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What is 'Sustainable Tourism' and how can digital applications help?

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

After our previous blog posts on digitising the high street and increasing revenue at tourist destinations with reduced capacity, we are looking at how digital technologies can help tackle over-tourism in visitor areas - all while remaining economically and environmentally friendly in the process.

The Bottom Line

In 2019, 1.4 billion members of the population travelled worldwide as tourists, a figure which paints a picture of how much we value being able to travel internationally and nationally nowadays. Overtourism is a new pain point in modern-day tourism that has arisen from the influx of visitors in specific areas - the term describes the phenomenon where too many people visit a single location during a specific period of time, which strains the residents, hosts and business owners. There are many signs of overtourism - such as roads being parked up with tourist vehicles, not being able to visit a local business due to overcrowding and local environments degrading due to increased activity. Why is this happening? The travel industry has solely focused on growth over the past couple of decades, reaching a threshold wherein tourism has created more negatives than positives in terms of environmental and cultural impact.

In Cornwall, especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we've seen a massive increase in visitors during the summer months. While it would be great to visit all of the famous spots from TV shows like Poldark or Doc Martin whenever we'd like, in reality, there are limits to how much the Cornish countryside can maintain in terms of visitor numbers every year, and with the last two years worth of increased tourism occurring due to lockdown measures we'll need to start implementing innovative solutions to help maintain a healthy and mutually beneficial tourism industry.

One solution to this situation is sustainable tourism, a concept of development linked to the economic, social and climate-related strain felt across the world at the minute. In a post-Covid world, changes to tourism and travel are inevitable and will change according to consumer choice, destination availability and regulatory change. We need to create sustainable solutions in the tourism sector predominantly with the climate in mind - which is where digital solutions come into play!

Tourist sites worldwide are making bold steps in the digital age, changing how services, social features and experiences deliver to consumers. Technological advances have offered us faster internet speed, increased accessibility and further availability, bridging the gap between physical and digital spaces at these destinations. A priority for sustainable tourist sites is the analysis of the users experience relative to the service provided through advanced applications. Using a digital app to inform users of real-time changes can gently nudge them to make more sustainable, environmentally and economically friendly travel decisions.

Simultaneously, digital experiences are increasingly becoming a mainstay in communication and education strategies, wherein information delivered is conveyed through immersive and interactive formats such as AR, VR and 3D formats. The tourism sector will benefit from digital integration when enhancing existing offerings available at attractions and outlets on-site. Many of these new offerings are readily implemented at museums nationally through Edutainment activities that aim to inform a user and entertain them.

VR experiences can co-exist both in physical and digital form, which is advantageous for customers who wish to be introduced to the real-life experience beforehand. One study from 2016 revealed that online VR offerings were a stellar way to market the physical visitor attraction and subsequently increased the desire for consumers to visit the real-life location afterwards. Further to this, another study suggested that integrating your tourist attraction digitally changed the planning behaviour of customers before attending a visitor attraction. It seems the answer to this question is multi-faceted and entirely dependent on the location and type of visitor attraction, although it is worth noting. We believe that taking action with your tourist business and integrating digital solutions will garner short-term and long-term benefits, especially for lesser-visited areas at a destination.

A Second Chance

Second Chance Tourism (SCT) is an approach that provides second life to tourist destinations by allowing visitors the opportunity to experience these places through alternative formats. These experiences can be had either on or off-site. SCT involves the development of supplementary experiential products which focus on stimulating further engagement for the visitor through digital products. These products could be physical structures or digital applications on your phone that you use on-site. The rapid evolution of digital technology has resulted in many examples of digitally enhanced tourism experiences. Mixed-reality attractions are becoming more common within the context of cultural tourism too. Laser scanning is a method that allows attractions to replicate (through projection) long-decayed versions of historical sites, one example of digital technology utilised in a visitor attraction context. There is a myriad of ways that SCT can benefit the longevity of a tourist destination without posing challenges for the local community or ecosystem. The responsibility of looking after our environment will become more prevalent going forward, which is where digital, or mobile solutions can come into play...

Mobile Solutions

Digital technologies and internet applications are reshaping and reinterpreting our relationship with culture and society. The shift from a regular tourist experience to simultaneous digital-physical experiences fuelled by data streams and services across numerous platforms (mobile, home computer etc.) is a development that will shape the future of sustainable tourism. This development is closely related to the production of data and the efficiency of current technologies. The average user can equip themselves as a content producer through the improving capabilities of their mobile device, which in turn seeks further access to cultural content not in one singular space but from a variety of media sources across multiple digital platforms.

The shift toward data flows and consumer accessibility frees cultural objects at sustainable and cultural tourist sites, diffusing the process through multiple means into information-based environments outside the walls of the visitor attraction. Essentially, the use of digital technologies and digital applications can significantly increase the inherent value of the tourism experience while remaining economically viable due to the wide availability of current technologies.

Public, interconnected digital information (or data, for short) is a way for destination management organisations (DMO's) to reach out to visitors and develop new products, services and experiential value at multiple levels. The advantage of incorporating technology into your already existing tourism destinations is how little investment is required hardware-wise. Most of us are already carrying the most up-to-date technology in our pockets. An example of a digital application that optimises visitor flow management at tourist destinations is our XplorIT software. Our software works as an additional tool for tourism destinations, tailoring information and suggestions based on a visitor's interaction with the space. The app's utility evolves further by incorporating capacity thresholds and nudge theory into the fold, an idea that helps move crowds to quieter areas by using incentives to avoid overcrowding. To make a more engaging experience that facilitates enjoyment for every customer, regardless of their input, XplorIT represents Data Duopoly's philosophy to strive toward further accessibility and create a healthy, sustainable impact for tourists, the local population and the overall environment alike.

What's next?

The next step for DMOs is to implement digital applications within the context of their current offerings. The purpose of this, especially in light of recent developments within the UK tourism industry, is to get locals and members of the public from other parts of the country (and abroad!) to sustainably invest more time in seeing the natural wonders already available to us at our doorsteps!

If you're interested in improving your sustainable tourism business or want to learn more about our mission, take a look here. Alternatively, you can reach out to us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook!

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