‘Smart tourism:’ Should destinations take ownership of enhancing the in-destination experience through technology?

This is the latest in a series of articles spun out of tnoozLIVE@ITB, recorded live over three days at ITB Berlin this March. More clips and interviews to come here, as well as on our YouTube channel.

As destinations grapple with record numbers of visitors, “smart tourism” is a popular topic. At this year’s ITB in Berlin, it was explored through different lenses. One perspective came from the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Gloria Guevera Manzo, who focused on smarter destination management through preventing over tourism. Another perspective came from author Doug Lansky, who offered a vision for the Destination Management Organization of the future.

Destinations have an opportunity to deliver a deeper and more integrated approach to how they increase tourism in a responsible and effective fashion.

Some DMOs are also struggling with maintaining relevance in an environment where travel suppliers and local businesses have the tools to affordably reach travelers wherever they are in the world. This imperative makes it a perfect time to envision just how destinations could be managed and marketed in the future.

‘Smart tourism’ is more than just keeping count of tourist arrivals

One key point made during the interview (full video below) is that destinations must do more than just manage the peaks. Destinations must also manage the valleys.

By using data and behavior modeling, destinations could work to craft promotions that target specific traveler profiles to encourage visits during off-peak seasons. Often, the focus is just on how to deal with the peak seasons: how to get more spend from travelers, how to manage the flow, how to keep all stakeholders happy and engaged.

When destinations also work to both move demand down from the peak time and encourage new travelers to visit during these times, there’s far more control available to them. Evening out the peaks and valleys makes for a more efficient use of the destination’s resources, deflates some of the pain experienced during overwhelming peak seasons, and generally increases the return on a destination’s assets. While also making a destination more livable for those who are there year round.

It’s about staying balanced, says Lansky:

 If the most popular one or two or three attractions already has a line out the door in peak season, and they can’t take anymore, then what’s the point in getting even 1 percent more visitors next year? Which are likely to come mostly in peak season, which is going to even make that thing more crowded. So until you’ve resolved that bottleneck…

A better word for over tourism I think is unbalanced. Because really you’ve got hotels, airlines, cruise ships, tour companies, bringing in as many people as they can to make money.

But then you’ve got the things they actually came to see and do. You’ve got the museums, the attractions, the beaches, the old historical towns, and they can only handle a certain number of people. It’s out of balance.

‘Smart tourism’ is data-driven

No longer are ‘gut feelings’ enough to understand exactly where and how a destination should invest in services, technology, and infrastructure. Data can be used to identify early traveler trends, and to understand how different demographics envision a particular destination.  An advance awareness of a destination’s imminent popularity with a particular demographic can ensure that a destination is prepared to deliver a better experience to travelers.

For example, consider how Visit Finland met its inbound Chinese travelers with a widespread adoption of Alipay, the popular mobile payment platform in China. By taking the initiative to bring a technology preferred by a growing inbound demographic, the country has managed to increase the inbound interest in travel to Finland from China.

In the earlier example of capacity-constrained venues, Lansky suggests pulling this information into the booking flow so the consumer can make an informed decision:

People aren’t going to Barcelona because they want to sit on an airplane or really like to hang out in a hotel room. They’re going there to see the stuff that Barcelona has to offer. If you can start to sort of have time ticketed entry at all these attractions, and then show online when they fill up.

So you go to Expedia, you’re looking at your flight, you’re looking at a hotel and you’re like, ‘oh nine out of 10 of the main attractions in Barcelona are completely filled on those dates. I guess I’ll book another date or book earlier next year.’

‘Smart tourism’ should be destination-driven

Ultimately, it’s up to destinations to decide how much control they want to give up to intermediaries. In the interview, Doug Lanksy points out just what’s at stake:

If a destination waits around for a private tech partner to develop and deploy in-destination technology, it risks being co-opted and pushed out of the process. A destination also risks having a permanent middleman siphoning off a destination’s income and reducing a destination’s control over its own destiny.

What’s stopping a destination from implementing its own take on Disney’s Magic Band, creating a seamless in-destination experience across public transportation, payments, activities, and other areas? The technology is there. And the ability to implement a layer on top of existing services is much more practical at the destination level, as the destination has the most sway with local stakeholders.

Lansky expanded on the Magic Band comparison, saying:

It’s like a Magic Band for a city. It’s Vail’s Epic pass extended into the city. It makes it a frictionless experience…It’s not like people go to a city because they want to fiddle with the machines to buy a subway pass. They want to get on with their cooking course and whatever things they’re doing in the city. They don’t want to be standing in lines and fiddling with a bunch of stuff.

You could say that’s making it a Disneyfication of the experience. But I would say it’s actually taking the best part of Disney and applying it to the city. That also is going to increase the visitor experience and even visitor spending.

It’s a deeply intriguing idea — one that not only makes sense from a traveler perspective, but also from a local’s perspective. This is a rare opportunity for a destination to manage itself in a way that enhances its standing with travelers and locals alike. Often there’s a tension between those two groups. Perhaps it is indeed time to consider how destinations can take control of their tech destiny and craft an in-destination experience themselves rather than waiting for someone else to define and deploy it.

Watch the full video for Doug’s take on how destinations should own the in-destination experience

Nick: For those who weren’t able to see your keynote, what was it about?

Doug: So it was called a rethinking the DMO and we know that tourism is changing we know that companies are supposed to change. So should we not be doing anymore. And what should they be doing instead? The classic example is we see the pay phones have gone out and we’ve got mobile phones instead. We’ve seen the video blockbuster stuff go out of business and we’ve seen Netflix take off. So we know that there’s stuff that’s going to get left behind in the wake but that other better things will be taking over. So what’s the DMO equivalent of those things? That was the big question.

Was there an answer?

Well, I proposed a solution. None of this is science. I look at it a little bit more like the whole organization needs change. And really from the political or the ministerial level, because it’s hard for these guys who are marketers to suddenly say we need to be protecting the environment or protecting the culture when it’s not their mandate.

They were marketing people brought in often from other marketing positions at other companies. How are they supposed to be now protecting an environment when it’s not their mandate? They might even agree with it. In fact, most do. Most will say, yeah we have some over tourism here and there, or we have some parks that are getting a little trashy or some beaches that are getting too crowded or too much litter. But what are we supposed to do, we’re marketers. And they make a great point. So it really has to come from a level above.

And if the level above were to reshape this into an ideal situation. I mean you could say it would be a DMMO, with marketing the extra M. Or you could even say DMMDO with development in there as well. So then the question is when you see a lot of the development that’s happening now if you look at the most iconic stuff — swimming with whale sharks.

These cool glass igloos in Finland where you look at the Northern Lights, the Indian rice boat conversions where you cruise the backwaters — all these things came out of the private sector. It was never a DMO that sat down and said we’re creating this. if you look at the smaller stuff, like calligraphy courses and cooking courses that’s also private and that’s also being curated by Airbnb and the likes. So what’s the DMOs role there? Are they supposed to be doing Ale Trails or should you just wait for someone else to come and do it? What is their position?

And then another interesting one I asked the audience yesterday. First I just said things to do in New York. And I showed the whole Google search and I scrolled through four pages or four whole screens. And then I found the official New York site. I put it up, and said, “if this was down for a month would one fewer visitor go to New York?” Would someone go, honey, the official website is down I guess we’re not going to New York!

I would say, with big cities, not one fewer visitor would be there if the whole website crashed for a year.

So does that mean they should be kind of focusing more on making sure that their assets are used? Or is it letting the private sector do it and then just focus on marketing? It’s almost like they’re not even focused that much on the marketing if it’s that low in the search.

I think you almost have to come up with a mission statement then encapsulates what you’re supposed to do. One of the big things is the DMO should do things that individual stakeholders can’t do themselves to make the destination better for the long term.

There’s a lot you can do short term. A place on the sea could sell coral and seashells hacking it off but in the long term, it’s going to ruin it. You know you can sell off all the pieces of the wall of this treasure but then that’s great for the first half year and then what do you do.

So like if you think it’s more like even a magazine, if you got the owner of the magazine, you’ve got editorial and you’ve got advertising. We’ve just got advertising. We kind of need advertorial. And who is the advertising department to say who the editorial team should be? It needs to kind of come from above, and say we need these different things.

I actually was arguing the other day that one of the roles, in addition to figuring out how many people your destination can hold — which nobody knows. I asked the whole audience, 400 or 500 people. I said, Does anyone know how many people your destination can hold, in an optimal way, not just how many hotel beds but what’s a good number for the whole destination. One person had checked that, out of 500.

When Tim Cook says to the marketing department, how many iPhones do you think we can sell, and they say 100 million. Well, then he goes to production and goes, How many can we make. When the marketing department in a DMO says we think we can try to market to this many, with an increase of this. They need to then go and look at the destination. Can we hold that many?

What’s happening is that, yeah there’s capacity at these little museums and these little attractions but people don’t really want to go to those. I mean a few do. But you can’t force them to go to the ones that aren’t popular. If the most popular one or two or three attractions already has a line out the door in peak season, and they can’t take anymore, then what’s the point in getting even 1 percent more visitors next year? Which are likely to come mostly in peak season, which is going to even make that thing more crowded. So until you’ve resolved that bottleneck…

A better word for over tourism I think is unbalanced. Because really you’ve got hotels, airlines, cruise ships, tour companies, bringing in as many people as they can to make money.

But then you’ve got the things they actually came to see and do. You’ve got the museums, the attractions, the beaches, the old historical towns, and they can only handle a certain number of people. And these two numbers are vastly different. It’s out of balance.

So what’s going to happen is that the tail is wagging the dog. People aren’t going to Barcelona because they want to sit on an airplane or really like to hang out in a hotel room. They’re going there to see the stuff that Barcelona has to offer. If you can start to sort of have time ticketed entry at all these attractions, and then show online when they fill up. So you go to Expedia, you’re looking at your flight, you’re looking at a hotel and you’re like, oh nine out of 10 of the main attractions in Barcelona are completely filled on those dates. I guess I’ll book another date or book earlier next year.

People often talk about these peaks and valleys. They just want it to come up to the peaks. But it’s got to go like that. It’s got to be these peak periods, where you say we’re full. Like a good restaurant says we’re full. You can book next Friday.

Otherwise, you break it. You know if you accept too much then the whole thing goes down and everyone’s experience plummets. And people also quit. In that analogy, it also means that some of these tour operators maybe can’t do this anymore because it’s just too stressful in that bottleneck.

It could be parking spaces for cars, it could be parking for tour buses. What’s the first thing that fills up in a destination? And a destination needs to figure out how many they can hold. Look at that first bottleneck, and fix it. Move onto the next bottleneck, fix it. And that’s how you can increase capacity, and have a real close eye.

I was talking to a guy from Disney. I said what would be the ideal chart for a destination to have in destination management tool that Disney would have. And so I created a fictitious one, where I showed these kinds of bar graphs, with toilets, restaurants, hotels, airline capacity, tour bus capacity, and it showed where the levels at. And then what the capacity is at. And so you can see where you are on the capacity for all those things. And you can have a destination management [tool in] real time. That would be fantastic.

With toilets, you think you would know kind of that flow. It’s pretty easy to track these days. You can get sensors and use IoT.

There is a crazy thing that happens with toilets. First of all, if you ever been in a big city and you have to go, or your kids have to go, you’re in a panic situation. You’re not enjoying it, you’re not going to stop and shop and eat and do other stuff.

And what people often will do is they’ll go back to their hotel room. Then the kids start playing video games, people turn on the phone, they take a nap. And now they’re out of the consumer loop.

So what if toilets were actually a way to get people to shop and enjoy more.

There’s been a lot of talk here. They showed robots doing backflips and Hyperloop and driverless cars. Personally, in terms of tourism, that doesn’t do much for me. I mean that’s just kind of fun, futuristic bells and whistles. And the organizer of the speaking events here, a German professor asked me to provide a vision for the future of tourism five, maybe 10 years out. And so that was my challenge.

I made a two-minute film. My 13-year-old daughter filmed me and I pretended that I landed in Stockholm, spent two days in the city, and I showed a seamless experience. I just pretended that it worked. I had a barcode ticket, showed it to the train on the way in from the airport.

Then when I got to my hotel, they gave me a little RFID or an NFC bracelet, and they gave me a room key card. And so I have an app, I just took the barcode, I scanned it. So I connected the phone, so either bracelet or card opens my room.

I went into the subway, tapped and went into the bus, tap and opened a little cell phone charging locker, tapped him put my backpack in a major locker on the train station, tapped and went into a toilet. I then booked a special time to go to a museum on my phone, but then tapped and went in with my bracelet to a museum. I booked a car for ride sharing, tapped on my bracelet on the car door, and I could use the car for a certain amount of time.

So then if your phone is dead, that’s also really helpful because you know if you are around all day that’s another issue.

Exactly, especially when kids are involved in your phones or you’re busy. They drop it or it breaks the battery or the Wi-Fi because you don’t want to pay for a local you know network.

The other thing that was interesting, my daughter went to a soccer cup this summer and it’s the world’s biggest one in Gothenburg Sweden. They give these little you know rubberized bands with. A barcode on them it didn’t have any NFC. But it was branded. And she wore it for two months afterward. It was amazing branding when these kids loved their bracelets they thought it was so much fun.

It’s like a Magic Band for a city. It’s Vail’s Epic pass extended into the city. It makes it a frictionless experience. It eliminates that interface that Apple’s always trying to do between their phone. It’s not like people go to a city because they want to fiddle with the machines to buy a subway pass, they just want that to work. They want to get on with their cooking course and whatever things they’re doing in the city, visiting museums, they don’t want to be standing in lines and fiddling with a bunch of stuff.

You could say that’s making it a Disneyfication of the experience. But I would say it’s actually taking the best part of Disney and applying it to the city. That also is going to increase the visitor experience and even visitor spending.

I like this slogan already a ‘Magic Kingdom for everyone’.

Well, Disney spent a billion dollars on that. A city could do it for, I’m not going to give them a price tag. Well, let’s just say it costs a million bucks, two million bucks. They could roll out something. And you can see the return on investment.

And if a DMO does it.. the thing is that Airbnb, I’ve heard they’ve already been eyeing stuff like this. Other companies as well. If the DMO waits for a company to come and do it, that company is going to decide how many cell phone chargers or how many massage chairs and other things that affect the visitor experience. And in the same way that first, Airbnb, and came in and Uber came in and the destination went chasing after, and kind of was like no please give us some tax money and please do this and please do work with us.

It would have been better I’m sure if they could have rewound the clock to have gotten on gotten in bed with them early on and work together.

So I mean in the same way it’s good for a city to control their electricity, control their water. I mean there’s private subcontractors within this, and having a healthcare system maybe and in the military and there are other things that could be good for the government to have.

I would say building this tourism digital infrastructure and having essentially all the inventory where every attraction is on the same booking system. And then they all have contracts for 3 to 10 years let’s say. And they would go in, to the top ones anyway, and say what’s it going to cost to buy us out to buy you out of that contract and put you on a better system. But that one that we all have.

And then you combine that same system with the same thing that has massage chairs, this, that, everything else. And the DMO is in an ideal position to do it. It’s not going to be crazy expensive. They’ll have a new revenue stream. It will connect the city.

And imagine the data they get. Imagine the cool things they can do. Like you can get a push notification saying hey 30 percent off on this museum and you’re only 300 yards away. There are all sorts of stuff you can do if you’re on the same system that you can’t do if you’re trying to integrate.

You’d integrate in the short term to get it going. But in the long term vision, like Disney like Epic Pass in Vail, you’d have the whole city on one platform.

It’s quite the vision. It really is. Locals would love it too.

Locals could use it, and wouldn’t it be cool if you use that system, you get points for using it. And then when you went to another city, you could use your points.

And you can have different level passes, one pass lets you use cars. The other one doesn’t. There’s a whole bunch of ways this could play out. It’s just one vision of how a future could look for the DMO.

tnoozLIVE@ITB was presented by Travelaer, with further support from eNett, MMGY Global, and Cendyn

To learn more about how to bring tnoozLIVE@ to your event, please email Ella Sopp.

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick is the Editorial Director for tnooz, where he oversees the editorial and commercial content as well as emerging businesses like tnoozLIVE. Prior to this role, Nick has multi-hyphenated his way through a variety of passions: restaurateur, photographer, filmmaker, corporate communicator, Lyft driver, Airbnb host, journalist, and event organizer. Outside of work, Nick enjoys exploring the emerging world of crypto -- and the actual world with his dogs Rick and Loki.

 

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