Observing the potential of tourism, Prof. Luc Beal, Assistant Professor, Excelia Group of Universities, France, shared his insights on the essential check-boxes for a flourishing tourism in a country.
You completed your PhD in Information System Management from Telecom Ecole de Management. How you thought about entering tourism and travel?
I majored in engineering and my PhD was in information systems, but I also have a master’s in economics. And for these two reasons, i.e. economics and IT, I find the field of tourism and travel relevant and interesting. As you well know, information systems and digital technologies are really pervasive in the travel industry.
Destination-based Revenue Management has been one of your researches. What is it? Any example you ever found in the same?
It was coined and developed by the airline industry and later on, used extensively by the hotel industry. Basically, revenue management or yield management is also a focus in the information technologies. Again, the idea is that someone like a hotel operator or an airline operator or any other factor in this sector, can change the price of the same service depending on the expected level of demand.
One example is, for a flight from Delhi to Paris, it is almost certain that the person is sitting next to you didn’t pay the same price as you did, although the service is exactly the same. The reasons could be different that you booked your ticket through any other booking channel or at a different time and day, and many other parameters. So this is revenue management.
We coined the concept of destination-based revenue management with an IT entrepreneur. The tourism industry is made up of very small actors, but because they are very small, they have not very high awareness or command of IT. The idea is to aggregate, to put together information or data you wish about customer bookings, customers booked for that destination or intending to visit, compiling a very large amount of data about their booking behavior. Does that person book for themselves only one person, or do they come as a family?
On what date, do they make their reservation or which arrival date? So, it is meant to deliver a better informed decision about what price to set for a room for a given day in the future. The intention of this project is to give to small hotels an alternative to the platform such as booking. com or Airbnb.
What are the challenges that students in tourism management are facing?
I think what is really critical for them is to develop an appreciation of the importance of data. This is number one, and, not only the importance of data, but also for them to understand how messy data could be, if not managed in an organized manner. Otherwise, students are used to having data already on an Excel spreadsheet. They just think they are supposed to do some calculation with a formula on another column to process the raw data and then produce a ratio, while there is a big scenario in it. I would call it a ‘Disneyland version of data.’
In reality, if you talk to a hotel manager who’s trying to determine their strategy and look at the competitor’s behavior at the same time, they have to take into account data that come from different sources. And most of the data they’re supposed to use, to make a strategy, are not ready-to-use data on an Excel spreadsheet. Some comes from customer feedback on a trip advisor, or booking platform, e.g. customer comments.
This is very critical for one to understand if there’s any problem in your service offering. So you need to have a feed on that customer’s feedback, so to speak. But you also need to build up some kind of intelligence, but a kind of business intelligence about your competitor’s strategic behavior in terms of pricing. So understanding ‘business intelligence of demand’ is very important, not only the booking dates but also the preferences.
What are the necessities that the tourism industry can’t do, but they are indispensable for a flourishing travel environment in a country? E.g. building good roads is the responsibility of governments, which is very essential for tourism & hospitality.
That’s a very interesting, but also a very difficult question because if I compare an Indian perspective with a European perspective, the answer would be radically different. Although I don’t know India that well, I would assume that the rising middle class is very strongly aspiring to travel domestically and overseas. So there’s a strong demand for a large choice of flights towards whatever destination. As a result, there is an implicit demand for efficient airports and ground transportation to reach the airports, and then hotels and places, and all the security for traffic control, security majors, et cetera.
So in fact, if I would assume that from an Indian perspective, the priority should be infrastructure. India does have a good infrastructure, but possibly there’s more need for such a large population. If we compare it with the level of demand from a European perspective, that’s coming up for traveling, if I may, from a French perspective, the infrastructures are, I would say, they surely are here. They’re already here. Though, the capacity of Paris airport can be extended, but it is good enough for now.
I’m not saying that the airport, the level of service at Charles de Gaulle, Paris airport is perfect. I mean, from my personal experience, the first time I landed in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, with that brand new airport of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and I had taken off, my flight started at Charles de Gaulle Terminal One, and we landed in KLIA, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which is brand new. While Charles de Gaulle terminal one was built in the late seventies.
So, that teaches you a lesson that shows you that the advanced infrastructures are not always in the most, in the countries that developed the earliest. On the contrary, I would say, because in economics, as you may know, there’s an expression or a concept, we call it leapfrog. It means you’re very likely to choose the best technology, best design, and best architecture for your airport if you’re building your airports after an European country has built one, just for example.
As a result, your airport will be much better, design much better than the one from an old continent like Europe. I think from an Indian perspective, priorities are different from France and many countries in Europe. This is more like what the public policy makers need to address.
What are the challenges in this industry that students should be aware of?
Bottom line, whatever the country, you would think that if you’re in the tourism industry, please do know what’s the priority is to create customer satisfaction or customer enchantment. Maybe too Eurocentric what I’m going to say, but students need to appreciate customer satisfaction. Once the priority is customer satisfaction, what are the ways that we can think as tourism professionals so that there is high level of satisfaction without too many negative impacts on the local communities, on the environment of the tourism activity.
That’s probably the largest headache for young people starting a career in the tourism industry. Maybe it’s not that obvious from an Indian perspective, but like I remember that student, that Indian student from Kerala and was doing his bachelor’s with us, he took pride in showing his state to visitors Ayurvedic plantations in the state. He was aiming for maximum customer satisfaction, but he was trying to build journeys, build travel services for visitors to really experience the real life.
I think whatever the nationalities, students need to reconcile customer satisfaction and minimize negative effect on the planet as mitigating the negative effects on earth, environment and climate is one of the visible challenges of this sector.