Insights of a tourism scholar: an interview with Dr. Bardia Shabani

How innovative technologies and apps, including AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ChatGPT will change the course of tourism, remains a pressing question for resilience researchers, says the GenZ visiting scholar, Dr. Bardia Shabani from Paul Valery Montpellier III University. Shabani himself is a scholar interested in the ways in which digital innovations are shaping the tourism industry. He will give a visiting scholar lecture at the University of Oulu on Linnanmaa Campus on the 15th of June. Before his lecture, we chatted with Dr. Shabani about tourism, digitalisation, how the Oulu region looks in the eyes of a tourist, and why he appreciates old photographs.
GenZ visiting scholar Dr. Bardia Shabani is a tourism researcher at Paul Valery Montpellier III University. He will be staying in Oulu until the end of June.

Shabani is a tourism researcher and part-time lecturer at Paul Valery Montpellier III University, which is located in sunny Southern France. After studying for his master's in science in international marketing with tourism and events at Edinburgh Napier University, Shabani decided to apply for a PhD at Paul Valery Montpellier III University.

Shabani concluded his tourism geography related doctoral research last summer (2022), and he is now researching topics such as destination image, socio-cultural events, AI and new technologies in tourism. An important angle to his work is also the behaviours of the Generation Z - the new generation of tourists.

Shabani is especially interested in analysing the tastes of the new generation in tourism. According to Shabani, trends in marketing show how each generation has its own preferences and tastes, which are also shaped by several factors, including cultural and educational backgrounds and incomes, for instance. At its core, tourism is a product, and tourists are consumers.

“Research indicates that the new generation of tourists are more environmentally friendly than the previous generations. They have new eyes on tourism, and we are seeing day-by-day how it affects their choices,” Shabani explains.

Despite the negative stigma of tourism increasing pollution, Generation Z tourists do not utterly boycott tourism. Instead, they may prefer tourism which has positive effects on local societies - the type of tourism centred on cultural exchanges, gaining new experiences, exploring new cultures, and trying to understand other people’s ways of living.

Finns are tech-friendly people

Shabani himself has travelled quite a bit, and he first came to Oulu as a tourist in 2021. We are curious to know, how does the Oulu region look in the eyes of a tourist and tourism scholar?

“The nature here is really unique. During my first visit I also went to Lapland and got to experience the sunset at 2 am. On my current visit, I walked on the frozen sea for the first time in my life! I can see that nature here is changing very fast as we are moving towards the summer,” Shabani says.

Shabani also thinks that one of the observations that a first-time visitor will make when coming to Finland is the effective use of technology.

“We could call you Finns very tech-friendly people – you have really benefited from technology. Everything is working effortlessly here, and I can see that the students and staff have a great environment to study and do their research. Everything in terms of technology, infrastructure, and even financial aid provided to them allows them to do their best,” he adds.

How AI could help the tourism industry

Recently, Shabani has been reading about the use of ChatGPT in tourism and hospitality, and he is hoping to do more research on how these kinds of novel technologies can change the trends in tourism. Although the integration of AI-based technologies in tourism brings concerns too, Shabani is mainly optimistic about them.

In Shabani’s vision, AI-based technologies could provide better and more accurate information to tourists. He tested this by asking ChatGPT to make him a detailed plan for a 3-day tour program in Copenhagen. This program generated by ChatGPT turned out to be a success.

Hotels and the hospitality industry could also benefit from AI-based technologies. AI could evaluate data on the latest trends, generate solutions, and make suggestions on what measures to take during off-seasons, while comparing these to the actions taken by competitors.

“But we are still at the very basic level of using AI, and we will have to wait and see what directions it takes in the future,” Shabani points out.

Optimistic for a brighter future

In Shabani’s view, one of the key challenges of the modern world is related to people’s social behaviour. The new generation is spending more and more time interacting online and building connections internationally, whereas the social life of the previous generation was often more local. While the internet – and especially social media – allows us to be at the centre of information, contacts, and chats, we are still in our solitude.

When going online, people may choose how to represent themselves, and they may even use imaginary identities. The motivations behind creating altered identities online can be diverse: individuals may use these personas to project qualities they believe they lack in their everyday lives. Others may be seeking validation, attention, and a sense of belonging that they struggle to find offline. Individuals may genuinely believe that their online persona accurately represents who they are, thus blurring the line between their real and virtual identities.

“We as humans are not perfect, and that is something lovely about us. But when we go online, we tend to make ourselves seem as perfect as possible. When uploading a picture on Instagram, people will take it a hundred times, and make sure that the light and angle are perfect. If we compare these pictures to the older images taken when people could not even check the pictures after taking them, we can sense the feelings from these pictures – they feel real, because they capture the moment,” Shabani explains.

When asked where he sees the world going, Shabani says:

“Overall, I would rather think positively about our future, despite wars, famine, and climate change. I am hoping for a peaceful future for all people and that we will be able to explore the sky – maybe even visit aliens, who knows.”

Dr. Bardia Shabani will give his visiting scholar lecture on June 15th at Tellus Stage. Click here to read more about the event.

Read more about Dr. Bardia Shabani’s research here.

Last updated: 31.5.2023