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Published: 10 October 2017

Emotional intelligence in the travel sector

The advances in digital technology have revolutionised the way we live and do business and the world of travel is no exception.

As the use of technology in the travel industry continues to grow, the way tourists plan and book their holidays present greater challenges for companies.

How do you ensure your website catches the eye of customers or your advertising campaign resonates with the public? And then there are the more unusual trends for people to engage with such as that of the Henn na Hotel in Japan that boasts to be the first staffed by robots.

In years gone by, this feedback would have been captured by surveys and questionnaires but today we have more sophisticated tools at hand – biometrics. The analysis of people’s physical and behavioural characteristics is gaining ground as way to understand decision-making processes, and Surrey’s new Digital Lab is at the forefront of research in this area.

It forms part of the Digital Visitor Economy research group in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and is equipped with an integrated system of biometric sensor equipment including remote and mobile eye-tracking, facial expression, galvanic skin response (measuring the amount of sweat secreted) and optical heart rate monitors (using light to measure blood flow).

Using these biometric sensors, in addition to interviews and surveys, researchers are able to experiment with the latest technology applications in tourism, hospitality, and events.

Dr Iis Tussyadiah, Reader in Hospitality and Digital Experience, explained: “We use biometric research to understand how people react emotionally to various digital information. We’re looking at how tourism providers can tailor their messages in a more effective way to improve the customer experience and increase business.

“With surveys alone, people can think more about their answers and how they want to be perceived but biometric testing gives us their automatic response.”

Current research has focused on virtual reality and observing how customers respond to a robot managing their check-in experience at a hotel.

In the former, the researchers are investigating if people are more attracted to visiting a destination if they can visualise the potential holiday experience prior to booking, using heart rate and the levels of sweat to measure excitement and interest.

The second study assesses people’s reactions to being served by a robot through facial expression (for example, do they exhibit surprise, pleasure or disapproval?), eye-tracking, heart rate and skin response.

Digital technology is transforming the tourism landscape and Iis believes this opens up opportunities to connect with guests in a new way, understanding the emotions that underpin their decisions.

“We believe we can add value to the hospitality industry, advising on their customer approach,” said Iis. “Whether it is researching reactions to a particular website, the effectiveness of virtual reality or analysing acceptance of new practices, such as robots, the Digital Lab is ideally placed to work with the sector to increase competitiveness and customer experience.”