The time has come to plan your much-desired vacation, at last! Where do you start? Reading your favorite travel blog and its recommendations? Researching about the destinations where those wonderful photos posted by your friends on Instagram were taken? Or looking for the best flight deals online? No matter which way you want to go around it, at some point in this planning process, you will use technology. Have you thought about how technology changed the way we organize and enjoy our trips? And have you noticed how tourist destinations and places we want to visit have adapted themselves to this (not so new) reality?
The internet completely changed the way we travel. Back in the days, the first step in the decision to travel was to find a travel agent or buying a printed travel guide. For little over 10 years this whole process has been comprised to few clicks on the screen of your smartphone. Travelers are increasingly more independent when gathering information from different sources to plan their trip. Also, travelers use technology to improve the experience at their destinations and later, to share their experience and encourage or discourage other travelers. The apps and platforms developed in the tourism sector are varied and rank among the most popular ones worldwide. In addition, leisure travel is becoming increasingly popular: every year more people travel and desire to discover new destinations.
All this makes for a change of paradigms in the planning and management of tourist destinations. Before, travel destinations relied on travel agents to position themselves in the markets. Today, they directly reach the final consumer – that is, the tourist – to achieve success. Before, a bad experience in a hotel or a museum was shared only with close friends. Today, this experience can reach millions of tourists through social media.
While technological evolution encompasses challenges, it also brings opportunities for tourist destinations, which can generate a varied array of products and services highly targeted to the specific wishes and needs of both visitors and local communities.
With this disruptive and complex scenario has emerged the concept of ‘smart destinations’, a new perspective on how tourism can be managed and the role of local institutions in it. Being a smart destination does not mean using technology to continue “doing business as usual”. Being a ‘smart destination’ implies changing the way of thinking about tourism management based on the new possibilities facilitated by technologies, adapted to local realities. A smart destination is a geographical space (which can range from a neighborhood to a network of cities) where tourism development is planned and executed based on technological infrastructure, allowing local sustainable development while providing quality of the experiences for visitors and the quality of life for locals.
The question is how can we achieve this? Shifting into a smart destination is a process, a way forward. For this, the public and private sectors as well as the civil society must be involved in the development of shared governance models that are effective for tourism. Many destinations are already working on fundamental axes for becoming a smart destination, such as the use of big data to increase their knowledge about tourism demand, aiming to offer targeted suggestions of attractions for visitors or personalized experiences, and the development of apps based on open data to improve visitor experience, among many other examples.
In your next trip, we invite you to think about this: Is the destination that you are visiting a smart destination? Your findings can be amazing!