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WIN Travel Network, of which we are a member, recently published an interesting article entitled ‘Technology – the world’s smartest cities’ which talked about a new phase of ‘smart tourism’. The article draws attention to how, amidst the rise of digital technology, business travellers are benefiting, or will benefit in the not-so-distant future, from a host of developments designed to make travel easier, more productive and all in all, more personal than ever before.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, you can find the original article here, as it appeared in Buying Business Travel Magazine. In the meantime, we thought we’d share our thoughts on the rise of smart tourism and how recent technological developments have the power to truly redefine consumer travel expectations worldwide.

Smart Tourism – what’s it all about?

Smart City TechOur reliance on technology to provide an efficient, time-effective means of obtaining real-time information and an abundance of choice is a development that has leapt forward light years in the last decade. Long gone are the days where you had to tap into teletext to check if your flight was on time or go through the yellow pages to find a hotel in the area. No, no, no, even speaking of that feels like a distant chapter in a history book. Thanks to smart technology and industry innovations, the entire travel experience can now be delivered right to our fingertips, tailored perfectly to size and budget without lifting a finger. And it’s only set to continue that way, becoming more streamlined and personalised than ever before.

This is where the concept of smart tourism comes in – a philosophy where the technology we’ve become so reliant on becomes our personal travel assistant, using intuition to formulate a personal travel experience for you. Let’s imagine a scenario where you’re planning your visit to a city prior to your departure. Using one or more omnichannel platforms from your mobile phone or tablet, you could, in theory, create a complete visit, integrating interesting accommodation, recommendations found on your social media, places of interest, restaurants you’d like to visit, routes/activities as mentioned by your friends and family, and local tourist information. Then, amidst all that information, you’d receive weather updates, live-traffic news, etiquette tips, car parking spots, congestion periods at local attractions and even free Wi-Fi hotspot information – all to create you a perfect, personalised itinerary designed to simply improve your travel experience.

Now, that may seem like light years away but the reality is, we’re not as far away from that as you might think. In fact, many cities around the world have already taken great leaps forward in the world of smart tourism, using technology to manage transport, traffic, municipal services and city-wide health information, much of which can be accessed on an app or on the Internet somewhere.

#smartcities?

Urban life is continuously on the rise, with nearly half the population currently living in cities (and this is on a trajectory to significantly rise in the next 30 years), so it’s no wonder that planners are leaning on technology to help manage their bustling streets. Surprisingly, it’s not just in the predictable cities that tech-savvy start-ups are making an impact, with many small-yet-densely-populated areas implementing smart gadgets designed to improve urban life for its residents.

Detouring slightly away from the subject of tourism, Latin America in particular is embracing technology to encourage itsSMART Bins citizens to become more environmentally conscious. Take Columbia as an example, which has recently came up with smart solar powered bins (yes, you did read that right!) in two of its major cities, Ibague and Santa Marta. Designed to tackle the issue of overflowing bins and street litter, these solar powered bins communicate with the authorities when they need emptying and, to create more space within the ‘Clean Cube’ (a rather snazzy name for a rather snazzy bin we think), it’ll automatically compress the rubbish down. Not only does this keep the streets cleaner but also improves the productivity of those responsible for emptying the bins by up to 40%, as they no longer need to check every single bin on every single street. Strangely enough, they also act as Wi-Fi hotspots for the city ensuring connectivity for everyone at all times.

Smart AppBack to the topic of smart cities and tourism, let’s take a look at a recent development by Civic Resource Group, a third-party developer who develops sophisticated IT systems to collect and redistribute data for travel apps. In December last year, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs both launched new city apps with augmented reality (AR) functions developed by Civic Resource. These apps pull information collected from various platforms within the cities, ranging from public transportation to special event permits to beacon sensors spread throughout the city monitoring traffic. This enables users to simply point their devices in a specific direction to receive AR messaging and ancillary information designed to augment the travel experience that are as seamless as quite literally pointing your phone at a restaurant or hotel to access their websites. These apps are soon to come to European cities as well, with a particular focus on business-travel hotspots.

Singapore is well on its way to becoming one of the world’s smartest cities, using ‘smart boxes’ planted throughout the city to transmit data on traffic, busy public transport periods and even air pollution and heavy rainfall. Cities in India, Canada, America and even the U.K are all jumping on board with the idea that smart tourism and a heavy reliance on data-transmission could enable tourists – including business travellers – to streamline their travel experience, particularly for executives who are time-poor and need to reach their meeting or dinner in a timely manner. Copenhagen has invested 34 million Euros in smart city technology, promising citizens that in just two years, inter-city travelling time will be reduced by 10%.

The #smartcity concept has the potential to be transformative and make a huge impact on the travel market. Real-time traffic information and public transport updates enable users to make efficient, productive decisions to ensure they’re where they need to be, on time. There’s nothing quite so stressful for a business traveller (who at best, has a packed itinerary combined with travel fatigue) than rushing to reach a meeting or conference whist navigating crowds of language schools and tourists, or being simply unable to flag down a taxi in heavy rain.

What smart tourism pledges is an extended knowledge of the city in real-time, enabling travellers to receive live city-data analysis and use their limited time more effectively, simply by avoiding potential obstacles.

Not only is this concept of hyper-connectivity and real-time data beneficial for each individual traveller, but for organisations as a whole who are trying to fulfil their duty of care obligations. Linking technology with local authorities could, in theory, keep travellers informed of local incidents or potential health/safety risks nearby and ensure they have all the necessary information they need to make informed decisions.

The point is that, whilst we may be a little way away from travel buyers knowing exactly what platforms are available and perhaps the marketing efforts to get these products circling the business travel sphere isn’t necessarily in place just yet, the technology itself is there, ready to go. We’re potentially entering a new arena of travel which is filled with more real-time data than we’ve ever had access to before and, what’s truly exciting and transformative, is that we don’t have to analysis that data ourselves; an app or omnichannel platform of some kind will do that for us and present us with sensible options to choose from that enable us to achieve our travel objective most efficiently.

Although, as WIN rightly point out in their article, the first step to launching the era of smart tourism would be to initiate city-wide, safe public Wi-Fi… that would definitely be a good place to start!