Everyone now uses the Internet before, during and after they travel


MADRID — Virtually everyone now uses the Internet before, during and after they travel, whether its downloading an app to become familiar with a particular destination or sharing your holiday photos on Facebook or Instagram. The information revolution has indeed revolutionized both the way we prepare trips, and how we experience them.

As such, over the last 10 years, we have seen the rise of a much more independent digital tourist who is demanding, multi-sourced and in search of a personalized service that includes the option of being permanently connected.

All of this requires travel-related business to evolve to respond to this new, digital-driven consumer. This means promotions, marketing, providing service and renewal of destinations to avoid repeating patterns. What we are witnessing is the creation of an entirely new tourism model — let's call it Smart Tourism Destinations — that has the potential to be more sustainable both economically and environmentally.

Existing practices are thus being disrupted, as operations are increasingly based on social trends and movements that ease sales and peer-to-peer sharing. Every day new firms are copying or becoming hybrids or reinventions of each other.

The supply side must adapt

Innovation and technology have definitely changed the rules of the game. The tourist is now in charge (through searching and choosing trips, products and services, hyper-segmentation, automatic trip planning, communication and opinions etc..), and it is the supply side that must adapt to customers demanding accurate and comparative information, optimal price-quality ratios, and authentic and varied travel experiences. Such changes are affecting both the ordinary and premium sectors, as the IE business school Premium Travel Barometer indicated in a recent study.

Smart Tourism Destinations rely on innovation, technology, accessibility and sustainability. Spain's SEGITTUR, a department or the Tourism Ministry, began to develop the concept in 2012 and is helping turn Spain into a pioneer of sustainable tourism and the first to publish certification norms for identifying smart destinations. The new model is opening doors to thousands of business opportunities worldwide. Mexico (in Tequila and Cozumel), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and other states in the Americas are already envisaging strategic tourism plans that will include "smart" components.

New technology relating to the Internet of Things (IoT), Big and Open Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Virtual Reality are paving the way for new practices and new, hitherto inconceivable ways of catching and keeping clients. The world of marketing, sales and loyalty programs are entering the age of constant analytics and information gathering.

Tourism intelligence is a reality from the moment one starts analyzing data. A combination of better informed travelers and mobile technologies will allow the sector to implement new, disruptive marketing and promotional strategies that engage directly with the emotions and personal needs of users. AI technologies, available today through Chatbots, Big Data or Deep Learning allow us to quickly analyze the profiles of our users, understand what they expect of our products, when and how they want them, and how to offer them services with maximum efficacy.

The human touch

Virtual Reality, meanwhile, will soon also allow us to provide total immersion experiences so that customers will be able to "pre-live" their travel experience on their smartphones or at travel agencies with this technology. All of this means that those of us in the travel industry must start training teams able to manage and work with this digital transformation.

We work in a sector where increasingly individuals not only travel but play the role of hosts. Let's leave the routine, repetitive tasks and processes to computers, and allow our human teams to bring value to wherever human contact is needed. As much as technology can bring, there are still those special moments when a kind expression and a smile make all the difference.

*The author is a professor of Innovation Management at the IE Business School and former president of SEGITTUR, a Spanish state-owned company dedicated to the management of innovation and tourism technologies.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!