The future of Smart Tourism, IBM Smarter City Challenge at Huizhou, South China

Ravi responding to media questions on DMO approach for Smarter Tourism destinations

Ravi Ss Nanjund responding to media questions on DMO approach for Smarter Tourism destinations

Amongst other things, there was considerable interest on one of IBM’s recommendation related to DMO(Destination Management Organisation) approach to Huizhou. The media interest was around the proven nature of DMO on a global basis and how would this specifically solve Huizhou’s tourism problem. My thoughts went back to the root of the problem, as put out by the Executive Delegate of the Huizhou city Mayor. Huizhou was a tier three city in South China and had dropped almost three percentage points since 2013 in terms of tourist inflow. Huizhou was less popular vis a vis other competing destinations and was a similar destination as some other cities in South China. How on earth, would you create a differentiated and successful model, which would bring growth back into tourism and make up for lost time???

Huizhou was indeed an ecologically rich city, with sea turtle Xunlao Bay, Luofu mountain, Drifting river(river rafting) and a few other attractions. I was challenged and worked with my IBM SCC team on how could we make a difference and help Huizhou bounce back. Improved online presence, Interactive omni-channel Tour planning capability, more effective promotions, CRM and open up to International market were some of the ideas. But, it was hard to tag any of the above as mind blowing stuff or game changers. I even doubted if, there was a game changer for Huizhou at all!

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Pic : A media representative from a Chinese business newspaper querying on the smart tourism approach

As luck would have it, a fellow IBMer pointed me in the right direction. Steve, a member of IBM Institute of Business Value, is a renowned Industry Analyst, has many white papers and research blogs to his credit. He mentioned about the emergence of Destination Management Organisation, as the new Industry pivot, for making Tourism Smarter. I had to admit, this indeed was the physical manifestation of the solution to a fragmented and unorganized Industry. Tour operators such as Thomas Cook or TUI were indeed offering end to end experience to their customers, but this was not about promoting and managing a city as a tourism brand.

Destination Management Organization(DMO) is an organization built to unify all stake holders for the purpose of developing and promoting Tourism. DMO is an all inclusive organization, with members drawn from all representative elements of tourism ecosystem of the city, For example, what DMO does is enroll Hotels, Transport providers, Tour operators, Scenic Spot Operators, Hotels and Retail outlets as members. DMO also helps bring together service providers into associations, so that agreements could be formalized for data sharing and for the members to receive sales leads, intelligent insights and be informed of change in tour plans, if a tourist makes a change. So what we now see is that in addition to the DMO as a physical entity, one also needs a platform on which the tourism ecosystem could seamless integrate, creating a superior end to end experience for the tourist.

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Pic: IBM SCC@Huizhou team from the right Joe Hong, Susan Schreitmueller, Kaaren Koomlen,  Caludia Poscoe and Ravi Ss Nanjund(blog author) at the famous Xunlao Bay

While I was excited about the mind blowing potential this idea had, I was troubled in a corner of my mind, “Is this too good to be true?” So I started to search for the nagging unknown question.   After a couple of days, it dawned on me that the doubt was on viability of this model for a Tier three tourist city. I got to work with the team and we started sketching financial models and breakeven points,  on a Cloud based Solution as a Service(CaaS) model.  In no time, very fundamental questions came to the surface.

  1. Would a fragmented tourism ecosystem of private entrepreneurs trust a DMO organisation, which was Not for Profit, with Government participation, maybe a Joint sector kind of organisation to bring back prosperity to all members?
  2. The IT platform(front office and back office) was a critical enabling factor, could the DMO afford it? Who would take the risk and invest before members signed up to leverage this integrated platform? Who is the elusive but critical sponsor, putting in seed capital?
  3. Have Tourism boards been successful with DMO approach? Is this a passing fad or sustainable?
  4. Can we recommend to Huizhou a well thought of DMO based business model?

As you can see, one potential game changing idea and four very fundamental killer questions. Will share with you on how we went over these and emerged out of the woods. Coming back to the media question ‘Is DMO a proven business model and how would it specifically solve Huizhou’s tourism problem?’ The IBM team had to produce fact based, expertise backed solid answers. I will begin my next blog with answers to these questions

Ravi Shankar S N, Global Leader Travel & Transportation Centre of Competence, IBM

These are the views of the Blog author and not of IBM

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Week 2 Completed

The IBM SCC Vizag team completed a strong Week 2 which included completing follow up visits, summarizing our initial findings and spending many late hours researching and brainstorming our recommendations for emergency preparedness.

We also had the chance to see some more interesting sites and meet more friendly people of Vizag who have shown such a strong community spirit.

Fishing boat are of the Vizag port

Fishing boat area 

We bought delicious fresh guava and bananas from very friendly folks at the local market

We bought delicious fresh guava and bananas from very friendly folks at the local market

Shopping at the Vizag market was a friendly and happy experience

Shopping at the Vizag market was a friendly and happy experience

A colorful variety of fruits, vegetables and spices

A colorful variety of fruits, vegetables and spices

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Children of Vizag

What an incredible week this has been. I’ve had the honour of spending time in Vizag, India with some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. We’ve spent time in government offices, universities, public offices, small towns and fishing villages. This picture is from a school in a small town where nearly all of their trees they depended on for fruit to sell were wiped out after the worst cyclone in India’s history. They showed a love of life, an inquisitive nature and resiliency that most of us pampered folks could only hope to aspire to. India has made its way into my heart.

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Railroad visit

Very inspirational meeting with the recently appointed Railway Divisional Manager. We discussed the impact of Hud Hud on the railway system.  This institution is over 150 years old and services the entire country. Their disaster recovery protocol is well established and they deal on a daily basis with a series of challenges.  After Hud Hud the entire team rallied and had the trains running within 18 hours. They extended their hospitality to surrounding communities as well as their staff and travelers.  It was a delight to talk to the Divisional Manager who gave us insight into why this is known as the City of Destiny, furthering our love for this wonderful land.

IBM SCC Team at Rail Office

IBM SCC Team at Rail Office

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Vizag Beach

We had the privilege of meeting lots of nice people, especially young people, when we walked on the Vizag Beach Sunday afternoon.  It was almost like being celebrities, so many dozens of kids came up and wanted to talk to us and get their pictures with us. We feel so connected with the nice people here and are so impressed how they have overcome many hardships of the cyclone.  Just past this popular spot on the beach is where the entire beach road was lost to the Hud Hud cyclone, and beach erosion is a big problem.

These girls attend one of the colleges we visited this past week.

Kids meeting us on the Vizag beach

Kids meeting us on the Vizag beach

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Vizag Smarter Cities Fisherman’s village visit

We visited the Fisherman’s village near Vizag, India. It was ravaged by the Hud Hud cyclone.  During the tour, we saw the boats, the fish drying in nets, and had a chance to interact with the fishermen. The language barrier was broken when I showed the fishermen my iPhone pictures of fish I had caught back home in California! They got excited and gave me names of the local fish they catch that look like the ones I showed them – a real ice breaker with such nice people!

Our mission is so important, to learn all we can about Hud Hud’s impact and suggest recommendations on improving the emergency management response capabilities in Vizag.

Vizag India fishing village

Vizag India fishing village

Fishing boats

Fishing boats

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A Look Back at Week 2, and a Beautiful Trip to Luofu Mountain

Week 2  was an interesting one.  We finished up interviews of the various tourism related stakeholders and began to frame up our recommendations.
The team agrees that Huizhou has some beautiful ‘scenic spots’, clean air and much culture and history to share.  While most of the tourists today are local, Huizhou is facing stiff competition from other local cities and provinces.  They have a desire to attract more national and international tourists.  An admirable goal, we’re trying to augment their current actions with an approach to gt them on a big data and analytics foundation.  This will be critical for them to understand more about their tourists, and what they need to do to make Huizhou more attractive to other tourist market segments.
Today some of the team made a visit to Luofu Mountain, which is their only 5A rated (top rating) attraction in Huizhou.  The mountain is lovely,  with many natural features (caves, water falls, greenery) as well monuments and plaques to commemorate legends, reflect on horrible atrocities, and share historical artifacts such as buildings to house top Generals or other military figures in history.  There are also some wonderful culturally rich temples on the mountain. There are supposed to be over 1000 medicinal herbs on the mountain, so it is a very popular place for the Chinese people.   It was an extremely hot and SWEATY day, : ))  but one we enjoyed greatly and agree was necessary so we could have the true tourist experience first hand.
Claudia Pascoe Zielger, on behalf of team SCC@Huizhou China

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