What are the key factors to creating a smart destination?
Innovation and technology have changed the profile of the traveller in recent years. This premise is nothing new, and I’ve spoken about it on many occasions. The hyper-informed and independent digital traveller needs to be able to be permanently connected, demands authentic experiences and expects to receive a personalised service. As a result of this, destinations must make every effort to offer a different type of tourism that’s consistent with natural, social and cultural environments
In this context, we as businessmen and women, and those managing the destinations must push ahead to be able to respond to this new traveller throughout the travel cycle. A destination capable of innovating and implementing new systems that facilitate the analysis of multiple sources of information (Big Data, Business Intelligence) will become more efficient and competitive.
Faced with this situation, the complete renovation of destinations has prevailed for some time now, with the new final goal of making the destination economically, socio-culturally and environmentally sustainable. In this changing context, where new proposals appear every day all over the world, it’s essential to think very carefully about what a destination needs to become a Smart Tourism Destination.
I feel the need to make it clear here that not all municipalities looking to become smart tourism destinations should follow the same path. Each particular destination will also depend on its touristic offer, its maturity as a holiday destination and its investment capacity, among other factors. But, how does a traditional destination become a smart tourism destination?
A smart tourism destination is based on four main concepts:
To begin with, a smart destination is a connected territory which is supported by smart infrastructures, with ITCs, capable of devising a new, more sustainable, competitive and efficient model of management.
The tourism sector has understood and incorporated the advantages of using new technologies, but the potential of big data is what makes this moment historic. This technology not only allows a territory to communicate in real-time but also helps to understand tourists better, even before they arrive at their destination, and offer them unique and personalised experiences.
Analysing and interpreting the traveller’s digital footprint allows the territory to scale the resources and touristic offer and adapt it to the demand. Examples include multilingual mobile apps, adding geolocalisation to tourism routes, including QR codes to enhance information panels, offering free Wi-Fi, immersive experiences with virtual reality to create expectations before the trip, or the sensorization of objects that gather information about traffic and the energy consumed for better environmental management.
If a tourist destination wants to maintain its leading position, it must be able to anticipate what lies ahead and to do this innovation is a must. A destination can work to identify and develop new sources of competitive advantage and turn them into impact realities.
The number of people with some type of disability is really relevant, as are chronic illnesses, and we’re also faced with the progressive ageing of the population. Therefore, I should emphasise that a tourist destination needs to be concerned about the issue that any visitors can travel freely, choose an activity and enjoy it with full autonomy, and without barriers. This can be done by implementing a comprehensive urban and tourist accessibility plan, encouraging companies to promote accessibility, conducting awareness-raising campaigns, among many other things.
And finally, a smart tourism destination is sustainable when it meets the present needs of locals and tourists by preserving and improving opportunities for the future. We’re speaking about a three-pronged approach to sustainability: socio-cultural, economic and environmental.
The complexity and social, environmental, business and urban impact of transforming the traditional tourism model to a smart model requires all the actors (society, business sector and administration) to be aligned and committed to the cause.
For municipalities interested in becoming a smart tourism destination I recommend starting with an in-depth analysis to identify the municipality’s reality and its needs: level of technological infrastructure, normative, regulatory and accessibility obstacles, different aspects that can be offered to tourists and visitors, what is known about them, what services it provides, who offers them, at what cost, etc.
Following the diagnosis, it’s necessary to draw up a plan of action that addresses areas for improvement and makes provisions for its implementation. After laying the groundwork, you have to look for resources. Turning a destination into a smart one has its costs.
In Spain we’ve become a mature destination “with more than a few grey hairs”, and we must give new life to it intelligently. The goal should be for the entire country to become a smart tourism destination to continue being a world reference. The good news is that we’re on our way!