The world’s smartest cities

Travellers and managers look set to benefit from new developments in hyperconnectivity and artificial intelligence, says Nick Easen

Smartphones, smartwatches, smart cities… and now ‘smart tourism’. Yes, the evangelists of the hi-tech world have coined yet another new buzzphrase – but this one does have some substance to it. 

It is borne out of the idea that the latest digital tech will eventually make our executive trips a lot better informed. It will understand and, more importantly, anticipate our travel plans and then provide time-sensitive services to travellers where and when they need them.

For instance, they will be able to know exactly which times to avoid traffic in San Francisco, where to escape the worst air pollution spots in Singapore or where to find which car park is empty in Barcelona.  

“There are a number of smart tourism initiatives around the world that take advantage of interconnectivity and interoperability,” explains Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, director of the eTourism Lab at Bournemouth University. “Eventually they will support a wide range of personalised experiences.”

We all need to pay, translate and navigate at destinations in the easiest possible way when we’re travelling. Smart tourism could soon achieve this using ‘big data’, the Internet of Things, data analytics, apps, artificial intelligence and sensors that talk to one another.

All of which will feed information to the traveller in real-time via their smartphones. ‘Real-world’ services, such as visitor information centres, are increasingly being replaced, not just by the web but by a suite of smarter applications.

Smart tourism is only in its nascent stages, but it is happening. “There is a lot of ‘noise’ in terms of suggestions at the moment,” states Antoine Boatwright, chief technology officer at Hillgate Travel. 

Wired up
Today, cities are home to just over half of the global population of seven billion. By 2050, this figure is expected to grow to over nine billion, and 80 per cent will live in cities. If our urban areas are to cope they need to be smarter and be run more efficiently, as well as cost-effective. Planners think technology is part of the answer.

This is why some cities are wiring up at incredible speeds, managing transport, urban planning and municipal services using the latest technology. Already, algorithms manage traffic in Singapore and Songdo City in South Korea.

Barcelona’s authorities can now instantly connect with hospitals, prisons and police when they need to. The Catalan city also has sensors embedded in car parks so you know which spaces are occupied in real-time via an app, while drivers book spaces in advance.

In Asia, Singapore is now rolling out ‘smart boxes’ connected to fibre optic cables to deliver real-time information on air pollution, heavy rainfall or traffic jams to all citizens. 

Most services have been developed for a domestic urban audience – but it’s not hard to see services like these extended to business travellers. “Solutions could be applied to Macau’s transportation system to improve the schedule of buses,” explains Frederico Ma, who represents the Science and Technology Development Fund for the Chinese region.

“Smart tourism could also be promoted in the city, making good use of data and multimedia to present the best sides of the territory.”  

The smart city concept is also spreading globally as well. India has set out plans to transform 100 cities into smart cities by 2020. Vancouver, Copenhagen, Vienna and Helsinki are all trying to make life easier for residents through smart applications, as are US cities such as San Francisco and Chicago. All use cutting-edge tech to monitor and improve traffic, safety and other services.

Singapore is going one step further and deploying sensors and cameras across the city-state that will allow the government to monitor everything from the density of crowds, to the cleanliness of public spaces, as well as the precise movement of every registered vehicle.

However, Charles Gillmore, CEO of Gillmore Space, a British furniture company that does business in Singapore, says: “As business travellers and travel buyers, many of us still aren’t aware of what’s available locally – it’s going to be a while before smart tourism takes off.”  

Transports of delight
When it comes to smart tourism services, one sector is leading the vanguard: transportation: “I do think real-time data around traffic flows and congestion can help buyers be smarter,” says Charuta Fadnis, senior director, research and intelligence, at BCD Travel. “Knowing executives have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and plotting the best and fastest route to get there and what’s the best mode or combination of transportation, can all contribute to an enhanced experience and ease friction.”

Travel managers are increasingly looking at how they can enhance their executives’ wellbeing. Connecting smart city services to mobile apps will soon be part of this process. “So, when a city offers a connected platform, travel managers can communicate things like hotel options, transportation alternatives or weather,” explains Fadnis.  

Smart cities or destinations with a disaster or crisis warning system in place could also help travel managers and their TMCs fulfil their duty-of-care obligations and give travellers the help they need quickly and efficiently. Information could be fed back from the emergency services from incidents, again in real-time.  

We also think of these smarter services coming from a centralised source – for example, from government or industry. However, citizens of various cities are also starting to share their data, allowing smart tourism services to proliferate.

For instance, the Going Local Berlin app uses crowd-sourced information about the city. As more data gets shared, business travellers can also get personalised information about the services they are looking for. For a meeting or event planner, information about a venue in real- or near-real-time is an advantage. They can look at meeting venues, intra-city travel, restaurants and places of interest.

From the ground up
Already there are start-ups and applications that are trying to join up travel services in a smarter way for destinations. For instance, Mozio aggregates all ground transportation providers into a single platform so you can seamlessly combine taxi and train services.

“This platform allows travel distributors to sell their content to travellers, who then prepay and receive instant confirmation,” says Gregoire Boutin, director, innovation management systems, at Carlson Wagonlit Travel. “We’ve also integrated Uber in to the CWT To Go app – all bookings are recorded, allowing spend to be tracked easily.”

The only issue with the potential rise of smart tourism is the lack of consistency across cities – the last thing you want to do is download and plug in to a myriad of different apps, services and systems. “The risk is that the fragmented smart-city market will require too much local knowledge to truly have an impact on business travellers,” states Hillgate Travel’s Boatwright.

This means that initiatives like Open and Agile Smart Cities (OASC) and City SDK, which allow sharing, will be crucial to adoption by travellers. 

On a more basic level the biggest frustration for business travellers is still connection to wifi – it’s a major bugbear. The need to be continually connected to the internet is without question the one improvement that executive travellers would finally like solved once and for all. 

So destinations should consider that maybe the quickest win in the provision of smart tourism is the simple provision of free wifi for all. Now that would be a smart start.  

Smart tourism services

TRANSPORT: Real-time data and 
analysis of congestion, delays and accidents, and connecting different modes of transport – air, rail, bus 
and taxis – could save time and money for executive travellers, as well as encourage more public transport use, since it will be easier to use and times in transit will be reduced. 

SECURITY: Crises and emergency information available in real-time could allow travel managers to deal with the duty-of-care issues more quickly and easily, as well as link travellers to their consulates and embassies. 

ENVIRONMENT: Weather, air pollution, crowds and queues can be monitored. Crowd-sourced information about a city, its restaurants and events can be kept up-to-date by the very people involved with that destination. 

VENUE REPORTS: For a meeting or 
event planner, information about a venue in real-time could be a great advantage. 

Which are the world’s smartest cities?

  1. Singapore
  2. Barcelona
  3. London
  4. San Francisco
  5. Oslo

Source: Juniper Research

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