Tourism and Information Technology

G. Raveendran

Department of Tourism, Transport Bhawan, New Delhi-110 001.


Tourism is essentially an expression of natural human instinct for experience, education and entertainment. The motivations for tourism also include social, religious and business interests. The economic consequences of this phenomenon are wide ranging. International tourism was worth about 321 billion U.S. Dollars during 1994 involving 528 million tourist visits (WTO, 1994).

Significance of Tourism

International tourism receipts form part of the balance of payment accounts of individual countries and are of major significance to both developed and developing countries. The main consideration for the development of tourism in several countries is, therefore, its balancing impact on the foreign trade account.

Tourism generates income and employment in the tourist receiving regions, be it a country, region, town or village. It makes the best use of resources which may not be used otherwise. Tourism can, thus, become an effective instrument of growth if it is developed through proper planning as a positive force to stimulate economic activity, improve ecology, foster national integration and mutual understanding of people of every nation.

The spectrum of employment generated by tourism varies from highly trained communication and computer specialists to room boys, sales girls, receptionists, waiters and unskilled workers. The airlines, travel agencies and tour operators also need several men and women with a variety of skills which are not too difficult to master. Tourism also provides high potential for self employment in a variety of ancillaries such as horticulture and handicrafts.

Tourism is also a source of amenities for the resident population of the tourist destinations. Because of visitor's arrival, the residents may enjoy a higher standard of public transport, shopping and entertainment facilities than they would be able to support otherwise (Burkart, A.J. and Medlik, S., 1976). The provision of employment, income and amenities for the resident population are, thus, the three main beneficial effects of tourism which apply to a greater or lesser extent to any tourist destination. These benefits are of particular significance to developing countries as no sophisticated technology is required to establish such facilities.

In some locations, tourism may provide an infrastructure, which in turn forms the base and stimulus for the diversification of the economy and for the development of other industries. Over and above, an established infrastructure often acts as an attraction to new and less directly related economic activities. Tourism expenditure, thus, stimulates an economy beyond the sectors concerned with tourism.

Apart from its direct contribution to the economy, tourism has significant linkages with several other sectors of the economy like agriculture, horticulture, poultry, handicrafts, construction, etc. Several items of tourist expenditure induce a chain of transactions in various other sectors. Each such transaction calls for the supply of some kind of goods and services. Further those directly or indirectly employed following the development of tourism may also demand more goods and services as a result of such employment that what they would have demanded otherwise. The additional consumption demand, thus emanating from tourist expenditure, will not only induce more employment, but also generates a further multiplier effect through a successive chain of transactions. As a result of this twin set of multiplier effects—indirect and induced—additional income and employment opportunities are generated through each successive transaction.

The impact of tourism on regional development and distribution of income is also significant. Tourists normally seek out areas in the interior of the countries for reasons of purity of environment, privacy, scenic beauty and its outdoor appeal. These national resources would otherwise be underutilised as there are few competing claims for their use. Tourism, thus, offers itself as a way of economically utilising resources which would otherwise remain either idle or underutilised, but attract the attention of visiting tourists. The exploitation of rural areas and the less developed countrysides through schemes such as outdoor treks, beach and mountain resorts, etc. far from the maddening crowds of urban areas will lead to the development of such areas. Such an involvement of the rural and interior areas can have a constructive effect on re-distributing the earnings from tourism.

Tourism also contributes significantly to the development of art and handicrafts. The millions of international tourists who are constantly on the move in search of recreation and pleasure support the promotion of such arts and crafts, while contributing substantially to the economy of the region.

Tourism in India

India is a democracy at its best with more than 900 million people steering the path of progress. This vast land with its enormous diversity of history, people, culture and human life, makes for a product mix that can take in almost the entire world. The rich beauty of its ancient monuments, the beat and rhythm of its folk and classical dances, its colourful crowded bazars, the grandeur of its snow-capped mountain tops, the quiet back waters and beautiful beaches and above all its friendly and charming people make India a land of tourist paradise. It is also a secular country with a heritage of an all encompassing ancient culture and cosmopolitan tinge. Despite these favourable factors, the international tourist traffic to the country still continues to be comparatively less though there has been considerable growth over the years and it has emerged as one of the largest foreign exchange eraners of the country.

Tourism is presently the third largest export industry in India - the first two being gem and jewellery and ready made garments. The foreign exchange earning from tourism is estimated to be about Rs. 7400 crores as against Rs. 7.7 crores in 1951.

The most beneficial impact of tourism is its capacity to generate large scale employment opportunities, particularly in remote and backward areas. The direct employment in the sector during 1994-95 was about 7.8 million persons accounting for about 2.4% of the total labour force. The labour-capital ratio per million rupee of investment at 1985-86 prices in the hotel and restaurant sector is 89 jobs as against 44.7 jobs in the case of agriculture and 12.6 jobs in the case of manufacturing industries. In the case of tourism, after combining the relevant individual segments. the ratio becomes 47.5 jobs and is still higher than most other segments. It is thus clear that tourism can play a major role in resolving the problem of large scale unemployment in the country provided it is developed on the desired lines with major inputs and initiatives from the Central Government.

A third impact of tourism, which is of particular significance to India is its contribution to national integration. Over 100 million domestic tourists visiting different parts of the country every year return with a better understanding of the cultural diversity of people living in different regions and carry with them a feeling of friendship and peace.

Technology & Tourism

Tourism in its present form is a post war phenomenon developed essentially as a consequence of technological developments in the fields of automibiles, railways, ships, aircrafts, computers and communication systems. Although sails were the earliest means of transport, the invention of steam powered automobile by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot in 1769, the assembly of the first commercial steamer by Robert Fulton in 1807 and the production of first successful locomotive by George Stephenson in 1814 introduced several means of mass transport. It was, however, the advent of air transportation during twentieth century which revolutionalised the phenomenon of international tourism. It reduced the distances between the nations to a matter of few hours.

The developments in computer and communication technologies have made it possible to have rental cars with computerised driving directions and self-service video-terminals at rental counters in high traffic airports. Fully automated rental transaction systems n — National's "Smart Key" machine and Budget's "Remote Transaction Book" came into existence. Yet another major contribution of technological developments in computers and communication systems to tourism is the computerised reservation systems (CRS). These systems can now inform subscribers about schedules, fares and seat availability, issue tickets and boarding passes, record bookings, maintain waiting lists, display preferred airlines or classes, search for the lowest fare available or the first available non-stop flight and calculate fares for domestic and international itineraries. The system can also make reservations for other services like hotels, car rentals, cruises, railways, tours, boat charters, theartres and sporting events.

Information Needs in Tourism

Travel is a basic human instinct. Technological revolutions in the last few decades and the consequent changes in the social systems accelerated its intensity in the current century. Thus, tourism is presently a mass phenomenon involving every human being in the world. They need detailed information about each place they intend to visit. The specific elements of such information needs are :

Though the ultimate users of this information are the consumers ie. the tourists, the actual benefits in money terms accrue to the tourism industry consisting of the destination managers and service providers. There is, therefore, a strong competition amongst various destination countries in the world to produce and package such information in the most attractive format to attract the consumers from the tourist generating countries.

The travel intermediaries like travel agents, tour operators, and reservation system store such information in respect of each destination to service their clients and improve their business. They need the information in the easiest retrieval format so that the information needs of the clients are met as quickly as possible.

Tourists generally need both static and dynamic information. Information on those features which do not change rapidly over time is termed as static information. It includes details information about location, climate, attraction features, history, facilities available, etc. Information about airline, train and bus schedules, tariffs of transport and accommodation units and current availability of such facilities is considered as dynamic as they can change very frequently. These items of information have to be gathered, stored and disseminated on a real time basis. All types of reservation systems including air, rail and accommodation sectors contain such information.

Aplication of Information Technologies

Till a few years ago, the basic sources of information in the tourism sector were pamphlets, brochures, directories, guide books, etc. produced and published by different countries. These sources prevail even today, though they are the most inefficient means of information.

The last few decades witnessed the application of computer and communication technologies in the field of tourism. Two distinct streams of information sources viz, (i) online and (ii) offline came into existence. Databases containing information about places, tourist attractions and facilities became available for online access in several countries. The emergence of computerised reservations system (CRS) like Galileo, Amadeus, Sabre, PARS, JALCOM, QAMTAM and ABASUS, etc. opened up a new source of online information on tourism and are being expanded continuously. The latest sources of online information is INTERNET which contains some pages on most of the tourist destinations in the world.

The CD-ROM technology also took the tourism industry by storm. CD titles which came in the market during the initial period mostly contained geographical information. Soon multimedia CDs on specific tourism products made their appearance. Several such titles are presently available in the market. The next few years are likely to witness a rapid growth in CD titles covering every aspect of tourism due to improved marketing efforts and increased competitions. Further hotel management and catering technology is fast emerging as an area of information technology application in the field of tourism.

The Indian Scenario

In India, the Department of Tourism took the first initiative to introduce information technology in tourism in the year 1989 by establishing TOURNET with the technical assistance of CMC Ltd. The network consisted of 35 information nodes installed in the field offices of the Department of Tourism located in different parts of the country. Each node contained a CD-drive apart from the usual configuration of floppy drives and hard discs. Each node was provided with a CD containing textual database on all the major tourist destinations in the country.

Recently, multimedia databases on tourism have been developed by Rajasthan and Maharashtra Tourism Departments with the assistance of some of the private software development firms. Apart from the government initiatives, a few private firms are also active in the field and a few CDs on Indian tourism are already available through their efforts.

The Central Department of Tourism is presently trying to tie-up with some of the private software development firms to produce a series of multimedia CDs covering all the tourist destinations in India. The intention is to bring out a marketable product for sale within India and abroad.

In the online field, the CRS Amadeus and PARS are already operational in India. Amadeus was established in 1993 and PARS came in 1995. INTERNET facilities are also presently available in India.

The Problems and Issues

The problems and issues concerning information technology applications in tourism are the following:

  1. Tourism in India is relatively young and is not well organised to absorb the advances in information technology. They generally lack technical and financial resources and their scale of operation it too limited to take advantage of information technology.

  2. There has not been any specific policy or co-ordinated approach so far for the development of information products on tourism at the national level. It is yet to be evolved and implemented.

  3. The information industry in India presently consists of a few software development firms, and some information centres in the Government sector. However, there are no database vendors in India who prepare their own databases and market them. In the absence of such units, all efforts are Government dominated and the products are generally not available in the market. It is, therefore, essential to provide adequate Government support and incentives for the development of such industries in India.