eLearning for the benefit of tourism during the emergency

Monte San Giorgio ©Ticino Turismo, Jacques Perler
Monte San Giorgio ©Ticino Turismo, Jacques Perler

Institutional Communication Service

27 April 2020

Digital technologies play a key role in this time of health emergency in many sectors, including tourism, which is particularly affected by the changes taking place. The UNESCO Chair of USI and the Institute of Technologies for Communication (ITDxC) have already been involved for many years in research concerning the application of eLearning in tourism-related training, seen as key to supporting the development and sustainability of this sector.

In this context, the UNESCO Chair and ITDxC have given free access to three MOOC - Massive Open Online Courses ("eTourism: Communication Perspectives" and the two volumes on "Tourism Management at UNESCO World Heritage Sites") and other online learning resources (full list available here). The initiative has been highlighted, among others, by the World Tourism Organization and the Council of Europe. "UNESCO has launched a world coalition for education, which aims to promote learning opportunities for young people (and beyond) during the covid-19 emergency. We have answered this call, certain of the essential role played by eLearning in many fields. The possibility of being able to take advantage of distance learning courses also in the field of tourism and heritage is in fact more important than ever: by granting free access to online resources like USI has been doing, we are trying to provide those who work in tourism with the tools to face the new dynamics of the sector, to be able to start again with new ideas to promote sustainable tourism, especially in world heritage sites" explains Lorenzo Cantoni, chair holder of the UNESCO Chair at USI.

USI has played a pioneering role in the discussion, with numerous workshops, academic publications, master's and doctoral theses dedicated to eLearning in the tourism sector. An example is the research carried out by the lecturer and researcher of the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society Nadzeya Kalbaska. "Research on the use of information and communication technologies as training methods in the field of tourism was hardly carried out and in 2013, with my doctoral thesis, I mapped online learning offers on national tourist destinations proposed to tourism operators" explains Kalbaska. Kalbaska studied, also thanks to a collaboration with Switzerland Tourism, how eLearning could be integrated into Human Resources Practices of the Ministries of Tourism in their role of educating travel professionals (travel agents, tour operators, consultants) about tourist destinations globally. The collaboration with Switzerland Tourism was subsequently further consolidated: the office for national tourism turned to USI to redesign its eLearning course and study its performance. This led to the creation of the Switzerland Travel Academy, which helps travel agents to better understand Switzerland, get certified and make sure they bring the right travellers to this country. "The most important mission of this online course is to provide tour operators with flexible learning environments (e.g. they can study from home or in the office when there are no customers), and make sure they become familiar with the product they sell, so they can do their job better". The course was launched in April 2017 and has so far involved more than 8000 professionals from around the world.

Kalbaska also coordinated the first MOOC offered by USI related to eTourism: the first two rounds attracted more than 8000 participants, including professionals in the tourism industry, public administration officers (from Ministies of Tourism or regional tourism authorities) but also students or professors who use the course material in their teaching activities.