Barcelona and Covid-19 era: where does virtual mobility win over human (im)mobility?

By Fiammetta Brandajs from Universitat Rovira i Virgili

The current COVID-19 crisis is boosting online activity – everything is increasingly shifting to the digital sphere including mobility.
Which urban areas are most resilient to physical break in mobility?

The latest studies by theorists from different disciplines analyze the bidirectional relationship which links mobilities to digital technology as enabling infrastructure for human mobilities on a large and local scale; as multiplier agent people’s mobile practices; and as an articulating factor of social, physical, mental, and financial relations. Therefore, the ways in which technologies reshape everyday activities and interpersonal relations, as well as connections with others and connections with the wider world, provides a predictive insight into the geographies of the social gap which emerge at territorial level by mapping out “hyper-mobilized” territories rich in technological components that contrast with others “hypo-mobilized” that are poor in functions, and little considered by both public administrations and private investments. This has become increasingly topical with the outbreak of COVID-19, as physical immobility has strongly fostered virtual mobility, revealing a wide disparity among populations in which those with higher income are able to access technology that can ensure work continues digitally during social isolation.

The attempt to analyze the digital disparities within the municipal boundaries of Barcelona is based on the analysis of the synthetic index (Digital Mobility Index), which evaluates both trends in citizens’ usage of technological and digital services and key variables which define the underlying socio-demographic structure of digital development. Finally, a focus on the resulting interdependencies between corporeal and digital mobilities/immobilities based on the study of the mobility of the population during the period of the state of alert.

Key findings

The resulting geographical configuration is illustrated in the two figures below:


Figure 1aDigital Mobility Index and Socio-Demographic Digital Propensity, Barcelona city

Figure 1b Physical Mobility during Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Barcelona city


Figure 1a

  • The neighborhoods of the Ciutat Vella district, the most cosmopolitan areas of the city that attract the most tourists, stand out with high Digital Mobility Index values supported by the general high Socio-Demographic Propensity Index value as expected due to a multiplicity of factors such as strong population renewal thanks to ‘globals’ and the ‘mobile population’, who are skilled, networked, and have purchasing power; a mainly tourist-oriented economy that is currently technology-based (hospitality platforms, etc.).
  • There are some constants throughout the urban territory and neighborhoods that seem to have incorporated more than others the idea of mobility through the digital environment in a transversal way by encompassing all its variables. These include the vast area of the most privileged neighborhoods of the north-west and south-east axis (coastline), which are the best equipped and most active in the network.

Figure 1b

  • The neighborhoods of the old town move from a high ranking from a digital point of view to the first displacement category in physical mobility during Covid-19 outbreak. This has highlighted the economic monoculture linked almost exclusively to tourism which has turned them almost totally physically immobile territories.
  • The north-west the areas and the coastline neighborhoods, other top-ranked digital mobility territories that are almost totally immobilized during Covid-19 outbreak suggesting a labor mobility supported by a technological substitution.


The immobility caused by COVID-19 has underlined that those who used to move the most physically are now those who move the least, replacing most of their activities with virtual ones since their mobile lifestyle never fully connected them with the surrounding territory, placing them on an almost self-sufficient technological island.

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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.

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