July 2018

How smart cities can drive tourism

In a world that will soon embrace the Internet of Things as the norm, progressive city authorities are discovering that a data-led approach across a wide range of operational areas is helping to retain and attract business investment and talent whilst improving the lives of inhabitants, the basic concept of smart cities.

However, a less conspicuous benefit that cities are increasingly recognising is that being ‘smart’ can also drive tourism.

“Being smart is enabling destinations to develop their collective competitiveness and enhance their brand proposition,” said Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, the Head of Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Bournemouth University’s Faculty of Management, and the co-author of the 2014 study, ‘Smart tourism destinations’.

“Taking advantage of network economics and marketing, smart destinations use interoperability and interconnectivity to develop an ecosystem of tourism services and work closely with their customers and guests to maximise the value co-created at the destination. Working together maximises the value for all stakeholders and creates benefits to their region.”

Tourism experience

Buhalis’ report underlined how smart tourism destinations can take advantage of technology-embedded environments.

“The ultimate aim is to utilise the system to enhance the tourism experience and improve the effectiveness of resource management towards maximising both destination competitiveness and consumer satisfaction while also demonstrating sustainability over an extended timeframe,” the report said.

In ‘Application of smart tourism to cities’, Gretzel et al. (2016) echo these sentiments by arguing that, in the context of tourism, smart technologies can be applied distinctly to destinations and experiences. “The application of smart tourism specifically to cities makes a lot of sense given the high needs for infrastructure and high concentration of other resources and users necessary,” the report states.

Cloud computing, big data, mobile apps, location-based services, geo-tagging services, beacon technology, virtual and augmented reality, and social networks are part of the smart networks that can enhance tourism experiences and services in smart cities, while simultaneously a smart approach can improve tourist flows and services, as well as introducing new advertising models to lure them to attractions.

Data insights

Crunching and analysing vast volumes of data from tourists can, therefore, help to provide valuable insights into demand, behaviour, and movement.

The GSMA, the trade body that represents mobile operators, underlined how a smart infrastructure is essential for cities that have ambitions of boosting their tourism figures. “As visitor numbers grow, effective crowd management services are needed in areas such as public transportation and popular tourist attractions,” the GSMA said, before highlighting as an example how Barcelona and local network operator Orange collaborated to monitor visitor numbers to the Sagrada Familia tourist hotspot in order to better plan transport networks.

Meanwhile, when it comes to encouraging tourists to spend more money per head, online platforms of so-called ‘destination management organisations’ are among the most useful tools for building and promoting a destination page, according to ‘DMO online platforms: Image and intention of visit’ (Molinillo et al., 2018).

Big data context

In the same vein, ‘Smart hospitality—Interconnectivity and interoperability towards an ecosystem’ (Buhalis et al., 2018) notes that by connecting to a smart tourism network, sensors and content extractors can help to collect external information, with beacons used to deliver context-based promotion messages and add value, with big data underpinning the integrated applications.

‘Smart tourism destinations: ecosystems for tourism destination competitiveness’ (Boes, 2016) defines smart tourism by distinguishing between the “hard smartness” of infrastructure and the “soft smartness” of people and institutional factors.

Based on European city case studies, the study claimed that “smartness” relies on the interplay of people, information and communications technologies, and city leadership. However, managing and indexing such volumes of data – and analysing it – is already an immense task for many cities that are attempting to grapple with the ever-increasing data management challenge.

It is clear that in a world that’s more connected than ever before, with unprecedented levels of expectation when it comes to visitor and customer experience, cities that are truly smart will need to exploit extreme data to improve attractions, accessibility, amenities, packages, activities and ancillary services in order to remain a destination of choice for many tourists.

For more information about how GeoSpock can help smart cities to enhance their data management and indexing capabilities in order to enhance their appeal to tourists, click here.


‘Smart tourism destinations’ (Buhalis and Amaranggana, 2014):


‘Application of smart tourism to cities’ (Gretzel et al., 2016):


GSMA Barcelona case study:


‘DMO online platforms: Image and intention of visit’ (Molinillo et al., 2018):


‘Smart hospitality—Interconnectivity and interoperability towards an ecosystem’ (Buhalis et al., 2018): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431917301974

‘Smart tourism destinations: ecosystems for tourism destination competitiveness’ (Boes, 2016): https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/IJTC-12-2015-0032

Back to GeoSpock Blog