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03 Tourism and Digital Transformation

posted Sep 28, 2018, 12:01 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Oct 11, 2018, 6:08 PM ]
World Tourism Day is celebrated every year on September 27. The theme proposed for 2018 - 'Tourism & Digital Transformation' - focuses on the advances made in digital technology that have transformed our era and our behaviour by dramatically changing the way we live. There have been many changes due to the implementation of the new digital technologies which affect people's social life, their way of conceiving interpersonal relationships, work, health, communications, extending their "connection" everywhere. The latest trends show that about 50% of digital travellers are influenced and inspired by observing images and comments online, and that 70% consult videos and opinions of those who have already travelled to places, before deciding.

Therefore, this commemoration invites us to reflect on the contribution of technological progress not only to improve tourist products and services, but also because this progress is part of tourism's sustainable and responsible development, towards which the growth of the sector should be oriented. Digital innovation is therefore aimed at promoting inclusiveness, increasing the engagement of people and local communities and achieving an intelligent and equitable management of resources. The need for "sustainable tourism" should not be underestimated, since a number of well-known and more frequented tourist destinations experience the negative effects of a phenomenon, that runs contrary to a healthy and fair tourism, of so-called "over-tourism".

The Church has always paid particular attention to the pastoral care of tourism, leisure and holidays, as opportunities for recovery, to strengthen family and interpersonal ties, to reinvigorate the spirit, to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of Creation and to grow in our "integral humanity". "Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. (…) The entire material uni­verse speaks of God's love, His boundless affec­tion for us."

The use of digital equipment by the tourism sector's operators and users is a great opportunity to increase quality services that satisfy new demands, but also to educate people on the shared responsibility towards our "common home" in which we live, generating forms of innovation for the functional recovery of waste, recycling and creative reuse that helps protect the environment. If, however, "there is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means an increase of progress itself, an advance in security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from tech­nological and economic power as such", we run the risk of an incorrect and annihilating use of human dignity itself, with harmful consequences.

In particular, this concerns the production and use of "data", especially personal data, which are generated within the "digital world" and the preponderant role of the algorithms that process the data and produce, in turn, additional data and information, at different levels, also available for those who intend to use it for purely commercial, propaganda or even manipulative purposes and strategies. When technological tools "become omnipresent, they do not favour the development of a capacity to live wisely, to think in depth, to love generously". "That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth. (...) technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency."

A special thought goes out to the younger generations who make up the largest proportion of digital users. In the Instrumentum Laboris being prepared for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Young People [7], n. 3 discusses how it is necessary to offer them paths for formation and anthropological education, so that they may live their "digital life" without separating online and offline behaviour, nor allowing themselves to be deceived by the virtual world that distorts the perception of reality and the loss of identity connected with an erroneous representation of the person. As Pope Francis reminds us: "It is not enough to be a passerby on the digital highways, simply 'connected'; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved."

The hope that this Dicastery formulates for all, tourists and vacationers, is "that tourism will contribute to glorifying God, and to increasingly validating human dignity, mutual knowledge, spiritual brotherhood, refreshment of body and soul."

(The above is an extract of the message on the occasion of World Tourism Day.)

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development