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Is smart tourism something tourist destinations only talk about, or also really implement?

By Dejan Križaj, Miha Bratec, Peter Kopić and Tadej Rogelja, University of Primorska

The focus of the research is on the adoption and implementation of technological innovations to analyse the Smart Tourism projects implemented in Europe according to the stringent technological criteria of contemporary Smart Tourism definitions.

Smart Tourism followed in the footsteps of the earlier concept of sustainable tourism and quickly established itself as the reference adjective when discussing tourism in politics, economics, and academia. In the latter, the debate has been lively, and although there are many different conceptualizations, academics seem to agree that Smart Tourism is based on the use of novel technologies that improve the quality of visitor and local experiences, while enabling destinations to take steps towards achieving their sustainability goals. However, as it happened in the past with the term “sustainable”, the adjective “smart” seems to be heavily misused when describing the various transformations that tourist destinations and cities are currently facing. Mostly, it dominates the marketing discourse, with many destinations trying to use this “smart” concept because it gives them a competitive advantage over other tourist destinations based on uniqueness and differentiation.

Based on our study, the reality of developing smart solutions within these destinations is mostly still in its infancy. More specifically, we, in detail, analyse:

  1. What is the real content of the Smart Tourism projects currently implemented within Europe and supported by substantial EU (European Union) funding?
  2. What are the characteristics of the Smart Projects and what kind of technology solutions are used in them?
  3. Can we really see the rapid technological progress in tourism services that the marketers of Smart Destinations promise?
  4. What do the currently implemented projects tell us about the future of Smart Tourism and Smart Destinations?

Summary of key findings:

Our work differed from most methods used in other studies that rely on the construction of conceptual models, frameworks, or indicator systems based on the evaluation of Smart City or

Smart Tourism goals, statements, strategies, and initiatives. The presented study goes a step further and tries to understand which technological innovations exactly were adopted and how they contribute to projects’ smartness. In order to better distinguish between conventional and advanced, interconnected technology, we have placed a special focus on Smart Actionable attributes of the projects analyzed. From what we could perceive in the selected projects, four smart technology trends can be identified: 1) Connectivity and Big Data, 2) Connectivity and Intelligent Algorithms, 3) Big Data and 4) “smart” projects with mainly well-represented technology that does not exploit the Smart Actionable possibilities.

In our initial online resource search, we encountered the vast majority of projects that were touted as “smart” but did not address any of the newer aspects of ICT infrastructure, such as interconnectivity and interoperability of integrated technologies. They were therefore excluded from our study, leaving only 35 projects, which we analysed in detail and assigned to the four groups mentioned above. This confirms our preliminary findings that there is a lot of hype and little substance (e.g., smart washing) regarding Smart Tourism projects. This problem stems in part from the fact that there are different, everchanging definitions and meanings of the term Smart Tourism. Subsequently, different stakeholders and entities adopt different meanings and set different priorities based on their viewpoints and schools of thought.

See full paper: https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810279

Workshop | DISTFest – Friday, October 22nd 2021

Cities and Universities
Socio-spatial dynamics of a complex relations and their implications for urban policies

Organized by:
Loris Servillo and Samantha Cenere (DIST, Politecnico di Torino)

Speakers:
Jean-Paul Addie (Georgia State University)
Louise Kempton (Newcastle University)
Daniel Malet Calvo (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)
Silvia Mugnano (University of Milano Bicocca)
Nick Revington (Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Montreal)
Antonio Paolo Russo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili)

The phrase “town and gown” once used to describe the relationship between universities and the urban context in which they are located implies an understanding of the two as separate spheres. However, it is increasingly evident that complex, indirect, and hidden entanglements characterised the city-university nexus within the global paradigm of the knowledge economy. Universities may be seen as urban developers whose action impacts substantially on the built environment. Their capacity to implement an attractive and competitive educational offer and research environment triggers the arrival of students and academics from other regions and countries, thus transforming the demographic profile of a city. Through the attraction of highly mobile, cosmopolitan, and skilled populations, universities indirectly contribute to activate new urban economies that span from a new retail offer to the transformation of the housing market. These and other examples of how universities have become one of the most powerful actors of urban transformations will be discussed at the workshop Cities and universities. Socio-spatial dynamics of a complex relationship and their implications for urban policies.
Through the contribution of various international experts, the workshop will offer a wide range of perspectives on the complex university-city nexus, showing how the urban effects of universities activity are not limited to their capacity to function as providers of skilled workforces and as research centres contributing to regional economic development. The massification and commodification of university education, the mantra of global competitiveness, and the imperative for cities of being attractive lay at the core of heterogeneous urban processes that Higher Education institutions participate in activating. These processes encompass the transformation of the housing market, urban renewal interventions at the neighborhood scale, changes in the retailscape of a specific area, and the opening of private student residences.
However, these processes may reveal another side of the coin, constituted by spatial, socio-economic and cultural inequalities, both on an urban scale and within those areas particularly affected by these transformations. These could emerge in multiple forms, such as conflicts over the use of public space between students and residents; the replacement of services of general interest aimed at the resident population with others designed for a highly mobile population; difficult access to affordable accommodation; displacement, etc. To what extent the production of urban spaces linked to the increasing relevance of universities within global knowledge capitalism and interurban competition may be balanced by the pursuit of inclusive, sustainable, and just cities?
These questions and issues resonate with the Sustainable Development Goal 11 and build a bridge between the workshop and a research project on the urban effects and exclusionary dynamics related to university student mobilities, conducted by the DIST team of the Horizon2020 project “SMARTDEST. Cities as mobility hubs. Tackling social exclusion through smart citizen engagement”

For live streaming please register to:
https://distfest7.eventbrite.it

Click here for the full program

Measuring Cities´Smartness: Navigating through an Ocean of Indicators

By Josep Antoni Ivars Baidal from University of Alicante

Smart cities and smart destinations have become widely used buzzwords with different meanings and interests. Institutional self-proclamations of smart city / destination are so frequent that it is interesting to specify clearly what constitutes smartness and how it is measured. An undoubtedly complex but necessary task.

The pioneering work coordinated by R. Giffinger (2007) established the six basic characteristics of the smart city and specified them in 74 indicators to build the first European smart city ranking, focused on medium-sized cities (http://www.smart-cities.eu/download/smart_cities_final_report.pdf). Since this study to date, there have been countless initiatives to assess the level of smartness of cities. These initiatives are aimed at a variety of purposes: scientific work, rankings, indexes, standards or indicators systems integrated in urban/tourism management programs. These contributions recall the wide use of indicators since the 1990s to measure sustainability, a dimension that, on the other hand, being integrated in the smart city/destination concept, has generated specific analyzes around the best way to conceptualize and measure the relationship between sustainability and smartness.

The European Commission has supported different projects based on the evaluation of smart cities initiatives, such as Mapping Smart Cities in the EU (2014) (https://op.europa.eu/es/publication-detail/-/publication/78882e80-fc4a-4a86-9c39-2ad88ab89f9b) or CITYkeys (2017) (http://www.citykeys-project.eu/), aimed at the creation of smart city indicators that can function as Key Performance Indicators for tracking the progress towards city and project objectives. This approach is interesting for international comparison of smart city performance and for policy analysis leading to improved urban management. For a similar purpose, standards related to smart cities have been developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). In particular, ISO 37122: 2019 (Sustainable cities and communities-Indicators for smart cities) in conjunction with ISO 37120: 2018 (Sustainable cities and communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life).

In a recent research paper, A. Sharifi (2020) (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2210670719314404?via%3Dihub) has examined thirty-four smart city assessment schemes showing the prevalence of indexes of different nature, above all market-oriented as the Cities in Motion Index (https://citiesinmotion.iese.edu/indicecim/) or the Innovation Cities Index (https://www.innovation-cities.com/city-rankings-2021/), together with academic contributions, such as the Lisbon ranking for smart sustainable cities (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210670718308138). These indicators are structured according to the typical dimensions of smart city: economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, living, and data; with logical variations based on the objectives and methodology used.

How is tourism and its urban implications reflected in these indicator systems? The analysis of these systems evidences a very low presence of direct tourism indicators, a logical consequence of systems that try to measure a complex reality in a holistic way. This marginal role of tourism indicators prevents the establishment of correlations or cause-effect relationships between tourism and its urban effects, fundamentally those related to processes of social exclusion, which are also under-represented in the evaluation schemes of smart cities. In this context, the SMARTDEST project is an opportunity to contribute to a better measurement of the relationships between urban smartness, tourism and other forms of mobility and social exclusion processes.

digitalization for tourism

The challenge of digitalisation for a more sustainable, competitive and inclusive tourism in Europe under the smart destination approach

By Josep Ivars Baidal from Universidad Alicante

The challenge of digitalisation has been accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, a process that tends to be integrated into the broader concept of smart tourism as a way to progress towards a more sustainable, competitive and inclusive tourism in Europe.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been a major factor of disruption in the tourism sector even before the Covid-19 crisis. Digitalisation is perceived as a key challenge to improve competitiveness of tourism firms. Nevertheless, the tourism industry is a highly diverse and complex sector that integrates different subsectors (Accommodation, Travel Agencies and Tour Operators, Food & Beverage, Transport Services, Entertainment and Recreation Attractions, etc) which comprise mostly small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). This complexity together with the lack of accurate data hinders the identification of the exact degree of technology adoption in tourism, but some facts are quite relevant:

  • The higher technology adoption by large companies and the risk of widening the gap between large and small companies.
  • The existence of geographical differences, taking the level of digitalisation of each European country as an approximate indicator of the degree of digitalisation of its tourism industry. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/digital-economy-and-society-index-desi), the most advanced countries are Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, while Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Poland have the lowest scores on the index.
  • The need to revise the perception of tourism as a sector with low digital intensity, as recent studies highlight that the Accommodation and Travel Agency & Tour Operator subsectors are above other industrial activities in digital intensity. On the other hand, subsectors like Food & Beverage are at the bottom of the digital intensity indexes.
  • Technology adoption in tourism is mostly related to marketing and distribution and is less oriented towards productivity improvement, while more advanced technologies (big data, customer relationship marketing, etc.) are underrepresented compared to other economic activities.

However, digitalisation goes beyond the mere adoption of ICT and new sources of data. Dredge et al. (2018) (https://clustercollaboration.eu/news/digitalisation-tourism-depth-analysis-challenges-and-opportunities) describe the journey towards digitalisation of SMEs from an initial stage of weak digitalisation, characterized by an individual mindset, to a strong stage representing smart tourism, as a connected mindset that promotes a high level of innovation and ICT systems interoperability. Thus, the emergent smart paradigm becomes a core element for tourism destination management.

Digitalisation is among the four categories of the European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative (https://smarttourismcapital.eu/), together with sustainability, accessibility and cultural heritage and creativity. Best practices in digitalisation from a city perspective include facilitating information for specific target groups, collecting information for smarter management, and improving physical and psychological accessibility through innovation. This sectoral objectives should be complemented, within a framework of urban governance, by the potential of using technology to analyze and prevent the processes of social exclusion caused by tourism-related mobilities, a goal that inspires the SMARTDEST research project.

The European Union reaction to the Covid-19 crisis and the strategies for recovery, summarized in the European Commission Communication, “Tourism and transport in 2020 and beyond” (COM(2020) 550 final) (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52020DC0550&from=EN), have reinforced the need to work towards the smart management of tourism flows and the digitalisation of local companies to become more resilient and competitive. The revival of tourism must involve new management approaches in order to truly evolve towards more sustainable and inclusive models of development.

COVID: tourism immobilisation and its social consequences

By Antonio Paolo Russo, University Rovira i Virgili, SMARTDEST coordinator
May 2020

The SMARTDEST project tackles the relation between tourism mobilities and the production of social exclusion in cities, with an ambition to contribute to the definition of a policy agenda for cities that takes tourism mobilities seriously, and that brings out the potential of social innovation from citizen engagement for more resilient communities.

While drafting the project proposal and then setting it in motion, the obvious concern of this consortium was the wide array of disruptions that are produced in a context of relentless growth of tourism activity in cities, and its increasing penetration in the citizens’ everyday. We therefore intended to situate our research in the rising debate on ‘overtourism’ and its effects, broadening its conceptual approach and empirical developments to the constellation of mobilities, communities and spaces that are enmeshed to contemporary travel and tourism in complex ways.

Yet, alas, in the verge of a few weeks the context we are studying has changed radically, in ways that could not be remotely imagined before.

The current COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent measures of confinement to which a substantial part of the world population is subject, the temporary restructuring of work and family routines, and the foreseeable economic slump which will follow from the shock by ‘immobilisation’ of the global economy, present us with a very different future scenario than that of overcrowded streets, low-paid hotel workers and vulnerable families evicted to make space for short-term tourism rentals.

Today, the great societal (and academic) debate in relation to mobilities is whether we will ever go ‘back to normal’, if tourism as we knew it has a future, how to contain the social costs of this slump, and whether it is possible to effect a rapid transition towards ‘slower’, less mobility-dependent forms of economic and social organisation which are more resilient to the uncertain future that comes ahead. For the EU, this may mean that the policy concern for overtourism that had taken foot in the past years is likely to be rapidly overcome by the imperative of economic recovery.

Project to throw in the dustbin? Bad luck? Give back the EU money?

By all means, no. There are at least two main reasons why we consider that actually our research approach is the most adequate to tackle these questions, and offer a sound scientific contribution to the stage of recovery or adaptation to this new scenario.

The first reason stands in our epistemological approach. Moving from the baseline of the ‘mobilities paradigm’, and examining the relationships between tourism-induced urban transformations and the production of social exclusion from this position, allows us not just to analyse the pressure of the visitor economy and its social effects, but to engage with a much more ambitious program of research that takes in and connects:

  • human mobility as an expression of democratic freedom, and leisure as a dimension of urban life that is inextricable from many others;
  • the multiple and multiscale interconnections between the different manifestations of human mobility (e.g. tourism, migrations, commuting, leisurely walk, etc) and between these and the physical spaces that these contribute to produce and contest;
  • the juxtaposition and interrelations of the highly mobile and the ‘less mobile’ or immobilised;
  • the agencies, socio-technological regimes, ideologies and discourses that frame such relationships and promote or mitigate social exclusion.

In other words, if tourism ­– its practices and embodiments, the multiple flows of things, technologies, money and imageries that goes with it, and the marginalisation of sizeable sectors of the society from the benefits of a thriving visitor economy – could have been the context of development of the project until January 2020, the same conceptual concerns, the same empirical developments, and the same ambitions to find informed solutions to social exclusion apply in a non- or less-tourist world.

The current scenario, with the streets of tourist cities temporarily empty, thousands at risk of losing their job, and clean air, is one in which paradoxically social breeches are reproduced and reversed – those who can, comply with the new social norms of ‘good citizen’ and stay safely at home, while others are stuck with dangerously mobile jobs, uncomfortable dwellings, and dependency from the proximity with others. Even when this confinement scenario is relaxed, a new ‘regime of post-COVID mobility’ might be fathomed in which mobilities are promoted, regulated, and reified in vastly uneven ways.

Said this, it is still important to look back and have a structured, nuanced understanding of how the acceleration of tourism and related mobilities in the pre-COVID world may have widened social breeches, and which agencies and power coalitions would have made that possible. We definitely are going to do that. However, SMARTDEST will also look into the present and the future, clarifying how the analytics of mobilities also matters in an ‘immobilised’ world.

And this is precisely our second reason to stay on the ground. Our project foresees engagement with eight case studies of European cities variously interested by tourism-related physical and socioeconomic transformations which represent key challenges for social cohesion. SMARTDEST will not only examine what has gone on in such places until now and in the coming two years, but – as its title states – also aims at contributing to solutions or forms of mitigation to social exclusion that our research will relate to the production of tourist places. In a specific work-package, it will thus convene social actors – among which affected communities, groups at risk of exclusion, grassroots movements – together with economic and political agents to collaboratively design viable strategies by which forms of coping with social exclusion, smart forms of citizen collaboration, as well as small-scale planning innovations can be rescaled to the wider domain of urban policy and may be seen as valuable and implementable within the wider destination ecosystem.

In this light, our project is going to tackle these questions precisely in the stage of recovery (2021-2022), presumably following the current state of emergency. Our case study cities will find themselves in front a ‘recovery dilemma’: going back to normal – and mobilise public and private resources to achieve the recuperation of tourism jobs and economic activity lost in 2020, from which some of them are badly dependent –, or use this breakthrough moment as an opportunity for transition towards a destination environment that is less excluding, more just, more democratic; one that promotes quality of life and shared value over sectorial economic interest, that takes the effects of mobilities (social as well as environmental) seriously, and is prepared to mitigate them.

The temptation to stick to the trodden path will be strong: this is already being hailed, not only by corporate interests but also by policymakers faced with a sudden slump of the economy and employment. However, a return to the pre-COVID conditions – that in many destinations have been at the root of social issues – may not be even an option: as mentioned before, there are high chances that global mobilities and their local manifestations will change, albeit temporarily: ranging from the rights, practicalities and cost of travelling long-haul, to the attractiveness of the most affected destinations, or the effects of physical distancing on the viability of products and attractions.

It has been demonstrated by experience that sustainability transitions focusing on mitigating the impact of tourism mobilities are difficult, as they face lock-ins and pressures of all kinds, though the present scenario may offer a unique opportunity for realignment of societal and corporate interests. Besides, it is also not totally clear what this presupposes in the policy and planning sphere, although certain elements may be envisaged as essential, such a strengthening of the regulation capacity, the dignification and upgrade of work conditions, the concern for gender and intersectional unbalances, the promotion of citizen participation and their innovation capacity, the revision of governance mechanisms. However, whose interests will dominate in the recovery debate, whose rights will be put upfront, and who will be controlling and tapping from the sociotechnical machinery of innovation in mobility, are still moot points – and key discriminants in the effort to achieve more inclusive post-COVID cities.

In this sense, being able to contribute and inform this debate, that will necessarily take place in all the cities we will be studying in our project, is a fundamental challenge for SMARTDEST. Our ambition is that CityLabs will be a key arena where the post-COVID urban future is analysed, designed and shared, and this consortium is already taking steps to make that happen.