Itchy Feet: A 3D E-Tourism Environment

Itchy Feet: A 3D E-Tourism Environment

Ingo Seidel (Matrixware Information Services GmbH, Austria), Markus Gärtner (Matrixware Information Services GmbH, Austria), Michael Pöttler (Vienna University of Technology, Austria), Helmut Berger (Matrixware Information Services GmbH, Austria) and Michael Dittenbach (Matrixware Information Services GmbH, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-818-5.ch013

Abstract

In this chapter the authors describe an e-tourism environment that places emphasis on a community driven approach to foster a lively society of travelers. It enables them to exchange travel experiences, recommend tourism destinations or just catch some interesting gossip. Moreover, business transactions such as booking a trip or getting assistance from professional travel agents are a constituent part of this environment. All these interactions happen in an integrated, game-like, 3D virtual world where each tourist is impersonated as an avatar. The authors draw a retrospective on the specification, design and implementation of this e-tourism environment and present the status quo. The authors describe how they applied electronic institutions, a framework developed and employed in the area of multi-agent systems, to the tourism domain. Furthermore, they present their approach to connect a 3D virtual world with electronic institutions. Our goal is to provide a test bed for assessing the acceptance of virtual environments, as a medium to overcome the non-tangible nature of tourism products.
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Introduction

In the last decades Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has revolutionized the global economy and almost every business including tourism. The rapid evolution of ICT enabled consumers to have access to a broader range of information services covering the whole tourism life cycle (Werthner & Klein, 1999).

A typical tour planning and execution cycle may be something like the following. Prior to booking, the customer is browsing the Internet to search for information and is using communication services such as forums or instant messaging to get the latest information directly from local people. Prices are compared and the cheapest offer is booked online. During the trip, the tourist uses her mobile device to get the latest news about local events. Activities and impressions are compiled in online diaries via the mobile device and made accessible to friends and family. After the trip, pictures are shared online and experiences are discussed. The majority of these activities take place in online tourism communities. An online community can be defined as the combination of commercial, technical, social and psychological aspects of groups of people (Eigner, Leitner, & Nausner, 2003). Following this trend many companies see the creation of “business-sponsored-communities” as an additional channel of distribution. In this context, companies analyze user profiles in order to provide personal advertisements and product-related information to community members. The tourism sector has been particularly active in this field, because customer loyalty not only depends on social interaction but also on the quality of the information provided, e.g., prices or opening times.

Furthermore, trip planning makes high demands on the information search (Pöttler, 2007). An online community is only successful when it attracts and retains a large number of members to reach critical mass (Wang, Yu, & Fesenmaier, 2002). The potential of online communities lies in the ability to be integrated in the value chain for product and service design. To tap its full potential, the creation of online communities has to be technically, operationally, strategically and economically planned to meet the users’ requirements. Not only social interaction is of great importance during the process of community building, but community members want to communicate as well as using a technically sophisticated platform. This technological aspect has not been emphasized enough in the tourism domain. A study that compared different online tourism communities shows that technical innovations are introduced sparingly in these communities (Dippelreiter et al., 2009). Special focus should therefore be placed on the selection of the technological features and functionalities when creating a community in the tourism domain.

Another important aspect in tourism is the presentation of products. A tourism product is a virtual product that cannot be experienced in advance – it is a confidence product (Gratzer, Werthner, & Winiwarter, 2004). For a customer it is essential to get a good impression of the product before the trip, in order to know what to expect, so as not to be disappointed on site.

Traditionally the impression of a destination is conveyed by means of quality photos in travel catalogs and information from the travel agent. In addition, information gathering on the Internet and in online communities has become more important over the last few years. However, the presentation of the content is basically the same – textual descriptions and pictures are used to illustrate travel destinations. An approach that goes beyond these “classical” media types and provides more sophisticated visualization of tourism products are 3D product presentations.

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