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What is e-tourism and how is it changing travel?

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We live in a digital world nowadays, or an ‘e’ world as some may like to put in. We have concepts such as ‘e-business’, ‘e-commerce’, ‘e-marketing’ and ‘e-service’, so it seems it was only time before the idea of ‘e-tourism’ emerged. But what exactly is e-tourism, how does it work and why is it important? Read on to find out…

What is e-tourism?

What is e-tourism

E-tourism is all about the introduction of digitalisation into the tourism industry. This manifests itself in many different ways. We see e-tourism before, during and after a holiday or trip itself – and actually there is a lot of e-tourism that goes on behind the scenes, so we don’t actually ‘see’ it at all!

Dimitrious Buhalis is known as an expert in the field of e-tourism and he defines it as the digitization of all processes and value chains in the tourism, travel, hospitality and catering sectors that allow organizations to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness.

This digitalization, over the years, has changed the way that the tourism industry works and in turn has altered the structure of the tourism industry, often for the better- making it more efficient and productive. And this is not unique to the tourism industry by any means, our whole world has been becoming increasingly digitalised for many years now. In fact, we have become so reliant on the digital aspects of our lives that the functioning of the contemporary tourism system and its future seem unthinkable without the technological innovation that we have today!

What is e-tourism
e-tourism is ingrained into the modern day tourism system.

Examples of e-tourism

E-tourism is ingrained throughout the tourism system, from the booking process right through to the tourist experience and everywhere in between. It would be impossible to discuss every way that technology is used in the tourism industry (ok, well perhaps not impossible, but I would be here a very long time!). Below I have outlined some of the most common ways that that e-tourism occurs.

Research and development

E-tourism is used to a large extent during the research and development stages of a tourism product or service. There are a wealth of digital resources at the disposal of tourism industry stakeholders, which enables them to collect large amounts of data and research their (potential) customers. In turn, this helps organisations in the travel and tourism industry to better understand their customers and therefore to better satisfy their needs and desires.

Likewise, recent years have seen many options for the tourists themselves to research their travel choices to a greater extent than they have previously been able to. Reading blogs, looking at travel pictures on Instagram, scouring Pinterest… when it comes to heading off on a city break or relaxing beach vacay, tourists often turn to the internet as a source of location inspiration- this is also evidence of e-tourism.

What is e-tourism

Reservation and bookings

Central reservation systems have come a long way in the past couple of decades. First introduced in the 1960s by airlines, central reservation systems were quickly adopted by hotels and other businesses operating in the travel and tourism industry. Most recently these have been further developed to allow the tourist to play a key role in the booking process by linking their reservation systems to popular online booking platforms such as Expedia or Syscanner as well as in-house developed booking systems.

Nowadays, pretty much everything can be booked online. Tourists don’t need to make a trip into town specifically to visit a travel agent, and sit there while they look through brochures and databases to find a trip that ticks every box for them- tourists can do it for themselves! There is far more freedom and independence now, as consumers are part of the process from the start. Bookings and changes can be made at the tap of a button or the click of a link. This not only makes the process simpler and easier for the tourist, but it also helps the business to operate faster and more efficiently, reducing overhead costs and maximising productivity.

Marketing and promotion

Some years ago the likes of travel agencies and tourist boards would focus their marketing efforts on printed advertising such as posters, brochures and flyers… but those days are long gone now. Whilst there will always be a place for physical advertising of this type, travel and tourism organisations now have a wealth of valuable data at their fingertips that they can use to inform their marketing.

As we live more of our lives online (think shopping, researching, connecting with our friends on social media etc), the organisations that want to sell us their products and/or services are more informed to do so than they have ever been before. Adverts can be targeted to specific customers based on location, age and other relevant demographics. It can also be based around the user’s online activity- yes, if you begin to research ecotourism holidays it is likely that you may begin to be shown adverts about eco lodges in the Gambia or ecotourism in Costa Rica! Whilst there are certainly some ethical questions about how much of our data is used by organisations for advertising purposes, there is no disputing that the organisations of today have a big foot up in comparison to their counterparts from a decade or two ago!

In addition to this, we have new platforms where marketing can take place. Social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook allow for both large companies and individuals to promote products, services or places. As I explain in my article about Instatourism, these social media platforms can be powerful tools for the purposes of marketing. And more and more people are working in the field too- many argue that the growth of travel influencers around the world has changed the marketing industry forever!


Technology has also enhanced the travel sector in many ways. More efficient aircraft, trains, cars etc have enabled us to travel further and faster than ever before. They typically create less damage to the environment too, with more environmentally friendly initiatives being researched and implemented such as bio fuels and hybrid models.

Travel is easier for the consumer these days too. No longer do we need to carry around our pocket-sized road maps, or get stressed out when we can’t read directions- all we need nowadays is a 4G connection and a navigation app! There are plenty of other apps that help us travel too, from train apps with timetables to flight comparison sites and more.

The tourist experience

There are many ways that e-tourism has helped to enhance the tourist experience and to make the tourism industry more efficient. From having your room service brought to you by a robot, to checking a menu in a restaurant using a QR code, to downloading an app in a theme park that shows queue times for the rides to having an audio programme give you information on your phone as you walk through a museum. E-tourism is everywhere we look!

What is e-tourism

Is virtual tourism e-tourism?

Virtual tourism is an example of e-tourism in practice. It is essentially a hybrid concept- it combines both the notions of virtual reality and tourism. In essence, virtual tourism facilitates a tourism experience, without actually having to travel anywhere. Virtual tourism takes many different forms and comes in vary degrees of technological capability.

In its simplest form, virtual tourism may comprise of a video of a tourism destination. The ‘tourist’ watches the video, utilising their hearing and sight senses. More sophisticated forms of virtual tourism include being immersed in an environment through use of a headset or simulator. It may involve use of various props, users may be required to wear gloves and there may be additional sensations such as movement (like in a rollercoaster simulator), feeling (for example if the user is sprayed with water) and smell. You can read a detailed article about the virtual tourism industry here.

Is smart tourism e-tourism?

Smart tourism and e-tourism are commonly interlinked, however smart tourism is not always an example of e-tourism. Smart tourism is all about tourism that is designed in a ‘smart’ way- the intention is to promote productivity and make the tourism industry efficient. Oftentimes this does require the use of digitalisation, or technology, hence making it a form of e-tourism, but this isn’t always the case 100% of the time. You can read all about the concept of smart tourism here.

virtual tourism

The benefits of e-tourism

Ultimately, e-tourism is a good thing. The use of technology in the tourism industry has helped to make it more efficient, run more smoothly (with less risk of human error) and making it more productive. This generally means that consumers (or tourists) are more satisfied with their tourism experience and that the organisations involved have increased profit margins and lower overheads.

E-tourism has introduced us to a whole new way of thinking and has helped to expose us to invaluable developments in the travel and tourism industry- it has helped to make parts of the industry more environmentally friendly, it has helped to have more effective marketing and product development and it has helped us to embrace new forms of tourism too, such as smart tourism and virtual tourism.

The disadvantages of e-tourism

However, as is the case with any form of tourism, there are some negative impacts of e-tourism too. The use of technology sometimes takes away the ‘human’ aspect- customer service from a robot will never replace the smiles and conversations that a real person would bring to the situation. And using technology to a large extent may reduce the number of jobs in the tourism industry too, which can have a negative economic impact on the host community. Furthermore, technology can go wrong- a booking system that is down or a website that doesn’t work properly can cause loss of money and business, for example.

How is e-tourism changing travel

Ultimately, e-tourism is all about making the tourism industry more efficient through the use of technology. As I have outlined in this article, there are many ways that this can be done and the benefits of this can be far reaching. From the perspective of the tourism industry, the digitalisation of travel and tourism can help to enhance business prospects- income, productivity, performance etc. And from the perspective of the tourist it can help to make their tourism experience more enjoyable.

E-tourism- further reading

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