Technovation 29 (2009) 580–587
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Information technology and tourism a theoretical critique
Philip Alford a,Ã, Steve Clarke b,1
Bournemouth University, School of Services, Management, Dorset House, Talbot Campus, Poole, Dorset BH12 5BB, UK Business School, The University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK
a r t i c l e in f o
a b s t r a c t
This paper aims to initiate a debate regarding the paradigms underpinning the planning and implementation of IT in multi-stakeholder scenarios in the tourism sector. The problem is stated as: ‘‘how do we ensure that, as technological solutions are implemented within tourism, due consideration is given to human-centred issues?’’ The approach taken in this paper is to undertake a critique of the ﬁeld—enabled by the application of a framework borrowed from social theory. A critique of three tourism case studies of failed IT implementation points to the dominance of a Postpositivist mindset which, it is argued, has contributed to the failure through its inability to manage the complexity of the human system involved. Critical Theory is suggested as an alternative paradigm, with its emphasis on the normative structures through which stakeholders view the world. Habemas’ theory of communicative action offers a framework for identifying these structures and is recommended as an avenue for future research. & 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Information technology Multi-stakeholder IT Critique Critical Social Theory Habermas Communicative action
1. Introduction The development of IT forms an integral part of contemporary organizational strategy and plays a crucial role in its success. The information-intensity of tourism means that ‘‘no player in the tourism industry will be untouched by information technology’’ (Poon, 1993, p. 153). There is no question as to the beneﬁts offered by technology-IT applications can reduce costs, enhance operational efﬁciency, and improve service quality. There is, however, evidence to suggest room for improvement, speciﬁcally in the context of IT implementation projects involving multiple stakeholders. A growth area within Tourism IT is the increasing number of European Commission-funded projects, which comprise teams made up of stakeholders from the public, private and university sectors. One of the conditions on which funding is granted is the post-funding sustainability of the project. However, research stemming from the 1990s provides an early indicator of problems in the domain of EC-assisted tourism technology projects, reporting that ‘‘in all cases projects failed to address post-project sustainability’’ (Evans and Peacock, 1999, p. 256 citing CEC 1996 report). Professor A. Frew, the President of the International Federation for IT & Travel & Tourism, refers to the failure rate of Destination
Management Systems (DMSs) in an email to the TRINET online tourism discussion group in March 2005: Contrary to the high levels of performance of travel eMediaries, DMS (with the exception of a handful of cases) have experienced high failure rates as they seem to be unable to attract the support and commitment required from both the private and public sectors. Buhalis and Deimezi (2004, p. 103) highlight the barriers to developing a DMS in Greece: The low level of cooperation between SMTEs [small medium tourism enterprises], however, and the serious doubts about the ability of the National Tourism Organisation to coordinate the destination makes the prospect of a DMS development in Greece doubtful. This paper does not set out to ‘‘prove’’ that Tourism IT is failing nor downplay the role of IT. On the contrary its aim is to explore philosophy and theory, which will begin a dialogue concerning the link between (post) positivist and Critical Theory and IT development and implementation. The following...