In an increasingly technology focused world, the tourism industry is going to have to work hard to stay ahead, or at least to keep up, as internet users work not just with their computers, but also their smartphones and tablets.
Booking a vacation has become more than just a one step process at a travel agency, now people will use phone apps to book a flight, while doing our searching on a tablet and then finally booking on our laptops.
"Are your websites able to work on the different screens?" Dimitrios Buhalis, of the University of Bournemouth in the UK, asked delegates during a session on social media and big data at ITB Berlin.
"Kids are born with technology embedded in them. They can write their names on a computer before they can do it by hand and older people are also getting involved taking advantage of technology because of the benefits it brings," he added.
The internet is already used extensively by those in the west – in the U.S. 78.6% are internet users, in Europe the figure is 63.2%. But while the developing markets remain under-represented in those figures, Buhalis said people in Africa for example are still making use of technology through their mobile phones.
"The developing world is catching up quite fast because of mobiles," he said. "They reduce the need for technological infrastructure."
Still, while customers are obviously a consumer of information, Buhalis reminded those listening that they are also a player and provider as the second part of the session moved to focus on how such information can be used in the tourism industry.
With social media such as Facebook having the ability to predict whether people are entering into new relationships and credit card companies can predict divorce, we are entering a new age of information technology.
"The challenges are that the information is not being used properly," said Wolfram Hoepken, of the University of Applied Sciences Ravensburg-Weingarten in Germany. "Most companies don't make use of what they have."
But the question is still what data is available and how it can be used.
Hoepken said the data available could be used to predict booking cancellations, predict tourism demand and assist in creating dynamic pricing structures. There is data from the environment, including the weather, data from the local infrastructure, movement profiles – predicting where people will travel, and data collected from social media.
"Price setting can be based on customer satisfaction, with cost benefit satisfaction extracted from reviews in social media," he said, adding that as satisfaction rose, so to could prices. Another opportunity is cross selling
"You can look at the products that were bought together in the past for cross-selling opportunities," he said. "There are product recommendations, recommending products that customers liked in the past or recommending of things similar customers liked."
He said that while in the past operative systems and booking systems had flowed forward from tourism firms to travelers it is now changing with a new important trend developing in terms of direct feedback.
"You can now use data to dynamically adapt pricing and learn from customer and what they buy together and use that for targeted advertising," he said.
"The consequence is that there is a stronger focus on analytical data mining and so more complex models are needed to recommend the appropriate products. Data mining is getting more and more important."
However, he added that it was also important that this data mining and analysis was done in real time to enable hotels and other operators to get the latest market situation.
"Get someone to build up know how in the company, who can start on data mining," he said. "It will be expensive in a couple of years and it is an important topic for business intelligence."This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Louise Osborne is a correspondent and editor based in Berlin, Germany. She began her career working at regional newspapers in the UK and now works with journalists across the globe as part of international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). Living abroad for the second time, she continues to be fascinated by places both near and far, and boards a plane eagerly, as often as she can.
Besides the ITB Berlin 2014 live coverage, Louise also writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com