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The Healing Power of Trust

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The Healing Power of Trust - TRAVELINDEXHong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, April 28, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / In today’s globalised world, more and more hotel firms are expanding their business overseas. Yet success in the international arena may not translate into success at home, warn Dr Alice H. Y. Hon and Mr Emmanuel Gamor of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. With skilled managers from overseas paid 10 times more than local employees, frontline and service-oriented hotel workers are feeling increasingly disillusioned. With service standards falling, how can multinational hotel corporations build harmony between their local and overseas employees? The answer lies in trust, say the researchers, whose study offers timely and important insights for the Chinese hospitality industry.

The last four decades of globalisation have seen radical changes in the organisational management and human resource composition of hotel firms in China. To compete in the international service market, firms are increasingly filling key strategic positions with skilled workers from abroad. “In the modern hospitality industry, multinational hotel corporations rely on expatriate managers to succeed”, say the researchers.

To attract, motivate and retain these valuable employees from overseas, it is standard practice to set their wages to the market conditions in their home country. Their salaries can be an astounding 10 times higher than those of local workers, whose pay is calculated according to local labour market conditions. Unsurprisingly, note the authors, this can lead to “perceived injustice among employees,” especially given that compensation goes beyond money—it can represent an employee’s worth, status and power.

The problem of disgruntled local employees is not trivial, and multinational hospitality corporations should not underestimate the extent to which this might threaten their own survival. Local employees who resent their expatriate superiors and the organisation are less satisfied, motivated and committed. They may engage in “deviant behaviours, service sabotage, or antisocial behaviours affecting service quality”, report the researchers. Faced with this problem, multinational hotel companies must find ways to mitigate the negative effects of the compensation gap on local employees’ work-related outcomes.

In multicultural environments with a vast chasm in pay grades between local and overseas employees, it can be challenging to develop and maintain local employees’ trust in their expatriate superiors – and even in the organisation as a whole. Companies must satisfy the salary expectations of highly skilled expatriate managers while addressing any potential bitterness felt by local employees. Successfully fostering trust can reduce the negative outcomes associated with a sense of inequity. High levels of trust “can positively influence several work outcomes, such as job performance, organisational citizenship behaviour, and productiveness”, say the authors.

Referring to well-established theories of the different forms of trust, the researchers surmised that trust in expatriate supervisors and the organisation can be knowledge-driven or emotion-driven. Knowledge-driven “cognitive trust” is based on a track record of competence, reliability and fair treatment, and might allow local employees to see beyond the pay gap. The researchers reasoned that instilling cognitive trust “gives the impression that expatriate managers have the competency, key knowledge, and ability to work at a high level, and so it is right that they receive more compensation than local employees”.

Emotion-driven “affective trust” is born from an interpersonal connectedness, through which local employees feel cared for by their expatriate managers. Affective trust in expatriate managers can be formed via friendly interactions and expressions of personal concern in local employees’ well-being, which “weakens uncertainty and increases psychological safety among employees”, explain the authors. Recognising the potential for these two dimensions of trust to curtail the negative effects resulting from compensation gaps, the researchers set out to define their influence on various work-related outcomes.

To capture real-world experiences and attitudes, the authors approached team members of multinational hotel corporations in Xian, China. They included 286 front-line or low-level local employees and 32 of their expatriate supervisors, who were middle- or upper-level managers. Most of the local employees interviewed had been supervised by an expatriate manager for 1 to 5 years. The expatriate supervisors were primarily from Hong Kong or Taiwan, Europe, and North America, and 68.1% of them had lived in China for at least 6 years.

The local employees completed a comprehensive questionnaire that measured their perceptions of the compensation gap between local and expatriate employees, as well as their cognitive and affective trust in their expatriate superiors, their satisfaction with their expatriate supervisors, general work satisfaction, and commitment to their organisation.

As well as collecting these valuable data from local employees, the authors asked the expatriate supervisors to give scores for the local employees’ altruism, by reporting their willingness to offer help in the workplace. A sample item was “This individual is inclined to help me find solutions to work-related problems”.

The next step was to conduct a thorough statistical analysis of the interview data to measure the precise connections between compensation, work attitudes and trust among local and expatriate employees.

As expected, when the local employees perceived the compensation gap to be larger, they were more dissatisfied with their expatriate supervisors and less willing to help them. They were also less satisfied with their jobs and – most strikingly – less committed to their organisations. This, report the researchers, confirms the previous finding that “the compensation gap is one of the main contributors to counterproductive work outcomes among employees in the hospitality industry”. Interestingly, however, local employees’ resentment was mostly directed towards the organisation, rather than towards their expatriate managers.

“This may cause local employees to leave organizations with a greater perceived unjust compensation gap”, warn the authors, “contributing to high labour turnover in the hospitality industry”. This finding underlines the urgent need for multinational hospitality corporations to generate a sense of fairness that counteracts the negative effects of substantial pay gaps. One possibility is the introduction of non-financial perks for local employees, such as additional training and insurance.

The researchers also found that stronger cognitive trust weakened the negative effect of a wide compensation gap on the local employees’ job satisfaction and organisational commitment. Clearly, multinational hotel corporations need to develop strategies to boost local employees’ faith in the abilities of expatriate managers. “Management must ensure that expatriates maintain high levels of competence, reliability, skills, professionalism, and honesty”, say the authors, “by enforcing checks and balances through staff feedback and evaluation”.

Affective trust also moderated the negative effects of a compensation gap. Local employees who felt more cared for by their expatriate managers reported greater satisfaction and showed more altruistic behaviour. “The management of multinational hotel corporations should encourage expatriates to show a genuinely welcoming, kind, and caring attitude towards the local employees they supervise”, suggest the researchers. “Expatriates should remind subordinates of their roles, celebrate their achievements, and show how much they care about them”. This will help to foster affective trust and mitigate local employees’ sense of injustice.

In the modern hospitality industry, multinational hotel firms rely on expatriate managers to succeed. The findings of this novel study offer profound insights for Chinese hotel firms operating overseas, which must find effective ways to legitimise the pay gap between local workers and their expatriate superiors. This could come in the form of trust-building policies, especially those that capitalise on the distinct effects of cognitive and affective trust. Strategies for instilling cognitive trust can enhance task-related work outcomes, while promoting affective trust can improve personal work outcomes. “Trust should be considered carefully in strategic planning and academic inquiry,” conclude the researchers. This will become ever more important as China’s hospitality firms continue to expand overseas.

Hon, Alice H.Y. and Gamor, Emmanuel (2021). When My Pay is Lower than My Expatriate Colleagues: Where Do the Hospitality Managers Go from Here? International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol. 95, 102953.

First published at – Global Travel News

The Next Frontier in Hotel Service

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The Next Frontier in Hotel Service - TRAVELINDEX - HOTELWORLDSHong Kong SAR, April 1, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / Self-service technologies (SSTs) have simplified many aspects of everyday life. However, their relatively recent introduction means that the pros and cons of SST adoption in the hotel industry are still being explored. The potential advantages of SSTs notwithstanding, hotels in China seem to have some reservations, say Professor Kam Hung of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and her co-researcher. Without a clear understanding of how preferences for SSTs over human staff are formed, hoteliers are perhaps right to be wary. Moving beyond previous work, this ambitious study integrates individual-level and organisational-level data on the construction of SST preferences. The researchers’ comprehensive findings offer a starting point for hoteliers wishing to effectively introduce SSTs.

SSTs allow customers to enjoy services completely free of interaction with service providers. They are “high-tech and ‘low-touch’ interfaces”, explain the researchers, “in contrast with traditional interpersonal encounters, which are generally high-touch and low-tech”. Self-check-in systems, robots, smart speakers and self-ordering gadgets are becoming increasingly common in hotels. Some are even testing AI-based SSTs such as facial recognition check-in kiosks. In China (and beyond), the pandemic has undoubtedly also accelerated hotels’ SST adoption in attempts to limit customer–employee contact. “As of October 2020, more than 3000 hotels in China were equipped with robots from Yunji Technology, a service robot provider”, report the authors.

SST interfaces allow hoteliers to provide services in the physical absence of service employees, with the clear benefits of reducing operating costs and increasing profits. Whilst some have predicted a continuing boom in these technological trends, SST adoption in hotels has remained surprisingly low, perhaps because it all but eliminates customer–employee interaction. “As a people-oriented service industry, hotels face difficult decisions regarding whether to introduce SSTs,” say the researchers. For hotels to make more informed decisions, it is crucial to discover what influences SST preferences. This new knowledge could in turn help ease the technological transition to SSTs for both hoteliers and guests.

Most research on SST adoption has focused on the individual-level factors that underpin technology acceptance, such as a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. However, this completely overlooks the possible consequences of external or managerial actions. “Most technology adoption situations involve phenomena at multiple levels, including individuals, organisations, industries, and societies”, stress the authors. Yet theories based on individual-level data have often been applied to organisational contexts. To tackle this problem, the researchers built a hierarchical framework to better reflect the multi-level situation of SST adoption and bridge the micro–macro divide.

The researchers conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 30 hoteliers who had implemented innovative SSTs in their hotels and 29 customers who had used hotel SSTs. The SSTs discussed included robots, check-in and check-out kiosks, mobile tablets, and smartphones. The majority of the 59 face-to-face interviews were conducted in Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Hong Kong. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed, allowing the researchers to conduct a thorough content analysis to identify and categorise major themes contained within the interviews.

The four major themes that influenced customers’ and hoteliers’ SST preferences were environmental factors, the organisational context, service task attributes, and customer experiences. Environmental factors included public familiarity with SSTs, government regulations, and concerns about environmental protection. The organisational context included the relationships between hotels, technology companies, and other hotel stakeholders. The theme of service task attributes reflected how customers co-produced services with the service channel, be that SSTs or service employees. Finally, customer experiences during service encounters included aesthetic, affective, cognitive, actional, and social experiences.

As an initial finding, the interviews revealed that for both hoteliers and guests, the preference for SSTs was swayed by the belief that SSTs are environmentally friendly. However, another environmental factor posed a problem for hoteliers. “The Chinese government mandates that hotels upload guests’ identifying information in real time”, the researchers explain, “making self-check-in impossible without government approval”. Both the hoteliers and the customers were sceptical about introducing technologies to the service industry. “Many commented that hotel service is a human-oriented business”, say the researchers. “The use of emotionless technologies may result in indifference”.

Within the theme of organisational context, both hoteliers and customers spoke of the economic benefits of SSTs for hotels, such as decreased workload and enhanced efficiency. They considered SSTs to be better suited to new, business-focused and non-luxury hotels with more rooms, especially in the case of check-in and check-out kiosks. “Moreover, SSTs were seen as conducive to brand marketing,” report the researchers. For example, both hoteliers and customers agreed that innovative SSTs such as robots can be a selling point to attract guests.

Concerning service task attributes, both hoteliers and customers criticised SSTs for their lack of customisation and personalisation. Both groups also noted instances in which SSTs fell short of human-delivered services, largely owing to the lack of any two-way communication. That said, both groups regarded SSTs as reliable, punctual, available 24/7, and less likely to make mistakes than service employees. “Hoteliers stated that SSTs do not need rest, cannot fall ill, and cannot resign; rather, they are always on call, enabling hotel guests to receive service at any time”, add the researchers.

Within the theme of customer experiences, the preferences of both hoteliers and customers were influenced by whether the SST experience was superior to that of human services. Customers’ preferences were also guided by the device’s appearance and voice, its usefulness, convenience, and cleanliness, as well as its ability to evoke pleasure, surprise, and relaxation. Respect, trust, safety, and privacy were also major contributors to SST preferences in both groups, although customers’ opinions on this were more divergent. “In some cases, they felt relieved and safer when tackling problems on their own rather than depending on service employees”, the researchers explain. “Others, however, worried about their personal safety or the privacy of their information”.

In pinpointing differences between customers and hoteliers, the researchers were able to provide critical observations that might be instrumental for efficient SST introduction. In some cases, hoteliers placed importance on factors not even mentioned by customers. Moreover, hoteliers paid more attention to environmental and organisational factors, such as incompatibility with existing features and technology company contributions. Guests tended to focus on customer differences and the importance of consistency far more than hoteliers did. Hoteliers wishing to deliver desirable consumer experiences should pay more attention to guests’ opinions, the authors conclude.

Armed with this formidable body of data, the researchers then developed a hierarchical framework that integrated both individual- and organisational-level variables to explain the development of SST preference. This framework reflected the interplay between the external environment, the organisational context, internal service encounters, and core customer experiences in the development of preferences for SSTs over human staff.

“The findings can help hotel practitioners make more rational SST adoption decisions”, conclude the authors, such as collaborating with technology companies, involving other hotel stakeholders in SST promotion, thoroughly testing SSTs before procuring them, and giving consideration to the time needed to introduce SSTs.

This innovative study could support the introduction and implementation of SSTs in the hospitality industry in China. Its findings call for hoteliers to promote SST features that are desirable and important to their guests. The novel framework presented by the authors provides a springboard for hotel managers to better market SST-infused hospitality services and promote customer acceptance. Certainly, if service management can successfully consider customers’ SST-based experiences, this will “contribute to organisational profitability and success in a competitive marketplace”, note the authors. Beyond that, the proposed hierarchical framework is the first attempt to explain the multi-level determinants of technology adoption, and could potentially be adapted to specific innovations and individual or organisational situations.

Liu, Chun and Hung, Kam (2021). A Multilevel Study on Preferences for Self-service Technology versus Human Staff: Insights from Hotels in China. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol. 94, 102870.

First published at – Global Travel News

Cornell Launches Sustainable Tourism Destination Management Online Course

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Cornell Launches Sustainable Tourism Destination Management Online Course - - TRAVELINDEXIthaca, New York, United States, March 29, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / An online course program developed by Cornell University in partnership with the Travel Foundation will be the first-of-its-kind to equip destination professionals with new knowledge and skills urgently needed to manage tourism in the 21st Century. The comprehensive, 40-hour course is borne out of analysis from the partners’ 2019 report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism, which highlighted a gap in fostering the talent, capacity, and leadership required to manage the greener and more efficient and equitable destinations of the future.

The Sustainable Tourism Destination Management Course program will be available through eCornell starting Autumn/Fall 2022 and will help today’s global tourism professionals develop many of the new skills needed in the market, including impact management, climate action planning and financing, risk profiling, and community engagement.

The program is being developed by the SC Johnson College of Business’ Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP) in partnership with global NGO the Travel Foundation, with financial support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

At least 1,000 participants, from target countries where affordability might otherwise be a barrier to enrolment, will be granted free access to the program through a process supported by the World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO). The intention is for additional scholarships to be made available in future, through collaborations with global partners.

The online program will feature award-winning faculty and practitioners who will share destination management expertise from across the globe on urgent themes including climate change and overtourism; downloadable tools that can be applied directly in professional settings; as well as research from top experts on cutting-edge destination management issues. Program content includes:

– An overview of the global tourism economy and the value it brings.
– Measuring the “Invisible Burden of Tourism” – the unaccounted-for impacts of tourism.
– Managing the Invisible Burden.
– Managing climate impacts.
– Defining and achieving key economic development goals.
– Equitable and inclusive management of tourism’s shared assets.
– Developing dedicated destination management capacity.
– Applying sustainable destination management tools and concepts to critical real-life case studies from the tourism sector

The online program is designed for a global audience, including: national and local government tourism officials, staff at Destination Marketing and Management Organisations (DMOs), and others in related public, private, and non-profit fields related to tourism destination management and stewardship.

“Our Invisible Burden report documented how destinations have struggled to manage the growth and impacts of tourism, and exposed the urgent need for new technical skills, knowledge and tools,” said Principal Instructor and Managing Director of the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP), Megan Epler Wood. “While public sector organizations are increasingly aware of the need to manage tourism demand and destination assets, rather than simply promote destinations, there is little knowledge or capacity within those organizations to make such a transition. Cornell’s Sustainable Tourism Destination Management program aims to address this gap and build professional development in this neglected field.”

Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation, said: “This program, coming from a top-flight Ivy League institution, has huge potential to transform how destinations are managed, and I’m delighted we can continue our partnership with the team at Cornell. I am particularly excited about the opportunity to share our experiences and resources as part of the course content, and to ensure the free scholarship places remove any financial barrier for destinations, particularly those in the Global South. Our mission is to support destinations in the greatest need of stewardship to ensure they have the capacity to fully benefit from tourism, and this course will become a vital part of our approach.”

Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovation, Education and Investments at the UNWTO, said: “Online education is here to scale up the way people are educated. Tourism is the top employer of youth. Nonetheless 50% of them only have secondary-level education. Today, more than ever, we need added value programs full of innovation and sustainability to help those brilliant minds to have a better career and build a professional path in tourism. At the World Tourism Organization we are keen to help our Member States do this.” Successful completion of the online program will include recognition from Cornell University.

About the Travel Foundation
The Travel Foundation is a leading global NGO that works in partnership with governments, businesses, and communities to develop and manage tourism in a way that maximises the benefits for communities and the environment. Founded in 2003, it has since worked in nearly 30 countries around the world.

About Cornell STAMP
As a program of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP) is developing a global knowledge base, online professional and student training, as well as the research and technical support for destinations to more effectively manage tourism assets in the face of endemic poverty, ecosystem degradation, climate change and public health crises.

About eCornell
eCornell is Cornell University’s external education unit which provides online professional and executive development to students around the world. Over 100+ award-winning professional certificate programs are offered in a wide variety of disciplines. Courses are developed by Cornell University faculty with practical insights and tangible outcomes in mind in collaboration with experts worldwide.

First published at – Global Travel News

Money or Miles for Frequent Flyers?

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Money or Miles for Frequent Flyers? - TRAVELINDEXHong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, February 28, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / “Cancelled” – The word no passenger wants to see on an airport display board. Failing to appease disgruntled clientele can seriously damage customer relationships. Dodging the kickback of service failures is therefore supremely important, especially when customers have already pledged their allegiance to a company – as have frequent flyers. But how should loyal customers be compensated? In an important recent study, Dr YooHee Hwang and Dr Lisa Gao of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and their co-author explored the best ways to regain customer loyalty after a service failure. The unprecedented flight disruptions due to COVID-19 make their findings all the more relevant today.

In the hospitality and tourism industry, failures to meet customers’ expectations are inevitable. However, it might not be the service error itself that causes customers to take their business elsewhere, but the way in which a company chooses to deal with it. “An effective service recovery”, say the researchers, “can restore customer trust and fairness perceptions”.

Air travel is a great example of a service prone to disruptions, and, for the researchers, a prime context in which to investigate service repair options. Flight delays and cancellations are all too common, and the stakes can be high for passengers, who might have flight connections, tight work schedules, or financial constraints. Moreover, service repair has been largely overlooked in the context of loyalty reward schemes, which is surprising given how common these are. How best to soften the blow for passengers who are already loyalty reward programme members?

One downside to disappointing customers who are already “loyal” is that they have higher expectations. This can result in more scrutiny and criticism, making it difficult to satisfy customers through recovery methods. However, all is not lost, say the researchers. “On the other hand, heightened expectations may provide the service provider with an opportunity to enhance the relationship with its customers”. In that sense, service failures could be treated as an opportunity to further consolidate customer relationships.

Many airlines offer frequent flyers different compensation options when service errors occur. For instance, United Airlines offers the choice of receiving free miles or monetary compensation for flights that are delayed for 4 hours. One key difference between miles and monetary compensation options is how “concrete” they are. Air miles compensation “doesn’t have a physical form that customers can touch”, the researchers point out, whereas discount coupons do. Curiously, this “concreteness” makes all the difference. In other hospitality and tourism sectors, more concrete compensation has been found to increase customer loyalty. The researchers therefore predicted that “recovery compensation in a more concrete form should induce loyalty reward members’ repatronage intention”. This effect might also rely on the nature of the initial failure – could the company have avoided it, or not?

Service failures can be broadly considered as those that are within a company’s control, and those that are not. This “controllability” can also govern customers’ reactions – for instance, customers are far more forgiving when flight delays are a result of bad weather than when they are due to a scheduling error made by the flight crew.

“If a failed service is within the firm’s control, customers perceive high levels of controllability”, explain the researchers. Another example is inattentive service by a waiter during off-peak hours. The researchers found that passengers were angrier about and more disappointed by service failures that they perceived to be within the firm’s control.

Such negative emotions can prompt “low-level thinking” – the tendency to construe things in a concrete way, focusing on the immediate details of an event or object rather than its wider context. The researchers thus suggest that “high controllability of a service failure heightens the customer’s negative affect, thereby resulting in a concrete mindset”. Does this more concrete mindset, in turn, affect the impact of compensation concreteness on passenger loyalty? The researchers’ next task was to answer this question.

Using an experimental design, the researchers assessed the specific effects of the controllability of service failure and compensation concreteness. The participants were 197 members of frequent flyer programmes with a mean age of 37 years living in the US. The researchers first presented them with the hypothetical scenario of a delayed flight of a fictional airline, “ABC Airlines”.

Some of the participants were told that their flight was delayed due to bad weather (a low controllability scenario) and the rest were told that the delay was a result of an internal scheduling error (a high controllability scenario). “The participants were then compensated with either a 50-dollar travel certificate for their next flight or 2,500 miles credited to their frequent flyer program account”, which corresponded to more and less concrete compensation options, respectively.

Having set up different levels of controllability and compensation concreteness, the researchers measured repatronage intention. For this, the participants simply indicated whether they would fly with ABC Airlines again if they had experienced the situation in real life. Negative emotions were also measured, including irritation, annoyance, disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration. In this way, the researchers could more precisely define how to best atone for service failures and temper customers’ anger and disappointment.

The first critical finding was that the controllability of a service failure determined customers’ emotional reactions. That is, customers were less angry and disappointed when the flight delay was perceived to be out of ABC Airlines’ hands, compared with when the airline was perceived to be at fault. Therefore, the authors recommend that service providers “be transparent and let customers know the cause of the failure”. Offering this information and discovering customers’ reactions will also help companies to redress the service failure.

When choosing compensation, airlines should take the controllability of the service error into consideration. For the “controllable” failings, the researchers found that monetary compensation better restored loyalty than did air miles compensation. Crucially, this indicates that airlines should offer concrete compensation options, such as money or discount vouchers, when the service failure is within the company’s control. “Offering a more concrete option can be a win-win situation for both companies and loyal customers”, say the researchers.

However, when the flight delay was beyond the airline’s control, monetary and free air miles compensation had the same effects on repatronage intention. This could be because “customers’ construal levels are not as concrete, and thus repatronage intention is not influenced by the concreteness of recovery options”, say the researchers. Practically, this means airlines can adopt either concrete compensation, such as a discount voucher, or less tangible compensation, such as free miles, to make amends when they are not to blame for the service failure.

From a more theoretical perspective, this study “extends the notion of congruency effect in the frequent flyer program context”, propose the researchers. Namely, when customers have a more “concrete” mindset, they should be offered more “concrete” compensation options. This aligns with previous findings that external stimuli, such as compensation options, should be matched to customers’ internal mental states to achieve the best outcomes.

This study offers useful recommendations for airlines wishing to recover the loyalty of frequent flyers. Exploring uncharted territory, the researchers pinpoint ways to properly handle a botched service and to help customers feel valued. Understanding the mindset and emotions of disappointed customers puts companies in a better position to make strategic choices when it comes to excusing themselves to already loyal members. Anticipating customers’ reactions to being let down could even enhance that loyalty, and not just for airlines – any company offering a loyalty scheme has something to gain from this work.

YooHee Hwang, Lisa Gao and Anna S. Mattilab (2020). What Recovery Options to Offer for Loyalty Reward Program Members: Dollars vs. Miles? International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol. 87, 102496.

First published at – Global Travel News

SHTM and PATA Released Report on Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts

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SHTM and PATA Released Report on Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts - TRAVELINDEXHong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, February 26, 2022 / TRAVELINDEX / The School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University joined forces with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) to publish the tenth in their series of Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts reports, providing the region’s travel and tourism sector, hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with much-needed projections of tourist numbers in the coming years.

The “Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts 2022-2024” were the work of the SHTM’s Hospitality and Tourism Resource Centre headed by Professor Haiyan Song, SHTM Associate Dean, Chair Professor and Mr and Mrs Chan Chak Fu Professor in International Tourism. Along with colleagues from other institutions, the team included Professor Gang Li of the University of Surrey, Dr Vera Lin of the Zhejiang University, Dr Anyu Liu and Ms Yangting Cai of the SHTM, Dr Richard Qiu of the University of Macau, as well as Dr Long Wen of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

Covering a three-year horizon, the report features the latest scenario forecasts for International Visitor Arrivals into 39 Asia Pacific destinations between 2022 and 2024 while presenting three possible scenarios for every destination describing mild, medium and severe effects of the pandemic. Among the projections essential to tourism planners and operators, what they can expect is that total visitor arrival numbers across the region are predicted to recover from 129.4 million in 2020 to 817.7 million, 702.5 million and 501.9 million under the mild, medium, and severe scenarios, respectively by 2024. Compared with the 2019 level of visitor numbers, the recovery rates of which are forecast to be 116.2%, 99.8% and 71.3% respectively.

Amongst the six destination regions and sub-regions of Asia Pacific, South Asia is expected to have the highest recovery rate of 123.3% under the mild scenario as it returned to more than 90% of the 2019 volume of visitors, in 2021. International visitor numbers into the Pacific and the Americas are projected to increase faster than other regions/sub-regions with the same recovery rate of 105% under the medium scenario and 80.3% and 79.2% respectively, under the severe scenario. The lowest recovery rate under the mild scenario is likely to be for Northeast Asia which is expected to return to 112.6% of the 2019 level of visitor numbers in 2024. Under the medium scenario, South Asia is predicted to be the slowest recovering sub-region with a recovery rate of 95%, while under the severe scenario it is expected to be West Asia with a rate of 61.3%.

Although these forecasts are contingent on the developments in COVID-19 and the economic recovery over the forecast period, the robust and considered research conducted by the SHTM and PATA offers informed optimism. “Whilst the overall trends in these latest forecasts are positive, recovery will however depend on both the containment of the global pandemic and economic growth which will create the conditions for tourism to pick up,” noted Professor Haiyan Song. “With the new landscape of tourism becoming very different in the post-pandemic era, these forecasts provide crucial insights for the global industry to develop better recovery strategies for the post-pandemic era.”

To maintain the region’s competitive edge, the PATA Visitor Forecasts Report serves as a reliable and effective forecasting system essential to assist destinations in the development of strategies for the years to come. The SHTM prides itself on its forecasting expertise and is proud to have joined hands with PATA to release the publication “Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts 2022-2024”. Members of the School’s Hospitality and Tourism Resource Centre publish world-leading research and provide consultancy services for tourism organisations worldwide. “We are delighted to be a part of the PATA forecasting initiative, as transferring our knowledge to practice is high on the School’s research agenda”, Professor Kaye Chon, SHTM Dean, Chair Professor and Walter and Wendy Kwok Family Foundation Professor in International Hospitality Management said.

About PolyU’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management

For over 40 years, the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has refined a distinctive vision of hospitality and tourism education and become a world-leading hotel and tourism school. Ranked No. 1 in the world in the “Hospitality and Tourism Management” category in ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2021 for the fifth consecutive year, placed No. 1 globally in the “Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services” category in the University Ranking by Academic Performance in 2020/2021 for four years in a row, rated No. 1 in the world in the “Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism” subject area by the CWUR Rankings by Subject 2017, and ranked No. 1 in Asia in the “Hospitality and Leisure Management” subject area in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 for the fifth consecutive year, the SHTM is a symbol of excellence in the field, exemplifying its motto of Leading Hospitality and Tourism.

The School is driven by the need to serve its industry and academic communities through the advancement of education and dissemination of knowledge. With a strong international team of over 80 faculty members from diverse cultural backgrounds, the SHTM offers programmes at levels ranging from undergraduate degrees to doctoral degrees. Through Hotel ICON, the School’s groundbreaking teaching and research hotel and a vital aspect of its paradigm-shifting approach to hospitality and tourism education, the SHTM is advancing teaching, learning and research, inspiring a new generation of passionate, pioneering professionals to take their positions as leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry.

First published at – Global Travel News

Could Robots Breathe New Life Into the Tourism Industry?

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Could Robots Breathe New Life Into the Tourism Industry - TRAVELINDEXThe COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism and hospitality industry hard, making employees and travellers alike more wary of close human interaction. Could robots and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies be the answer? To tackle this controversial question, Professor Seongseop Kim, Dr Youngjoon Choi, and Ph.D. student Mr Frank Badu-Baiden of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and their co-researchers conducted a timely online study comparing human- and robot-staffed hotels. The study provides fascinating insights into how the pandemic has changed tourists’ preferences and offers recommendations for hotels on taking the next step towards technology-driven service delivery.

Robots have long been part of a science-fiction future. Although it has taken a long time for this future to be realised, robots and other AI technologies have recently begun to take over some of the service functions in hotels. They may serve as cooks or cleaners, provide barista and butler services, or even welcome guests on the front desk. This trend is regarded by some as an “avenue for innovation and improved efficiency and profitability”, the researchers note. However, hotel guests may be less enthusiastic.

It is easy enough to understand why some customers do not immediately love the idea of being served by a robot. Hotels are a “symbol of hospitality”, say the researchers, “which manifests as human values or touch”. Indeed, part of the enjoyment of staying in a hotel is experiencing the “serene atmosphere of comfort and relaxation” conveyed by the service staff. When guests experience a personalised service and feel valued by employees who offer “kind gestures, such as smiles, greeting and pleasant eye contact”, they are more likely to feel an attachment to the hotel and to stay loyal to the brand.

Why, then, would hotels consider introducing robot services? One reason is that human service also has its downsides. For instance, the researchers note, when staff fail to deliver the expected level of service, guests may be dissatisfied and their “experiences may be marred”. Furthermore, as humans are fallible, occasional mistakes are inevitable and can result in inconvenience and even, at worst, litigation, financial loss and damage to the hotel’s reputation.

On a more positive note, the researchers explain, many people enjoy technological advancements, appreciate the “usefulness and ease of use” of service robots and like to show off their novel experience to others. They may experience “reduced waiting times for service delivery, fun, enjoyment, and flexibility” from robot service technology. There are also many advantages for hotels, which benefit from more efficient service delivery, reduced labour costs, greater standardisation, and improved productivity and competitiveness.

With mixed evidence to date on people’s attitudes towards robot hotel services, the researchers were interested in whether views may have changed with the current COVID-19 crisis, which has brought extensive social distancing measures and concern about human contact. They speculated that the “highly contagious” nature of COVID-19 may have made people more enthusiastic about robot services in hotels. After all, the researchers note, robots offer a reduced risk of infection, especially given the “high levels of interpersonal contact in human-serviced hotels”.

The study took place in the United States between May and September 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data were collected in a series of four online studies with participants recruited through Amazon MTurk, an online participant panel. Between 113 and 171 participants were recruited for each study, with an approximately even split between men and women and a mean age of 36 to 40.

The participants were asked to imagine that they were planning to visit a city and had to choose from one of two hotels. They were then presented with pictures of a human-staffed hotel and a robot-staffed hotel. After comparing these pictures, which showed humans or robots working on the front desk, handling luggage, cooking, and so on, the participants were asked which hotel they would prefer to stay in.

In each study, the researchers sought to find out whether the participants’ preference for the robot-staffed hotel increased when they felt more at risk. This was important, the researchers explain, because “the anxiety caused by human contact and the perception of possible contagion can influence travelers to undertake risk-averse behaviors, such as avoiding human-staffed hotels”. Different kinds of information were provided to different participants so that some were made more aware of the pandemic while making their decisions.

The researchers also looked at whether the participants’ preferences changed according to, for instance, their level of concern about safety and social distancing and how they felt about innovative technology.

In a resounding show of support for AI concierges, butlers, and cleaners, the results of all four studies indicated a preference for the robot-staff hotel. The researchers concluded that the pandemic may have accelerated the acceptance of service robots because they are “beneficial for maintaining social distancing and reducing anxiety regarding contagion through human interaction”. Clearly, customers’ attitudes towards new technology can be changed by a “particular event or crisis”. The longer the current crisis goes on, the greater people will perceive the threat to be. This threat, the researchers predict, will be “imprinted on customers’ memories even after the COVID-19 crisis ends”.

Inevitably, therefore, health and hygiene standards will remain high for some time. Service robots equipped with AI can provide contactless services in a wide range of settings, such as hotels, restaurants, airports and events, to allay customers’ concerns about safety. However, facilities eager to provide this kind of service should be mindful of the researchers’ advice that to be successful, they will need to provide “clear instructions and guidelines to lower barriers to first-time users”. This will help to ensure that guests do not become frustrated by and reject the new technology.

Although their findings suggest that people are becoming more accepting of robot-service hotels, the researchers highlight an important potential caveat. They remind us that the participants who felt more at risk due to COVID-19 had a greater preference for the robot-staffed hotel. Once the pandemic is over and customers no longer feel so anxious about contagion, they may come to prefer human services again. The solution, the researchers suggest, lies in marketing and promotion. Hotels should target customers who feel particularly threatened by the pandemic by “promoting the health and safety aspects of service robots”.

The researchers’ novel findings suggest that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with concerns about health and safety running high, the time may be ripe for the hotel and tourism industry to expand the introduction of robot and AI services. The world is already moving rapidly toward the introduction of high-level technologies, and the pandemic offers a “good opportunity for pioneers to act”. Armed with the researchers’ timely insights, hotels may be better placed to capitalise on “the usefulness of service robots in maintaining social distancing and preventing the spread of infectious diseases”. This can only be good news for an industry dealt a formidable blow by COVID-19. What was once seen as a threat to the hospitality and tourism industry may now be its best means of survival.

Seongseop (Sam) Kim, Jengkeu Kim, Frank Badu-Baiden, Marily Giroux, and Youngjoon Choi (2021). Preference for Robot Service or Human Service in Hotels. Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Hospitality Management, Vol. 93, 102795.

First published at – Global Travel News

UNWTO and Bellavista to Open Tourism Education Hub in Switzerland

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UNWTO and Bellavista to Open Tourism Education Hub in Switzerland - TRAVELINDEXAltdorf, Switzerland, December 21, 2021 / TRAVELINDEX / UNWTO is to work with the Bellavista Institute of Higher Education on a new International Centre associated to the UNWTO Academy for tourism training in Switzerland.

Under the terms of a new agreement signed between the United Nations Specialized Agency and its Affiliate Member, the new International Centre will be associated with the existing UNWTO Academy and focus on providing research and training in a number of key areas. These include health tourism, mountain destinations management, exhibitions and conference management, and regional tourism promotion and management.

The partnership will go beyond empowering tourism professionals through giving them the knowledge to advance in their careers. The new International Centre associated to the UNWTO Academy will also provide governments, destinations and businesses with the right tourism human capital to meet current and future market demands and, ultimately, enhance levels of competitiveness and sustainability across the sector.

The new International Centre associated to the UNWTO Academy in Switzerland will further advance UNWTO’s goal of expanding its presence on the ground, with a particular focus on the country and regional levels. As an Affiliate Member of UNWTO, Bellavista Institute of Higher Education is a leading research and development centre for international programs, curricula, and textbooks, applied to tourism management and travel business.

First published at

First published at – Global Travel News

Making Newlyweds’ Dreams Come True

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Making Newlyweds' Dreams Come True - TRAVELINDEXFor many couples, a romantic honeymoon is an important element of the perfect wedding. How do destination marketers and tourism service providers ensure that their offerings live up to honeymooners’ holiday fantasies? In an important recent study, Professor Jin-Soo Lee of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and his co-researchers explored the quality dimensions that contribute to honeymooners’ satisfaction and relationship with the destination, providing useful information and advice for destination marketers seeking to capture this market segment.

Enjoying the perfect vacation is an important part of the romantic fantasy for newlywed couples. A honeymoon is a “once in a lifetime moment”, say the researchers. It is often the first chance for couples to “spend intimate time” in an exclusive and exotic place, where they can begin to create their first shared memories.

A honeymoon is something to fantasise about during the long process of planning the wedding, but the details of this fantasy may differ. Honeymooners look for “a variety of tourist attractions”, write the researchers, such as beautiful scenery, luxury accommodation and spa treatments. Convenient transport and a safe and pleasant environment are also indispensable.

However, turning such fantasies into reality is an expensive business. Honeymooning couples spend three times more than they would on a typical holiday. Unsurprisingly, say the researchers, destinations have “devoted aggressive efforts” to attracting this market segment, which has great potential to boost tourism income for accommodation providers, restaurants, entertainment venues and tour companies. Honeymoon tourists visiting Thailand, for instance, contribute approximately US$1.5 billion in tourism revenue per year.

How can honeymoon destinations stand out in this increasingly competitive market? According to the researchers, destination managers need to understand what “influences the experience and fantasy of honeymooners” before they can “develop strategic plans and design products” that meet their clients’ expectations. The perception of quality is a particularly important element in fulfilling honeymooners’ fantasies. Surprisingly, however, the relationship between quality and fantasy has rarely been the focus of research.

Furthermore, while many studies measure tourists’ satisfaction based on their intention to return, there is a serious problem with this approach. No matter how much tourists like a destination, they may still not choose to return, because there are so many alternatives. “Relational value”, the researchers argue, is a better measure of tourists’ satisfaction with a destination, as it captures supportive behaviour such as recommending the destination to others. Developing relationships with customers is vital, because it helps to build lifelong support and maintain the destination’s success over the long term. The researchers set out to explore “what triggers honeymoon fantasies” and whether fulfilling these fantasies affects a destination’s relational value.

Phuket, a province in southern Thailand, was the perfect setting for the study. Famous for its “beautiful natural resources, exciting tourist activities, and rich local heritage”, note the researchers, Phuket attracts nearly a third of Thailand’s international tourist arrivals, including many newlyweds. In autumn 2017, the researchers collected data from honeymooners arriving at Phuket’s international airport.

Filling an important gap in hospitality and tourism studies, the researchers developed the first ever scale to measure quality attributes of honeymoon tourism. Their scale measured seven distinct aspects of honeymoon quality: honeymoon service provider, honeymooner privileges, hospitality of local residents, accessibility, dining experience, and local tour products.

The survey also included a measure of fantasy, with items such as “this honeymoon trip was the fulfilment of all my romantic fantasies”. To measure relational value, tourists answered questions about their willingness to recommend the destination, give feedback, share useful information, and provide suggestions for improvement, and also the degree to which they remained “supportive of a firm despite negative publicity or better deals from competitors”.

Honeymooner privileges such as in-room romantic breakfasts, a complimentary night’s stay and surprise gifts played the biggest part in fulfilling newlyweds’ romantic fantasies. One of the most important tasks for service providers, therefore, is to “design special treatments for honeymooners”. Hotels could offer premium airport passes, champagne breakfasts, or complimentary honeymoon activities such as a couple’s massage or Thai cooking class. Destination managers could “go the extra mile”, the researchers suggest, by hosting a honeymooners’ party at “an iconic venue, such as a private beach, a luxury yacht, or a scenic rooftop restaurant”.

Honeymoon accommodation and local tour products were also found to be important quality dimensions. By “attempting to convey a sense of luxury, embrace symbols of romance, and respect honeymooner privacy” in their accommodation and activity offerings, say the researchers, honeymoon service providers can develop the “pleasurable and intimate fantasies of newlywed couples”. The researchers advise tourism service providers to offer regular staff training in customer service etiquette and service delivery to ensure they meet honeymooners’ high expectations. They also propose the interesting idea of organising “familiarisation trips” during off-peak seasons, during which honeymoon specialists and wedding planners can experience the destination and its unique tourism products for themselves. This would not only make good use of tourism resources in the off-peak season but also help tourism managers and staff to understand the desires of honeymooners from the perspective of “honeymoon elites”.

Good accessibility is also important, because honeymooners spend “considerable time and money on their dream trip” and expect a smooth trip and exceptional service. Although honeymooners might choose an “exotic, remote place” for their romantic getaway, infrequent and unreliable transport hardly contributes to a romantic fantasy vacation. Providing a limousine service would be a welcome option for many honeymooners. However, destinations should also ensure that reliable public transport options are readily available so that couples can easily travel around to “explore romantic experiences”.

An important finding of the study is that fulfilment of honeymooners’ fantasies was strongly associated with the destination’s relational value. When honeymooners’ fantasies are realised, they become emotionally attached to the destination and willing to recommend it to others. They are also likely to provide suggestions for improvement, the researchers find, and they show a “strong resistance to supporting other honeymoon destinations that offer better deals”. In other words, even if couples do not intend to revisit their honeymooner destination, if it fulfils their fantasies, they will become advocates for the destination and contribute to its long-term success.

The study enhances our understanding of the honeymoon tourism market by identifying the specific quality attributes that help to fulfil the fantasy element of this once-in-a-lifetime romantic vacation. Although the researchers acknowledge that the particular quality attributes they identified might not be relevant to other honeymoon settings, such as “winter honeymoon, old world romance honeymoon and theme park honeymoon” experiences, they will certainly be useful for exotic, tropical destinations similar to Phuket. Finally, an important contribution of the study is the development of a novel honeymoon quality measurement scale, which provides a useful set of attributes for honeymoon service providers to focus on when designing and improving their products and services.

Pipatpong Fakfare, Jin-Soo Lee and Kisang Ryu (2020). Examining Honeymoon Tourist Behavior: Multidimensional Quality, Fantasy, and Destination Relational Value. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, Vol. 37, Issue 7, pp. 836-853

First published at – Global Travel News

SUNx Announcing the Winners of Strong Earth Awards

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SUNx Announcing the Winners of Strong Earth Awards - TRAVELINDEXValletta, Malta, December 1, 2021 / TRAVELINDEX / SUNx Malta and Les Roches, together with Earth Charter International recently announced the winners of the inaugural Strong Earth Awards which were presented at the ShiftIn’ Festival at Les Roches and broadcast to a global audience.

The awards were launched at the Strong Earth Youth Summit in April for students focussed on a future advancing Climate Friendly Travel – low carbon: SDG linked: Paris 1.5. Seven awards of 500 Euro each, donated by Les Roches, were given for the best 500-word “thought paper” on:

“Why the Earth Charter is even more important now than when it was introduced by Maurice Strong and Michael Gorbachev in 2000”

The winners were selected from students around the world, predominantly from developing countries, and the calibre of entries was extremely high. The competition has been designed to draw attention to the important sustainability messages contained in the Earth Charter, as well as the vision of the late Maurice Strong and its increasing relevance in today’s Climate challenged world.

The seven winners are:
Mbugua Kibe, Clintone Ojina, Osman F. Yong, Daniela Castro, Seyed Samir Rezvani, Ngoni Shereni, Caroline Kimani.

Professor Geoffrey Lipman, President SUNx Malta said:
“We are delighted to once again be partnering with our friends and colleagues at Les Roches on the ShiftIn’ Festival and to present awards to the winners of the first Strong Earth Awards together with Earth Charter International in Costa Rica. The standard of entries was extremely high, and the winners all articulated the relevance of the Principles of the Earth Charter in the context of today’s existential Climate Crisis. This is an event which we will continue annually to honour the Earth Charter and the vision of Maurice Strong for a better, fairer, more inclusive sustainable world.”

Mirian Vilela, Exec Director, Earth Charter International said:
“I want to express my appreciation for the organizers, as well as the participants of this event and project. I trust the launch of the Strong Earth Awards will spark interest and imagination amongst youth to work collaboratively and apply the principles of the Earth Charter in their journey and efforts to put our world on a sustainable path! The Earth Charter which was first launched in 2000 can serve as an ethical compass for decision making and as an educational instrument that could guide humanity to a more sustainable and a peaceful world.”

Joceline Favre-Bulle, Director of Operations, Les Roches said:
Riding on the wave of COP 26, ShiftIn’ 2021 could not have been timelier! This 3rd edition of ShiftIn’ attracted over 700 global attendees & 27 of the world’s top experts in environmental & sustainability matters! However, without the knowledge, support, guidance, and good humour of the SUNx Malta team, this would not have been possible; we are honoured to be part of such a precious partnership; thank you.

A heartfelt congratulations to the 26 students who took part in the inaugural Strong Earth Awards; well done, all the submissions were exceptional! Moreover, compliments go to the seven prize winners whose papers were recognizably outstanding; it was an honour to read all the papers.

At Les Roches, we are already looking forward to the 2022 edition of both the Strong Earth Awards and ShiftIn; watch this space.

About SUNx Malta
SUNx is an EU based, not-for-profit organisation, established as a legacy for Maurice Strong, climate and sustainability pioneer and partnered with the government of Malta. SUNx Malta created the ‘Green & Clean, Climate Friendly Travel System’ which is designed to help Travel & Tourism companies and communities transform to the new Climate Economy. The programme is based on reducing carbon, meeting Sustainable Development Goals, and matching the Paris 1.5C trajectory. It is action and education focused – supporting today’s companies and communities to deliver on their climate ambitions and encouraging tomorrow’s young leaders to prepare for rewarding careers across the travel sector. Its co-founder and President is Professor Geoffrey Lipman.

SUNx Malta is calling for a DASH-2-Zero for the influential Travel & Tourism sector. Pushing for further action faster. Yes, to Net Zero Carbon, but by 2030 and a commitment to NO Greenhouse gases by 2050. DASH means Declare & Act with Support & Hope. SUNx Malta is training 100,000 young Strong Climate Champions across all UN States by 2030. Together with our Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-17) partners we are offering a UNFCCC linked Registry of Accelerated Ambition and support for Climate Friendly companies and communities.

About Les Roches
Three international campuses, more than a hundred nationalities studying with us… when we say “Global Hospitality Education” we really mean it. Whether you’re looking for undergraduate or graduate programs, Les Roches serves up academic rigor with a twist of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our campuses are uniquely compact and caring environments, while our commitment to Swiss-style, hands-on learning and small class sizes means you’ll make the most of every minute of your study time.

First published at

First published at – Global Travel News

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Light at the End of the Tunnel - TRAVELINDEXTourism around the world is reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hong Kong’s once vibrant industry is no exception. The path to recovery is unclear. In such extreme circumstances, is it even possible for tourism businesses to plan for the future? The answer is yes, say Ms Hanyuan Zhang and Professor Haiyan Song of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University – but only if we can predict the unpredictable. In a study offering new hope for an industry on its knees, they and two researchers developed a pioneering method of forecasting tourism demand in times of crisis. Crisis brings opportunities as well as challenges. Thanks to this game-changing new forecasting approach, the tourism industry may even emerge from the pandemic stronger than before.

In 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 spelled disaster for societies worldwide, leaving no industry untouched. With travel bans and lockdown measures rapidly implemented across continents, tourism received a crushing blow. In Hong Kong, COVID-19 hit an industry already weakened by recent social unrest. Within just a few months, the number of visitors arriving in the city had fallen by more than 80%. Travellers’ confidence in Hong Kong as a destination was at an all-time low.

Events like the pandemic – incredibly rare and unpredictable, with the power to change the course of world history – are known as “black swan” events. The tourism industry is no stranger to their devastating effects. “Despite its importance,” the researchers warn, “tourism is also one of the most vulnerable industries”. In recent decades, for example, Hong Kong tourism has suffered major losses due to black swan events such as financial crises and the SARS epidemic.

Because they are so rare, black swan events are almost impossible to prepare for. Recovery is equally challenging, because what lies ahead is so unpredictable. This is a serious problem for the tourism industry, the researchers tell us, because “tourism businesses and organisations rely on recovery forecasting when preparing their crisis recovery plans”. Most importantly, they need to know how and when travellers are likely to return.

Normally, organisations facing difficulties look to the past for guidance. They use forecasts generated by traditional approaches, which are based on historical data, to inform their decisions on everything from budgeting to sales. However, old roadmaps are of little use in a landscape transformed by crisis. “Statistical methodologies,” the researchers warn, “cannot capture the impacts of sudden unanticipated events, such as diseases, disasters, or other crises.”

In such cases, the human touch is needed. Working quickly to assess the fast-moving situation, a panel of experts use their wisdom and discretion to adjust statistical forecasts. This is known as judgemental forecasting. However, this method also has drawbacks. For example, the researchers note, “it might be biased by the panel members’ optimism or pessimism”.

Clearly, in the wake of black swan events like the pandemic, traditional methods of forecasting are simply not good enough. In these uniquely turbulent times, the researchers realised, what the tourism industry needs is “a more systematic and reliable forecasting method that incorporates the advantages of existing forecasting methods”.

Faced with this challenge, the researchers offered a ground-breaking solution. “We describe the first attempt to combine three methods”, they explain, “to generate ex ante forecasts of the recovery of tourism demand in response to the unanticipated effects of crises”. Their novel “belt and braces” approach not only combines the strengths of statistical and judgemental forecasting but also minimises sources of human bias, such as wishful thinking.

Focusing on Hong Kong, the researchers first created baseline statistical forecasts based on past data: how many tourists would have arrived if the pandemic had not happened? They took into account the cost of holidaying in Hong Kong, the cost of travelling to alternative destinations, the income levels of tourists from different source markets, and other unique characteristics of these source markets.

Next, the researchers presented their baseline forecasts to a carefully selected panel of tourism experts, including both academics and practitioners. The experts were invited to adjust the researchers’ statistical forecasts based on their first-hand knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on three scenarios, mild, medium and severe, they indicated when they thought Hong Kong’s tourist numbers would reach their lowest point, when visitor arrivals would recover, and why.

Shining a light on the path ahead for Hong Kong tourism, the researchers’ analysis revealed that the industry “will likely begin to recover gradually from the crisis in 2022”. Using their novel forecasting approach, “the specific recovery speed associated with each origin market could be projected”. Nearby markets such as Macau, mainland China, and Taiwan will be the first to bounce back, once Hong Kong’s entry and exit restrictions are relaxed. Other short-haul markets in Asia will follow, and finally Hong Kong will welcome back travellers from long-haul markets such as the US.

“From a crisis management perspective”, say the researchers, “this study provides several suggestions for business planners and policymakers regarding the recovery of tourism demand after a crisis”. Due to the uncertainty and volatility created by COVID-19, caution is needed. “Tourism recovery should involve a gradual process based on a phased-action plan aimed at corresponding markets”, the researchers explain.

Offering discounts on airline tickets and accommodation will be a good start. With travellers’ confidence in Hong Kong already dented by social unrest, destination marketers should invest in promoting the city’s attractions via social media. For now, they should focus on short-haul visitors, who represent Hong Kong’s largest market. Above all, the researchers advise, “timely and effective crisis management strategies” will help build resilience to future black swan events.

With crisis comes change. Although COVID-19 has dealt an unprecedented blow to the tourism industry, the authors remind us, “it has also provided practitioners with opportunities to consider tourism reform and innovation, international cooperation, and regional communication”. With the help of the researchers’ novel forecasting approach, tourism businesses will be well placed to identify and seize these opportunities in the months and years ahead.

Already, say the researchers, policymakers worldwide are finding new and exciting ways to rebuild and reimagine tourism. They are “promoting smart and digital tourism, rebuilding confidence in tourist sectors, providing financial support and stimulating consumption markets”. Unprecedented times call for creative new measures, and the researchers’ innovative forecasting method will be at the heart of these efforts. Fortunately, they note, “tourists have a strong desire to travel to relieve the depression associated with epidemic fatigue”.

Recovery does not mean going back to how things were. As the world inches out of crisis, it is becoming clear that COVID-19 has changed our lives for good. Thanks to this ground-breaking study, Hong Kong’s tourism industry now has the toolset it needs to predict, understand, and adapt to future changes in travellers’ behaviour. But Hong Kong will not be the only beneficiary. “The method proposed in this study”, the researchers explain, “could be generalized and used to forecast the recovery of travel demand at other destinations facing major crises”. As their integrated approach shows, collaboration – between humans and computers, scholars and practitioners – will be key to helping the global tourism industry survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world. With its outstanding researchers and deep links to local and global tourism, the SHTM is perfectly placed to lead this recovery.

Hanyuan Zhang, Haiyan Song, Long Wen and Chang Liu (2021). Forecasting Tourism Recovery amid COVID-19. Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 87, 103149.

First published at – Global Travel News