Tourism is my passion. I am working in the tourism industry in France, both as a trainer in web related issues and as a professional provider. I train people working in small and medium-sized hosting services and employees of Destination Marketing Organizations, that I will call DMO’s. My other implication in tourism is the practice as a foreign, because Dutch, tourist provider in France, which enabled me to observe the changes since 1992 on. I also love tourism because almost everybody is taking part in it. I love tourism because it triggers questions about how we live and work together. And about how we shape society.
With this research project, I try to find out how French tourist organizations are coping with technologies and the behavioral changes: they moved from tourism to « e-tourism », but how come they do not really move to « tourism 2.0 »? What are the differences, an, more fundamentally, what is the legitimacy of these organizations, when they are facing the question of the desintermediated practices of their publics in their two-sided markets? Will they still have a role to play, would they invent new actions in order to continue to exist or are they capable of reinventing themselves, including the perspective of disappearance?
To get some of the answers, I am interested in different aspects of the Sharing Economy, and more particularly in Greeters and Ambassadors on the one hand and in Airbnb on the other hand. Greeters and Ambassadors could tell us how territories think about hospitality and what they would call ‘accueil ’ (the practices of reception) in French. Airbnb is definitely defying the strong and existing intermediation organizations like Gîtes de France, that evolved within a specific French culture of « social tourism », as well as players with strong lobbies (hotels). All three parctices are defying the existing model, but only the latter is provoking violent reactions. And the stronger the reaction, the more intriguing I find it .
From 2000 on, DMOs slowly started developing their web strategies, passing from Tourism to e-Tourism, the economic model of selling destinations, tourist services and products as commodities.
A second generation of modern, fullscreen, « designed » websites and applications have appeared, focusing on « experiences », « discoveries », « hosting and eating out » or « festivals ». Thus the tourist user seems to be shaped after Akrich’s projected user, considered as a consumer of technology with no role in shaping either the technology or their role as users.
Thus the semi-public Tourist Organizations have moved from a completely paper-based and telephone mediated organization to the collector of « approved » information: their legitimacy is partly located in the fact that their information is « official ».
With the arrival of the social web, two major problems arose: the first was a combination of « who is speaking? » and « How do we control the uncontrollable conversation? » and the second being «How do we manage the empowered reactions of the employees and their influence on management?» or, from the employees’ viewpoint: « How do I separate my private and professional profiles? ». These questions are reflecting French sociologist Jean Viard’s statement that today social connections are less constructed during working time, but foremost influenced by norms and values experienced in leisure time.
Refusal, reluctance or impossibility to adapt to the digital era are unaddressed issues and seen as inappropriate attitudes, since Internet technologies are considered to reflect progress. Little or no qualitative research has been done on how professionals are expressing themselves online or how they can develop individual « authentic » expressions of values and preferences, while ensuring the top-down narratives prescribed by their hierarchy’s political agenda.
The practices of a large number of employees of tourist organizations are surprising, considering that the quest for « discoveries », « authenticity » and « encounters » are put forward as central values. Facebook is an excellent platform to monitor what is going on. Many employee, actively or not involved in communication via Facebook on behalf of their organizations, have created a second profile, that they call « my name PRO ». This is separate the personal from the professional sphere, for fear of what the policitians may have to say and of fear from being stalked by their providers. It leads to awkward situations, and is contradictory to the values put forward by their organizations. Also, it creates asymetric information flows on a reciprocal networking platform, that may be questioned from an ethical point of view.
DMOs focus on technology driven innovation, within the framework of tourism as a commodity (e-tourism) and rarely on how these changes could create cooperative models and influence the relationship between employees and tourists, tourists and destinations (Tourism 2.0), or even employees and their organizations (Enterprise 2.0).
The complication is what Urry cals the “tourist gaze” upon tourist professionals: how to negotiate new forms of sociality in a business that promotes leisure consumption, when (or where) the private and the professional meet. And this has to be modeled in a typical French hierarchical structure. For both employees and tourists, the « technology only » reception was not always a success, as you can feel from this picture that I took in Bilbao (ok, not in France, but I thought it was the absolute topper in technology only aproach!)
Thus, as from 2013 on, Offices started to combine human and technology based principles to find a better way to receive the tourists in their offices and to regain legitimacy for their existance.
The human-centered approach becomes visible in the architecture of the “L’office du futur”, the future Tourist office as a «multi-interaction space ». Front office workers are now trained to assist the tourist in their discovery of the destination while at the office, instead of leaving them alone with the technology. But in these processes, the individual expression and the competencies needed to do this effectively online, are seldom addressed. And thus, the changes in behavior of the employees on their organization is equally seldom addressed. Only the « tourist experience » seems to be the central point for change and innovation.
And then… the Greeters arrived. Greeters are volunteers who welcome tourists in their own city and show them around for free as they would do with friends or family. It is a form of social tourism: the residents participate in the activities of the tourists and the tourists get to see the local life of the place visited. Founded in 1992 by Lynn Brooks in New York, France counts the most important network of Greeters in the world and over 2/3’s of France’s Greeters Networks are organized by the Tourist Offices, which is rather particular, because the same Tourist Offices are equally the organizers of the paid guided tours. It is part of what the French call ‘Marketing Territorial », Marketing of the territories (not always the same as Destination marketing).
I want to find out why the Tourist Offices have made this move, and whether or how the narratives of the Greeters and the TO change through this partnership. I am currently interviewing Greeters and people in charge of Greeters Networks - on this screenshot, you meet Karine Tosch, a Greeter from Mulhouse whom I interviewed about her practices. The first findings give some interesting viewpoints on Hospitality on the one hand and on the way Greeters should be recruited on the other hand.
On hospitality, to speak with Derrida, there seems to be an outspoken idea about the fact that people who are paid to deliver services can not be genuinly generous in their encounters with others. This has been noted in several interviews, but has to be confirmed. Still, I found it an interesting viewpoint. My husband and I participated in a organized Ambassador week-end as non-paid volunteers and the question is whether the result is perceived as more authentific, both by us as by the viewer. The other interesting finding is the fact that the responsibles of networks organize the recruitment as if it was for a company – which seems a contradiction with some of their basic principles. This is also in contradiction with one of the forms of ambassadors. Ambassadors are equally citizens that are contributing to the promotion of their territory, mainly through their online activities. Contrary to Greeters, who can choose to organize themselves outside the realm of the Tourist Organizations, Ambassadors in France are always a tourist organization centered approach. Together with the Departmental Agency for Tourism in the Deux-Sèvres, for which I am an ambassador also, I will start a research project to find out how ambassadors are behaving and what the effects of their activities are. At first sight, some conclusions can be made. First of all, a territory or destination has more ambassadors than Greeters. With Ambassadors virality is thus centered around the ambassador in his or hers ego-centered network. Greeters, in their « function » of a Greeter, are meeting with more people from abroad the local network, thus creating virality in external networks. With Greeters, the question of « authenticity » and « hospitality » are central, while Ambassadors are less preoccupied with these issues. Recruitment practices of Greeters aim to construct a qualitative network, whereas mos organizations in France who want to work with Ambassadors are open networks, which all citizens are proposed to join.
I want to explain some notions about Airbnb. Airbnb is an international platform to propose a room or a house/appartment for travelers to stay in. Airbnb could be considered as the paid version of CouchSurfing, a platform for non-paid hosters and travelers. Officially, Airbnb proposes private people to meet private people, or at least to stay in their homes. As with the historic precedent, the rental of spare rooms in the 1920’s and on, the simplicity of the concept as well as the reduced ambitions make it possible to be extremely adaptive to welcome the guests as they expect, which makes Airbnb and alike concepts strong players.
The hotel lobby is complaining strongly about what they consider an unfair competition. A 2014 study in Austin, TX, from the Berkely Management School states that Airbnb is most problematic to the cheaper and middle-class hotels, but for me, hotels should compare Airbnb with self catering holiday homes and B&B’s, and treat all of them alike. Airbnb is not a category, but a marketing platform, proposing multi channel promotion to professional and non-professional tenants with a strong narrative that is only attractive to a specific part of the population. Not all hosters can become successfull Airbnb hosters and not all travelers will become addicted to Airbnb.
From a design point of vieuw, a strong narrative around the notions of « community », « home », « travelling everywhere » and « sharing experiences » is accompanied by human centered images and underpinned by the notion of customer reviews, written in a personal style. Debating groups are created around every single subject you can imagine and some people actively participate in them, discussing technical subjects and reinforcing community values.
A common factor is that regulatory frameworks are marginalized in all configurations.
In the network society, the paid networks « constitute the new social morphology for a capitalist economy based on innovation, globalization and decentralization » (Govers & Go - 2009).
The conclusion is that tourism organized by the semi-public tourism organizations moved basically to « e-Tourism », which I consider an economic model (selling through « e » of « electronic ») – the era of the website as a showcase + a little bit of an idea of conversation online – and not so mucht to « tourism 2.0 ».
The desintermediated platforms and, to a lesser extend and in different ways, Greeters and Ambassadors actively promote another vision of tourism, which I call « Tourism 2.0 » and that encompasses cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders to propose, structure and consume tourism commodities and experiences as an ongoing multi-directional process. Interestingly enough, French history of tourism would plead for less « e » and more « 2.0 », but strong hierarchical structures seem to prevent this from occurring.
I would plead to use design processes to find solutions for all the complex stakes of all the actors, including the employees, in order to find innovative solutions that transcend the object based evolutions we have noticed.
French tourism should strongly question how to move to « Enterprise 2.0 » models, before or parallel to moving to a « Tourism 2.0 » model. It seems impossible to continue to use the vertical, highly controlled and auto-censured models of the past when moving in this direction. I observe an immense accent on object oriented approaches, and too little human centered reflexions. And lots of people that feel lost in between. Design Thinking might be helpful to find new configurations that may nurture sustainable developments in the French tourism industry
Tourism should learn also from what is happening in the museum world, where Design Thinking has become more or less a normal practice and where new approaches are currently tested. This includes a thorough questioning of the mere reasons for existance of musea in the technology driven world. Central values, missions and objectives should be redefined, not only at the top, as is too often the case, but with all stakeholders, in order to find out where the added value of the semi-public organizations is to be found.
Social cohesion and self-realization should be at the core of the Design processes of semi-public Tourist organizations.
From Tourism to "Tourism 2.0" in the French hospitality industry
What role for ICT and technology in general for
the design of information and cognitive processes.
Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, October 22-24, 2014
Beer Bergman / EUTIC 2014 / From Tourism to Tourism 2.0 / Lisbon, October 2014 1
Beer Bergman / EUTIC 2014 / From Tourism to Tourism 2.0 / Lisbon, October 2014 2
Is the move from object oriented innovation
to human centered organizations the key to
the development of the more sustainable
« Tourism 2.0 » approach?
What can be the role of Design Thinking
in this process?
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Beer Bergman / EUTIC 2014 / From Tourism to Tourism 2.0 / Lisbon, October 2014 4
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Greeters in France / 2013 :
1150 greeters - 11 000 visitors - 4500 walks or « greets »
Beer Bergman / EUTIC 2014 / From Tourism to Tourism 2.0 / Lisbon, October 2014 9
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Category or platform?
In competition with whom?
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In contrast with the peer to peer advertising sites, Airbnb, through
a narrative of authentic encounters and connections, is « fulfilling
technology’s promise of social cohesion and self-realization »
(Germann Molz, 2012)
Here the « third rationality » comes in action : « In this perspective
trust based rationalism, trust, social capital, and collaborative
relationships are introduced as the key concepts. »
(Kunmar, Van Dissel, Bielli - 1998)
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Internet technology has already profoundly modified the French tourism
landscape and tourism actors tend to think about tourism in terms of
commodities, regulation and coercion while talking about quality.
« digital hospitality » supposes new ways of interacting, dealing with
confidence and trust, sharing and identity.
Authorities struggle with these new co-constructed realities that have
emerged in the private sector, and blame them for eluding existant
regulations. But Airbnb, Greeters and Ambassadors seem to provide
technology-mediated authentic experiences the contemporary tourist is
searching for. The term « authentic » needs clarification, and we are
opting for Wang’s theory of objective authenticity, constructive or
symbolic and existential authenticity: authenticity may be searched for
in objects, relations or experiences.
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French DMOs and quality labels are both struggling to ensure their
survival and surplus value within this context, and are doing so by
cooperation models (Greeters), expansive models (Ambassadors) and
resistance (AirBnb and similar platforms).
Design Thinking might be an effective way to redefine how to evolve
towards more flexible organizations (Enterprise 2.0), that embrace co-construction
with the new tourist through the concept of « Tourism 2.0
». The latter encompasses « e-Tourism », but is profoundly different in
its approach by the acceptance of the « plural » traveller as a relevant
actor and not as a client or annoying spin-off in digital and physical
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As a result of France’s history in social tourism, its industry suffers from a
deeply rooted suspicion towards capitalist models linked to economically
liberal or even libertarian bodies of thought, but all stakeholders will
have to rethink their positions and to reconfigure the sociality that is
embedded in technology-driven tourism practices.
Rather than defining first what tools should be developed, design
thinking might be an excellent approach to reconnecting « traditional »
and new shared tourist values with the challenges they face in the era of
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Beer Bergman / EUTIC 2014 / From Tourism to Tourism 2.0
Lisbon, October 2014
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