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Technology brings winter tourists in from the cold


An e-commerce solution developed for Alpine tourism combining geographical 3D information with actual offers for visitors has met with success and is being extended to other tourist regions.

In the pilot version created by IST-Project TourServ, a portal site was developed and tested in the Italian winter resort of Scopello, available for use by foreign travel agents and tourists on site to prepare actual and relevant information tips. Among the information supplied is lodging, travel, weather, events, culture, and recreation together with added-value services for booking and payment.
One focus is the integration and personalisation of these services. Online reservations are optimised: for example, individual adjustments of rented sports equipment could be done in advance, using personal preferences and body measures supplied by the customer when booking.

Moreover, tourists travelling with a device with Internet access (handheld computers, or mobile phones with UMTS) are supplied with three-dimensional maps. These maps are related via GPS to the current location of the recreational activity. This allows the tourist to receive continuous updates about:

  • routes and ski-runs in the region

  • the location and current offers of restaurants and hotels
  • ski lifts with e.g. current waiting times
  • the current regional weather forecasts
  • the mountain patrol e.g. about avalanche warnings

"TourServ is a Web portal for touristic regions which offers a bunch of services for the tourists on one side and service providers on the other side," explains project manager Hubert Bischoff. "Part of the portal is a service called ’Geographic guidance’. This part is implemented in a way that PDAs are able to get navigational information via Internet connections. The Geographic guidance provides access in 2D and 3D via VRML [Virtual Reality Modelling Language]. All other services (e.g. location based services) can also be used by mobile devices," he adds, estimating the potential market is "very large" for such a service. According to Bischoff, the main advantage is the fact that this system can act as a Customer Relation Management (CRM) system between a tourist region and its customers, the tourists.

How it works

The toolkit developed by TourServ is composed of several modules. The main components are user entries for business partners and tourists partly based on user plug-ins, server software modules and the interface to a distributed data repository establishing the link to central tourist information, to the reservation systems of the different business partners, and to other services.

The plug-in based business-to-customer tourist entry is the main module for online interaction with the customer. It takes the order of the customer over a secure connection via the Internet. An acknowledgement with complete details of the order is returned automatically to the customer. In addition a receipt with detailed information about the possibility to trace the status of the booking is provided.

All screen presentations on the customer’s computer was realised with the newest multimedia technologies. Virtual reality (VRML) is used to show offerings such as hotel rooms. 3D geographic information system technology is used to animate the maps of the region and to access the underlying information from stationary and mobile platforms.

Favourable response in other regions

Although TourServ originally catered to winter sport regions, Bischoff says the portal is currently being transformed to a more general approach. "All our presentations to other touristic regions (such as France’s Languedoc region on the Mediterranean) were very successful." He notes that a launch of the revised system is scheduled for May in Gruissan, France, with the next user of the system being Carcassonne in the Aude department, France. Additionally, Bischoff says, "Some communities in the northern part of Germany will use the system as well."

For the moment, Bischoff thinks direct financing of TourServ beyond the life of the project seems unlikely, as most of the communities are without money to spend on tourism services. "Our approach is to finance the system with other additional services which will cost a provision fee (e.g. renting vacation homes etc.)," he concludes.

Tara Morris | alfa
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