How is technology transforming Chinese tourism?
September 27 is World Tourism Day, which has been celebrated each year by the United Nations World Tourism Organization since 1980. The theme this year is "Tourism and the Digital Transformation," as digital technology has permeated the tourism industry.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, Internet-plus - these terms have gradually become familiar to people travelling in China, as the country is heading to its tourism industry 3.0. A wide range of cutting-edge technologies have been innovatively applied in almost every part of China's tourism industry.
A smart robot helps a passenger carry a handbag at Ningbo Railway Station in Zhejiang Province, on August 7, 2017. The smart robot has been activated to help passengers search for ticket fares, print route maps and carry their luggage. [Photo: VCG]
Technology used at scenic spots
Technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) enable tourists to enjoy entertaining, immersive, and interactive visual experiences. A growing number of China's tourist attractions, including theme parks, museums, galleries, and even zoos are applying those technologies to attract visitors. The Palace Museum is a leader in the use of these technologies.
A visitor has an immersive experience using a VR headset during a digital exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing on October 10, 2017. [Photo: VCG]
The world-famous museum, popularly known as the Forbidden City, put on a digital exhibition in October 2017 in a bid to make its silent historical relics come alive. By wearing a VR helmet in a moving seat, visitors felt as if they were walking through the famous landmark during ancient times. They were even able to talk with a virtual senior minister with the help of artificial intelligence. In this way, visitors enjoyed a truly immersive experience that combined vision, sound, and movement. The Palace Museum also opened a digital gallery displaying images of items too old and fragile to put on public display.
Visitors take a look at digital images of cultural relics at the Palace Museum in Beijing on October 10, 2017. [Photo: VCG]
And in April, an intelligent robot tour guide was put to use in a scenic area in Changsha, Hunan Province. The robot named Yoyo showed tourists around and gave a brief introduction for the scenic spot. It could sing and dance to amuse visitors. And thanks to voice recognition software, it could even answer questions from tourists.
A robot guides tourists along a glass bridge above Shiyan Lake in Changsha, Hunan Province on April 4, 2018. [Photo: VCG]
Technology used in accommodation
The latest technology, including artificial intelligence and intelligent robots, has also been used in some hotels.
In August 2017, China's first artificial intelligence voice control hotel was opened in Hangzhou. It was developed by Fliggy, the travel brand of Chinese tech giant Alibaba. By speaking to an intelligent speaker in their hotel room, guests can control the lighting, curtains, and the television. They can also request information about things like the meal times, call room service, and book a taxi.
A guest uses the artificial intelligence system at the High Xuan Spa Hotel in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on August 17, 20170. [Photo: huanqiu.com]
Intelligent robots have been employed in a high tech hotel in Chengdu in March, 2018. They are capable of keeping customers company, and entertaining them with singing and storytelling.
A robot serves a customer at a hi-tech hotel in Chengdu, Sichuan Province on March 20, 2018. [Photo: VCG]
Technology used in transportation and more
High-tech transportation services give tourists in China a more pleasant and efficient travel experience. The upgraded high-speed railway network enables tourists to travel to faraway places for less money and time. And the facial recognition systems used at an increasing number of airports and railway stations help speed up security screening and ticket checks for travelers.
A passenger uses her identification card at a facial recognition scanner as she prepares to board a train at Wuhan Railway Station in Hubei Province on August 22, 2017. [Photo: Xinhua]
The use of Internet-plus technology by China's online travel agencies such as Ctrip, Qunar, Fliggy, and Tuniu has also helped to revolutionize travel thanks to one-stop booking services for services like hotels, plane and train tickets, and bookings to visit scenic spots. And widely used payment apps make it even easier for tourists to pay for dining and shopping during a trip.
More than five billion trips were made by tourists in China last year, an increase of 12.8 percent on the previous year, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The ministry said that tourism contributed 9.13 trillion yuan (1.42 trillion U.S. dollars) to China's GDP in 2017.