What’s a telescope got to do with technology in tourism?
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Why should tourism care about a telescope called the SKA?
The SKA, of course, is the Square Kilometre Array: the world’s most powerful radio telescope which ten countries are planning to build in various locations in the Southern Hemisphere – and they’ve chosen to locate its core units in South Africa and Australia. And, according to Wikipedia, it’s going to require “very high performance central computing engines and long-haul links with a capacity greater than the current global Internet traffic. It will be able to survey the sky more than ten thousand times faster than ever before.”
(By the way: the cost? 1.5 billion Euros.)
Ray Deftereos, CEO of Hospitality Technology International (HTI), became quite animated when I mentioned the SKA during a chat we’d had about technology in tourism earlier this week.
Ray is going to be taking part in a panel discussion on “Technology as the driver of change and innovation in the hotel industry” during HICA 2013 – the TBCSA’s Hotel Investment Conference Africa, which takes place from the 8th to the 10th of May – and we’d started our own conversation by talking about cloud computing: I wanted to know how it’s being used in tourism, and what impact it’s going to have in the future.
HTI builds specialised management systems for the hospitality industry, and Ray said that its new central reservations and PMS facilities – which will be launched in the coming months – will both be cloud-based.
Although it’s become a bit of a buzzword, the concept of cloud computing has in fact been around since the ’50s, when organisations that could afford it – universities and large corporations and such – bought blocks of time on mainframe computers which they accessed via ‘dumb terminals’ that had no storage capacity at all, but which had the advantage of being close at hand, even if the computer itself wasn’t.
And at its most basic, cloud computing is still simply a system of storing data in one place, and accessing it from somewhere else.
It’s how the world works these days – think Facebook, which is nothing more than a personal data bank for its billion or so users – and it’s changed everything (even our approach to the way we protect ourselves: as Ray said, “a whole generation of people have traded their privacy for functionality”).
And tourism’s tapping into this: “We’ve gone past the superficial, where it was enough to offer people a prize for liking a post.”
Instead, we’re now beginning to use the technology for real customer engagement – and here Ray thinks tourism has the edge since consumers have become used to gathering and sharing information, and, of course, booking transport and making reservations on line.
“If you’re stuck on an airport because your flight’s delayed, and suddenly you have to find accommodation for the night, you no longer think about calling the office or your travel agent and asking them to make your bookings for you – you use the device in your hand to access a cloud service that’ll do it.”
But the cloud has wider applications – and they aren’t always free.
According to Ray, pay-per-use is still important – just as it was back in the 50s. This provides the business model that makes it possible, say, to manage a chain of properties off a single system, rather than having separate facilities for each individual unit.
And as these applications grow in strength and multiply in number, they’re going to need more and more resources – and this is where the SKA comes in. “The size of the fibre they’re installing to handle the amounts of data they’re going to collect is absolutely staggering.
“I mean, when you’re talking transferring terabytes of information in a second…
“The demand created by that – faster speeds and more storage – is going to have a massive positive impact on the country as a whole.”
… And it’s going to be interesting to hear just what those impacts will be when we gather at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban next month for HICA 2013.
To book for HICA 2013, please visit http://hica.co.za/2013/
MARTIN HATCHUEL, Barefoot Writer
Specialist writer for the tourism industry
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