A few weeks after the presentation and launch of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will be holding the very first convention on “Smart Destinations” this 15-17th February, 2017 in the Murcia region of Spain.

The smart destination conference will bring together government representatives, private sector entities, researchers and academics as well as tech centers from across the globe.

UNWTO Secretary-General Dr. Taleb Rifai explained that ‘It will be impossible to capitalize on the potential of tourism in aspects such as job creation and socio-economic development if we do not commit to and move towards sustainable practices that are respectful of the environment and local communities‘. The participants are expected to address, among other topics; digital applications that make it possible to offer increasingly customized services and to differentiate tourist destinations that provide added value while preserving the natural, social and cultural environment. According to Rifai, ‘These themes, which are priorities of the work of the World Tourism Organization, define the 21st century tourism: committed to ecosystems, local cultures and to economic and social development.

Paul Midy, the CEO for Jumia Travel commented, “The world wide web has drastically changed the way we travel, to stay competitive, entrepreneurs must develop technologically-feasible and highly adaptive solutions through all the stages of travel.” Midy, who was part of the panelists spearheading discussion on ‘Technology and design of new touristic products’ during the just ended UNWTO-INVESTOUR forum reiterated General Rifai’s comments, “accomodation is an integral part of tourism and travel business in the 21st century, therefore, maximizing accessibility and building convenience should be every stakeholder’s priority.”

The Smart Destinations can be seen as a response to the rapid wave of e-tourism; calling for providers who are able to customize solutions to enrich a customer’s experience at all stages; before, during and after their trip. The rise of smart cities and the growing need to manage urban tourism while protecting both culture and heritage are also some of the factors that inherently call for adoption of modern-day tech solutions owing to the need for crucial balance between development and environmental sustainability. To this end, the Conference will host an academic block presenting in-depth research on tourism in the 21st century; to chart the way forward on sustainable practises and principles.

The event will conclude with the reading of a manifesto summarizing the contributions of the participants, which will form the basis of the first UNWTO report on smart destinations. Having been named on the list of world’s top “Smart Cities” Nairobi prides herself as the African tech capital. It will therefore be interesting to see the stakeholders views on how the the city’s digital ecosystem can actively and positively impact on travel and tourism.

By: Lillian Gaitho

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