Smarter tourism: solving the data problem to boost tourism and create better cities

By Steven McGinty

On 22 March, I attended ‘Smarter Tourism: Shaping Glasgow’s Data Plan’, an event held as part of DataFest 2017, a week-long festival of data innovation with events hosted across Scotland.

Daniel MacIntyre, from Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (the city’s official marketing organisation), opened the event by highlighting Glasgow’s ambitious target of increasing visitor numbers from two million to three million by 2023.

To achieve this goal, Mr MacIntyre explained that the city would be looking to develop a city data plan, which would outline how the city should use data to solve its challenges and to provide a better experience for tourists.

In many ways, Glasgow’s tourism goal set the context for the presentations that followed, providing the attendees – who included professionals from the technology and tourism sectors, as well as academia and local government – with an understanding of the city’s data needs and how it could be used.

Identifying the problem

From very early on, there was a consensus in the room that tourism bodies have to identify their problems before seeking out data.

A key challenge for Glasgow, Mr MacIntyre explained, was a lack of real time data. Much of the data available to the city’s marketing bureau was historic (sometimes three years old), and gathered through passenger or visitor experience surveys. It was clear that Mr MacIntrye felt that this approach was rather limiting in the 21st century, highlighting that businesses, including restaurants, attractions, and transport providers were all collecting data, and if marketing authorities could work in collaboration and share this data, it could bring a number of benefits.

In essence, Mr MacIntyre saw Glasgow using data in two ways. Firstly, to provide a range of insights, which could support decision making in destination monitoring, development, and marketing. For instance, having data on refuse collection could help ensure timely collections and cleaner streets. A greater understanding of restaurant, bar, and event attendances could help develop Glasgow’s £5.4 million a year night time economy by producing more informed licensing policies. And the effectiveness of the city’s marketing could be improved by capturing insights from social media data, creating more targeted campaigns.

Secondly, data could be used to monitor or evaluate events. For example, the impact of sporting events such as Champions League matches – which increase visitor numbers to Glasgow and provide an economic boost to the city – could be far better understood.

Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC)

One potential solution to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s need for data may be organisations such as the Urban Big Data Centre.

Keith Dingwall, Senior Business Manager for the UBDC, explained that the centre supports researchers, policymakers, businesses, third sector organisations, and citizens by providing access to a wide variety of urban data. Example datasets include: housing; health and social care data; transport data; geospatial data; and physical data.

The UBCD is also involved in a number of projects, including the integrated Multimedia City Data (iMCD) project. One interesting aspect of this work involved the extraction of Glasgow-related data streams from multiple online sources, particularly Twitter. The data covers a one year period (1 Dec 2015 – 30 Nov 2015) and could provide insights into the behaviour of citizens or their reaction to particular events; all of which, could be potentially useful for tourism bodies.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics, i.e. the combination of data and statistical techniques to make predictions about future events, was a major theme of the day.

Faical Allou, Business Development Manager at Skyscanner, and Dr John Wilson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, presented their Predictive Analytics for Tourism project, which attempted to predict future hotel occupancy rates for Glasgow using travel data from Glasgow and Edinburgh airport.

Glasgow City Marketing Bureau also collaborated on the project – which is not too surprising as there a number of useful applications for travel data, including helping businesses respond better to changing events, understanding the travel patterns of visitors to Glasgow, and recommending personalised products and services that enhance the traveller’s experience (increasing visitor spending in the city).

However, Dr Wilson advised caution, explaining that although patterns could be identified from the data (including spikes in occupancy rates), there were limitations due to the low number of datasets available. In addition, one delegate, highlighted a ‘data gap’, suggesting that the data didn’t cover travellers who flew into Glasgow or Edinburgh but then made onward journeys to other cities.

Uber

Technology-enabled transport company, Uber, has been very successful at using data to provide a more customer oriented service. Although much of Uber’s growth has come from its core app – which allows users to hire a taxi service – they are also introducing innovative new services and integrating their app into platforms such as Google Maps, making it easier for customers to request taxi services.

And in some locations, whilst Uber users are travelling, they will receive local maps, as well as information on nearby eateries through their UberEATS app.

Uber Movement, an initiative which provides access to the anonymised data of over two billion urban trips, has the potential to improve urban planning in cities. It includes data which helps tourism officials, city planners, policymakers and citizens understand the impact of rush hours, events, and road closures in their city.

Chris Yiu, General Manager at Uber, highlighted that people lose weeks of their lives waiting in traffic jams. He suggested that the future of urban travel will involve a combination of good public transport services and car sharing services, such as uberPOOL (an app which allows the user to find local people who are going in their direction), providing the first and last mile of journeys.

Final thoughts

The event was a great opportunity to find out about the data challenges for tourism bodies, as well as initiatives that could potentially provide solutions.

Although a number of interesting issues were raised throughout the day, two key points kept coming to the forefront. These were:

  1. The need to clarify problems and outcomes – Many felt it was important that cities identified the challenges they were looking to address. This could be looked at in many ways, from addressing the need for more real-time data, to a more outcome-based approach, such as the need to achieve a 20% reduction in traffic congestion.
  2. Industry collaboration – Much of a city’s valuable data is held by private sector organisations. It’s therefore important that cities (and their tourism bodies) encourage collaboration for the mutual benefit of all partners involved. Achieving a proposition that provides value to industry will be key to achieving smarter tourism for cities.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in: 

Reputation is everything … the potential of city branding

iloveny instagram

Image: iloveny official instagram

“A brand, an idea, an identity, synonymous with New York as a city, its infrastructure, businesses, tourist hotspots, residents and tourists alike…..” The I Love New York logo dates back to 1977 and needs no introduction.

Meanwhile, a newer city logo I AMsterdam has also captured the public’s imagination. “The essence of a city encapsulated not only in a tag line or a logo but a concept, a thought process.”

Amsterdam 1

Getting to grips with place branding

These two examples aren’t just logos – they are examples of place branding. In an increasingly competitive global market, selling a town or city as the place to be is key not only to ensuring external and internal investment but also to retaining people, skills and talent within the local economy.

Place branding, may be seen as a step on from place marketing. It seeks not only to advertise and market a place to drive tourism. Instead it seeks to capture the essence of a place (whether real or aspirational). This brand is then embedded as part of a wider strategy and communicated to both residents and those outside, through business and commerce, transport, infrastructure, and events. If done effectively, the brand is a holistic channel for the desired message.

city branding collage

Place branding often seeks to influence the external perception that people and businesses have of a place – to either change preconceived ideas or stereotypes, or to use these as a way to advance the brand and promote its values.

Place branding is the “who” of a place, while marketing is “how” you go about communicating the ideas and values which make up the brand.”- Tom Buncle Destination Scotland.

Benefits for local authorities

However it is not just global cities that can benefit from place branding. Local authorities can use place branding as a strategic tool to advance investment and retain a talent pool within their local communities. Developing a brand strategy can also be a useful way to engage members of the community, and build partnerships and social value between residents and businesses.

Although often used to encourage tourism, place branding strategies can also help promote regeneration and community resilience. Such strategies can also help with asset-based strategies, as towns assess what they have and how they can maximise its potential. Place branding also gives members of the community and local stakeholders an input into the future vision for the place in which they live. This might include property development and regeneration, or events.Community concept word cloud background

However place branding is not always a universally popular approach. It can easily be misunderstood, especially at a time of budget and service cuts. The long term vision and investment required to successfully deliver place branding can also deter local authorities.

Keys to success

A key factor in a successful place branding strategy, according to the place branding manifesto, is making it inclusive, ensuring that as far as possible everyone within the community feels they can relate in some way to the brand and that it is truly reflective of the best elements of a community. This helps with both the adoption and maintenance of the brand in terms of everyday use, and can also help promote the brand internationally.

In 2014, The Guardian asked readers to contribute their own tag lines for city brands where they live. The results were interesting, but they also highlighted another core element to branding, rather than marketing. While a strapline and a logo are important (they are the most public face of a brand) they contribute very little if the wider brand values and promotion are lacking. Engagement, planning and long term strategy is key.

Successful place branding strategies like those seen in New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Glasgow are characterised by a synthesis of long term development, strategic vision, and branding strategy. They include a visual identity and a strap line which people see as inclusive and representative of the values of the place.

This allows them to promote their own unique qualities to an international audience, while engaging local people, businesses and government in the value of their project and the potential benefits of a common strategy and approach.


Our most recent Information Service member briefing explored the potential of place branding.

To find out more on how to become a member of the Idox Information Service, please get in touch.

Read some of our other blogs on regeneration and cities:

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