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Article Critique

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28 Imbal, J. & Fitina, L. The Convenient Traveller: Using Technology to Enhan ce Tourism in Papua New Guinea The convenient traveller: using technology to enhance tourism in Papua New Guinea John Imbal Lakoa Fitina Abstract Potential travellers who do last minute bookings ha ve one problem in common, they do not have the luxury of ‘time’. Most travel web portals and destination websites provide similar types of i nformation which creates information overload and makes it difficult for new-comers to decide which travel products or combination of trav el products they want. In this paper we discuss a theory to assist t he potential traveller to make the most convenient travel decision through th e use of technology. We suggest an application and business model to det ermine the most convenient travel decision. Key words : tourism industry, information and communication t echnologies, Internet, websites, e-ticketing, e-reservations, co nsumer travel information, destination management organizations, new opportuni ties, convenient traveller Introduction International trade, development of resources and c onsumption at both local and international level is becoming fast and compet itive. What the world does not have is ‘time’ and the dilemma it is grappling with is ‘scarce resources’, maximization of opportunities, increased satisfacti on and lowering any signs that will bring about discomfort. This has been enh anced by developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs). Responses to new and sophisticated consumer demands and awareness of soc iety’s ills and guilt- feelings in the tourism industry has seen initiativ es to produce more ‘greener’ results such as ‘energy-efficient’ airplanes like t he Airbus A380 and Boeing B787 Dreamliner, ecotourism, e-ticketing, e-reserva tions and environmental checklist guidelines, to create more convenience fo r the traveller and reduce any discomfort. The use of ICTs has greatly enhance d the tourism industry’s ability to achieve the goals of these initiatives. These developments have brought about more opportun ities and greater competition. In Papua New Guinea (PNG) well-known t ourism products such as accommodation, destination management organizati ons, airlines, rental cars, travel agencies, tour operators and tourist attract ions, are thinking about having a presence on the Internet by developing websites t o take advantage of opportunities provided by the developments in ICT. Current trends in website development and online marketing indicate that PNG’ s purpose in applying ICT is no different from the international travel t rade and other destinations. Much of the consumer travel information that is pro vided by the different Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 14, May 2011 29 suppliers and destination management organizations is similar: comparing what is offered within the country and outside the count ry. This increases the level of competition and does not make it easier for new travellers trying to decide on a travel choice. In this paper we discuss a prop osal for a comprehensive travel decision making mechanism to assist tourists decide on a travel route and to assist tourist operators and support industries to market their products and serve their customers better. The 21 st century visitor According to Schröcksnadel (2008:245) the 21 st century visitor is likely to make significant use of information and communicati on technologies to assist in travel planning and decision making. There are n ow more experienced and sophisticated travellers than before, yet they do n ot have the luxury of time to do all those travel planning and decision making th emselves. ‘The more support and service customers receive, the more sat isfied they are’ (Wenzel & Kirig 2006, cited in Schröcksnadel, 2008:245). In this paper we suggest that despite the multitude of needs that the average traveller has and despite the multitude of services , activities and destinations available, it is possible to create a decision supp ort mechanism that benefits both the traveller and the organization seeking to entice the traveller or to make his or her travel more pleasurable and less stressf ul. We suggest such a solution and describe its implementation. Identifying traveller decision criteria based on tr aveller needs Let us assume that a potential tourist wants to tra vel. The potential traveller has certain needs and expectations such as being welcom ed at the reception, being assisted with the luggage and shown to a seat or ro om, a hot bath, a good meal and reliable service. The person could search the I nternet or visit the nearest travel agent to collect information and make travel arrangements. Say, the potential traveller chooses to fly as the mode of t ransportation. The potential traveller’s travel information needs may comprise t he following: Cheapest fare Direct or in-direct flights Number of stops In-flight information and entertainment Reputation Aircraft size, configuration, fare classes Onboard meals Seat comfort and leg-room Duty free shopping Journey time Frequent flyer points and other customer loyalty pr ograms Facilities and amenities on board Staff professionalism and friendliness Convenient travel times and onward connections. 30 Imbal, J. & Fitina, L. The Convenient Traveller: Using Technology to Enhan ce Tourism in Papua New Guinea The above may be primary needs. The secondary needs of the potential traveller could comprise the following: Destination information provided by the airline User friendly and easy access to information provid ed by the airline Packages and other travel arrangements provided by the airline, e.g. hire car, accommodation and sightseeing packages. Using the ideas behind minimum spanning trees as a branch of mathematics and computing science, a system may be developed to give the different travel needs a rating based on a perceived satisfaction ra te of how well that service is performed to the satisfaction of the travel custome r as perceived by system analysts, which would be updated periodically . To demonstrate this in tabular form, a traveller wants to travel to PNG from Singa pore and uses the following travel criteria to choose a carrier. Table 1: Query table and weighted responses Query Airline Air Niugini PX Qantas QF Non-stop flight 5 0 Duty free 4 5 Journey time 5 1 Onboard entertainment 3 5 Onboard meals 4 4 Total rating (weight): 21 15 From Singapore (SIN) to Port Moresby (POM) For the convenience of the potential traveller the system would return the total rating (weight) based on the five queries entered b y the traveller. In this case Air Niugini has a total weight of 21 compared to Qa ntas with a total weight of 15, which shows that Air Niugini is the recommended carrier based on the five queries that have been entered into the system. The system can be designed in a way that the potential traveller can also see at th e click of a button the individual weight components as shown above or in a graph form if the traveller is more concerned about a particular quer y. This would save time and resources for the potential traveller, and give the power and confidence in travel decision making back to the client. This wou ld not diminish the role of travel agents, and potential travellers can always visit one if they are seeking personal assurances, but the system would tremendou sly increase travel convenience. The same system can be applied to destinations in r elation to destination management and even comparing various means of trav el such as road, train, air and sea transportation. This can also be applie d to the different sectors of the tourism industry at the domestic and internatio nal levels. Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 14, May 2011 31 A synergistic and customized approach The proposed system is ideal as it integrates a lev el of synergy and customization based on the travel needs of the pote ntial traveller. Based on the query input by the potential traveller, the system will output the highest total weight thereby increasing the likelihood of custome r satisfaction and increasing the synergy between the different query components. The proposed system will also provide for a customized result ou tlaying the weight to individual query components so that potential trave llers have more control over their travel decision making. A strategic approach Potential travellers are not only looking for trave l means but are also interested in other services and products provided along the j ourney and what awaits them in the destination. Therefore a strategic appr oach is to look at the whole thing as an ‘experience’. The concern in this case is to provide the potential traveller with the best options for his or her trav el needs so that the total experience is a satisfactory and memorable one that will sustain future business. This is also good for businesses as those doing wel l above average to meet customer needs will retain satisfied and loyal cust omers who will continue to give good business. This will influence the weight allocation and can further generate new business for the travel trade like the airlines and destinations. It will also create competition amongst the different travel companies and destinations to improve their services and product offerings so that customers are better satisfied. Destination management organizations Buhalis (2003) indicates that destinations that pro vide timely, appropriate and accurate information to consumers and the travel tr ade are most likely to succeed compared to those destinations that are ill -prepared. Destination management organizations need to promote their acco mmodation, transportation, tourist attractions, natural enviro nment, events, culture, etc. to bring in tourists. The use of the Internet is fast becoming desirable as a means to promote and access useful information for effici ent and effective travel planning and decision making in the tourism industr y. The Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority’s (PNGTPA) 2009 survey results demonstrate that; The use of Internet by international visitors to so urce information on PNG is growing rapidly. More than 37 percent of the visitors responded to have used Internet as their source of informatio n. This result continues the upward trend of Internet use from yea r 2003 and the highest use observed to date, which confirms the im portance of the Internet as a source of information. Therefore, wel l detailed and easily 32 Imbal, J. & Fitina, L. The Convenient Traveller: Using Technology to Enhan ce Tourism in Papua New Guinea accessible websites should be developed by those in volve[d] in the tourism business and linked to the TPA website for effective distribution of the information to consumers. Improvements to destination management organization s’ websites associated with special functionality for accommodation websit es include language options, integration of hotel and attraction videos , online credit card payments and booking options, and sending non-binding inform ation online. What the destination management organizations are less conce rned about is comparing and ranking those facilities and services by accord ing them some kind of weight based on a perception of satisfaction levels , which will benefit potential tourists and other travellers. If destination manag ement organizations and the individual product-based websites (e.g. hotels, att ractions) provide similar types of information then that makes it quite diffi cult for new-comers to make their individual choices. ‘For most tourists using the Internet for travel preparation, the overload of offers is perceived mo re like a burden than an assistance’ (Egger and Wörndl, 2008:60). What most travellers do not have is time, and for most travellers who make their travel bookings at the last minute, having access to a system that makes those comparis ons and provides the best option for decision making is welcomed. E-mediaries and destination management organization s systems The term e-mediaries is used to refer to electronic intermediaries that promote and market travel and destination products and serv ices for airlines, accommodations and destinations such as expedia.com , opodo.com, lastminutetravel.com, booking.com, venere.com, hrs. com, pngtourism.org.pg, south-pacific.travel, and fijime.com, which mainly offer last minute deals, cheap offers, recommended choices and destination/p roduct information. Although some of them try to combine several produc ts, such as a flight, hotel and hire car and grade accommodation services, none of them try to compare different facilities and rank them as proposed here , according to the different products and services that are offered to clients. What is being experienced now is the bulk of similar information being fed to potential travellers and products/services already recommended to potential travellers without the potential travellers making those choices themselve s based on some of their own travel decision criteria. Destination management organizations’ systems produ cts such as Deskline, Eurosoft and darWIN by Feratel Media Technologies p rovide advantages to management organizations and destination businesses to market and manage development of their products and services. This fa cilitates business efficiency and effectiveness for a maximum return on unit inve stment. There are advantages for potential travellers such as improve ment in the performance and functionality of websites however the personal conf idence in travel decision making based on individual decision criteria is lim ited, hence it could be said that the potential traveller has less decision maki ng power. Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 14, May 2011 33 Business model A proposed business model is to develop a web porta l supported by a data centre that will collate all query components from various categories of products and suppliers and that will be compared an d ranked by according weights (a number) based on a perceived customer sa tisfaction level by system analysts. When the queries are entered, the system will provide the response with the highest aggregate weight. The system can a lso outlay the weight to the different query components for the system user to s ee and make their decisions. Below is a model to demonstrate this. Figure 1: Application of business model to determin e the most convenient travel decision. The Convenient Traveller is the system that is back ed by the data centre which contains queries from the different categories of p otential traveller needs. As shown here, these include airlines, car rentals, ac commodations, shopping, souvenir shops, museums and destinations. All queri es will be given a weight, a number say, between 1 and 5; 1 representing a wea k satisfaction level and 5 representing a strong satisfaction level. The weigh t is given on a query based on the perceived satisfaction levels of all rivals that are entered into the data centre. Let us say a user is interested in souvenir shops in a certain destination and enters a number of queries according to the use r’s preferences like location (closer to the airport), categories (sells printed T-shirts, stationery and portable artefacts), sizes (medium, large and small items), prices (low to medium range and affordable), etc. The system will respond with a museum that is the most 34 Imbal, J. & Fitina, L. The Convenient Traveller: Using Technology to Enhan ce Tourism in Papua New Guinea convenient for the user with the highest aggregate weight for all the queries entered. The user can also enter queries combining several categories such as queries on souvenir shops and museums, or souvenir shops, museums and shopping, etc. in a destination. Dealing with one c ategory or several categories in one destination will be manageable. Dealing with several categories in several destinations will require more input and mo re effort in modifying the system and managing it over time. System challenges There are several concerns related to this proposed system. The system will require information input in terms of queries enter ed into the data centre for all participating travel related products and services concerning a destination. It means that information has to be collected and supp lied. A weight will be given to each query by an independent opinion of sy stem analysts on a perceived delivery of customers’ satisfaction level by participating rivals, or through an independent review team which might take into consideration independent consumer reports and online customer re views of facilities and service providers. The proposed system could also i ncorporate its own online ranking platform whereby experienced customers can rank facilities and services which will then be assessed and incorporat ed by system analysts. The system will need to be updated periodically wit h changes in the travel trade, which will again require compilation and sup ply of the needed data for the data centre and reviewing of the weight. The ch allenge is how to gather that information and to define the queries so that it ap plies across the board for a similar product or service. The other challenge is in maintaining and updating the system and getting the needed information for t he update. There is also the issue of system credibility that it provides an hon est, reliable and unbiased ranking for its user. The system becomes more complex if it incorporates several categories of travel related products and services in several des tinations. It will create challenges for system design and maintenance. Possible implementation of this system A simple system design can incorporate tourism prod ucts and services by working with the idea of travel packages. This can be implemented, for instance, at airports on touch-screen monitors or o n computer workstations. A criterion that can be used is cost. A potential tra veller will compare the cost of one package against other rivals in competing desti nations offering the same package. This idea can be demonstrated in tabular f orm, as indicated in Table 2. It highlights a simple travel package decision b y a potential tourist at Port Moresby’s Jackson’s International Airport, who ente rs five queries into the system, comprising airline travel to the destinatio n (location), hire car for sightseeing, lodge type accommodation, doing diving and watching a traditional village singing, based on unit cost per day. Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 14, May 2011 35 Table 2: Query table and independent ranking Query Location Madang (PGK) Kimbe (PGK) Alotau (PGK) Airline 500 614 549 Car 400 600 500 Lodge 300 400 270 Dive 360 380 320 Village singing 300 500 250 Independent ranking: 1 3 2 Simple travel package components comparing three de stinations on cost The system will match the search and return the low est cost based on registration from the different locations, in this case, towns, and provide independent ranking based on design by system analy sts. The example in table 2 shows Madang has the ranking 1, as the recommende d destination based on the lowest total package cost. This is only a hypot hetical situation. If such a travel package already existed in different locatio ns by various suppliers then the system would reveal the outcome of the package cost from different locations/suppliers. Such a system would enable pot ential travellers to change decision criteria, check on individual products and services and create their own travel package rather than buying from an exist ing one. Other possibilities can also be incorporated into the system to provide more convenience for the traveller. This system cannot answer all travel queries and pr ovide perfect solutions to travel queries. A traveller might need to use his o r her own judgment and other methods based on personal need. To explain this we refer to ideas presented under table 1 for instance, a transiting passenger who has to decide on a non- stop flight from Singapore to Port Moresby which de parts at 23:25pm in the night and has to wait six hours to catch this fligh t, as compared to another flight that departs in one hour to Port Moresby via Australia. Another case with the ideas presented under table 2 is when comparing accommodation types in a certain destination that the system will provide th e lowest cost but that is no guarantee for satisfaction or value for money, but the intention here is for the system to make it more convenient for the traveller to ease the burden of travel decision making. This system can be implemented at locations in tour ist information centers or visitor bureaus, other ports, airline offices and t ravel agencies in each of the provinces. This will make it convenient for the tra vellers and will enhance the reputation of a destination’s image as being consci ous of the needs of travellers and dealing with the issue in a creative way using ICT. 36 Imbal, J. & Fitina, L. The Convenient Traveller: Using Technology to Enhan ce Tourism in Papua New Guinea Conclusion We have tried to show how technology can be used to enhance tourism in Papua New Guinea. Technological changes have create d new opportunities and challenges which can be turned into further opportu nities for tourism. The 21 st century visitor is more sophisticated and demanding , and wants to enjoy more pleasure and less stress. We have suggested a solut ion whereby a system can be designed to incorporate different tourism product a nd service offerings by different destinations and suppliers which would be available in electronic system for selection by potential travellers based on different travel buying decision criteria. The potential travellers using t he system would be assisted in their travel decision making from independent ratin g and ranking of these products and services as designed by system analyst s. We have explained from both a synergistic and custo mized approach and a strategic approach to dealing with this topic. We h ave discussed destination management organizations, e-mediaries and DMO Syste ms, the types of similar systems that are in use and their workings, and we have shown how this could be done through a business model. In addition , we have highlighted some of the system challenges and possible ways of imple menting such a system. We end it here, but certainly this is not a conclusion to this discussion, as it can be expected, there will be other papers on this or rel ated issues may be forthcoming. References Buhalis, D. (2003). eTourism: Information Technology for Strategic Tour ism Management . Essex, England: Prentice Hall Pearson Education. Egger, R. & Wörndl, L. (2008). Hotel Sallerhof: inn ovations in interaction. In R. Egger & D. Buhalis. (2008). e-Tourism Case Studies. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. Fitina, L., Goodyear, E., Imbal, J., Murki, N. & Ui ari, V. (2010). An application of minimum spanning trees to travel pla nning, Contemporary PNG Studies DWU Research Journal, Vol 12, May 2010, pp. 1–11. PNGTPA 2009 Survey Results, sent via email by Noah Mikmik. Port Moresby: PNGTPA Statistics Division. Schröcksnadel, M. (2008). Feratel Media Technologie s: providing DMS technology. In Egger, R. & Buhalis, D. (2008), e-Tourism Case Studies . Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann. Authors Mr John Imbal is the Head of the Department of Tour ism and Hospitality Management at the Divine Word University. He has sp ent the last seven years in Madang working with DWU and also with the local tourism industry operators. He has been involved TPA/AusAID & WWF sp onsored projects including customer service and frontline management , Madang and Sepik Nature and Community Tourism Inventory and Pamphlet . Tugutugu Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 14, May 2011 37 Guesthouse has been one of his projects while condu cting tourism awareness on the island in 2007. Associate Professor Lakoa Fitina is a computer scie ntist and mathematician. He is also the Head of the Department of Mathematics a nd Computing Science at Divine Word University. He has a special interest i n applying mathematics and computer technology to solve problems in the touris m sector. His research interests are in computer security, computer mathem atics and software development. Copyright of Contemporary PNG Studies is the property of Divine Word University and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. 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