Prof. Rob Law

Prof. Li Miao

Prof. Alfred Wong

The University of Macau’s (UM) Smart Tourism Research Team is leveraging the smart city technologies developed at UM and the university’s strengths in humanities, history, integrated tourism, marketing, and other areas to carry out innovative interdisciplinary research, in order to help build Macao into a world centre of tourism and leisure.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Research

Because of the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world are actively exploring the use of innovative technology and digital approaches to accelerate tourism recovery, according to the Report on World Tourism Economy Trends (2022). In China, the 14th Five-Year Plan for the Development of the Culture and Tourism Sector envisages the progressive development of smart tourism. The Second Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) of the Macao Special Administrative Region also shows the local government’s vision of upgrading different industries with smart technology, with priorities given to key areas such as tourism and education.

As an international comprehensive public university in Macao, UM is committed to supporting Macao in its development into a smart tourism destination through research and education. The university has formed a Smart Tourism Research Team under the Asia-Pacific Academy of Economics and Management (APAEM), aligning outstanding domestic and foreign scholars to conduct interdisciplinary research. With the assistance of various advanced technologies such as big data and the Internet of Things, Macao will be developed as a world centre of tourism and leisure to offer diverse tourism products and attract more high-quality tourists.

Dedicated to interdisciplinary research, the Smart Tourism Research Team consists of 14 UM scholars in areas such as tourism, technology, education, and law. The team is led by Rob Law, University of Macau Development Foundation Chair Professor of Smart Tourism, deputy director of APAEM, and chair professor in the Faculty of Business Administration (FBA). In 2021, he was named the world’s most prolific researcher in tourism/hospitality by the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. Prof Law’s publications have been cited more than 54,000 times. The Alper-Doger Scientific Index recognised him as one of the most influential scholars worldwide in 2022. Prof Law says that smart tourism is developed upon the basis of smart cities, leveraging technologies to enhance the efficiency of urban tourism operations to meet the different needs of tourists.

The research team has launched several large-scale and longitudinal interdisciplinary projects. These projects include Advancing Tourist Destination Competitiveness via Leveraging User-Generated Data, by Prof Law and his overseas collaborators; A Custom Tour Itinerary Robot based on Deep Reinforcement Learning, by Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) Associate Professor Wong Seng Fat and FBA Associate Professor Amy So Siu Yan; and Using Smart Technology to Develop Medical Tourism in Macao, by Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences Professor Hu Yuanjia in collaboration with Faculty of Health Sciences Associate Professor Chan Ging and FBA Associate Professor Chen Xiaoyun. Through these projects, the scholars aim to explore the future of smart tourism in Macao from different perspectives.

Making the Industry More Competitive

Smart tourism is an important driving force that propels the transformation of Macao into a smart city. In this regard, UM’s State Key Laboratory of Internet of Things for Smart City can provide technical support for smart tourism research. According to Prof Law, technologies that can enhance visitors’ experiences before, during, and after their trips, such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and 5G, can all be considered as smart tourism technologies. ‘However, no matter how much our technologies have evolved, the core value of tourism remains the same, says Prof Law. ‘It is always about creating a wonderful and unforgettable travelling experience for visitors. Among all elements, shopping, food, accommodation, and transport are linked together as a whole, a visitor’s experience will be affected if any of these elements falls below expectation.’

Using real-time data generated by users, Prof Law seeks to identify the itineraries and behaviours of visitors and to analyse their personal experiences to understand their needs. APAEM regularly organises seminars to share its academic results with industry and the government to exchange ideas on the latest developments. This enables industry stakeholders to identify room for improvement, which contributes to enhancing Macao’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.

Training Professionals for Tourism Transformation

To promote smart tourism development, it is important to provide relevant training for university students. With a strong sense of responsibility to nurture tourism professionals for Macao, UM established the Department of Integrated Resort and Tourism Management (DRTM) in 2019 to respond to the demand for talent in integrated tourism in Macao, China, and beyond. The department is committed to equipping students with cutting-edge knowledge and skills in related disciplines, emphasising not only the integration of theory and practice, but also the development of a forward-thinking mindset, in order to train professionals that can meet the needs of tourism enterprises and the market.

The head of DRTM is Miao Li, University of Macau Development Foundation Professional Fellow, who taught at Purdue University and Oklahoma State University for over a decade before joining UM. She has extensive research experience in the field of dynamic interpersonal relationships and human-technology interaction in hospitality and travel experience. According to Prof Miao, to usher in the era of smart tourism, the department will draw on the strengths of academic disciplines at UM such as computer science and big data analytics for curriculum enhancement. For example, new topics such as the metaverse and ‘Tourism+’ will be added to existing programmes to enhance students’ interdisciplinary knowledge and skills.

Prof Miao says that her department will revise programme curricula to keep up with future trends, adding that the acceleration of smart tourism development has led to a demand for personalised services and this will gradually change traditional tourist behaviour. She adds that the structure of human resources in Macao’s tourism sector will change from ‘labour-intensive’ to ‘experience-intensive’ as the local economy enters a new phase, moving from a service-based economy with a focus on service quality to an experience-based economy with an emphasis on customer experience. This means that the local industry will take advantage of innovative ideas and digital technology to offer visitors something new every time they visit the city.

‘We need to take our education of professionals to the next level by strengthening students’ understanding of the environment and their ability to empathise with visitors, so that they can anticipate the needs of the visitors and offer customer services or products that can evoke positive emotions,’ says Prof Miao.

Creating Distinctive Tourism Characteristics

The Smart Tourism Research Team leverages the strengths of UM as a comprehensive public university in areas such as smart city technology, arts, humanities, history, integrated tourism, and marketing to explore avenues for deepening ‘Tourism+’ interdisciplinary development and amplifying Macao’s brand image as a tourist destination with distinctive characteristics. Prof Wong is leading his team in the Department of Electromechanical Engineering to develop a graph neural network for itinerary prediction in a mobile application based on deep reinforcement learning. After analysing the personal preferences and locations entered by visitors, the app can create a personalised itinerary within 2.7 seconds.

Moreover, Prof Wong has launched a project to create Virtual Reality (VR) smart architectural tours. The project aims to digitalise historical and culturally significant buildings in Macao through reality modelling to preserve them. As the preliminary result of the project, the UM Library is the first library in Macao to offer 360-degree VR tours. ‘The VR system allows people to visit attractions that are difficult to reach, which may encourage them to visit the buildings in person. With the experience of digitalising the UM Library, we will apply our VR technology to historical buildings in Macao, including churches and temples, as they are the city’s cultural heritage,’ says Prof Wong.

‘We are planning to integrate the outcomes of the two research projects so that users of our app can explore historical buildings through VR tours and obtain information about distinctive shops in Macao. This will enable visitors who are not familiar with Macao to fully experience the city through smart itinerary planning. In the future, we will continue to leverage the university’s smart city technologies to showcase the charm of Macao’s world heritage,’ Prof Wong adds.

Future Research Directions

Prof Law points out that APAEM will continue to act as a bridge between industry practitioners, faculty members, and researchers, helping the industry to explore market opportunities through cutting-edge research. The research team is currently studying successful cases of smart tourism around the world to gather their experience for the smart tourism development of Macao and other cities in the Greater Bay Area. ‘While all the successful cases are worth studying, smart tourism development needs to be tailored with regard to the local context. For this reason, we should try to develop our own model based on the characteristics of Macao,̓ says Prof Law.

Source: UMagazine