Endless tourism and how it can boost recovery

Innovation often comes out of the toughest times and helps companies recover from a negative situation.

During the pandemic, new ways of traveling have emerged. One of the most relevant is “endless tourism”. According to Observatory of digital innovation in tourism of the Politecnico di Milano, this concept identifies the extension of the experience of travel in time and space, made possible by digital solutions. It allows tourism companies to organize products and processes designed to provide an experience that is not limited to the time of the visit to the destination but is, in fact, endless.

What are the main characteristics of the concept of endless tourism? And how to use it to innovate the value propositions of travel stakeholders?

Customers: a new way of experiencing travel

The starting point for understanding the opportunities of endless tourism is to pay attention to the needs and behaviors of the customer, which have been accelerated by the pandemic.

People have always expressed the need for a continuous tourist experience, as evidenced by the use of magazines and documentaries to reach new places or by the purchase of typical products (regional foods, local crafts, fashion items, souvenirs ) as a means of maintaining their relationship with the destination also at a distance, before or after the trip.

Digital innovation has helped to increase the possibilities of expanding the experience. Data from the Observatory of Digital Innovation in Tourism shows that the number of tourists buying typical products of the destinations visited via e-commerce has been steadily increasing since 2016 (+ 30% in 2019 compared to 2018), showing the growing potential of this market.

With the pandemic, other trends have strengthened. The time spent on the Internet enjoying digital content has increased dramatically. In Italy, according to the Politecnico di Milano Digital Content Observatory, during the first lockdown, 40% of Italian internet users spent more time on podcasts, video games, music and news. The same has happened with digital services like banking, online shopping, food delivery, and payments.

It also influenced the tourist experience. The Internet has strengthened its role not only as a source of inspiration but also as a direct channel of the tourist experience, a means of carrying out, virtually, activities with a strong physical connotation such as museum visits, cycling, regattas, etc.

During the pandemic,
booking engine searches related to words such as “virtual museums” and “online museums” have increased sharply. This has led to the emergence of a market for tourism and cultural digital experiences and content that complements the traditional physical experience. Digital experiences can be a stand-alone product, but they are also used as a driver of attraction and inspiration for the following vacation in the pre-visit phase or as a way to continue the relationship with the tourist after the vacation.

A second trend reinforced by the pandemic is the use of smart and remote working, which in many cases has become “vacation work”. In 2020, for example, 26% of Italians have booked a home to work from a vacation destination, and in 2021, this trend continues to have a significant impact. This phenomenon helps to expand the opportunities for travel experiences beyond the traditional vacation time.

The tourism supply chain: examples of endless services and benefits for stakeholders

By analyzing the supply-to-demand response of an endless experience, it is possible to identify interesting attempts across the tourism industry. Some destinations, such as Discover Puerto Rico, during the pandemic offered virtual meetings to share local traditions dedicated to teleworkers. The trend has also been picked up by Italian accommodation establishments: in 2020 42% of accommodation structures offered their customers the possibility of buying local products (online or in the establishment) and 39% of clients hosted by teleworking.

According to the conclusions of the Observatory of digital innovation in heritage and culture, 80% of Italian museums, monuments and archaeological sites in 2020 offered online content (such as educational laboratories, guided tours, workshops, etc.) in order to build loyalty and keep the relationship with visitors alive.

Startups are particularly proactive on endless tourism. Two examples are Divinea and Ventuno, which respectively offer “Smart Tastings” (ie online tasting experiences in wine estates), or “Experience Boxes” (a package containing local products enriched with virtual content on a destination. specific).

Valuation in the perspective of an endless experience does not only happen through e-commerce and digital content. For example, a tour operator and an Italian airport recently launched a service that allows customers to book discounted duty-free items online before departure, pick up the order just before boarding, or use the “click & collect ”, but also to book online a personal shopper who advises and makes pre-orders in airport shops. This allows an extension of the tourist experience to also take advantage of the time of physical movement, which is often seen as a burden. It is also a way to encourage additional spending and differentiate revenue streams for travel agencies.

Therefore, a well-designed endless offer allows for different benefits: generating additional revenue streams, being able to reduce costs (e.g. in marketing) and building a long-term relationship of trust and trust. experience with the customer.

In addition, endless tourism can have a positive impact on sustainability. Working during the holidays, for example, helps reduce seasonality issues for some destinations and can help the resurgence of minor places off the beaten track. The promotion of less accessible and minor tourist areas and their products (food, crafts, etc.) is an element of extending the offer and generates positive impacts on the entire economy of the destination.

Endless innovation is therefore a way to offer a vital force to the entire supply chain and the travel ecosystem for a new tourism experience.

About the Author…

From the Observatory of Digital Innovation in Tourism of Politecnico di Milano, the co-authors are Eleonora Lorenzini, Filippo Renga, Federica Russo and Francesca Cruciani.

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