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What data? What content? Digital strategies to combat overtourism

Digital technologies and smartphones can assist in deconcentrating floods of tourists and confronting increasing overtourism. But what might these solutions look like in practice, what data is required, what are the sources, and, last but not least, who owns them? Scientists and pilot users examined this question in depth at the ITB Convention.

“Over 544,000 results come up when you google ‘overtourism,’” Dr Manuel Butler Halter, Executive Director of the World Tourism Organization UNWTO began his talk, intending to provoke discussion. “And cities like Venice and Dubrovnik are very familiar with the associated problems.” Survey results have shown that, luckily, only a small percentage of respondents are in favour of less advertising expenditure. Clever IT solutions are requested instead. “But not just more apps,” pointed out moderator Dr Ko Koens, Associate Professor at CELTH/Breda University of Applied Sciences. New developments would need to be more focused on developing processes for selective capacity checks and distribution of visitor streams.

This requires data analysis, something Leid Zejnilovic, Assistant Professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, deals with. Approximate focus days can be determined from the results, allowing specific measures to then be taken. “But who is responsible for dealing with the data?” said Zejnilovic, referencing a problem. And this also means: how do tourist organisations obtain this data without incurring costs, if possible? “Maybe providers can be legally required to publish necessary, non-personalised data,” suggested Geerte Udo, Associate Director at Amsterdam Marketing. Amsterdam has already gained some experience with a chatbot that assists visitors to the website and, in doing so, helps reduce email correspondence. Developing such digital solutions will definitely take time, argued Joan Torrella, Managing Director at Turisme de Barcelona. “And in major cities like Barcelona, it isn’t just overtourism that is a challenge. ‘Over-residence’ is another topic that is very closely linked.” Here, Torrella also referenced illegal accommodation offerings that must be regulated. As an example of intelligent digital support, Ms Udo referenced the desire for a campaign for Amsterdam that promotes more respect from visitors. “If someone enters ‘Bachelor Party Amsterdam’ into Google, it should be linked to a pop-up explaining important rules of behaviour.”

In summary, the group agreed that intelligent digital technologies will grow more important in the future but only a means to an end; they can provide a framework, the content of which will determine the actual benefits. These must be created in coordination with all stakeholders to avoid duplications and isolated solutions.

Robert Kluge


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