Assistant Professor Ajay Aluri says we live in an “experience economy,” and businesses must constantly adapt new technologies being used by consumers, such as augmented reality, to market themselves. When the Hospitality and Tourism Management launched WVU in 2011, Aluri was hired and helped develop the curriculum.
Aluri spoke with Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner about the program and his interest in wearable technology.
Q. Can you give me an example of the real world experience students receive in the hospitality and tourism management program?
A. In Tourism Management, students are doing a group project where they are analyzing the effect of West Virginia floods on the tourism industry. So I’m taking all of the students in the class to southern West Virginia. We are working with the Division of Tourism and taking all of the students to individual businesses impacted by the floods, specifically in the tourism industry, and then we are helping them on how to really come back. In other words how to market themselves better and how to tell people that ‘we are ready, we are back in business, and come and visit us’ and then how to use social media, as well, but also their websites. We want them to find different ways of connecting with people because we want to make sure that people come back and spend their money there.
Q. Why do you believe wearable technology is important at the business school?
A. I am really passionate about emerging technologies, and part of the reason is we are at a place where academia is following the industry whereas the industry should be following academia. It used to be like that, back maybe 20 or 30 years ago. The driver of technology and innovation is the industry right now, but I want to be a researcher who can use these technologies ahead (of the industry), speak about them, and come back with the best practices before they get to the industry. Because I am using these technologies, I am able to do research on them. I was one of the first adopters of Google Glass, Oculus and (Google) Cardboard. My students have used Google Glass as part of their research.
Q. How can you use wearable technology in hospitality and tourism management?
A. We are looking at how this can change the way consumers use technology. If businesses start using wearables, it’s going to only change the business. But when consumers start using the technology, everything changes. An example is how people are using mobile phones and how that changed the way we market now. We market through mobile by using advertisements on social media. I’m more excited about Augmented Reality. For example, Pokemon Go and how it changed the way people play games. It changes your real world when you are connected to the virtual world. When that happens, people can do so many things, they can share things virtually while they are connected with the real world and this will change the way businesses have to market to them.
Q. How does this change the way businesses must market toward consumers?
A. It will change the way businesses have to create experiences and it will change the way businesses at the end of the day will influence. In this day and age, I tell everybody that we live in an experience economy. It is all about creating experiences and that is only possible when you use technology such as Augmented Reality, specifically in hospitality. Hotels can do so much. A mobile user can share what their location, and share what they want. Eventually in the next few years you will see that you can set up the experience that you want in a hotel. Before you check-in to a hotel, you can tell the hotel what you want, whether you want to interact with your coffee machine, whether you want interact with your blinds or the TV, because everything will be connected to each other with Wifi so you can simply select your experience through an app. That’s the way I see it in the future.
Q. Will this actually benefit the hotel, or just the consumer?
A. At the end of the day, this is creating value. I am looking at experiences that are affordable and create a value to the customer so that they are willing to pay more or come back to the business. If you look at augmented reality, it is still too early and expensive, but the idea is to create a customized app for a hotel. For example, there is a lot around Waterfront Place, like the trail and river that runs next to it. So when people are bored in the evening and they are looking for something to do in Morgantown, the hotel can say ‘Hey, we have a game if you want to play and you can use your mobile phone to download the app.’ (A guest) could run the trail and maybe within half an hour have to find designated spots, like One Waterfront. They could collaborate with the Visitor’s Center at One Waterfront, and then visitors can learn about the University. They can also go downtown and find something interesting there, and they can do this while they are walking and possibly riding in the car. They will have fun while playing the game, and they will learn so much about the Morgantown area.
You can read more about Aluri's research by clicking here.