Mapping Europe's Tourism Future: Travelers’ Behavior Trends and AI's Impact

Mapping Europe's Tourism Future: Travelers’ Behavior Trends and AI's Impact

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Good morning to our guests, welcome, thank you for being here with us and putting your know-how at our disposal. This is Professor Magda Antonioli, vice-president of the European Travel Commission, director of the Master in Economics of Tourism at the Bocconi University of Milan, president of the National Tourism Observatory, and Mirko Lalli, founder and CEO of the now-renowned The Data Appeal Company, welcome once again. We have heard a lot about the new trends in tourism to Germany, but with you I wanted to address and deepen two topics that we have already talked about during the presentation just past.

And I begin by asking Professor Antonioli, the tourism sector is changing, the approach of Italians to travel is changing, what are the most important drivers of choice at present? First of all, good morning to viewers, thank you for the invitation. Tourism is changing like the whole market, in particular perhaps more sensitive because being people who travel, who travel for business, for leisure, who have a feeling of visiting new worlds and trying new experiences, by definition very subject to change. The post covid even marked a strong desire to move of freedom, the Italian tourist is very foreign-oriented so it cares a lot and among other things also the data that we have seen that are even valued in recent months in these values that have already been indicated, so a desire to move more and more also a need to move in longer periods as well as growth in value, but in more periods of the year, so this idea almost of a break that has to be made during the year and a new motivation, new destinations because you always try to more experiences. This is a word that is abused a lot, but it gives us the idea, of having to deal with operators who every day have this feeling as raw material, of these new forms. And marketing itself, Marketing Intelligence is changing because it is moving from what was a more demographic aspect, families, households how they moved, is now moving to a more psycho-attitudinal approach, that is, going to understand why, what the emotions are, what the tourist is looking for, how they move. And this also gives rise to the new segments.

Therefore, our interest is to be ready to understand this potential. We have mentioned the dates, the duration of these trips and experiences, we must also mention another indicator which is that of seasonality. There is less and less seasonal concentration and therefore this is another element that benefits a country like Germany for tourists leaving Italy.

the same transport, in short many indications that play in favour of this interest, of these new markets, on which however we must be careful because we must go and capture them with certain indicators, with certain elements that explain to us how to interpret a new market. Exactly. Mirko, how much have we talked about flexibility, about change, about the sensitivity of the tourism sector to change, how flexible has the market become? Italian travellers have gone back a bit to booking in advance, but we said we will never go back to pre-Covid levels, so something has changed in booking. So what windows do we have for intercepting our clientele? So the working windows are back substantially slightly lower than they were before covid. The impact that has brought about the most important changes is also the technology-induced change. During covid, we all learnt how to use technology in a let's say more comfortable way.

Everyone has learnt to book a restaurant e.g. through technology or to use a QR code to see a restaurant menu. Seemingly small things, it has actually opened windows of possibility for travellers. The market has become a bit more flexible, there is still a bit of a queue due to the pandemic of last-minute booking, but at the same time they are exploiting the potential of digital channels and reservations to plan their trip more effectively and thus is at the same time being re-extended.

What are the opportunities for operators? Operators need to capitalise on this experience, so the part of the experience that happens on their digital channels is part of the travel experience. I am the one who says it, there are now dozens of studies even pre-pandemic that assimilate this pre-trip part of discovery that takes place especially in the digital world as a part of the travel experience itself, and in reality our sites, the sites of our destinations, the websites of hotels and operators often do not live up to it. the expectations of the contemporary tourist. So the opportunity is to bring the digital experience up to the same level as the physical experience. Exactly, so, integration of artificial intelligence, experience, are recurring words and we also heard it from the Bluevacanze group, artificial intelligence has become an integral part of travel planning.

How aware and how comfortable are Italian users in using this tool concerning travel of course? So, artificial intelligence is something that is changing everything once again. Artificial intelligence is not new, it is a term that has been around for 50 years. It has been discussed more emphatically since about 18 months after OpenAI launched the famous ChatGPT tools. The artificial intelligence that is all the rage today, which is being talked about, is generative artificial intelligence which opens up further perspectives, which has an incredible impact on all sectors of the economy. Obviously tourism, being a very dynamic sector, as Professor Antonioli said earlier, is one of the sectors that is more receptive to innovation than other sectors.

What is happening? What is happening is that artificial intelligence has entered overbearingly into both the tools of operators, which we may then talk about, but it has entered above all into the way travellers book. In what sense? There are the canonical tools, let's say, there is GPT, Gemini, Cloud, those that are the tools of the big companies, and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of startups that encapsulate this technology within a further way of interfacing with artificial intelligence for trip planning, to facilitate precisely the search, the discovery of experiences. And it's interesting because it changes everything from the point of view of the experience.

I go to a conversational interface and ask for help to organise a weekend in Munich and in a few seconds I have one, two, or three very detailed days with even the suggestion of hotels and restaurants for example. It's interesting, think about how you can be there. Up until a year ago, we talked in terms of SEO, of SEM, of optimising to get into search engines.

Today, how do I optimise my presence within these tools? It is not known. It is a completely new field and completely to be explored. But we do know that we cannot ignore it. And at the same time, to punctually answer your question, I use research by a great American research centre called Phocuswright, and which published a few weeks ago on the attitude that travellers in various markets have towards technology. Let's take Italy as a reference, in the research we see that Italians are aware that technologies exist, there is talk of virtual reality, there is talk of the metaverse, there is talk of augmented reality but then few actually try them out, have experience of these technologies.

On the metaverse, for example, about 80% are aware of what it means but only 11% have managed to try it out. also because it is objectively difficult to try it out. On artificial intelligence, which is a new term, it has only existed for a very short time, again almost 80% are aware of what it means and 17% have actually already tried it out, but above all, the most shocking answer from this research is that almost 50% of the Italians surveyed feel comfortable asking these tools to help them book a trip. So travellers are already using it, they are already asking the various forms, the various tools of artificial intelligence to help them plan their next trip, perhaps to Germany. Here, it is a theme that has to be addressed because changes behaviour and therefore marketing has to change accordingly. Professor Antonioli, on the traveller side there is therefore a certain ease and instead on the tourism operator side what are the chances and challenges for tourism operators with respect to the use of ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence evolutions? This shift to more advanced technology because by now we are already accustomed let's say to mobile telephony to a lot of elements, they have already accustomed us and we have made them our own, but this for example, we have mentioned ChatGPT rather than other newer metaverse forms represent the future in which however we are already placed.

What are they for? Generally we explain to the students before the trip, during the trip, after the trip, so they embrace a bit everything the life span of our tourism product and to still have information basically, then to still have information during the trip and then to have a guide in practice much more conscious, much more evolved we have already said, I am not technocrat, the technocrat has already been talked about, but as we have already mentioned, it represents an element with which we interface, we ask the question and it answers us, not was like before, because with the QR I ask something and I see it, instead here I have the answer more evolved and already updated, and then sentiment, everything after, these are the elements that we collect, but if I had to make a summary of what is needed on the operator side I would basically say two things. The first is to have, as we say, a value proposition, i.e. to be able to give more value to our products. So to have a new marketing tool that is different from the normal one, because it is totally different, it has a new approach and so on. And the second is brand, because we, by doing so, through a tool, brand in a new way and in a different way. And here there is a need for knowledge, there is a need for investment, there is a need for a lot of training.

We have two worlds, beyond tourism, regarding these new technologies. The two worlds are the Chinese and the American worlds, which are making great strides, which are ahead and which we will reach in a short time, because the times in this context are much shorter, not like in other aspects where, for example, for oil, we had to dig it up. Here it is already available. And so this is the first element that should give us pause for thought. Then we have Europe. Europe that follows so much, we see ourselves, that gives rules.

Look at us being criticised for European rules. Allow me to wear the European hat but It is important that we give rules, but we cannot stop at those. We must also become operational. So it is an ally, it is a fundamental tool, indispensable, without going into detail, which we cannot do without and not to be neglected. We must not overlook it, and I can tell you this from someone who is as agè as I am, we must not neglect it, and we must not approach it with the tools of, for example, printed paper rather than Whatsapp because they are new tools that require us to take a new approach.

So what are the new segments in which destinations should invest to attract our guests? Packages, dynamics, communities? Yes, I already think of them for a German world, let's do that. So more and more personalisation, packages self-tailored, so with a choice. more and more mixed models, we talked about an experiential approach, of what the tourist is looking for, so we are on the wellness in the round that includes sport, lifestyle, food, so many aspects of this kind that go under the term of feeling good about oneself and so the space, the air and everything else. So let us also include in this reasoning the spa, the various forms connected with water. Let's be careful because in the post-covid water is very important, I mention this because you with your territory and all the rest, bike but rather than other forms, it is a water that is not the let's say traditional sea of the Italian beaches and Spanish, just to be clear. Those exist, they have their own segments, but we are talking about these underneath now.

It is a luxury, it is a very important luxury, much more à la carte, much more minimalist, much more ecological in some ways and below, I would not put it as segment because it is transversal, just to name a few, a much more sustainability and environmental discourse, this is important because it is a somewhat holistic concept you say, which refers to all what are the aspects, and we need to ensure that there is tune here as well because if I have a totally ecological hotel, I go out and see other facilities, transport, rather than even the management of green, public spaces, waste that are not appropriate, so I go to lose competitiveness. So the environment and these aspects that we mentioned are very important. But another glue, and I mention it because it is very important for Germany and I will now tell you why in my opinion, is the discourse of the local, more and more the small and the minor, the big city of course remains with its cultural sediments, but is increasingly a creative cultural industry, go and live, discover, and the correct term should be authenticity. So we have to be authentic and give these feelings. I give another example, a very important factor, now approaching summer, but for winter is the Christmas market, where you are very leading for certain features and structures. But the Christmas market is not the place to do your Christmas shopping, also, but it is really marginal.

It is the place to go to breathe an atmosphere with certain characteristics. Here, these are the elements that experiential marketing tells us we all have to revise a bit our models, our new products. And Mirko, we have talked then about sustainability, even in luxury, and we have seen from our analysis by IPECA International that Italians are a public that is very sensitive to sustainable offerings in tourism. Artificial intelligence in this sense is a support, a resource, but it can also hide risks. What are these risks? We must distinguish between artificial intelligence from the point of view of travellers, artificial intelligence from the point of view of operators and artificial intelligence from the point of view of destinations. They are different uses and also different risks and opportunities.

It makes me smile a lot, I 100% agree with what Professor Antonioli was saying about European regulation. There is a joke going around, isn't there? America innovates, China replicates, Europe regulates. And it is very true. But right now it is a bit of a defence that we have, the GDPR for example is a barrier even for entry that is an important issue for the German nation, the issue of privacy that is also a theme that defends us from the entry of companies coming from other countries or markets.

The topic of AI Act, so having a European regulation first in the world on AI regulation, is kind of dictating the regulatory march a bit around the world. So the fact that there is a European regulation that initially holds back the adoption of this technology, in reality however, is a defence. so companies are working out how to move in this new scenario. What is the impact, both positive and negative? The positive impact we have seen a bit from the point of view of travellers improves the experience, so the traveller finds more simply that kind of information that he wants personalised for him.

because the more information he passes, the more he can give to that artificial intelligence, the more the suggestions will be compatible with the person requesting the information, so it is a win-win in this respect. Operators will be able to use the dozens of tools, operators I'm talking about hoteliers, restaurateurs, suppliers of experiences, will be able to use dozens of tools to have a simpler, more powerful marketing, generating content in a multilingual manner, translating into more languages, having images, having videos in a simple and even economical manner. These are tools that cost tens of euros per month and cover thousands of man-hours of work and this has other implications but we will not discuss them today. From the point of view of destinations there is certainly an intelligent use of artificial intelligence, which is what we do for example to better read data and understand trends better and also try to measure sustainability in a somewhat more objective manner, which is a somewhat experiential term, it is a somewhat overused term. Sustainability is not only attention to the environment, especially now that the sensitivity of destinations is changing, the sensitivity of citizens, of the territory, sustainability is, I always say, reaching a point of virtuous balance between the resident citizen and the temporary citizen, between the quality of life of the citizen who lives in that territory and the quality of the experience of those who live there for a few days. That's it, reaching the virtuous point also includes the environment, many other things, it includes inclusiveness, it includes so many other aspects that are unavoidable, they are all aspects that are part of the value proposition now of the destination itself.

What are the weak points, at least at present? There is a premise to be made, the current technology is the worst you will ever have to deal with is a young technology at 18 months old. Every week there are incredible announcements of improvements. Just a few weeks ago, for example, OpenAI announced a model to generate videos from texts, so I ask through a prompt to generate a video and the video is of incredible quality with incredible effects. This thing would have been impossible until two months ago. So, the technology used today is the worst you will ever have to deal with, tomorrow there will be a better one, after tomorrow there will be another one even better.

Certainly, with today's technology, there are limitations, I'll tell you one just so you understand, the various trip planning tools that are on the market today, i.e. those that travellers use to be suggested where to go on holiday, all suggest the same places, and this contributes to the overcrowding of the same spots in the area, precisely those places that suffer a bit from overtourism, from overcrowding, so this can be overcome with training, it can be overcome with the inclusion of more information, it can be overcome in the future and for example Google is also working on it, which made an announcement at the ITB in Berlin a few months ago. Google announced in a somewhat surprising manner that it is working on a trip planning tool that is strongly based on AI, but why is Google working on it? Because Google knows us, Google has access to our mails, it has access to our timeline on Google Maps, it knows exactly which restaurants we have been to and which hotels we have stayed in because it sees our location in real time, it knows what we like and what we don't like because it sees from our mails, the items we have bought, the books we read. There, so Google already has all that information that can help artificial intelligence to make those suggestions that are most in line with our desires.

Here, this will definitely be revolutionary and all the big OTAs, Booking, Expedia, Ctrip and so on, are working on something similar. So I think we will see a lot of AI-driven innovations in the coming months. So I wouldn't have talked to you about risks if I didn't know that there is also one or many solutions put in place anyway, so let's talk about the same spots proposed, the Instagrammable, which risk overtourism, in short inconvenience but there is a chance to come out. I maintain the three points of view, from the traveller's point of view, ask for help give as much information as possible, so tell it to prioritise for example food and wine events or culture or what you like so as to help the AI find those suggestions that are more in line with what you are looking for. From the operator's point of view, there is nothing else to do but experiment and start using these tools.

I said something earlier, I said how can you be there? So it is true that traditional marketing is not dead, in fact it is the only chance we have to be within those tools. Why? Because these tools are trained on the content that they find online, so if you as a hotel, as a territory, produce content that is well done, relevant, it is that very content that will be used by artificial intelligence to train itself and then will use it to have more information on which to make suggestions and there are two points, one was also touched on by the professor a few minutes ago, your content and your reputation, i.e. what users say about you, that when it has to suggest a hotel or a restaurant, it will obviously suggest those that are both from the point of view of communication more in line, but that have a better reputation, so it doesn't change much compared to the past, they are still two points that were important to be followed. From the point of view of destinations it is now essential to have a strategy based on data, as we now say is quite common practice in Europe, i.e. to have a strategy that is able to intercept in real time what are the changes of the market and travellers so as to also adapt marketing strategies accordingly. That's right, it is precisely with regard to this topic that I of data collection comes to mind to mention once again DZT's Knowledge Graph, which is a very important project, which is very close to our hearts, which precisely goes in this direction.

Returning to travel, Professor Antonioli during an important study day that we had a few months ago on the new balance of tourism, spoke of two trends inherent to the travel desires of Italians. They talked about the transition from the concept of planning to the concept of travel design, and if one of the most current deep trends leads us to Lehman's concept, then to the concept of the border, showing an interest in experiences in borderline locations, extreme experiences. On the other hand, however, as you also rightly said earlier, there is also a return to simple experience, to an experience that can be defined as ethical. There is Professor Galimberti, who is an Italian philosopher, spoke of the ethics of the wayfarer with respect to the journey. How do you go from the proposal, from the offer for a tourist to the proposal for a traveller? What makes the difference for an Italian who wants to travel and no longer just be a tourist? This is a bit of a rediscovery of the traditional discourse of the tourist, because tourism, or rather it is often said the traveller traveller is not a tourist making the difference, here I end up dealing with things of little importance, It means taking into account the whole relationship that is now between the person and the territory because the traveller is the one who relates to the territory in a certain way and the one who sets out on the road to do tourism is not that he leaves to reach the destination therefore the sense of the motorway in a certain period of time.

but also to get lost and it is the discourse of to feel emotions, to move and therefore also as a response of the offer, it has always played on the demand of the offer, it is all the supply chain that goes along with this and the more the supply chain is coordinated the more we increase the indirect induced effects also of profitability in the territory, so this is a bit the concept with which one not only responds to the motivations, but is also able to increase the spin-offs, make one's products known, was the typicality of the minor. I mention only one trivial thing, that there is a quantity, now I don't remember the percentage, but it was more than 30%, of people who set out on the religious paths, Santiago is worth mentioning as an example, who are neither religious nor minimally, nor Catholic first and foremost, but minimally religious or otherwise. who go to breathe that atmosphere, thus the feeling, the experience and atmosphere reported with the territory, which is that which then the more data we put, as we have just said, the more we are able to present to the tourist in the form of technology rather than a guide, rather than an indication.

Here, this discourse of the traveller and attention is really important, but it was probably that of the Grand Tour, it was that of many years ago, it was that in general of pilgrims who set out on them, more for true religious reasons. But any new form, but also tourism in space has these feelings, to feel a something, to go and collect this. For us it really remains very important and we should not forget it. It seems revalued, but in fact it is our base. The baths were born in the Roman view to go and exchange information.

It was a recreational moment, but it was also a very social moment. thank goodness we have returned to these values social, environmental, the environment is another aspect of social, linked to social, so it seems to me that we are perfectly in tune and these are the indications that we will then brutally have to incorporate into the technology and then see them combined in some way. One last line I would like to ask both of you. In the editions of 2023 we talked about deep trend and this year we heard from the distinguished scholars of the field that for the first time the deep trend that already exists for a few years called "Only human", now appears with a question mark, so "Only human?" What does this mean? The process of digitisation feels unstoppable, we should all come to terms with it, but would we be supplanted by artificial intelligence? What will happen? So, only human absolutely yes, in the sense of intelligence there is no such thing as good or bad technology, not there is a technology that supplants the human, there is a technology that augments the human, as we have seen, that I have said, so it will help to do some things differently or better.

From the point of view of artificial intelligence however, there is a focus to start with. Artificial intelligence can do one thing well, it can learn from us, because we are teaching it to do things, it relies on our wealth of information, all its training, but it is a machine. The fact that it imitates humans is one of its distinguishing features, so I will quickly tell you an episode that I think clarifies what I mean. A few weeks ago, a study was done in the medical field in which two groups of patients were made to chat alternately, one group with human doctors, the second group with an artificial intelligence based on ChatGPT, i.e. already existing, nothing scientific, and then they alternated them several times.

To cut a long story short, 80% of the patients said not only that the artificial intelligence was more accurate more prepared, and that is to be expected, but also more empathetic and more human. And this is also normal, because we have taught it to do so, whereas we humans, and we have seen it a thousand times in reception desks, in offices of information, maybe we are not always positive, maybe we have our own problems. Here, in this case artificial intelligence is an ally that can manage certain moments of the travellers' experience in a way that is always positive and at times even more human than a human. So there will be some aspects in which it will help us to manage better. I do not believe that jobs will disappear and more will appear.

The jobs generated by technology are always more than those that disappear. The example I give is when in the early 1900s internal combustion cars came along, those who bred horses or built carriages were obviously not happy, but the jobs created by the car industry is one or two factors greater than that of horses and carriages, so what matters is the speed of change, it's the learning. So it won't be artificial intelligence that replaces people, it will be other people who know how to use artificial intelligence. Three very fast things, we upload the data, we download them because then we learn from what they give us, third thing is that the tourism sector is largely driven by human resources man because we go looking for the typicality and the territory and also environment, the plant, the animal, the landscape, all these things, so these are three elements for making us say that man continues to be relevant. But I would also ask for a reflection on another point, let's stop saying no, this no, let's regulate and we are really masters on this also for the other giants we mentioned before, but let's not forget that we have to instead of banning it or being here at absolutely I don't want it, things of this kind, to see how to ride it because on that there is still a lot to say and we are just in this critical moment.

Well, thank you both very much for these very interesting contents which we hope have been an input for our listeners.

2024-05-22 04:45

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