Destinations aiming to become truly ‘smart’ should think big in terms of tech infrastructure, says Mickaël Delcroix, digital marketing manager at OVH
Being a French native and having lived in the UK for only a couple of years, I made the most of my time there. I went on a two week tour around Scotland with my wife, during which I couldn’t help but think about how technology could have made our journey even more interesting. There are two things that we agree on: the first is not to go to the same place twice, and second is to always make the most of our mobile devices, without which we would definitely not travel that much. So it has become a challenge when it comes to prioritising and listing where we want to go – working out what we want to see and do. I believe the Internet of Things (IoT) could definitely help us in this regard.
According to Gartner, 8.4 billion IoT devices were used in 2017 and that number is set to reach 20.4 billion by 2020. This is bound to have a profound impact on the tourism sector – a sector that drives the economy in many countries. To me, it’s obvious that through IoT, tourists can both make the most of the places they visit and benefit from the very best information and services at their fingertips.
We have so far seen some IoT projects being undertaken, specifically within the hotel industry. Take, for example, Hilton Hotels and Resorts and its Hhonors scheme. Your smartphone lets you check-in and gives you access to your room without the traditional electronic key-card. You can request additional items or gain access to common guests areas such as the gym or pool with your mobile.
The hotels themselves are now able to predict the peak times for bookings and adapt their prices accordingly. We could imagine even more possibilities than that though: adjusting the lighting and temperature could be automatically based on sensory data from IoT devices, and hotels could predict customer behaviour and recommend promotions, activities and much more, all based upon information collected from IoT devices.
The hotel industry is yet to see harsh competition coming from companies like Airbnb and HomeAway. It could be a great idea for them to join the digital revolution via the use of IoT and keep ahead of the curve – IoT provides an interesting renewal for the sector. Although these new platforms might beat traditional hotels on price, the war isn’t solely about the cost of a room; it’s also about the customer experience, so technology can help you stand out in that regard. IoT is the best tool they have at hand to provide a customised experience and make the customer feel at home – waking up your customer in the morning for their morning jog or preparing a meal in advance for another customer to meet their particular requirements, and all with the touch of a finger on a smartphone.
But back to the travel experience, how can IoT play a crucial role in assisting tourists during their trip? It’s fairly simple – IoT devices could help identify local attractions and activities that should be recommended to different types of tourists, based on behavioural data. Data derived from the tastes and preferences of previous visitors, for instance, could help create information that could be delivered in real-time to enhance the tourist experience. And if you’re not sure, websites such as TripAdvisor allows you to check your hotel, restaurant before even visiting! In most cases, the time available to tourists is limited and they each have different tastes to cater to. Thanks to IoT, they could make better use of their time if the types of activities they like best are brought to their attention.
Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of NFC and QR codes that were developed to enhance the tourist experience, but in my opinion, they’re not as good as they could be due to the clunky user experience and the number of bugs they get. So what else could destinations do to engage with tourists through technology? Some cities around the world have managed to successfully set up a great IoT infrastructure that we could learn from.
Let’s take for example Santander in Spain which, with more than 20,000 sensors set up around the city, gives people an interesting way to enjoy its attractions. With the city’s own app, you can get the kinds of information that all tourists look for such as bus schedules in real-time, dates for city festivals, parking availability, concerts and opening times for monuments and museums.
Another example is the augmented reality application that was developed for tourists in Palm Springs in California. The app called VisitPalmSprings includes key features for those looking for what to do and how to get around the city in real-time. It’s the ideal tool to avoid what I would call the “so, what do we do next?” issue when you’ve realised you’ve finished your daily program in just one morning. The company blippAR is also developing an app called “City AR” that allows users to visualise their route through their phones in real-time and wearables are taking over the ski slopes with ski passes integrated into your ski shoes, through WLAN.
Of course, developing IoT-related tourist applications will only be worthwhile if you can demonstrate to visitors that you are providing them with real added value. People are generally reticent to give away their data or download an app to their phone if they can’t see how the data is being used and understand how they’re benefitting from it. So, it’s key to provide transparency if you’re looking to develop an app or a connected tourist-focused infrastructure.
That’s not the only thing to bear in mind, as cities that wish to become truly ‘smart’ need to think big in terms of their technology infrastructure:
• A tourism industry driven by technologists: Travel and tourism businesses need to recruit top tech talent to support the level of innovation required to drive forward this new digital age.
• Networks on steroids: With an estimated 403 zettabytes of data travelling over the world wide network, providers had better be ready to put their infrastructure on steroids to handle the amount of data traffic that could be created.
• Cloud service providers need to create the tools for high-speed data analysis: New tools need to be developed to process the vast amounts of data that would be collected by connected devices and sensors so that insights can be gleaned in real-time. An example is the IoT PaaS TimeSeries platform developed by OVH and available on RunAbove.
• Connectivity is key: Tourists and residents have high standards when it comes to connectivity. Connectivity must cover the majority of the city and should be especially fast around popular sites and so, Wi-Fi spots and back-ups should be installed.
• The infrastructure should be scaleable: As tourism is also seasonal for most cities, urban areas also need to be prepared to face sharp rises in user numbers during certain days or weeks of the year. In order to deliver the best user-experience, cities should move to the cloud to ensure immediate and reliable scalability for their operations.
The potential for IoT is huge, but so are the expectations of tourists and even residents who live there all year round. Cities should start by understanding the needs of the potential users of a connected tourist destination and meet these demands with the right tools and the appropriate infrastructure that can support visitors and those who live there all year round.