Smart city solutions could hold the key to accelerating and managing visitor growth during and post-COVID-19, as well as ensuring destination attractiveness for future generations.

Smart cities are created with primary objectives in mind such as attracting and retaining business investment, increasing sustainability and improving the life of locals and workers. However, this use of data and technology in metropolitan areas can also improve the experience of tourists and create convenience for local governments during and post-COVID-19, inspiring repeat visits and positive WOM (word-of-mouth marketing) from visitors, whilst minimizing the negative impact that sudden increases in tourism can bring for urban areas.

IoT technology is the key driver behind smart city solutions

When visitor numbers substantially pick up for urban destinations, IoT technology can help to control tourism flows around an area by collecting congestion data and sharing this with visitors and local governments, so they can re-plan their routes and city officials can reduce the risks associated with overtourism – if the tourism carrying capacity is exceeded. Through sharing this information, tourists can be incentivised to follow routes created by tourism boards and city officials, providing sightseeing tips along the way, which creates more personalised and improved touristic experiences. Additionally, many visitors will still be wary of social distancing when visiting a city and through real-time information collected from mobile devices, city officials can warn visitors of busy areas where social distancing may not be able to be achieved, creating a safer experience for visitors in the process.

Cloud computing, big data, mobile apps, location-based services, geo-tagging services, beacon technology, virtual and augmented reality, and social networks are all working cogs that create the smart city machine that enhances tourism experiences. A more widespread adoption of these advanced types of technologies will also help to attract and retain younger, more tech-savvy visitors, such as Gen Z and Millennials. According to GlobalData’s Week 11 COVID-19 Recovery Survey (fieldwork undertaken 2-6 December 2020), 39% of Gen Z and 40% of Millennials and ‘often’ or ‘always’ influenced by how digitally advanced/’smart’ a product/service is. Additionally, communicating with tourists through app notifications and social media platforms will also reduce human contact between host and visitor communities, minimizing the risk of disease contraction. However, a lack of communication with locals could actually hinder the authenticity of a trip, as many travellers look to converse with locals in order to gain cultural insights.

Ensuring an attractive destination for future generations

Sustainability efforts are also improved through smart city solutions. Smart cities provide mobility and resource allocation through the use of big data, allowing city officials to be proactive instead of reactive. Urban planning can be used as an example here; a new public square is built to appeal to new visitors. However, it is hardly used and eventually becomes run-down, turns in to an eye-sore and becomes a hotspot for crime. Through collecting pedestrian movement data from mobile devices beforehand, city officials can analyse how pedestrians move in and out of the urban area where the square was built, which could have highlighted that this area may not have been ideal for the construction of a public/tourist space.

It is clear to see that smart cities will help in destination recovery in the short and long term. Urbanisation will continue as the pandemic subsides, meaning that smart city solutions will naturally become more integrated with touristic experiences, as the need for the ability to make critical decisions in real-time from city officials grows.

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