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Dr Elena Cavagnaro – Professorship Sustainability in Hospitality & Tourism

The fourth instalment of THE INC (Tourism, Hospitality and Events INternational Conference) with the title “Technology Enabled Competitiveness and Experiences in Tourism, Hospitality and Events” was held at the hotel school the Hague in Amsterdam, the Netherlands from June 5 to June 7, 2024. THE INC is the official conference of ATHENA (Association of Tourism, Hospitality and Events Networks in Academia).

With thanks also to Marit de Vries and Frederik van der Meulen, main take outs of the conference are that:

• Tech – in its advanced forms such as GenAI, humanoid robots, extended reality, virtual reality and the Metaverse – is here to stay
• Tech is used and will be used in hospitality to hyper-personalize the offer – whether this is a good thing or actually destroys one of the reasons why people travel – to be surprised – remains uncertain at the moment
• Tech may in the end decide for us, but cannot replace human touch and human meta-cognitive capacities
• Artificial intelligence is moderated by natural intelligence (Stanislav Ivanov)!
• Each stakeholder has different needs, and data should be framed to serve these needs
• Though not fully touched during the congress (see below) a strong ethical compass is needed when using tech
• Furthermore, while AI can provide significant support by analyzing data, generating insights, and automating routine tasks, it also presents challenges, such as ensuring the reliability and value of the information it provides and maintaining essential human interactions. To judge whether the information provided by AI is reliable and valuable, we need meta-cognitive skills and knowledge.

Some more descriptive notes:

In his keynote, professor Buhalis observed that it is essential to study technology in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality (LTH) in the frame of its contribution to solve global problems, and particularly sustainability related challenges. He referred to a recent study he contributed to that showed that LTH can indeed contribute to all UNSDGs.
From my point of view unfortunately, most presentations I listened to looked at technology from an economic lens. Researchers addressed, for example, acceptance of anthropomorphic robots, hyper personalization thanks to AI, and how VR-mediated nature experiences help in restoring people’s wellbeing with limited investment in money and time. No attention was given to ethical and sustainability issues such as the vast amount of energy used; the training of LLM on data without permission of the authors; and bias in AI.

Luckily, again from my point if view, the conversation in between presentations were more fruitful. For example, the owner of a well known Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam shared that he indeed invested in robots hoping to save on employee costs. However, he kept investing when he noticed that his employees had more time for interacting with guests what increased guests’ satisfaction. He also noticed that robots helped with ergonomics, as waiters did not have to walk with heavy trays, and thus with his employees’ wellbeing. There is clearly more than economic, self-serving logic in entrepreneurs, as our own research also proves.

In our presentation, with the title “SME tourism entrepreneurs: Not as egoistic as we think. Reflecting on values, technology and sustainability”, Femke Vrenegoor and I reported on research among Dutch micro and small accommodation entrepreneurs. They represent around 95% of accommodation enterprises and are lagging behind in implementing sustainability measures. This has led to the suggestions that they are mainly moved by self-serving values and that therefore any talk about implementing sustainable technologies should be directed to their self-interest. Femke and I wished to challenge this assumption and started by listening to 17 micro and small accommodation entrepreneurs. We did not ask them about sustainability but about the reasons they become an entrepreneur and then shew them a list of values, such as freedom, having pleasure, ambition, helping others and protecting the Earth. We asked them for their top three values. Self-serving values, such as ambition, do not appear in the top three. Values relating to the natural environment, so called biospheric values, do. Similar results we got from a quantitative study. We therefore concluded that accommodation entrepreneurs are not as egoistic as we may think and that there are therefore opportunities to frame our communication about sustainability technology appealing to their wish to care for people and planet.
Our paper was nominated for the best paper award in Tourism. This means it was rated by the reviewers with at least a 4.6 on a 5 points scale and then selected by the key notes. We did not win but are glad that our research got the attention from our peers.

Figure 1: Eleni Michopoulou presents the papers nominated for the best paper award

Dr Ian Yeoman – Professorship Disruption, Innovation and New Phenomena in Hospitality

The INC conference with a theme Technology Enabled Competitiveness and Experiences in Tourism, Hospitality and Events certainly lived up to its theme with keynotes focusing on the changes that are about to have transformational effect on the hospitality and tourism sectors.

At the conference we saw the launch of the Hospitality, Tourism, Innovation & Technology Experts Network (HTIT-EN) which has been granted a subsidy of 100,000 euros by the SIA Project Network. HTIT-EN brings together researchers from five universities of applied sciences in the field of tourism and hospitality. This unique collaboration contributes to technological innovation within the domain of hospitality and tourism. Based on a joint research and innovation agenda, they are working together with local, as well as national and international partners. Hotel Management School Leeuwarden will be contributing to the network through a series of disruptive scenarios about the future of hotels and technology next year.

Figure 2: The Launch of the HTIT-EN Technology Innovation Network at INC

At the conference, Professor Ian Yeoman participated in several panels on the future of technology, whereas Frederik van der Meulen and Marit De Vries contributed a paper on the effectiveness of Virtual Reality (VR) training in improving hospitality skills, specifically how various learning styles respond to VR-based teaching. Their study finds that virtual reality is a very successful tool for hospitality education, especially for students who thrive on observation and reflection. Maximizing training efficacy requires tailoring VR experiences to different learning types as well as giving early VR exposure.

INC was also an opportunity for networking and meeting old and new colleagues. Such an outcome was an agreement between Yasemin Oruc (Hotel School, The Hague), Associate Professor Tracy Harkison (AUT), Una McMahon-Beattie (Ulster University) and Ian Yeoman (NHL Stenden) for a new book on The Future of Luxury: A Hospitality, Tourism & Events Perspective.

Dr Hanneke Assen and Inga Mons – Professorship Hospitality Education

Figure 3 & 4: Dr Hanneke Assen and Inga Mons present their topic ‘The Impact of Design Based Education on Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Hospitality Education’ at the INC

Inga Mons and Hanneke Assen presented on behalf of the Hospitality Education Research Group. Our topic, ‘The Impact of Design-Based Education on Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Hospitality Education, highlighted the essential skills future hospitality professionals need to succeed in a high-tech, rapidly changing environment. Most presentations at the conference showcased the latest trends and technological advancements in the hospitality and tourism sectors. It was fascinating to explore how technology, despite its rapid advancements, still cannot replace the critical higher-order thinking and emotional human connection (yet) that are fundamental to hospitality.

Our presentation underscored the significance of Design Based Education in cultivating higher-order thinking skills among graduate students. We presented the results of a follow-up study to our 2022 research (see link to the article here). In both 2022 and 2024, we explored students’ levels of higher-order skills. These studies included regular, short, and fast-track students, and we analyzed their portfolios. In the 2022 study, short and fast-track students exhibited higher levels of higher-order thinking skills than regular students. Moreover, regular students demonstrated more action-oriented reflection skills, while short and fast-track students demonstrated more learning/meaning-oriented reflection skills. The 2024 study showed that higher-order thinking skills have balanced out across tracks and increased on average, with regular students shifting from action-oriented to learning/meaning-oriented reflection.

We observed that most presentations related to hospitality education focused primarily on the application of technical changes in the curriculum, but rarely addressed a critical approach to these new techniques or the ethical issues involved. We concluded that there is significant potential to enhance the education of hospitality professionals by inspiring a more critical and thoughtful engagement with industry advancements. This includes fostering higher-order thinking skills that enable students to critically assess new technologies and their ethical implications, ensuring they are not only proficient in technical applications but also equipped to navigate the complex ethical issues within the industry. The future of our industry depends on a balanced integration of technological innovation and the development of essential higher-order thinking skills.