Marco Serrato

The tourism and travel industry is not only rich in adventures and experiences, it is also a data-rich industry. This comes to evidence as travelers create digital footprints throughout their journey - from online bookings, reviews, social media posts and credit card transactions, to critical data gathered and managed by governmental entities and tourism-related organizations. This wealth of data presents a valuable opportunity for the tourism industry to uncover insights and support better and timely decision-making, which is something that Thunderbird students achieved as part of its final project in the Big Data in the Age of the Global Economy course.

In the current digital era, big data's omnipresence is reshaping industries globally. Its ability to parse volumes of complex information has become a cornerstone of innovation and efficiency. In every corner of the world, businesses across sectors are harnessing this power to make more informed decisions, streamline operations, and unlock new opportunities.

The tourism industry, a critical engine for economic and social development in different countries worldwide as outlined by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), is no exception. With its multifaceted interactions and global footprint, it stands to gain immensely from the integration of big data and business analytics. The industry's unique ability to synthesize vast amounts of data — from traveler behaviors to spending patterns and environmental impacts — enables a deeper understanding of both opportunities and challenges.

Some of the data-driven analyses and decisions that organizations in the tourism industry can take nowadays include: understand customer preferences; forecast visitor numbers; determine effective pricing strategies; unlock operational efficiency; improve marketing effectiveness; personalize the visitor’s experience through recommendation algorithms that suggest tours, restaurants and other personalized offerings in a destination; improve adaptability towards macroeconomics and microeconomics trends; and even sustainability measurement by analyzing data from sources like visitor surveys, traffic sensors and waste management,” said Professor Serrato, who led this project as part of the Big Data in the Age of the Global Economy course he teaches. “However, much of this data remains siloed and inaccessible. So opening up more tourism data and combining it with big data, business analytics and even artificial intelligence (AI) techniques can empower tourism organizations to make smarter and timely choices that benefit both local economies and travelers.”

With this goal in mind, Thunderbird School of Global Management students embarked, under professor Serrato’s guidance, on a project that exemplifies the synergy between data-driven analysis and tourism. Tasked with evaluating the tourism potential of Chile as a country and for each of its different regions, they leveraged datasets encompassing natural resources and sustainability, cultural resources and heritage, human resources and tourism-related workforce development, tourism infrastructure, tourism mobility and transportation infrastructure, tourism-related services, security and safety, economic performance, tourism promotion, and governmental involvement and efficiency. All of this data, which was provided by professor Serrato to the students as a starting point to conduct their analyses, provided a 360-degree view of the tourism landscape in this country and each of its regions.

The analyses conducted by Thunderbird students were both meticulous and revealing,” said Professor Serrato. “They identified untapped opportunities for development and growth in regions like Aysen or Maule, pinpointed strategic areas for investment, and proposed innovative approaches to marketing and promotion that considered local cultural nuances.” Through their work, they demonstrated how targeted analytics can inform strategies to enhance tourism experiences while fostering sustainable practices.

This project did more than just analyze data; it equipped students with critical big data and analytics skills but also strengthened their multicultural competence — a core attribute Thunderbird instills in all its students. They emerged not only as proficient analysts but as globally minded professionals, equipped to apply their knowledge in diverse contexts and to drive progress that resonates on both local and international stages.

Cultural Competence is the ability to understand, communicate, and effectively interact with people across cultures It encompasses being aware of one’s own world view, developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences, and gaining knowledge of various cultural practices and world views,” explains professor Serrato. “Within the travel and tourism industry, and our everyday lives, being able to understand and communicate with people of various cultures is a must skill. Cultural Competence enables us to establish and build professional relationships with partners, suppliers, buyers, vendors, colleagues, and everyone you come into contact with. This is a core skill that, in the case of this course, is paired with the big data and analytics skills that our Thunderbird students develop.

As industries worldwide continue to embrace the power of data, projects like these are invaluable. They not only contribute to real-world sectors, like tourism, but also prepare the next generation of leaders to think globally and act strategically. Thunderbird School of Global Management remains committed to pioneering such educational endeavors, cementing its legacy as a beacon of international business and management education.

About Professor Marco Serrato.

Marco Serrato serves as Associate Vice President of Arizona State University's Learning Enterprise and as professor of global strategy and business analytics at Thunderbird School of Global Management. He has experience developing initiatives with private, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations in the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the MENA region, including serving as former chair and emeritus board member of the International Consortium for University-based Executive Education (UNICON). Dr. Serrato has published more than thirty research papers on international peer-reviewed and conference journals, four books, and three book chapters. His contributions have been featured by international media including the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, among others.

Marco Serrato Headshot

Marco Serrato

Associate Vice President, ASU Learning Enterprise

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