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How to use data analysis for making tourism more sustainable for cities and communities: the solutions of Tourism-friendly Cities

Edited on

30 June 2021
Read time: 3 minutes

In the framework of the series of webinars organized by Tourism-friendly Cities (TFC) to promote a deeper understanding of topics of common interest for its partners, the use of ICT and data analysis systems for monitoring tourist flows was the main focus of a session that fostered the debate among practitioners and experts. The cases of Dubrovnik and Venice raised most of the challenges currently at the core of the political agendas of tourism cities at European and global level.   

In the pre-Covid era, the rise in global mobility was one of the main causes of over-tourism. Contrasting this phenomenon was the main challenge for many European cities, which focused on a more integrated control of the data related to the afflux of tourists in order to better manage public spaces and services for residents and visitors. Limiting day trips, that Amsterdam and Bruges stopped advertising in their respective tourism promotion strategies, or capping the number of cruise ships that can dock each day, as Dubrovnik did in 2018, are some of the solutions that sparked the debate in Europe.
However, local authorities are testing a wide range of ICT tools to prevent the negative effects of over-tourism. In view of the progressive reopening of the borders and the recovery of the tourism sector, the analysis of data on tourist flows can be more important than ever to readjust the type and quality of services provided to residents and visitors, to improve the management of public spaces and increase the sense of security for the urban dwellers.     

The case of Dubrovnik 

The connection between tourism and the smart city strategy is the main strength of Dubrovnik’s experience, which is testing innovative actions connecting the use of ICT to the improvement of urban quality for the residents and tourism offer for the visitors. The city, placed on UNESCO's list of world heritage sights in 1979, is combining the analysis of data gained from sensors to manage services as parking, but is also improving the way services are delivered  through user-generated contents, as the reports sent by residents and visitors through the app Dubrovačko Oko (literally “Dubrovnik Eye”) on malfunctions or urban decay.

Improving the sense of safety and well-being through a combination of ICT measures and smart city solutions was the priority of Dubrovnik, which improved its strategy with the Integrated Action Plan produced in the framework of the URBACT Action Planning Network TechTown . In addition to this, the city launched the initiative Respect The City to reduce the negative effects of over-tourism and promote a widespread culture of conversation of the architectural heritage and public space among residents and tourists.

This combination of hard and soft measures is contributing to making smart solutions widely accepted and crucial for improving the perception of the role of tourism for sustainable urban development. The live application Visitors Counter is particularly important to monitor tourist flows through the use of six cameras located at different entrances and exits to the Old Town. With collected data updated every 15 minutes, the counter is a powerful tool not only to monitor the current amount of people visiting the city but also for aggregating data historically, and upon these bases enable the local authority to better plan how to improve services for specific categories of visitors. The use of data collected since 2017, and from 2020 shared also with the Snap4City Platform to analyse big data and IoT, is improving the way Dubrovnik manages day trips and cruise ships arrivals but also how goods are delivered to shops and restaurants of the Old Town, choosing the best time according to the tourist flows.  The connection with AI and machine learning is also helping Dubrovnik to predict the number of people who are going to visit the Old Town. The use of different metrics by the machine learning algorithm, such as the number of overnight stays booked on digital platforms, the timetables of the cruise ships operators or the weather forecasts, is expected to give more accurate information to better plan tourist flows and how to adapt city services and functions.

The case of Venice

Restoring tourism is currently a priority for Venice, which is testing innovative measures to manage tourist flows more efficiently if compared to the pre-Covid era. “How many people are too many for the city?” was the question that drove Venice’s efforts towards the creation of a technological system able to control the afflux of visitors and the management of boats in its characteristic network of channels. 

The Smart Control Room is providing in a single dashboard the information related to all the sensitive elements to be taken into account for better control of the city. Air quality, tides, mobility infrastructure, water and land traffic are just some of the indicators constantly monitored by an interactive platform, created in collaboration with the Italian mobile telephone company TIM after the launch of a public tender. 
This smart solution, under the spotlight with stories produced on the topic by global media such as CNN, is managed by a “control tower” hosted by a former warehouse on the island of Tronchetto, which became the physical point in which data are collected, screened and analysed.

One of the most interesting functions offered by the Smart Control Room is the people counter, which offers live tracking of people recognizing their nationality (from the SIM cards connecting to the telephone network) or if they are residents, visitors from within the Region or coming from other areas of the country. The analysis of this huge amount of information is decisive not only to manage tourist flows in the city centre, visited in the pre-Covid era by 30 million visitors per year, but also for improving services and infrastructures on the mainland, such as the airport or the surrounding lagoon areas.

The analysis of the data on medium and long-term is provided by an open data platform, that aggregates data collected in real-time by the Smart Control Room dividing the city in smaller sections. Knowing from which country or age group the tourists are from is particularly important to offer tailor-made services and information to the ones who visit the different areas of the city. The analysis of the trends is relevant also for better managing the afflux of day-trippers and commuters supporting the action of practitioners and local police in decongesting the most crowded transit areas of the city. While the introduction of the entrance tax to the city was delayed to 2022, counting the people getting to the city with sensors connected to laser systems installed on core areas of the city is proving to be effective to have a real-time picture of the city but also to plan interventions to improve mobility and access to city services and functions.    

Between respect of privacy and integrated governance of ICT systems 

The technological systems implemented by Dubrovnik and Venice are both designed to keep compliance with the GDPR at the top of the priorities. The data analysed by the respective dashboards are anonymous and used only for improving the quality of services and public spaces but a strong debate on the privacy implications was raised since the installation of these systems. The accountability of the public authorities involved in the management of the technological solutions (respectively DURA for Dubrovnik and the ICT in-house company VENIS in Venice) is an important element for instating trust among residents and visitors but also for ensuring correct management of public-private partnerships needed for implementing the smart solutions.

Dealing with ICT players having precisely in mind what kind of services are needed at local level and improving skills of the officials in charge of managing the systems (or opening new positions, as Venice is going to do with hiring a data scientist) are just some of the challenges that local governments are facing on this matter. Establishing an effective system of relations among city authorities, local stakeholders and ICT companies is a good solution to co-develop effective technological solutions, taking into account all the elements needed for making the city safer and more integrated but also for improving the quality of tourist flows on medium and long term.

Article by Simone d’Antonio – Ad Hox Expert for the URBACT Tourism-friendly cities Network