Interview with Eduardo Parra López 

Summit Chairman: Tourism The State of the Art'2024

Eduardo Parra López 

Summit Chairman: Tourism The State of the Art'2024

Dr. Eduardo Parra López is the chairman of the “Tourism: The State of the Art” summit in Tenerife 2024. This event, scheduled for June 19, 20 and 21, 2024, focuses on the challenges facing smart tourism destinations, such as digital transformation and climate change. The summit brings together academic experts and practitioners to discuss and find innovative solutions on topics such as sustainability, collaborative governance and the digitization of tourism.

Dear Dr. Eduardo Parra Lopez, what is the main objective of the summit “Tourism: The State of the Art” in Tenerife 2024?

Tourism destinations are facing the major challenges of digital transformation and climate change. In recent years, the travel industry has embarked on its journey towards sustainability and technological specialization. However, successful destinations are looking for real solutions to gentrification, the depletion of natural resources, global competition, changes in consumer habits, the technological revolution and the threat of cyber-attacks. 

In these two scenarios, the objective of Tenerife Global Summit 2024 is to offer real solutions to the challenges of smart destinations, taking as key elements the administration, the business community and academia. There will be three days of intense debates under the slogan “Create now, think in the future”.

In your expert opinion, what are the biggest challenges currently facing tourism in terms of digital transformation and climate change?

It is not a trivial issue, but it is true that the tourism industry has not been able to anticipate and prepare for this complex process. The changes following the health crisis, where the increase in domestic demand as a result of mobility restrictions, energy costs, lack of qualified talent, inflation or not knowing how to understand the change that has occurred in people, are factors that affect in these challenges. Having said that, my vision walks by: 

With this, it would be possible to maintain the leadership and competitiveness of the tourism industry.

How can tourist destinations become models of sustainability and innovation?

Interesting question, I would say more, interesting binomial. Sustainability is not a new issue at this time, but the depletion of tourism resources, the regeneration of environments and the care of biodiversity through intensive development is what has made us consider the need for it. I would like to focus more on the second aspect, innovation. If we want to bet on a new tourism era, it is necessary to implement a new way of thinking, and I say this because we need more innovative approaches to promote tourism leadership: (a) Introduce quality criteria throughout the value chain, not just focus on profitability; (b) We must innovate in the way we communicate tourism, making society's concern compatible with decision making would help to ensure tourist coexistence and a better balance in the quality of life; c) Innovate in the models of tourism leadership as the basis of the system, helping in the detection of opportunities towards an open innovation model (active search for collaboration), which would lead us to a more iterative process, far beyond traditional models and which should cause a lasting impact; d) Innovate in the way we communicate tourism.

And from the point of view of governance, what role does collaborative governance play in the development of smart destinations?

At the moment it is an essential factor, as I have said. Tourism governance, together with training, have been the great forgotten ones in the tourism industry; there has been no common goal. 

Governance is fundamental to guarantee an efficient and fair operation in any context. The contemporary social challenges and dilemmas of collective action within tourism require other approaches, approaches to actors, individuals, communities and organizations with common objectives (greater equity), apparently in the search for a tourism system under principles of collaboration and complementarity and that can be integrated to achieve a more balanced and inclusive model. 

There are many studies, documents, etc., but we would like to know, in your opinion, what are the emerging trends that you think will define the future of tourism?

Thank you for the question, after a lot of hard thinking by many collaborators to design the axes of the Global Summit, is where the trends could be summarized: collaborative and smart tourism governance; New leadership and more sustainable and inclusive growth; Difference labor market that attracts talent; Environmental responsibility and ecological transition; Product and marketing intelligence and of course a destination intelligence that I bet on digitization and innovation.

How do you see the integration of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and Big Data, in tourism management?

Well look at the fact that we are immersed in the 4th industrial revolution, there is no return, and this means developing new ways of thinking, managing new business models, new value chains, in short, we address the construction of tourist complexes that break technological barriers and foster a new culture between people and machines. I know it's hard to understand and analyze, but it's critical for the tourism industry to take advantage of ecosystems while making data-driven decisions quickly and at scale. All of this body of knowledge (AI-Blockchain-extended reality or quantum computing, known as DARQ technologies) will be essential players in the future of the industry. And while each is very powerful on its own, together, they can change the way the travel industry works.

What results and changes do you hope to achieve with this Summit in the tourism industry?

We want to design a roadmap between the public administration, the business community and academia. We know that the challenge is not easy, but we have been working on this idea for more than a year and a half, and the joint work of many people will help in this work. If we look at the “partners” who will attend the Global Summit, we can already get an idea of the dimension of the event and above all that we must be there. So I take this opportunity to invite anyone who wants to attend because the future of tourism is built by all of us, as I have already mentioned. 

Who are the main actors and collaborators in this event and what contributions are expected from them?

I would like to highlight above all the sponsorship and support of “Turismo de Tenerife” without which we would not have reached our goal. Also, the University of Strathclyde as promoter of the brand and that already in 1994 knew of the need for this type of work. To the University of La Laguna, for being the place and center of reference. UN Turismo (former UNWTO); AECIT (Spanish Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism); REDINTUR (National Network of Tourism Studies); Smart Linking; Grupo Innovaris; InvaTTur; MDPI publishers; AEPT (Spanish Association of Tourism Professionals); SENET Consultants; Sociedad Agraria FAST; CEHAT (Spanish Confederation of Hotels); ASHOTEL (Hotel Association of the province of SC de Tenerife) and all those entities that will be representing Keynote Spekaers such as: European Commission; Visit Benidorm; Tourism and Society Think Tank; TUI Care Foundation: World Sustainable Tourism Council; MAWDY (MAPFRE); Grupo Loro Parque or PWC.

Thanks to all of them, and of course, with only one month to go until the event, we are still adding up.

What specific initiatives are being discussed to mitigate the impacts of climate change on tourism?

If we are talking about what the event is proposing, we have been involved in reducing or preventing CO2 emissions from the activities of event participants through a program to evaluate those activities. We are working to ensure that the Global Summit adopts regenerative practices and supports the restoration of the islands' forests, which is why the meals will be made with Km0 products that support the primary sector of the Canary Islands. This and many more issues, and added to the cooperation we have raised in the event will be crucial to guide and achieve positive results in the initiatives.  

As a professor at important study centers, what role do education and training play in the evolution of smart destinations?

As I mentioned before, training has been the great forgotten of the tourism industry, now we have realized the lack of qualified personnel and the need to attract talent. That said, we need to implement more adaptive, differential and inclusive studies and training to shape the future of teaching and learning, where changing scenarios and implications will be the challenge. Understanding and meeting the diverse needs of students and finding ways to cultivate institutional communities that support student well-being and belonging and see tourism as an industry of future employability is key. 

In addition, the supplanting of human activity by powerful new technological capabilities in ITD and the need for greater humanity at the centers of all that we do, leads us to address broad and visionary views in tourism education: AI applications for predictive and personal learning; Generative AI for tourism; Blurring the boundaries between learning modalities; HyFlex systems (i.e., students enrolled in a course can participate online synchronously or asynchronously, as preferred); Micro-credentials; and Supporting a sense of belonging and connection. 

This is what is being discussed right now, but we need more agility and speed.

We are hearing about problems of tourismphobia and gentrification in tourist destinations around the world, and specifically in the Canary Islands, what strategies do you think are adequate to cushion this problem, and what strategies do you think are being used to involve local communities in tourism development?

The first and worrying thing is the aversion, in all its scale towards the tourist (because we have all been one at some time), and let me clarify it, this is happening, mainly, in territories with little or bad planning of integral policies of the tourist sector, taken into account as an economic segment, whose excessive exploitation causes the disarticulation of the local social fabric, the exhaustion and increase in price of resources and, consequently, a decrease in the local quality of life. 

This is what happens, and I thread it with some of the questions you have asked me. It is a phenomenon, let's say 15 years ago, and what I think about this issue and possible strategies or best practices would be: First, the policies or measures that have been implemented so far are not definitive or long-range solutions, because they only serve to mitigate specific problems and the same thing always happens, the solution follows the problem and is not planned to anticipate the problem. Second, what we need are comprehensive policies on tourism issues well thought out and implemented by governments, and I return to the concept of governance; Third, tourists are the problem, I would say that some are and others are not. Being aware of our responsibility as visitors and acting accordingly, it is possible that together we can bring about a profound and lasting change.

General and Humanities Library. University of La Laguna - Tenerife (Spain)

What infrastructure and accessibility improvements are considered essential for the tourist destinations of the future?

Laughter, I am neither an expert nor an architect in the design of this type of issues, but after listening and moving around the world, I would venture to suggest that: improving public-private collaboration, incorporating accessibility beyond the architectural field, improving continuity in the links of the value chain, strengthening accessibility resources applied at the management level, having accurate, updated and reliable information, improving personalized attention, increasing training and awareness, and bringing technological solutions closer to users, would be the basis for this infrastructure-accessibility binomial. 

Likewise, I would like to introduce that this future should also integrate a more regenerative tourism, which helps local resources, is involved in the improvement and revitalization of the destinations' environments, without forgetting the local quality of life. 

What are the plans for continuing the initiatives and discussions after the summit?

The plans are ongoing. The fact that we have registered the trademark means that in 2034 we will redesign the conference, but that does not mean that in the next 10 years we will be holding meetings and working sessions to review the summit declaration. We still have work to do, but with enthusiasm and perseverance we will surely achieve it, always thinking of a better tourism.  

For further information: Tenerife Global Summit 2024. 

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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