Smart Tourism: Coming to a City Near You

The internet connects nearly all of us on a global scale

However, nothing will ever beat visiting a place in person, and tourism is a critical economic component of many cities and regions. As smart technologies continue to advance, and smart cities, in particular continue improving, the next evolutionary step is clear: Smart tourism.

When discussing smart cities, most focus on how they improve the lives of residents. Many of these benefits, however, are inherently beneficial to tourists as well. Improved public transportation helps visitors just as much as it helps residents, and some simple features, such as mobile apps for transportation payments, are perhaps even more convenient for visitors than they are for residents. Furthermore, IoT functionality in smart cities is generally agnostic to whether the people it tracks are residents or tourists, a fact that could further drive the development of smart tourism. When deciding whether to expand services in particular areas, planners in the past might consider sending out surveyors to find out what would benefits residents most. In smart cities, planners might instead rely on sensor-derived data, which doesn’t know if tracked individuals are visitors or residents. Smart tourism can lead to an increase in tourism, which could lead to more convenience for tourists.

The benefits of smart tourism extend to residents as well, even beyond increases in tax revenue. One of the most frequent complaints residents have about tourists is the simple fact that tourists take up space and are frequently confused about how to navigate a city, where to park and where to find public WiFi. Drivers unfamiliar with an area, in particular, often cause congestion and can make driving even more dangerous. Smart tourism can take these facts into account and find out how to best direct tourists during their visit. Companies like Meylah are already helping municipalities tap into this emerging opportunity.

The benefits of smart tourism also begin before visitors arrive. Those scheduling a visit can rely on virtual reality to get a preview of what to expect, and those planning a visit can come armed with a more packed itinerary. Augmented reality holds tremendous promise as well. Being able to receive navigational instructions in real time and discover points of interest create business opportunities.

Keeping Up With Changes

Companies that deal with tourists in any capacity have a lot to look forward to as smart city and smart tourism technology come online. However, keeping up with changes will be essential. All companies need to ensure the major online databases, particularly Google, contain accurate and updated information, as Google Maps and its related technologies play a critical role for tourists relying on smart technology. It’s worth looking at what governments are doing to enable smart tourism. Scotland, for example, is investing heavily in improving the technology fueling its tourism programs, and companies need to ensure they’re keeping up with changes. Manchester has already launched an app, entitled “Beacons for Science,” that aims to provide new experiences using VR and AR. Companies will want to see how they’re represented in any apps aimed at smart tourism. It might also be worth investing in a website redesign that makes it easier for tourists to learn about your company and why they should it pay a visit.

Tours provide an opportunity for visitors to understand the place they’re visiting, and tour guides have long directed visitors through interesting areas. Smart technology is enabling self-guided tours that go beyond the multimedia tours of the past. Microsoft has already collaborated with Guide Dogs to create similar apps to help the blind navigate big cities safely.

In addition to providing an audio tour of a location, smart apps can also show how buildings and landscapes looked in the past, enabling visitors to see how an area has evolved over time. In addition, specially tailored apps can offer an easier interface for asking questions. If the tour doesn’t contain answers to commonly asked questions, future updates can provide more robust information based on what previous tourists asked. Self-guided tours allow people to travel at their own pace, and they offer tremendous opportunities for people outside of the tech field. Apps can automatically track where a user has walked, letting users map their own course. Writers, narrators, and artists all have a critical role to play, and those able to develop high-quality apps can carve out a valuable niche in the smart tourism industry.

Privacy Challenges

For tourists, smartphones and other smart devices provide the interface to smart tourism efforts. However, having to download and sign up for several apps can prove to be a significant burden, as even the simplest of apps tend to have somewhat of a learning curve. For smart tourism to thrive on its own, some sort of centralization might be necessary. Privacy issues will need to be addressed as well, as it’s unclear how data should be captured and regulated. Residents of a city are more likely to engage in conversation about how their personal data is handled. Tourist, on the other hand, may be less likely to lodge complaints, leaving them more vulnerable to data breaches and other problems. Budgetary issues will have a role to play for city planners. While every city that depends on tourism will want to consider smart tourism efforts, they may have to decide how much they’re willing to invest at the cost of other potential investments. Cities dependent on tourism may decide a heavy investment is needed, but the concept of smart tourism is still relatively new. How can cities ensure their investments will pay off?

The world we live in is constantly becoming smarter, and we often fail to recognize how much our lives have changed just over the past few years thanks to smart technology. Along with this change comes an evolution in expectations: We expect, for example, that public transportation systems will be easy to use, and cities need to ensure they’re doing what they can to gather important data to best serve residents and visitors alike. Although focusing on smart city initiatives is helpful for tourists, it’s also important for planners to consider the impact on tourists and the tourism industry as a whole. Visitors to cities provide invaluable tax revenue and can make a city feel more vibrant. Ensuring visitors can take advantage of what smart technology has to offer will prove critical in the coming decades.