Oct 3, 2018 in Business

In the current fast-changing business  environment of tourism, there is a need for developing safe and up-to-date e-business technologies and processes that would improve customer experience and guarantee the safety of information submitted and stored on the server. Multiple approaches have been previously discussed, and there are various aspects of systems, related to cost, efficiency, user-friendliness and security. The below review is designed to provide an overview of the case study created by Chiu et al. and provide a framework for development and improvement of e-business technologies within tourism.

There are various aspects of tourism that determine specific approaches. First of all, the offers and marketing processes might be seasonal, which means that a greater workload and information amount would be processed in some of the months, and the planning process needs to take into consideration the requirements of the industry, as well as customers and legal system. Proactivity and the speed of information is one of the major aspects of development, and, therefore, the below study would focus on three major areas, such as speed of processing, security and customer experience. It is necessary to review some of the most commonly used platforms and processes, as well as the system and security requirements and interface. Web service technologies implementing interactive planning software and data exchange would be beneficial for all companies. However, the cost associated with maintenance and development might be high for small to medium size tourism organizations. Therefore, the authors would seek solutions for simplifying the system and cutting the cost without compromising on customer experience and security features.

Introduction

Tourism is considered a knowledge-driven market. According to Stanford-Smith and Kidd (2000), e-business strategies are also knowledge-driven. The structure of virtual marketplaces should be based on bringing together demand and supply. Therefore, an e-business strategy needs to deliver the information that the visitor (potential customer) is looking for. There are various aspects of a good e-business technology associated with a knowledge-driven marketplace, such as economic efficiency, optimization of sales, optimization of administration and optimization of resources. (pp.342.) The underlying technologies related to the e-business system include basic technologies, such as Internet servers, communication channels, security mechanisms and software technology.

The structure of virtual marketplaces should be designed to influence and inform the visitors or customers and provide straightforward information, leading the visitor through the purchasing process. One of the main benefits of e-business technologies that work according to the market’s needs is that they speed up the process, store information as it is collected, and also save costs of human resources for the company by reducing the need of human intervention and control. This also means that quality assurance systems need to be implemented in the software; however, this would be eventually proven to be a good investment by the company.

Facilitators of an e-business model within the tourism industry also need to be reviewed in order to be able to evaluate the most successful frameworks and approaches for minimum user input and maximum efficiency. The below study will review some of the recent literature regarding the challenges and solutions of the processes.

Literature Review

Kim (2004) reviews the latest innovation in tourism e-business technology. He concludes that tourism innovation is a debated phrase, and there is no clear and commonly agreed upon definition at the moment. According to Kim, the industry changes by the minute, and so does the technology, which is able to significantly contribute towards tourism business development. He discusses safe booking and enquiry systems, as well as potentially low cost of the systems. He lists the main benefits of e-commerce for companies, including easy access to information. However, the survey concluded by the author in Korea revealed that technological department leaders of the companies involved in the survey did not fully realize other benefits, such as creating new markets, reducing the company’s operation costs or improving the speed of the process and customer experience. Some of the drawbacks the author found in the tourism industry were that managers were not fully aware of the available technologies, did not trust the security features of the system or had no knowledge of the implementation process. Some of the respondents also underestimated the size of the e-commerce market.

Zelenka (2009) examines the four different aspects of communication and e-business technologies within the tourism industry. These include cost, market, competition and government- regulatory environment. ICT is the driver of the tourism industry, because it can increase the presence of the company in the marketplace without increasing the ongoing costs, while improving customer experience. According to the author, the main purposes of an e-business technological system within the tourism industry is to reduce the cost of the information exchange, increase the productivity, make substantial savings on labor costs and minimize waste. Furthermore, the technology should provide flexibility and higher availability for international customers, provide specialization opportunities and make the service of operation more flexible for potential customers. There is no cost increase associated with providing information automatically in an online enquiry system, as there is no need for personal interaction if all the databases are updated regularly. By satisfying a specific and sophisticated demand of the market, the company is able to create a competitive advantage. Value-added skill-building is another important factor and role of e-business technologies, and knowledge management or acquisition can be implemented in the system. The e-business technology is able to provide a compliant solution for all queries by electronically delivering legal agreements and disclosures.

The author further reviews the cognitive and artificial intelligence approaches to e-business development in the tourism industry. He asserts that cognitive science approaches can grow the number of systems available for tourism companies, while the artificial intelligence approach is based on research and studying the market, data flow and demand.

The EBusiness Watch Document (2006) examined some of the forces and analyzed the largest tourism sites operating in the European Union. The case studies included review of personalization and individualization features, knowledge management technologies, contact systems, feedback and privacy solutions.

Stiakis and Georgiadis (2009) analyzed the main drivers of the e-business strategy within the tourism industry. The authors concluded that the largest challenge of the design is that the company needs to effectively customize tourism products, identify individual needs and support links between suppliers and customers. For example, if the customer wanted to change booking online that is with a third party flight operator, the system needs to be able to complete the process without any need for personal interaction, e-mails or phone calls. This requires more than a one-way communication, and privacy or security issues need to be taken into consideration when designing communication platforms with business partners or providers, by disclosing customer details.

Challenges

The challenges of implementing e-business technologies within the tourism industry were revealed by the The E-Business Watch Document (2006). One of the challenges was associated with globalization and emergence of new tourist destinations. However, the ICT technology needs to consider the demographic changes of tourists, and this means that when considering the computing skills of the average user, the system needs to be straightforward and easy to use for people from every walk of life. Language is another important challenge, and by translating complete websites or making different versions companies can create a competitive advantage, provided that the translation is accurate and legally correct.

Individualization

According to the study, one of the main challenges facing the industry is individualization of holidays Decades ago, people booked a package holiday by selecting one from magazines. However, online competition today means that customers expect a tourist agency’s website to suit their needs and be as flexible as possible. There are various e-business technology solutions used for increasing flexibility, and this requires the creation of sophisticated databases that can handle multiple queries, as well as remember selections without interfering with customer experience or privacy settings. The research study also mentions mobile technology, and this is one of the future considerations to be included in the technologies, as the growing use of mobile devices for communication requires different encoding and optimization of applications or software.

Localized Services

Another challenge of the market related to technological solutions consists in the need to enable access anywhere and at any time. However, this would mean that displaying the price of a service would be based on the user’s IP address, and this would require adequate privacy policies. Although this is a convenience feature that would benefit all companies and their customers, the related legislation and e-business policies need to be reviewed and implemented in the system. Saunders and Wang (Saunders et al. 2009, Wang, 2010) confirm that the analysis of behavior should also be implemented in the system. The inclusion of prediction within the decision and selection process would improve user experience. However, this would also have some privacy implications, and regulations would need to be considered before adding this feature to the process and e-commerce technology. Market dynamics should also be considered and marketing structures created in order to design an attractive and customer-focused system. 

Interoperability

Interoperability is one of the main challenges identified by the European Commission study. (2006). 13 to 25 percent of the companies participating in the research answered that they had some issues with the technologies related to interoperability. Still, the problem is not as relevant as in other sectors. The main area in which companies experienced this problem was procurement. The issue in the travel and tourism industry is particularly evident in B2B transactions, payments, catalogues, exchange of databases and data collection or catalogization.

Mobile Computing and Optimization

Stiakis and Georgiadis (2009) mention mobile computing as one of the main challenges facing the industry. The development of software and applications within the tourism industry is still not fast enough, and considering a large number of adventure tourists who would like to make a decision on their next destination using their mobile devices, there is a need to improve the technologies, but most importantly the available security features. Sharing information, enabling interaction and getting feedback using social media are another challenges faced by the industry. By allowing users and customers to share their experience with others, travel companies would, therefore, achieve free advertising.

A good example of this social aspect is travelrepublic.com website, which allows people to submit reviews of hotels, restaurants, historical places, points of interest and tours. In so doing  companies would gain credibility, and social media aspects of websites, just like mobile applications, would be used to a greater extent.

The evaluation of user-generated content is one of the main challenges Stiakis and Georgiadis (2009) mention in their study, too. This means that there is a need for a more user-friendly and individual experience within the industry without leaving customers out of the process.

EBSM

The most important featuresof a successful EBSM would be an appealing and easy to use user interface supporting various languages and encodings, intelligent semantic search facilities, service recommendation, route planner and information availability at a click of the button, various related database implementation, such as map or location of nearby UNESCO sites, cuisines, historical places etc. Furthermore, there would be a semantic web wrapper and content integration technology built in the online customer interface, which would enable the company to integrate and extract data fast and efficiently. Salam and Stevens (2007) concluded by providing the main aspects of the electronic tourism market. Some of the findings and highlights of the research, as well as the case studies, will be included below.

Open-Source Software

Some companies in the industry reported the use of open-source software as a cost-effective solution. The flexibility of the solution and the already built processes or modules, as well as the standard security features, make the process of setting up an e-business faster and more cost-effective. The individualization of the software, however, also requires the review of the business processes in the company, and this means that a planning committee needs to be created to design the interface and the modules of the software. Over 34 percent of the companies surveyed by the European Commission (2006) used modified open-source software to process orders and payments, or distribute information over the Internet. Open-source databases are also popular in the industry, and the study found that there are several booking companies using the same type of module for semantic search processing.

Security

ICT security measures include firewalls, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protocols, as well as Transport Layer Security (TLS), which is the latest version of SSL. Furthermore, most companies today use digital signature or public key infrastructure built in their OSS or custom-built software. Firewalls were used by over 64 percent of European firms surveyed by the European Commission (2006). The use of e-signature is associated with online contracts, and it very important in the booking process. When people pay for tourism services online, they are presented with an electronic version of terms and conditions, refund policies and other specifications. By electronically signing the document, they agree with what is stated therein, and, therefore, there is no need to send out the paperwork. This process is important for last-minute travel providers, as there is usually no time to send out physical copies of the documents.

Some of the companies examined also use a bar code system when completing the booking process, and this means that printable electronic documents feature a bar code that can be read by accommodation or flight providers. This involves an advanced technology, but it can cut the cost of administration and improve customer experience. The use of digital signature technologies was researched by the European Commission (2006), and what the research aimed to find out was  “whether they had "rules that specify the use of digital signature or Public Key Infrastructure", as part of a question on the use of ICT security measures.” (p. 44.) Sixteen percent of the companies had rules related to the use of digital signatures. However, this is still a low figure, considering how many contractual agreements are completed over the Internet in the travel industry. There is certainly a need to develop a legal and privacy policy regarding contracts and signatures, as well as the delivery of travel documents.

Intra-Firm Processes

One of the main challenges of creating an e-business structure within the travel industry is setting up safe collaboration and data-sharing processes through servers with suppliers, customers and third-party providers. Being able to search for deals and offers on other websites would require a script, which would be provided by companies. However, to ensure that data exchange is handled according to privacy requirements, there is a need for proof.

Operating Systems

There are various operation systems that can be handled through the Internet, and applications can be processed through intranet websites. There are various interfaces that are able to create a booking, processing and application platform. However, optimizing the speed and security of servers is one of the most important aspects of the development. The database type would determine the system to be used, and the server needs to be able to handle the data flow. The company needs to create a hosting account with an unlimited and fast database processing facility. The management platform needs to be evaluated by a specialist department reviewing the schedules of updates, time it would take to process different queries and maximum number of connections. The database also needs to have a server log, which would provide extra security for the company; registering all access and changes made to the database and online content. Companies need to keep in mind that applications can be adapted to almost all users; however, languages in which these applications are written help e-business transactions to be relevant to the parties that use them (Rekhter, et, al. 2002).       

Selecting Programming Languages

There are different programming languages, such as OWL, XML, HTML, UTML, HTTPS, DAML-S, KQML and W3C. Programming languages and formats are used for orienting, rendering, presenting, and filtering information on servers and webpages. Various web protocols can be used, such as  HTTPS, UTML and HTML. HTTPS is a hypertext markup protocol commonly used for displaying secured sites and server content. UTML and HTML are web-rendering protocols used from mobile devices, as well as computer platforms. The difference between the two is in the rendering process and level of traffic per page (Rekhter, et, al. 2002).

The connection between the W3C, OWL and XML is that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has adapted the Web Ontology Language by using  a comprehensive Markup Language format to define web ontologies. Therefore, the OWL is an effective language and the most important component of the databases. OWL is used to describe classes, properties and their various instances, as well as logical semantics for the derivation of consequences. OWL is also a description language, and as such, it can manage primary e-business processes of information from databases and files rendered for customers, and request processing for companies or third parties.The KQML is a multi-agent-based kiosk that provides users and visitors with information on specified categories of hotels, restaurants, cinemas and theatres collected via the Internet. The KQLM’s advantage is that it might be integrated into various applications to provide a filtered result list based on the interests of the customer.

DAML-interfaces are used for presenting properties, unique properties, lists, restrictions, cardinalities, pair-wise disjoint lists descriptions of inverses, unambiguous properties and data. DAML-S is commonly used as a plug-in software, and there are various methods of customization. Integrating DAMIL in a website would increase the satisfaction of visitors, provide a fast search result and improve customer experience. The sorting feature of the system is one of the most appealing ones, as it renders all information based on the type and platform, and can differentiate between languages.

Solutions

Some of the solutions are delivered by online payment systems, while others require the modification of open-source software. However, the most challenging task is to ensure that no personal data is compromised while the company exchanges databases with third party providers. Privacy settings of some of the travel industry’s websites need to be reviewed to deliver the best customer experience. Redirecting customers to a third-party website and passing on their search criteria would pose technological and database processing challenges. However, privacy solutions, agreements and disclosures create the highest risks for the industry’s companies.

Card-Reader On–the-Go

When signing up for an online service, users submit their personal details. This process needs to have its own business infrastructure, involving various disclaimers, privacy options and documents to sign. Relevant e-business principles of a country or industry need to be built into a card reader system, including security features and confirmation process. If customers make payments online and do not get a receipt, they might start worrying. Therefore, delivery of documents and email confirmations need to be fast. When users register their email addresses, companies need to use a double opt-in confirmation system in order to check the validity of the email. Any document that is to be sent out to the customer can only be delivered if the user has confirmed the registration by following a link in the email.

Although card readers are used to authenticate payments, they need to be assessed based on the location of the majority of customers. And the charges of the payment need to be minimized, too. Today, many companies use PayPal or other electronic payment systems favored by  a number of customers. Their popularity is due to the built-in fraud protection, confirmation of system offers and ease of refund. The processing of payments is one of the main security issues that need to be handled by companies in the travel industry. Considering that a large proportion of clients might use public Internet networks, extra security systems need to be put in place to avoid disclosure of customer details. (Holbrook, & Reynolds, 1998)

ID Login Mechanism

There are various login mechanisms, but most  websites need to use a secure login https format. The checking of IP address is also important, and different security measures need to be put in place in order to ensure that fraud is prevented. If the IP address differs from the one stated in the registration form, and the customer is using a public Internet network, then there is a need for further confirmation of identity. This can be done through a phone call or email confirmation, which needs to be handled by the system’s security module automatically. (Books, 2010).         

HTTPS Protocols

The Internet is indeed a network of networks. HTTPS protocols need to be used to ensure encryption of data sent through servers. The same process needs to be used when exchanging database information or entries with third-party providers. Secure server-to-server transfer of data needs to be designed to enable an e-business application to automatically exclude unauthorized access and encrypt data. The encryption process is also used between two partner companies, but there is a need to harmonize systems and databases in order to make the collaboration through exchange work. Otherwise, there is a need for manual extraction of encrypted data and sending it to the supplier, which would increase the company’s operational costs.

Information Filters and Isolators

There are variousinformation filters and isolators used when creating databases of user submitted data. Registration can be one of the most dangerous applications online, and the monitoring of the server data flow is necessary to prevent compromising of data. Cyber criminals might be targeting travel sites in the future to find out more about customers’ travel intentions, card usage and other financial details. This puts a great responsibility on the travel company, security features of email systems, and monitoring of activities, which needs to have a regular schedule. Registrations need to be screened to ensure that the right data is stored. There is also a need to ask for updates, e.g. if a female customer got married and her documents were issued in her maiden name, travel service providers may refuse to provide the services (Baase, 2008). The problem of identity theft is best tackled by filtering information on the Internet. It is through search results that criminals can gain access to people’s private data (Gorodetski, 2005).Many travel websites guarantee their clients secure and safe handling of sensitive information, as well as privacy of their details. This is precisely why the industry’s companies need to develop cyber security safeguards internally (Wang, 2010).

Discussion

Salam and Stevens (2007) conclude that every business process is enacted by humans and software applications. This means that the two aspects need to work together in order to become a successful model and form an efficient collaboration. Although many companies are attempting to save costs and limit the interaction of human workers with customers, in the planning process there is a need for intervention, research and accurate description of the processes. Since a system is only able to do what it is programmed to accomplish, it is extremely important that companies should draw up a plan involving employees whose work the software is planned to replace. By getting to know different business processes within the organization, the development phase can be reduced and the costs cut. Involving knowledge management systems to collaborate with business processing software is important, too.

Some of the data reveals that the Internet is used by many companies in the tourist industry. For example, eighty percent of European firms with a staff of more than 250 employees had the system set up (European Commission, 2006) The main technological building blocks are XML suppliers, flight booking, accommodation, car hire, package vacations and extras, as well as insurance. While the back office system would have the rules engine, administration platform, and statistical data. Website themselves should have a user-friendly interface, search engine that would have an encrypted script looking through various databases, results page, shopping cart and a secure SSSL payment system (p. 119. Technology Building Blocks).

API development of websites included in the report shows that there is an increased demand for these types of software within the industry. GDS (Global distribution systems) and seamless XML feeds are used by companies to distribute messages and information. According to Salam and Stevens (Salam and Stevens, 2007), the importance of dynamic packaging applications (DPAs) would enable companies to hide the breakdown of individual service costs when searching for a custom-made vacation (p.4.).

As discussed earlier, one of the most challenging aspects of e-business is digital signature solutions. The solutions should be both secure and provide relevant authentication. For this reason, the authors have reviewed the new trends of the industry detailed by Shiralkar and Vijayaraman (2003). The software that is used most often is either public or private key application, and it is developed specifically for one type of transaction. There are internationally recognized classes of these certificates, and it is important that the travel and tourism industry would use these, as their customers would be from all over the world. The legal issues associated with using digital signature applications (DS) are outlined in various Acts in the United States, however, the legislation varies based on the location of the customer and the company. The author has stated that there is a need for an international agreement and the clarifications of the requirements, in order to be able to support the safe and compliant operation of such companies.

The digital signature technology needs to use either wireless security system built in the DS application, secure electronic messaging working alongside the software or secured data scanning methods. Secure data transferring technologies are also required in order to protect the personal details of customers submitted through public Internet networks.

The security requirements of the mobile applications and software are not fully outlined yet, as the technology is fairly new, still, there is a need for developing apps to meet the customers’ needs and secure the data submitted through mobile networks.

Learning Experience

Through the review of the technological solutions used by travel and tourism companies, the authors have gained an insight into the processes, business applications and software usage. The European Commission’s detailed report on some of the largest companies operating in the industry also revealed some of the success stories, trends and pitfalls of software development. Although there is a need to further develop case studies and analyze the market, the interaction with customers and assessing needs remains the main challenges for the industry.

One of the most important findings of the study was that although most companies, irrespective of their size or area of operation, were aware of the solutions delivered by software and e-business applications for security and databases, as well as booking or order processing, they seemed to neglect the importance of using the same systems for marketing, creating markets and interacting with customers.

Some of the examples cited by the European Commission study (2006) revealed that many companies have several travel components, each requiring its own technical solution for delivering database results, processing requests and completing contracts. All of the companies researched had at least two travel components, with Expedia.co.uk having four; flights, hotels, rent-a-car services and event tickets. This means that harmonizing different activities and solutions, creating individual packages for customers with special needs, as well as delivering documents in one go instead of supplying the customer with multiple barcode printouts and tickets, should be resolved by the industry.

Still, one of the main findings of the study is that there are various benefits of using e-business processes to cut the cost of operation.  However, if the company does not involve customers in the selection and feedback process, all the efforts of creating efficient solutions can be wasted in the highly competitive market (Singh, 2009).

Although the document did not cover mobile computing and application development, the authors of the current study assume that the largest area of software creation in the future would be creating applications and fully functional order pages for mobile technologies. Although there is no data regarding the mobile Internet use of customers specifically within the tourism industry, the authors assume that the number would be growing at a higher rate than in all the industries’ average combined.

According to Kim (2004), the most important aspect of the e-business function within small to medium size travel companies (SMTEs) was the security of the e-commerce system. The companies also thought that the user-friendly aspects of the websites were important, alongside with the level of trust. The latter is in a close correlation with the security of the system, as the safety of transfer and personal information is one of the major aspects of trust between the company and customers. This allows the authors to conclude that the management of server, Internet, site and transaction processing security should be the main focus point of all companies in the future, and standardized processes should be created on a company level to ensure not only compliance but continuous improvements of security features.

Outlook and Conclusion

One of the most important tasks of e-business development experts in the travel industry is to create applications that increase user interaction, encourage social media activity and sharing, while ensuring that safe mobile computing technologies are implemented in the system. Using e-business processes for business actions and operations is only the first step towards creating a successful online travel platform. Given e-business privacy guidelines and ethical requirements, companies also need to strive to serve customers better every day. With the emergence of new markets and travel destinations, knowledge and information-sharing features of websites are becoming increasingly important.

The outlook for using e-business platforms and processing systems in the tourism industry is very positive, and the above study has revealed some successful examples of combining customer satisfaction with marketing, security and new technological solutions. Today, interaction between companies and suppliers is one of the most challenging tasks of e-business developers, and in the travel industry, the increased risks of using public networks or payment systems online need to be assessed. To become successful on the Internet, tourism companies need more than just good systems.  Their main challenge in the future will lie in seeking feedback and maximizing customer satisfaction.

Companies use various systems, and integrating platforms with databases, encryption and payment systems, as well as social media applications, needs careful planning before implementation. Various available platforms look promising due to ensuring adequate security level, while back office systems can be fully integrated in websites and servers.

The e-commerce strategies should be implemented on four different technology levels, according to King (2004). The security and processing models should be enabled on a hardware and software level, implemented in the capital infrastructure, brought in line with the media infrastructure and the regulation or legislation on a national, industrial and international level.

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