James Cook University is an institution known for the depth and breadth of its expertise in the fields of marine science, genetics, genomics and tropical ecosystems. Less famous, however, is its expertise in the tourism and hospitality sector. The second oldest university in Queensland, Australia, JCU has campuses in Cairns, Singapore and Townsville.
In an exclusive conversation with e27,Professor Abhishek Bhati, Associate Dean of Business and IT faculties in JCU’s Singapore campus, talks about innovation in tourism and hospitality sector, mobile commerce and Airbnb’s regulatory challenges in Singapore.
Responsible for overseeing academic administration and enhancing student experience, Professor Bhati’s work experience provides extensive exposure to business issues in the domestic and international contexts.
An excerpt from the chat:
What’s your view on innovation in the tourism industry? Innovation is happening in different ways, with technology playing a significant role. The main concern though is staff training, as technology by itself is not very useful. This is especially true if people aren’t trained to use it properly.
What areas can be improved or disrupted with technology? Visitor experience is something that could be enhanced with technology. It creates efficiency by lowering the costs involved. An example is using Airbnb, which acts as a platform where the supply and demand of residential places for tourist stays plays out. Then, you don’t need the physical presence of a person to connect people and resources. Technology can help in linking resources in Singapore and the region with the demand of people who need it worldwide.
How is mobile commerce and e-commerce impacting tourism? Mobile technology has a large impact on tourism. It impacts pre-experience, or rather the pre-visit, during the visit and post-visit experiences of the customer. Mobile technology and e-commerce can be used in facilitating payments and seeking clarifications. At the pre-visit stage, making payments would be most important. During the visit itself, seeking assistance and finding out information would be the focus. At the post-visit stage, sharing the feedback for other visitors online and evaluating the visitor experience, as well as planning for future trips, would be of significance.
What is your opinion on Airbnb’s regulatory difficulties in Singapore? Any organisation has to work within the regulatory framework of the market. Most times, the solution can be found in discussions with people in charge. If HDB has restrictions on running rooms or similar business operations, then Airbnb and the people who subscribe to it must be mindful of that. It cannot circumvent rules and regulations. However, policy is never cast in stone and can always be changed. All it requires is a dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders.
What would you say is the way forward for Airbnb in the region? The future is bright, if you’re talking about the region (Southeast Asia). Tourism is increasing — especially intra-regional tourism within ASEAN. Tourists are looking for good, cheap accommodations, and this is where Airbnb comes into play. Another important advantage that Airbnb has is that it can provide authentic experiences. This authenticity is linked to staying with locals, which cannot be compared with the experience in hotels and resorts.
Any thoughts on the impact of Bitcoin on tourism? It’s an interesting development. It’s still very new, and Bitcoin is not widely accepted in the marketplace. Moreover, it comes with legal challenges in different jurisdictions. I’d watch this space with great caution.