‘Towns and cities will need to be smarter in the way they manage growth in tourism’

challengeBy Natalie Duffield

What happens if you gather a roomful of entrepreneurial data scientists, analysts, designers and software engineers and hand them a trove of data that has never been released before?

I’ll tell you what: a special kind of alchemy with the creation of some clever ideas to help Edinburgh manage the growing pains associated with being one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations.

That industry is worth £1.3bn a year and supports thousands of jobs, which makes it one of Scotland’s most important employers.

But playing host to four million tourists a year brings some considerable challenges, mostly involving sustainability of the city, its character and its visitor experience.

The Edinburgh Tourism Innovation Challenge is a series of events that aims to foster data-driven innovation in Edinburgh’s tourism sector.

The launch weekend at CodeBase was a blast. Cross-industry teams from tourism and technology hunkered down for 72 hours to create new products, services or tools from tourism data.

As the city’s digital partner and co-sponsor for #ETIC17, IntechnologyWiFi released datasets to participants, alongside other organisations with a stake in the city’s tourism industry, including Visit Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Royal Yacht Britannia.

Using data from our free public WiFi network, the winning team, ‘Budi’, came up with a concept for a mobile game that incentivises tourists to explore the less-travelled parts of the city beyond the centre.

The winners pitched the app, called True Scot, at the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s Digital Solutions for Tourism Conference and can apply for up to £3,000 to develop a prototype.

True Scot has the potential to help diffuse city centre congestion and benefit tourism businesses on the outskirts of the centre.

Erin Roche, spokeswoman for the start-up, said: “Our team aims to tackle the Edinburgh over-tourism congestion in the city centre by showing visitors what they really want to find: local, authentic experiences.

“With points assigned to different sites depending on their popularity and distance from the city centre, a visitor can collect different rewards for their experiences and climb the levels to become a ‘True Scot’. The more hidden the gem, the higher the points to collect.”

It is an excellent example of the type of innovative service that can developed using data from our WiFi platform.

Others could include apps to monitor real-time visitor footfall, the structural health of historic buildings, art and artefacts preservation, food and drink expiration or perimeter access control for experiential events.

To date, nearly 500,000 users have registered for our wireless network in Edinburgh since launching last December, representing user growth of 1,300 per day, in Britain’s largest deployment of wireless connectivity.

We have since launched free public WiFi networks in other tourism hotspots including the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (35,000 users and counting) and Southend-on-Sea (10,000 users and counting), where famous cafe owner Jamie Oliver gave our service the thumbs-up.

Tourism is an incredibly important industry for the UK and will be worth more than £257bn by 2025, according to Visit Britain. That’s just under 10% of GDP.

Towns and cities will need to be smarter in the way that they manage this growth in tourism in a way that preserves their visitor value for the long term.

Using seamless networks like ours will help local authorities and BID teams to gather data and insights into their visitor economies and provide a platform for the type of inspirational innovation we saw at #ETIC17.

Natalie Duffield is chief executive of IntechnologyWiFi.