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Tourism’s Crystal Ball

Bing Pan, tourism management professor

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Bing Pan can predict the future.

Don’t ask him what the winning Lotto numbers are or who will win the Super Bowl, but do feel free to ask about upcoming occupancy rates at Charleston hotels.

As part of a research project with a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the tourism management professor is monitoring Google searches that contain keywords like “Charleston hotels,” “visit Charleston” and “Charleston, S.C.” Based on a day’s tally, Pan and his colleague can predict the number of guests a Charleston hotel can expect to receive in three to five weeks.

Okay, there’s a little bit more to his hotel occupancy forecasting model than that. But Pan won’t give away all his secrets before the study is done. His research follows on the heels of Google’s discovery that it can quickly identify regional outbreaks of the flu based on an above-average number of users from a particular area querying flu symptoms. Also, says Pan, it’s been proven that emotional keywords contained in Tweets can indicate upcoming swings in the stock market. In short, he says, clues to human behavior are made every time someone taps the keyboard, and it just takes some problem-solving to put those clues to use.

Pan has been studying the intersection of tourism and technology since he moved to the United States from China in 1998 to earn a Ph.D. in tourism management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He followed that up with post-doctoral work in information technology at Cornell University before arriving at the College. He’s quick to tell people that the tourism accounts for more online transactions than any other industry.

At the College, he says, students benefit from learning in the “living laboratory” of Charleston, one of the most beautiful and popular destinations for travelers in the United States. Students can take classes, too, from some of the top tourism professors in the country, including one who can predict the future.