Sharjah: During a panel discussion titled ‘Emerging Niches in Technology & Architecture’ — at the 9th edition of the Sharjah International Tourism and Travel Forum 2022, organised by the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) at the Sharjah Expo Centre — the role of technology in tourism was addressed and how it plays a part in making tourism more sustainable and robust.
Starting the discussion Dr. Jerry Kolo, Professor of Urban Planning & Program Academic Coordinator, MUP, stated that although Sharjah is known for its hospitality, sometimes it’s not always that easy to get this message out to the world. He explained having robust and resilient tourism and creating experiential travel to the city was essential to building a sustainable industry. Expanding on this he mentioned that the emotional and social intelligence of tourists and locals had changed over the years and although technology has helped to make things easier and sometimes more exciting for travellers, the bottom line was identifying stakeholder roles, playing to their strengths and creating an experience that promoted spending and wanting to return.
Eng. Aisha Obaid Almheiri, Assistant Director of Support Service for IT at Sharjah International Airport Authority explained that technology had played a huge role in tourism, especially in a post-pandemic world. She stated people travelling back in the early 2000’s could never have imagined being able to use “self-check in” mobile apps to make and update bookings, automatic security checks, and that technology as well as expectations were ever-evolving. As Sharjah International Airport is one of the most significant gateways to the UAE and the region it was important that they implement the very best in technology to make travel safe, secure and hassle free to be a seamless journey. Technological advancements have been implemented at Sharjah International Airport from the parking lot and drop-off zones all the way to boarding and included tracking beacons, peer-to-peer location, smart info desk and auto-boarding to make a painless experience.
Almheiri also revealed the news that through their goals in environmental safety and sustainability, Sharjah International Airport has achieved a zero-carbon grading regarding ‘Scope 3’ emissions, and was the first airport in the Gulf to do so and second in the Middle East.
Prof. Martin Spraggon, Professor of Strategy & Innovation at the American University of Sharjah, revealed that we are dealing with a volatile environment in a post-pandemic world, but it also presented a window of opportunity. Discussing the meta-verse and the potentials it had in tourism and architecture, Spraggon explained that technology could be used to proto-type buildings and experiences thus saving research and development costs considerably while providing an environment where investors and stakeholders could provide real-time feedback and get a real sense of a project before spending anything on materials, land and labour.
Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher, Interim Chief Information Officer and Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates Skywards, commented on the post-pandemic world saying that recent times had fast-tracked a great deal of technology and initiatives that the company was working on in their quest to remove all forms of travel anxiety. Even though the airline had already implemented self-service technology they extended it to a contactless service, introducing biometrics for their airport lounges and how important it was to leverage technology to take away anxiety.
During the pandemic they were the first airline in the world to extend frequent flyer miles’ expiry and had used Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to process over 6 million refunds. They also extended their earning program so that customers could earn rewards in malls and shops. Stressing that the company’s website was their gateway, he revealed that online spending had doubled since the pandemic and had encouraged more commerce during travel. Lastly he revealed that they had even started using the meta-verse to onboard new cabin staff and streamline the educational and selection process of hiring new employees.