The proliferation of ICTs
In our increasingly mobile and connected world, devices connected to the internet, and increasingly mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, are omnipresent. In terms of both product sales and broadband subscriptions, mobile devices are now outperforming PCs . According to Ericsson , approximately 90 % of the world’s population will be covered by mobile broadband networks by 2020. Global mobile subscriptions are growing by around 5 % year on year. By 2020, smartphone subscriptions are forecast to have more than doubled and 70 % of the world’s population will own a smartphone . As a result, mobile devices are set to play an increasingly important role in travel in the years to come .
In the past, ICTs have not only revolutionised the travel industry itself but also the role of consumers, who have acquired greater power thanks to the array of information available and the choices offered by the internet. However, the inexorable rise of the mobile channel and smartphones has triggered a new stage in this development, which is not only expected to have a major impact on the travel industry but also a significant impact on the travel behaviour. While in the past travellers used ICTs for pre-travel and post-travel arrangements, there has been a general shift to using mobile technologies during the travel experience as many travellers are nowadays connected to the internet during all stages of the travel cycle [11, 20, 42].
Smartphone applications provide a wide range of information, such as destination tour guides, language assistants, restaurant and bar finders, information on local transportation, events, etc. Moreover, users interact with each other via social media and provide reviews on places, local attractions, restaurants and bars as well as on accommodation, which in turn are read by tourists deciding on their own travel plans and things to do while in the destination. This results in the mobile internet changing tourists’ behaviour as they are now able to find what they require and when they require it through their mobile devices [6, 19, 23]. More easily available information increases the number and types of experience options a tourist can choose from in a shorter period of time.
While it has to be acknowledged that access to free Wi-Fi is still limited in some destinations, there is a rapid development towards mobile contract providers offering cheaper internet allowances for travellers on the one hand and cheaper or free internet access in hotels, cafes, and even throughout some cities on the other. At the same time, more elaborated apps are being developed for offline use. For example, Google is planning to offer new offline features that will allow navigating around a city in offline mode. Moreover, through Google’s new context-aware service, Now on Tap, tourists will be able to build a temporary offline library with all relevant data and information they would need for a day, for example of where they want to travel and what they are planning to visit. The data download can be completed while the mobile device is connected to free Wi-Fi, for example at the airport, accommodation and other Wi-Fi zones and hotspots and thus, expensive internet fees can be avoided . According to Tripadvisor , 74 % of global travellers surveyed regarded free in-room Wi-Fi as the most influential amenity when booking accommodation. Furthermore, 87 % of global travellers use mobile devices while travelling, with 61 % of global travellers using social media while on holidays . With a rapid expansion of the availability of free or cheap Wi-Fi access, the use of mobile internet devices by travellers is set to further increase in the future.
Experiential travel & social acceleration
Nowadays, travellers are increasingly in search for rich and memorable experiences that create value for them and engage them in a personal way. There are two major developments which can currently be observed with regard to the travel experience. The first one is the traditional experience economy being increasingly replaced by the concept of experience co-creation, meaning that consumers are becoming more active in co-creating their experiences. The second one, a more recent development, is that experiences become increasingly dominated by ICTs. As a result of travellers becoming more empowered through the use of technologies during their travels, they themselves can now become the main actor in co-creating richer experiences and additional value [21, 29].
Travel is increasingly about how travellers experience destinations viscerally and how experiences change them and their understanding of places. They want to feel inspired by places and their encounters with locals - and they want individual experiences that are entirely their own. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as ‘Experiential Travel’ and is arguably the most significant, systemic trend in global travel. The term typically encompasses the notion of a more immersive, authentic and local and/or active travel experience. While it could be argued that travel is inherently experiential, the significance in this context is the shift towards the mainstream. An increasing number of people want to travel on a deeper emotional and more personal level and are turning their backs on pre-arranged package holidays [21, 29].
One reason for the development of this trend might be the sameness of many mainstream travel experiences. Another reason, according to Wong, the founder and CEO of Vayable, an online sharing portal that pairs travellers with its network of local citizens around the globe offering to experience their destination like a local, is the fact that technology, while connecting individuals online, has ironically left people isolated and given individuals a real need for human connection . While these are plausible reasons for this change in tourist behaviour, it is suggested here that another explanation might lie in the acceleration of society as described by the sociologist Hartmut Rosa [25–27]. In fact, social acceleration may not only explain the shift towards experiential travel and the increased use of internet devices while travelling, but might also offer an explanation for the enormous popularity of city tourism.
Rosa differentiates between three categories of acceleration: technological acceleration, the acceleration of social change, and the acceleration of the pace of life. Technological acceleration is “the speeding up of intentional, goal-directed processes of transport, communication, and production” [26:6]. While technological acceleration could be classified as acceleration processes within society, acceleration of social change can be described as acceleration of society itself. The acceleration of social change is what Rosa describes as the “contraction of the present (Gegenwartsschrumpfung)” [26:7], the present being the time-span for which “the horizons of experience and expectation coincide” [26:7]. Social beliefs and actions have an increasingly shorter period of validity; social change is for example reflected in the stability of social institutions and practices as well as in personal relationships. Finally, the acceleration of the pace of life, which occurs despite the expectation that technological progress increases an individual’s free time, can be defined as the “increase of episodes of action and/or experiences per unit of time as a result of a scarcity of time resources” [27:221].
These three categories of acceleration can be understood as an acceleration cycle: Technological acceleration is almost inevitably linked to a whole range of changes in social practices and communication structures. For example, the internet has not only speeded-up communication processes but also triggered new economic and communicative structures, establishing new patterns of social interaction and thus, driving social change. In a society where accelerated rates of social change affect all spheres of life, individuals develop a feeling of standing on a ‘slippery slope’, a phenomenon that is well known from the realm of capitalist production. Pausing and resting means becoming out-dated and old-fashioned in one’s knowledge and experience. Therefore, in order to avoid the loss of potentially valuable options, individuals feel forced to keep up with the speed of change they experience in their social and technological environment. This social change again leads to an acceleration of the pace of life, which in turn calls for technological acceleration to speed up processes in a repeated attempt to save time .
This acceleration circle that can be observed in Western societies is inextricably linked with the culturally dominant idea of the ‘good life’, according to which life should be conceived as the last opportunity, and one’s time span on earth should be used as intensively and comprehensively as possible. According to this modern ideal, the ‘good life’ is the full life (erfülltes Leben), and one should aspire to enjoy as much as possible of what the world has to offer by realising as many options as possibly realisable - or as Rosa states:
“[t]he idea of the fulfilled life no longer supposes a ‘higher life’ waiting for us after death, but rather consists in realizing as many options as possible from the vast possibilities the world has to offer. To taste life in all its heights and depths and in its full complexity becomes a central aspiration of modern man” [26:13, italics in original].
The acceleration of life can be seen as an attempt to realise as many options as possible in our lifetime. Yet, due to the acceleration cycle’s self-propelling dynamic, this aim can never be fulfilled. For example, the internet not only speeds up communication and information processes, but it also vastly increases our options. We could possibly find more relevant, better or more interesting information if we kept on looking on other websites that might better serve our purpose than merely on the one website we visited in the first place. Consequently, the proportion of realised world options to potentially realisable options decreases; technological acceleration leads to increasing time scarcity . Moreover, Rosa suggests that as the number of experiences in a given period of time increases, the depth of individual experiences might decrease, which in turn might lead to individuals looking for more ‘extreme’ experiences .
Looking at city tourism through the lens of social acceleration, this type of holiday is arguably the most suitable holiday type when pursuing the ‘good life’ due to the high density and vast number of possible realisable options a city has to offer. ICTs, and especially mobile devices, serve as technological accelerators, through which an increasing number of options can be realised, albeit increasing the rate of potential options at greater speed and thus, decreasing the proportion of realised ‘city options’ to potentially realisable options a city has to offer. As the number of experience episodes increases and the depth of those individual experience episodes decreases, as suggested by Rosa, travellers might look for a different quality of their experiences. The phenomenon of experiential travel might be the manifestation of this search for a different quality of experiences, for a quest for more ‘extreme’ experiences - from one extreme of being a tourist to another extreme of living like a local for a short period of time.
Therefore, it could be suggested that social acceleration could be regarded as both cause and effect of the changing nature of city tourism; a cause because the progress and proliferation of technology might enhance the need for human connection and meaningful experiences while increasing the potential options of experience episodes; and an effect because as a result of these phenomena, the attractiveness of cities as destinations increases due to the multitude of options paired with the opportunity of immersing oneself in meaningful and local experiences for a short period of time. While ICTs could be regarded as facilitators of this change, social acceleration may be a useful framework to understand and analyse the underlying causes as well as the qualitative shift of tourist behaviour, and may even be useful to anticipate tourists’ future needs and behaviours.