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UNWTO partners Telefónica for tourism sector digitisation

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Director of Communication, Corporate Affairs, Branding and Sustainability of Telefónica, Eduardo Navarro (left) and Deputy Secretary-General of UNWTO Jaime Cabal at the signing ceremony in Spain


Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. ‎Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses a growing number of new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-‎economic progress.‎

With a global economic contribution of more than 7.6 trillion USD in a single year, the travel and tourism represents one of the world’s largest industry sectors. While the desire to see the world motivates people to travel, a number of compelling factors inspire millions of people to pursue careers in this booming field; from the opportunity to work alongside collaborators from diverse cultures and backgrounds, to promoting sustainability.

However, because the field of travel and tourism is rapidly evolving, it is imperative for aspiring workers in this space to keep up with the latest developments and hottest trends. One major impact on travel and tourism happening right now is digitisation, which is responsible for large-scale and sweeping transformations across multiple aspects of business, providing unparalleled opportunities for value creation and capture, while also representing a major source of risk.

The economic and societal implications of digitisation are contested and raising serious questions about the wider impact of digital transformation. Today, business leaders across all sectors are grappling with the strategic implications of these transformations for their organisations, industry ecosystems, and society. The travel and tourism industry, no doubt, is far from immune to the digital transformation phenomenon.

In what seems like a strategic move to take advatage of digitalisation and boost the travel and yoursim sector, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) have announced an agreement with Telefónica to collaborate in the development and implementation of digital entrepreneurship and training initiatives that allow the tourism sector to increase its competitiveness and strengthen its long-term sustainability.

The framework agreement, which comes at a time of profound technological change that impacts all industrial sectors, where a commitment to innovation and transformation is essential, was signed in Madrid by Jaime Cabal, Deputy Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation, and Eduardo Navarro, Director of Communication, Corporate Affairs, Branding and Sustainability of Telefónica.

The alliance, whose first phase will be in effect until the end of 2020, revolves around four initial lines of action: digital entrepreneurship; application of new technologies in the tourism sector; digital education and training; and the development of a specific digital agenda for the tourism industry.

In this regard, the application of new technologies such as Big Data and the Internet of Things are already leading to new uses and applications that will revolutionise services in the tourism sector and responses to new customer demands. For this reason, this alliance places special emphasis on jointly addressing the challenges and opportunities that this technological change entails and initially takes concrete form in four specific lines of action.

First, both parties are committed to promoting innovation and digital entrepreneurship within the tourism sector through the creation of innovation forums, collaboration in open innovation programmes with third parties, and public-private collaboration models focused on Open Innovation. The aim of these initiatives is to create the suitable spaces for the development of innovative ideas and outreach to all the actors involved.

No doubt, new technologies will have an increasing role in the modernisation and growth possibilities of the tourism sector and, therefore, both entities will launch initiatives aimed at the use of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, among others. Many of IoT’s solutions, such as retail, help build customer loyalty by digitising spaces that create a unique visitor experience.

Another important point of this agreement is to focus on Digital Education and Training, something essential in a new technological world in which jobs and skills are changing radically, affecting the employability and sustainability of businesses. In this sense, both entities will collaborate through the training platforms managed by Telefónica Educación Digital, such as Miríadax, to promote local and international courses on digital technologies and skills applied to tourism and aimed at different entities in the sector.

Lastly, Telefónica will lend its support to the UNWTO in the development of a specific Digital Agenda for the tourism sector guided by a set of very concrete objectives: to place new technologies at the service of sustainable growth, foster innovation and promote inclusive economic and social development. 

During the signing, Cabal said that, “innovation and digital transformation are among the priorities of the World Tourism Organization in order to provide additional impetus to tourism as an ally of sustainable development”. He added: “Together with Telefónica we can help our more than 160 Member States build their tourism innovation ecosystems and create digital tools that facilitate more efficient decision-making thanks to the use of Big Data, artificial intelligence and many other advances.”

For his part, Eduardo Navarro stressed that, “this framework agreement is very important because the technologies are drawing the future of travel and tourism. Virtual and augmented reality, Big Data, cognitive intelligence and the Internet of Things will be a fundamental part of the tourist experience and Telefónica is a very important player in the provision of these services. The fibre networks deployed by Telefónica will also be decisive in making this a reality that will have an impact on the experience of users and on the services provided by the different players in the sector.”


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