Tourism getting a high-tech boost
Updated: July 3, 2024 09:49 China Daily

To better integrate the culture and tourism industry into the nation's digital economy, the Chinese government recently unveiled its Action Plan for the Innovative Development of Smart Tourism, calling for more immersive and personalized experiences for tourists by using new technologies.

In May, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Data Bureau jointly issued the plan, which outlines eight specific tasks to facilitate smart tourism, a buzzword in China's culture and tourism industry fueled by new technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality.

It says that by 2027, the scale of the smart tourism economy will have further expanded; smart tourism infrastructure will be more sophisticated; the supply of high-quality smart tourism products will be more abundant; and smart tourism services and experiences will be more convenient and comfortable.

Wang Heyun, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said at a news conference in Beijing on June 27 that the action plan is the first guideline to focus on smart tourism, and it is expected to inject fresh impetus into the high-quality development of the culture and tourism industry.

"On the one hand, digital technology has innovated the combination of culture and tourism, enriching the content of tourism products. On the other, smart tourism makes traveling easier and enhances visitors' experiences, catering to the diversified needs of tourists," Wang said.

At a recently opened digital exhibition at the Hunan Museum in Changsha, Hunan province, technologies such as 3D and holographic projections that can be viewed with the naked eye offer immersive experiences and visual feasts inspired by popular artifacts from the museum's collection. The exhibition, which doesn't display any actual relics, is the museum's first innovative and digital endeavor to showcase its archaeological findings, said Duan Xiaoming, the museum's director.

"We tried to offer an interesting and immersive experience by employing new technologies. I believe it's a new trend for archaeological shows," Duan added.

Although tickets for the show are priced at 108 yuan ($15) — about the cost of a good lunch for locals — many visitors were still willing to wait in a long line for the experience.

Other sites have also embraced the technologies.

The Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, home to one of China's finest Buddhist art displays, opened its VR experience center in September to provide an immersive and interactive experience. Priced at 40 yuan per person, the VR experience has drawn large crowds and garnered a great deal of praise in posts shared by tourists on their social media platforms.

The experience allows visitors to explore a cave that is seldom open to the public for preservation reasons. Using VR, they can closely examine the murals within the cave, and even interact with the figures depicted in the murals by using VR and AR technology.

At the Deji Art Museum in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, visitors can travel back 1,000 years to experience a day in ancient China by "walking" into a 110-meter-long painting inspired by An Era in Jinling, an ancient piece of painting depicting prosperous street scenes in Nanjing, which was called Jinling during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Wearing electronic bracelets, visitors can "create" their own "digital avatars" that can interact with characters in the painting, talk to street vendors, pet cats and dogs and even set off fireworks.

The digital exhibition has attracted hordes of tourists. It was also taken to France in May and received a positive response from the French people, said Ai Lin, the museum's director.

"Going digital with high technology is inevitable. We must actively embrace the trend," Ai said.

It's a trend that is certainly being embraced by travelers.

According to the National Smart Tourism Development Report 2023 released by the China Tourism Research Institute in November, more than 80 percent of visitors surveyed said they were willing to spend more money to experience travel blended with technology. Furthermore, more than half of the people polled said they hoped to experience better tourism services with smart tech.

Dai Bin, director of the China Tourism Research Institute, said that big data, artificial intelligence and other technologies have helped reduce the amount of time tourists spend planning their travels. After reaching their destinations, tourists should get assistance to help them delve deeper into the nature, culture and development of the local area, which should be the direction of smart tourism development.

"Technological services have not yet fully met the rising demands for high-quality travel experiences. Therefore, intelligence has become a new trend in the tourism industry," Dai added.

Tourist destinations have taken action and invested a lot in immersive experiences for visitors by using high-quality technology. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism revealed its first batch of 30 smart tourism immersive experience venues in November.

The number of such pilot programs has increased to 42 this year. They have been implemented in museums, libraries, scenic areas, historical districts and other traditional cultural and tourist sites.

Some of these venues have set up special exhibition spaces to enable tourists to have experiences they could never have had otherwise. For example, the Sanxingdui Museum in Sichuan province's Guanghan allows visitors to virtually travel to a prehistoric civilization thousands of years ago and play the role of an archaeologist.

Some scenic areas stage shows to let tourists better immerse themselves into local cultures.

"Using technology to create immersive experiences is a good way to meet the diverse needs of tourists. Blending digital technology into new products at tourist sites is a big factor in driving spending," said Deng Ning, a professor of culture and tourism at Beijing International Studies University.

She mentioned that in addition to embracing digital advancements, it's important to maintain or improve certain offline services to cater to the needs of older adults.

The action plan also stresses the importance of improving the level of senior-friendly services in the digital era. It calls for the proper preservation of offline services for special groups like the elderly and supports smart online service platforms tailored to their travel habits.

Maintaining manual service counters that offer offline ticketing and other services for domestic and international tourists is also critical, the plan says.

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