade and natural attraction owners need to
communicate or inform their customers and potential customers about their production.
Information about the kind of attraction, where they are located and how to get there is
of vital importance. The attraction owners particularly the national tourist offices
discharge their duty of promoting their country’s tourist attractions using the information

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technology products. Information through promotional videos, Internet web Sites,
television advertisements and travel documentaries are the main information
dissemination tools.

Travel intermediaries and the role of information technology


One of the unique characteristics of tourism products is the need of the role
played by the so-called travel intermediaries. These travel intermediaries are travel
agents, tour operators, conference organizers booking agents etc. They are so important
again because of the nature of the tourism product, perishablity and intangibility. This
means service products including tourism, cannot be stored for a litter sale, and cannot be
inspected for their quality before purchase respectively. This entails a very big effort for
marketing and distribution of these products. Tourism product supply is fragmented
both geographically and as product component, coupled with their relatively low capital
volume, individual components cannot afford to market and distribute their product for
the dispersed potential and actual customers on their own. Let us take an airline company
as an example. An airline company, which flies many destinations, can have a
representative but cannot have so many offices or product distribution channels in all
routes it serves. Or, in Addis Ababa itself for example, Ethiopian Airlines has few
offices to distribute and market its product. However, one can also buy Ethiopian Airline
ticket from many other travel agencies in the city. One can imagine if the airline can run
these many say sixty offices on its own which are usually with high fixed costs. This
makes the travel agents an indispensable partners both in efficiently distributing and
marketing the product and substantially reducing the cost of operation for the airline. As
these are working on commission basis, the cost of operation for the airline is relatively
low. These travel agencies are performing this indispensable task of being intermediary
by the use of computers and computer reservation systems (CRS).

CRS (Computer Reservation System)

The airline CRS systems were the pioneers of computer applications in the 1950s
and are now virtually indispensable to airlines because they enable their revenue streams
to be maximized by efficient inventory control (an inventory in this context refers to an
airline’s stock of passenger seats that is available for sale). However, these days, hotel
and car hiring companies by renting the service from the airline companies are also
employed these systems. The technology works by using computers of special kind and
leased telephone lines. The travel agent is connected on line to the central host computer
system or CRS. The host computer is almost always a mainframe with massive database
attached. The mainframe host polls each travel agent terminal every second or so, to see
if it has any messages to send ( Inkpen, 1999). In this system it is possible that airliners,
Hotels and car rental companies can talk to the travel agent and vise versa. This system

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contributes to a great extent in increasing sales volume and giving precise information on
the availability and selling the products efficiently ensuring substantial profit gain.

GDS (Global Distribution Systems)

GDSs are systems which distribute reservation and information services to sales outlets
around the world. Unlike the CRSs used solely by an airline or hotel chain, GDS
distribute more than one CRS to users who are usually travel agents. GDSs were formed
from the airlines of several CRSs, each of which had its airline backer. Once formed,
there was a period of some consolidation and shakeout, after which four main GDSs
emerged. These are Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre and World Span.
These world leading GDSs are switches or simply computers that are connected on the
one side to many different supplier systems and on the other side to many end users. The
end users of switch comprise travel agents with a single reservation system to support the
sale of airline seats and related travel products such as hotel-and car hire, via a single
computer terminal, usually a Personal Computer (Inkpen pp.107). All the GDSs, are
owned by a group of airline companies. Eleven carriers of different countries for
example own Galileo and there are 500 participating airlines companies. GDSs require
massive investment because they are extremely large computer systems that link several
airlines and travel principals into a complex network of PCs, telecommunications and
large main frame computers. It is not important here to go into the complex operation
how these GDSs are working. However it is pertinent to say that GDS are the macro
version of CRSs with a specialized and improved information technology for the
distribution of Travel products.

Internet and Travel and Tourism


So far it has been delt with an information technology where intermediaries,
travel agents, tour operators etc. are an indispensable part in the distribution and
marketing of travel and tourism products, and as an important point of sale or product
outlets. Here I will discuss about an information technology where the producer and the
consumer are directly communicating, by putting the indispensability of travel
intermediaries in question.
As I have said elsewhere in this article, the intangibility of the product where risk
and uncertainty for the customer is higher, his need for reliable pre-purchase information
is stronger. The potential customer’s decision risk and dependence on information is
further increased because he cannot see, inspect compare or try out tourist services before
deciding to use them (Schmoll , pp.28)
This is not met perfectly than through Internet, which is the latest product of information
technology. This interactive information-supplying medium is user friendly and gives
enormous information of all kind related to travel. Apart from supplying information on
world leading and emerging tourist destination of all kind, it is now possible to book and

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buy holidays through Internet using plastic money. It gives information on all Airlines,
Hotels and Car hire companies, which are in its database. Microsoft is a travel agent. Its
Internet site branded Expedia, is one of the most important examples of the new
generation of travel intermediaries (Inkpen pp.196). Distribution of travel and tourism
products using the Internet has a substantial cost reduction advantage for providers of
tourism services. The cost incurred by suppliers in receiving a customer booking is the
one, which is costly. So, Internet gives a practical aid both in supplying information and
receiving bookings or selling tourism products on the principals behalf.
Marketing tourism products on the Internet is also possible. This is done through
the page of the company’s Internet site. Once the company got access to the Internet, it
gets various opportunities. Of these, Electronic-mail (e-mail) is one. As a tourism
product supplier, especially with business travel as a selected target market, it makes
possible to communicate the person through his/her e-mail address wherever the client is.
Unlike telephone communication, there is no need for the presence of the receiver of the
message during message transmission. It also gives a typed copy of the message. E-mail
communication medium is very cheap yet efficient and effective. On the other hand,
marketing on the Internet has an advantage of being used by all company’s of all size as
long as they can establish their Web Site on the Internet.

Tourism product development, research and information technology

So far the marketing and distribution of tourism products with the utmost use of
information technology is being discussed. Now I will discuss the other dimension of
information technology at use in travel and tourism products. Developing any product
needs data input and discussion to confirm the viability of a product. Nowadays, it is
quite possible to exchange data and hold discussions between producers and researchers
or producers and marketers in any part of the world without leaving ones office. This is
done by the use of the information technology called video conferencing. The technology
works using PCs so as to enable people to meet one another. Television screens linked by
high-speed telecommunication lines are used to hold discussion and assess the impact of
conversation on participants. With this technology, live transfer of data and discussions
are possible. Coupled with non-verbal communication where people look at each other’s
reaction, video conferencing creates virtual togetherness. It gives an opportunity to
discuss new development plan, a research problem or a research finding. This medium of
communication has substantial cost reduction both in time and cost of travel, as
participants need not travel to meet each other face to face. Actually this is a technology
which is not in widespread use, however, in a dynamic growth.

Facilitation and information technology


Facilitation is one important aspect of enhancing tourism business. Facilitation includes,
issuing of visa, customs clearing and immigration check in ports. Lack of appropriate
management in giving fast and efficient service to tourists in this area will deter the
tourist flow substantially. Recently, development has come about in using electronic
medium for facilitation purpose. An example on this subject is Australia; a country
developed ‘Automated Visa Application system’ what is called ETAS (Electronic Travel

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Authority System). This system works with three inter-linked functions, each of which is
supported by computers that are located in different parts of the world.

(i) A front-end ETA application processing system supported by travel agents chosen
GDS or CRS. (ii) An international data collection and routing system based on a SITA
computer located in Atlanta, and (iii) a data base look-up and electronic funds transfer
system supported by the Australian Immigration Department’s computer in Sydney
(Inkpen, pp 52). Based on these networks the electronic visa, where nothing will be put
on the applicant’s passport will be processed for the traveler by an authorized travel
agent. The travel agent feeds its computer with all details of the traveler and transmits to
Australia where the details appear on the Australia Immigration Department computer.
At arrival the visitor will be checked in the immigration computer at Sydney Airport by
simply entering his pass port number. This system has proved to be efficient and time
saving and had generated an immense tourist flow from year to year to Australia.

ICT and Tourism industry in Ethiopia


The Ethiopian tourism industry is at its beginning, though the first National Tourism
Office opened some thirty years back. In the same way the three components of tourism
which are mentioned elsewhere in this article are also at their nascent stage as compared
to many third world tourism destinations. Today, in Ethiopia the three Ss (Safety,
Sanitation and Service) which are so important or a major concern for tourists at tourism
destination are not full filled. Safety of tourists for example is the area where IT plays an
important role in tourism. In Ethiopia, attention is not given at all to this decisive concern
of tourists. There are no clear safety regulations for passengers especially on surface and
water transport. If they exist at all their enforcement is not visible.
If we leave out Ethiopian Air Lines which operates at an international aviation standard
in using IT for the safety of passengers, other means of transport like surface and water
transport are not of standard in this respect. In fact, some boats that operate on lakes
frequented by tourists, such as Lake Tana have radio communication and navigation
equipment for safe travel. But, these facilities are unreliable due to the fact that they are
obsolete.
In the case of surface transport it is a precarious means of transport and full of
uncertainty. If anything happens to any traveler or to the equipment, there is no way to
get help. For example, bus break down, accident and for any other emergency there is no
means of communication on Ethiopian tourist coaches or taxis and public transport. On
the other hand, in many tourist destination countries, on board entertainment using IT
products like video on coaches is common. In our case we did not start or may be our
operators do not have the idea or they may lack the capital to acquire the facility.

The accommodation sector is also with limited use of information technology in


its day to day activity. As indicated earlier, IT has got a diversified use both in order to
generate and serve a customer efficiently. The use of IT in accommodation sector, like
CRS, electronic billing, electronic safety system like electronic door system, electronic

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smoke detector, electronic fire extinguisher, modern telephone service, in-room
entertainment and Internet service are not in a wide use in almost all big hotels of the
country. An hotel also has to do a promotional work if it has to stay in the business. This
necessitates the use of various information and communication means with potential and

actual customers. In many big hotels in Addis Ababa for example, PC is used only for
accounts and room occupancy record, much less than the machine can do had it been
connected to the Global Distribution System (GDS), Computer Reservation System
(CRS) or internet.
The attraction sector is also a victim of deficiency of IT use in functioning properly.
Except the Web Site opened on the Internet by the National Tourism Organization and
some tour operators there is very limited use of IT to market and distribute their product.
The Ethiopian tourist attractions are located far away from the gateway, Addis Ababa.
The tourists particularly individual tourists (group tourists reserve through Tour
operators) cannot make a reservation by directly contacting the attraction owners, unlike
many tourist destination attraction sectors. Because our tourist attraction sector have no
its own information center. If they have, they are not easily accessible, and with
monotonous bureaucratic ups and downs.

The Use of GDS and CRS in Ethiopian Tourism Industry

GDS & CRS, Global Distribution System & Computer Reservation System
respectively are in use in Ethiopia.CRS is solely used by Ethiopian Airlines (Gabriel
System) to distribute its product. GDS is also used by Ethiopian Airlines since it is a
participating airline in one of the world leading GDSs Galileo International. The travel
agencies are also using Galileo GDS in order to distribute tourism services available in
Galilio data bank. So far, sixty travel agencies in Addis Ababa and one in Dire Dawa are
availing themselves from Galileo Global Distribution System (GDS) (Source: Galileo
National Distribution Company, Addis Ababa). Nevertheless, the service provided by the
GDS is underutilized. This is for two important reasons. First the suppliers of the
service, hotels and car hire companies did not put themselves in Galileo database, by
subscribing to it, as our airline did. Second, even if they subscribe to one or the other
GDS, they do not have the technological infrastructure to work with plastic money or
credit cards.

Future Directions of IT Use In Ethiopian Tourism Industry

In many countries in the world, tourism is seen as an economically indispensable


industry. It is acclaimed to be an alternative source of foreign currency which many
countries are in a great deficiency. Ethiopia is not an exception and if we manage
properly our tourism resources we can get a maximum benefit in this regard. In addition,
tourism can play a vital role in generating income to the government through taxes, to
citizens through employment in a tourism industry which is known to be labour intensive,
and to the owners of the components through running tourism business. Tourism also
plays an important role in conserving natural and cultural heritage of the country. This
will be possible if Ethiopia is committed to develop its tourism industry in a sustainable

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way. This needs a good tourism policy. The policy should give room for good
management capacity. In tourism management, among others the use of modern ICT
products is one. This use of modern ICT will reduce operation costs of the industry,
increases return substantially and gives unparalleled efficiency in all areas of the
business.

So, in what area of ICT employment should Ethiopia concentrate in order to


develop its tourism industry? First and foremost, the information and communication
infrastructure, which will strongly link Ethiopia with the rest of the world, should be laid
down. May be this task lies with the ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation
and the Ethiopian Telecommunication Authority and its affiliated offices. It is only then
that the products of ICT will be made available and used by the tourism industry and
other industrial sectors of the economy.
If once the infrastructure is built, ICT could be used efficiently in developing new
tourism products, by sharing the experience of other countries in the field of tourism
development. When communication is fast, cheap and efficient information flow is easy
and exchanging of ideas with experts within the country and abroad is possible. This will
help to respond to the changing test of the tourist and avoiding the danger of being
expelled from the market because of lack of competence. Apart from modern telephone
and fax services, Internet and E-mail facilities serve the purpose efficiently. This
technology has actually arrived in this country but with very low capacity. Currently the
use of modern ICT in all components of our tourism industry is poor or even nonexistent.
The government should take the necessary steps to strengthen the supply of these ICT
services if the country is to benefit from the tourism sector.

In the transport sector, particularly in surface and water transport passenger safety
regulations must be put in place. In order to ensure the safety of travelers, communication
equipment should be fitted at least, on tourist transport services. Entertainment services
aided by modern IT should also be provided for the tourists on board.

In the attraction sector, the establishment of tourist information centers is of special


significance. Attraction owners with the use of ICT can communicate their customers
directly and effectively, both for marketing and distribution of their products. In natural
attraction areas like in the national parks, the use of ICT is important in protecting the
resource. This resource is very fragile, could be damaged by wild fire, poachers,
epidemic and other disasters unless there is a good communication system which will
enable to take immediate action during emergency. The recent destruction of natural
forests of tens of thousands of hectares by wild fire in the southeastern part of the country
and the epidemic that killed thousands of wild animals in Nechsar National Park are cases
in point.

The accommodation sector also needs a reliable way of communicating its


customers. This could be realised by allowing this sector to employ modern ICT
products, if it has to compete in the regional tourism market. They should be made to use
it, by careful planning, setting priority and phase by phase development. Our
intermediaries, Travel agents and Tour operators have actually started to use ICT
products like Computer Reservation Systems in a better scale as compared to the

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previous years. Internet and E-mail are also used on a limited scale for their business
development, marketing and distribution. This should be strengthened to exploit the
merits of Information and Communication Technology. The current underutilization of
the GDS, service should also be stepped up to benefit the tourism industry components of
Ethiopia.

Future Directions of IT in Ethiopian Tourism Industry

Considering economic and social benefits that tourism offers a country, I would like to
empasise not only the acquiring of ICT but the efficient use of it. In this direction, traind
manpower is an indispensible part. Persons employed in the tourism industry must give
professional service. Proficiency both in speaking the language of the tourist and dealing
with developing, marketing and research in the field is very important. Schools offering
these skills should be equipped with latest ICT materials. This is one area the country
should concentrate. On the policy direction, proclamations adopted in the past with
regard to the functioning of the tourist industry should be amended to meet current needs.
Privatization of IT super structure could be one way to bring about positive change in the
tourism industry. In many developing countries, for example, ISDs and STDs
(International Subscriber Dialing and Subscriber Trunk Dialing) booths are owned by the
private sector. This ensures the efficient use of the telephone service both to the tourist
and the residents alike. Private entrepreneurs can also provide an Internet service which is
very much in use by tourists. Where there is no efficient communication infrastructure a
tourist may feel uncertain and will be reluctant to buy tourism services. In general, the
development of tourism sector entails the participation of many private and government
sectors. It could be achieved through networking. This also needs the use of ICT for
efficient discussion and effective decision making processes.

Conclusion
In this paper, I have discussed many of the prominent mediums and uses of IT in
the travel and tourism industry. As can be seen they have enormous contribution to
tourism business word wide. It is noted also that, because of the special
characteristics of tourism products, the use of IT is more pronounced in this industry.

Tourism in today’s world is a very big economic and social activity, generating a
large amount of income, employment and foreign currency and investment
opportunities. Though, currently, the developed nations are getting the lion’s share of
the benefit of tourism, there is a promising future for the developing nations also. The
paramount use of IT in tourism business activity by itself does not mean anything,
unless it advances the idea of human development. It should contribute to the over all
development of a country. The contribution of tourism towards socio-economic
development and environmental conservation is immense. Apart from satisfying the
recreational, educational and other needs of tourists, tourism could be used as a
community development vehicle aimed at local people at the destination area. At
macro level tourism gives an alternative or additional foreign currency source which
is very much scarce in developing countries. However, not the earning of income
from tourism but its judicial distribution among the stakeholders is an issue where in
many cases the income remains in the pockets of handful multinational tourism

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business companies and national tour operators. This should be avoided, and only
then, that tourism serves as a development vehicle to socio-economic and

environmental development. The business developed due to the great contribution of


IT should address this problem. If this idea is included as a tourism development
objective in any country’s economic agenda, the development cannot be achieved
without keeping pace with the development of Information Technology.

References
Holloway,J.c. Marketing for Tourism, Longman, 1993.
Holloway, J. c. The Business of Tourism, Longman,1998.
Horner,P. Travel Agency Practice, Longman, 1998.
Inkpen,G. Information Technology to Travel and Tourism, 2nd ed
. Longman,1998.
NDC, Galileo, Personal communication.
Schmoll, G.A Tourism Promotion, Tourism International Press,1977.
Tolley, R. & Turton, B Transport Systems, Policy and Planning, Longman,1995.
WTO(World Tourism Organization) Tourism Highlights,2000.

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