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What’s smart about smart tourism?  Smart tourism occurs where tourism meets technology, an opportunity that most travelers today are not only embracing but demanding. Tour operators around the world are responding with ever-increasing technology options in their tours that include the desire for a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) culture.

According to a UN World Tourism Organisation report, there were 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide in 2018. Couple this fact with a Business Insider Intelligence prediction that 24 billion devices will have been installed by 2020, and it’s apparent that technology is moving to the forefront of the tourism industry.

Director of Research, Department of Tourism Innovation at Eurocat, Salvador Anton Clavé says, “The change goes beyond improving processes or the tourist experience; it entails transforming the tourism system itself.”

Increasingly, tech-savvy travelers are bringing their ICT (Information and Communication Tools) —wearable technologies, smartphones and tablets—with them on vacation. This BYOD culture means that these same travelers want to learn about a destination on their own time, to wander a location and have it come alive for them, and to remove the guesswork out of finding the best pizza in town, the most adventurous tour and the trendiest shops. And they want to do so from their devices.

“Smart cities’ commitment to technology, sustainability, innovation or accessibility has not only improved the quality of life of their inhabitants,” says Eduardo Bravo at Smart.City Lab. “It has also become a differential element when it comes to tourists choosing where they want to relax. This is what is already becoming known as smart tourism destinations.”

Technology can also enhance or even save a travel experience. Novelist and self-proclaimed smartphone junkie, Cryssa Bazos says, “This summer, we decided to explore the Blue Mountain/Bruce Trail area and found a rustic and charming cottage to spend the week. When we arrived, we discovered that the cottage was airless and didn’t have a functional kitchen.”

Bazos’ first thought was to reach for her phone. “I used the Expedia mobile app to search for better accommodations and located a three-bedroom condo with AC and a fully functional kitchen in Blue Mountain. Problem solved. Thanks to the app, we swapped rustic and unusable for luxurious and comfortable.”

Smart Cities

A smart city, defined in an Eden Strategy Institute’s study of Top 50 Smart City Governments, is “an urban ecosystem that integrates digital technology, knowledge and assets to become more responsive to users, as well as improve city services.”

Cities large and small, are in a race to join the smart city train, a move that will greatly enhance the tourist experience with interactive culture and entertainment locations, maps, directions, tours and popular sites. The City of Toronto, one such urban centre, is in the early stages of implementing the city’s digital future.

Andrea Martinelli, Acting Senior Communications Coordinator, City of Toronto, says, “Digital technology is changing the way we access information, work, and connect with each other. As the use of digital technologies increases, the city is developing a Digital Infrastructure Plan (DIP) to help guide day-to-day as well as long-term planning directions and decisions, and to help evaluate internal and external proposals in the digital realm.”

Changing Booking Trends

Visit Britain determined in 2018 that 13% of US travelers and 18% of Canadian travelers booked their vacations through a website providing traveler reviews of destinations, and allowed direct bookings. They also reported that 57% of US travelers and 34% of Canadian travelers expected to purchase tickets for tourist attractions before their visit, while 30% of US travelers and 42% of Canadian travelers do the same during their UK visit.

Such changes in booking trends suggest that if tour operators are to succeed in the current market, a strong online presence is a must.

Mike Overend, video technician for a leading production company, frequently travels to large events and tours with top musical acts throughout North America. Overend admits life on the road can be grueling, but where his schedule permits, he arrives at the next destination ahead of time, and rather than stay just one night in each place, he is able to experience the city more fully.

“In Denver, we rented a car and went to Red Rocks Park, then the mountain town of Idaho Springs. At Red Rock, we hiked around and saw the sites. Without our phones, we’d have gotten lost a dozen times. After that, we traveled to Idaho Springs where we found Indian Hot Springs, an old resort built over natural hot spring caves. Visiting the springs was an amazing and surreal experience, which we’d never have had if we hadn’t done our research on the internet beforehand.”

Technologies and the Tour Experience

Technologies such as cloud computing, mobile apps, location-based services, geo-tag services, beacon technology, virtual reality, augmented reality, and social networking services offer the tourism industry new ways to attract and engage visitors.

Recent advancements in audio technologies like Listen Technologies’  Navilution® Wi-Fi, an automated GPS multilingual commentary system, are proving a win/win for both visitors and tour operators. “With Navilution, audio tours are delivered in the visitor’s preferred language right through their own phone,” says Jonathan Stanley, Chief Experience Officer, “an advantage that allows travelers from all over the world to access the same inspiring experience simultaneously, and in cinematic sound.”

Equipped with the latest TrueTime Passenger Analytics, Navilution also allows tour operators to collect, analyze, and share passenger information, making their job of building stronger sales and marketing solutions considerably easier and more powerful, and enhancing the guest experience.

Technology can also make tours more accessible. During a recent visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, David Lyons-Black, an independent Accessible Travel Specialist at Flight Centre, took a self-guided tour of the museum.

“Being in a wheelchair and being short to the ground means in the past I’ve had trouble hearing what a tour guide is saying,” Lyons-Black says, “but with an audio tour, I find I can actually hear what’s being said. I can also go at my own pace. I watch the crowd flow and move in closer to an exhibit when there are fewer people to bump into and block my view, and I’m getting all the cool facts through my phone.”

Other tour guide technologies, such as Listen Technologies’ HearMe and ListenTalk tour guide systems provide guests with a wireless receiver so they can clearly hear their guide, even from several meters away. “No-one wants to get lost on a tour, and it’s easy to wander away when you can’t hear your guide,” says Maile Keone, President of Listen Technologies. “We keep people connected and make sure everyone has the same great experience.” Technology integrated with tourism can offer a smart solution, making for a pleasurable and safe experience for visitors in any destination.

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology is enhancing the tour experience in large destinations. Smart watches and tech wrist bands can do anything from opening your cabin door on a cruise to downloading your boarding pass on a plane or voice activating directions. These fashionable, trendy devices can do almost anything a smartphone can. And for tour operators, there are other benefits. Smart devices can gather and analyze information, offering guests the option of personalizing their tour experience.

The Walt Disney Company looked at the unique challenges their guests face when traveling with children and have deployed MagicBand—a wearable, customizable, RFID-equipped, all-in-one device. Now Disney guests can wear a wrist bracelet that holds their park tickets, FastPass+ reservations, Disney hotel check-in information and room keys on their MagicBand, leaving parents and grandparents two free hands to wrestle their excited children through Disney.

Maneuvering Tourist Destinations

A common frustration for any traveler visiting a new location is in navigating unfamiliar streets.

The City of London, declared by IESE Cities in Motion Index 2019 the smartest city in the world, hosted 19.1 million overnight visits in 2018. Answering the call for easier access to relevant tourist information, the city has produced smartphone apps, including Visit London Official City Guide. The app uses geolocation to suggest places of interest as well as real-time data feeds capable of accessing transport databases. Now visitors can create personalized maps and itineraries along with finding the best routes and modes of transportation to effectively travel across the city.

Lyons-Black knows first-hand the value of smartphone app technology and smart tourism. In the past, he’s found the simple task of finding accessible washrooms and parking spaces near impossible, but since using WheelMate—an app that provides an overview of the nearest wheelchair-friendly facilities on an interactive map—his ventures away from home are far less stressful.

“WheelMate has been a real deal changer,” says Lyons-Black. “The idea that I might not be able to find a washroom, adds a whole new layer of worry to any trip. But now that’s gone. Now I just click on the app and a map with all nearby accessible washrooms pops up. It might seem a simple thing, but for me and my disabled clients, it’s gone a long way to making travel barrier-free.”

Smart Technologies Make Smart Tourism

As travelers become more digital technology savvy, the demand for smart tourism is increasing fast. “Tourism is well and truly up there with the other industry giants and the stats certainly back that up,” says TourWriter.com. “In years to come, we can expect continued growth, increased uptake of technology by businesses and travelers, together with the emergence of some very interesting trends such as solo travel and sustainable travel.”

Tour operators who embrace this trend will better serve their customers—and be in a position to experience significant growth in their business.

What’s Your Next Story? Technology in Tourism is transforming the way tours are offered, booked, and delivered. Want to learn more about how technology can transform your business? Talk to an Expert or read our Technology Blog Series.

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