BACKGROUND OF E-TOURISM
Tourism has closely been connected to the progress of ICTs for over 30 years. The establishment of the Computer Reservation Systems (CRSs) in the 1970s, Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) in the late 1980s and the Internet in the late 1990s have transformed operational and strategic practices dramatically in tourism (Buhalis and Law, 2008). As Romain et al., (2010) stated, the link between customer and supplier has been shortened, removing intermediaries. Hence, customers have the opportunity to directly access to the offers featured in the tourism industry. Since the 1980s, Information Communication Technologies (ICT) has enabled worldwide tourism industry (Buhalis, 2003). Nowadays, the Internet and ICTs are relevant on all operative, structural, strategic and marketing levels to facilitate global interactions among suppliers, intermediaries and consumers around the world (Egger and Buhalis, 2008). At present, it plays an important role in the tourism industry. The effectiveness of different sections of this service industry is being enhanced and improved quickly by ICT. According to the statistics published by World Tourism Organization (WTO), in the near future, countries without ICT infrastructures would not be able to keep up with the pace of tourism growth of other countries which have significant roles in ICT infrastructure. Travel and tourism industry has created more than 198 million jobs all around the world and has made 10% of gross national products (GNP) of many countries in 2002. With reference to World Travel and Tourism Council statistics (WTTC, 2005), travel and tourism which is a fast growing industry and is considered as the biggest industry in the world, would create 249 million jobs and share 10.6% of GNP in different countries all over the World (Paajarvi, 2004).
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has an inevitable impact on different industries and their performances. The tourism industry as the largest and fastest growing industry in the world cannot be excluded from this technology and its huge impacts. ICT provides information about tourist attractions in the different destinations before travelling and may improve tourists’ satisfaction. According to World Tourism Organization (WTO) statistics, Iran is among the top five countries in having tourism potentials. However, Iran has not performed well in promoting its attractions to international tourists via ICT tools yet. Thus, it is concluded that there are essential needs for planning strategies in the field of e-tourism, particularly in e-ticketing, e-reservation, online payment, multi lingual and updated information websites. Finally, this article will recommends that the tourism authorities to develop the e-tourism infrastructures in order to keep up with the competitiveness of this field to enable the country to benefit from the global benefits of the tourism industry.
The large number of travel and tourism websites being created in developed and developing countries shows the importance of ICT in the tourism industry and it also indicates the evolution of e-tourism in the world. Tourism has closely been connected to the progress of ICT for over 30 years (Buhais and Jun, 2011). According to statistics, Malaysia is a country which has billions of dollars of turnover in its tourism industry. The success of Malaysian tourism industry is not due to its PETRONAS Twin Towers and natural attractions alone, but it is due to the development of e-commerce and also the increasing use of ICT in developing e-tourism. This has resulted in the development of a complete and precise system of information for responding to travelers’ needs before traveling to Malaysia in terms of the purchase of tickets and the procurement of visas, hotel reservations, transportation and weather conditions. Apart from that, this system has helped travelers to be in a close contact with Malaysian tourist attractions and facilities, which resulted in the travelers’ satisfaction being a crucial factor in the tourism industry (Virtual Malaysia, 2008). Based on the Electronic Union of Travel and Tourism Industry Report published in 2008, the first e-tourism union in the Middle East and all over the world was established by the Arabs and Europeans. Developed countries have done a wide range of studies on the importance of ICT in different industries such as the tourism industry. Customers’ behavior in e-tourism, for example, which buying channels that customers like or always use in order to choose their vacation either through the websites, blog , facebooks and others. It also assesses what the effective factors of a tourism website are, which causes the selection of the website as a buying channel (Steinbauer and Werthner, 2007). ICT plays an important role as a new method in increasing the demand in tourism industry, which in turn, results in attracting more tourists and generating more income, apart from further developing the tourism industry. According to World Tourism Organization (WTO) statistics, Iran is among the top five (5) countries in having historical and natural resources for tourism purposes. Unfortunately, Iran has not performed well in introducing its attractions to tourists via ICT tools yet. A quick look at the world’s tourism statistics and Aust. J. Basic & Appl. Sci., 5(12): 877-883, 2011 878 economy shows that each year, more than 600 million foreign tourists visit different parts of the world.
THE E-TOURISM PROCESS
From the above study, the situation now is clearly show that tourism has become the world’s largest industry and its growth shows a consistent year to year increase. The World Tourism Organization predicts that by 2020 tourist arrivals around the world would increase over 200%. Tourism has become a highly competitive business for tourism destination over the world. Competitive advantage is no longer natural, but increasingly driven by science, information technology and innovation.
The Internet is already the primary source of tourist destination information for travelers. About 95% of Web users use the Internet to gather travel related information and about 93% indicate that they visited tourism Web sites when planning for vacations. The number of people turning to the Internet for vacation and travel planning has increased more than 300% over the past five years.
Tourism Information Systems (TIS) are a new type of business systems that serve and support e-tourism and e-travel organizations, such as airlines, hoteliers, car rental companies, leisure suppliers, and travel agencies. One class of these systems relies on travel related information sources, such as Web sites, to create tourism products and services. The information extracted from these sources can serve as the springboard for a variety of tasks, including dynamic packaging, travel planning, and price comparison. We are particularly interested in studying the development of dynamic packaging applications. Dynamic packaging can be defined as the combining of different travel components, bundled and priced in real time, in response to the request of the consumer or booking agent.
Our approach to the development of a dynamic packaging platform encompasses the use of the latest information technologies such as semantic Web, Web services, and Web processes. E-tourism is a perfect application area for semantic Web technologies, since information dissemination and exchange are the key backbones of the travel industry.
Dynamic Packaging Applications
Currently travelers must visit manually multiple independent Web sites to plan their trip, register their personal information multiple times, spend hours or days waiting for response or confirmation, and make multiple payments by credit card. Consumers are discouraged with the lack of functionality. They are demanding the ability to create, manage and update itineraries. With dynamic packaging technology, travelers can build customized trips that combine customer preferences in a single price.
A dynamic packaging application allows consumers or travel agents to bundle trip components. These systems permit the customer to specify a set of preferences for a vacation, for example a five-day stay at the Madeira island, and dynamically access and query a set of information sources to find component such as air fairs, car rental, and leisure activities in real time
Dynamic Packaging System Architecture
This system has four major phases: integration of e-Tourism information sources, semantic mediator generation, dynamic packaging process generation, and dynamic packaging final products. All the components that are used in each phase are illustrated in Figure 1. Due to space limitation, we will only briefly describe each phase.
Figure 1. Overall system architecture
Integration of e-Tourism information sources
One big challenge to develop dynamic packaging applications is to find a solution to cope and integrate the non-standard way of defining e-tourism products and services. There are no standards or common criteria to express transportation vehicles, leisure activities, and weather conditions when planning for a vacation package, several ways can be found among all the existing Web sites. To deal with the lack of standard and enable data integration we rely on the use of ontologies and semantic annotation. As it has been recognized, the semantic Web can considerably improve e-Tourism
The e-Tourism ontology provides a way of viewing the world of tourism. It organizes tourism related information and concepts. The ontology will allow achieving interoperability through the use of a shared vocabulary and meanings for terms with respect to other terms.
In an early stage of our project, a partial ontology for the e-Tourism was created using Protégé and the OWL language. This was a very time-consuming task since it was necessary to find out information about real tourism activities and infrastructures on the Web and feed them into the knowledge base. A partial view of e-Tourism ontology developed using Protégé is illustrated in Figure 2. It should be noticed that this is a work in progress; the ontology is not complete yet. We are still gathering new concepts for its taxonomy and new axioms.
Figure 2. E-Tourism ontology dimensions
Parallel to our work, a working group at DERI is also constructing an ontology for the tourism industry. Our approach differs – it is objective-oriented – the ontology is able to answers four types of questions (Figure 2) that can be asked when developing a dynamic package. These questions involve the predicates What, Where, When, and How. Examples of typical questions are:
- What can a tourist do while staying at the Pangkor island.
- Where are located the interesting places to see and visit.
- When can the tourist visit a particular place?
- How can the tourist get to its destination to see or do an activity?
With the growth of the Web, all types of tourism information providers already have homepages for storing the description of tourism services and products. A dynamic packaging infrastructure requires integrating data in an automated way for querying in a uniform way and across multiple heterogeneous Web.
We rely on semantic annotation to resolve the differences among the data present in distinct e-Tourism Web sites. Semantic annotation is the process of inserting tags in documents, whose purpose is to assign semantics to the text between the opening and closing tags. Unstructured Web pages are annotated using the e-Tourism ontology. The semantically annotated pages are then stored in a knowledge database.
Semantic Mediators Generation
In this system, semantic mediators support a virtual view that integrates several e-Tourism information sources semantically annotated. Each mediator does not store any data and provide the system with uniform access to various e-Tourism information sources.
Mediators are automatically generated based on the e-Tourism ontology. Mediators are interrelated and form a hierarchical structure that is derived directly from the taxonomy of the e-Tourism ontology.
To better explain these concepts, let us consider the partial taxonomy retrieved from our e-Tourism ontology illustrated in Figure 4. >From this particular taxonomy, the following set of semantic mediators is automatically generated:
Figure 4. Hierarchical Structure of Semantic Mediators
Each mediator gathers and integrates semantic information from its children. In this structure, the leaves are records of information coming from e-Tourism data sources which were semantically annotated.
Generate Dynamic Package Processes
The objective of this phase is to construct a set of processes that are able to compose valid dynamic packaging solutions for customers. This phase includes the following elements:
- Abstract semantic Web process
- Dynamic Packaging Web Process Generator
- Concrete Dynamic Packaging Web Process
Abstract Web process. An abstract Web process specifies the control-flow and data-flow of an application, but does not define which Web services will be executed at runtime. Abstracting away the resource descriptions allows Web processes modeling dynamic packages to be portable and reused to generate different process instance at runtime.
For example, Figure 5 shows an abstract Web process designed to construct a dynamic package that includes a fishing experience in the morning, takes the tourist for shopping, schedules a golf game or a movie in the afternoon, and a dinner at night
Figure 5. Abstract semantic Web process
Dynamic Packaging Web Process Generator. Concrete dynamic package Web processes are automatically created using a suitable generator. In this step, the generator may optimize the concrete process based on the availability of Web services. Each service in the abstract Web process is turned into an executable service by specifying the locations of the Web service implementation.
Concrete Dynamic Packaging Web Process. An abstract Web process typically originates several concrete processes. Each Web process invokes different Web services. At this point, the processes are valid from a functional point-of-view, but they may not generate valid dynamic package due, for example, to time or cost constraints.
Dynamic Packaging Products
Final dynamic package processes are created using conditional planning, ranking, and selection. This system envisage using a conditional planning approach to allow the generation of correct dynamic packages. The main objective of the planning is to schedule an appropriate timeframe during which the tourist will realize a particular activity referenced by a dynamic package.
After using conditional planning, all the dynamic packages are valid. Nevertheless, some packages may take more time to execute than others or be more expensive for the tourist, i.e. they have a distinct QoS (Quality of Service). For these reasons the next phase is responsible for ranking and selecting the packages which have a set of characteristics that is more similar with the tourist requirements. To compute the QoS of each package process, we use the SWR algorithm. Once dynamic package processes are evaluated, they are presented to the tourist. Finally, the tourist can select the package that he founds more appealing or suitable according to his preferences.
This e-tourism system is the key for the future of the tourism industry. The e-tourism also can be defined as the combination of different travel components, bundled and priced in real time, in response to the requests of the consumer or booking agent. This also can cut the intermediaries activities that can save time and money. It should be high lightened that there is an essential need for planning strategies in field of e-tourism, particularly in fields such as e-ticketing, e-reservation, online payment, multilingual and updated information websites. Moreover, more e-services should be provided for tourists who want to travel to the attraction city on the websites while focusing on important factors like time and cost saving and obtaining feedback. Finally, city which has more attraction places needs to develop the e-tourism infrastructures in order to keep up with the competitiveness in the future.
Posted by : Amirul Ramzan Bin Omar
1. WTO, World Tourism Organization. 2005.
2. Lake, D., American Go Online for Travel Information, in CNN. 2001.
3. DERI, E-Tourism Working Group. 2005, DERI International.
4. Uschold, M. and M. Gruninger, Ontologies: Principles, methods and applications. Knowledge Engineering Review, 1996. 11(2).
5. Protégé, Protégé. 2005, Stanford Medical Informatics.
6. OWL, Web Ontology Language (OWL). 2004, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
7. Kiryakov, A., et al., Semantic Annotation, Indexing, and Retrieval. Journal of Web Semantics (Elsevier), 2005. 2(1).
8. Akkiraju, R., et al. Executing Abstract Web Process Flows. in Workshop on Planning and Scheduling for Web and Grid Services, ICAPS. 2004. Whistler, British Colum-bia, Canada.