ETOA City Fair Conference 2019: Smart data, great leadership and destination management strategies key to solving visitor capacity issues

As tourism numbers continue to rise in already popular destinations in Europe, speakers at ETOA’s City Fair Conference 2019 outlined the scope of data now available through social media, customers’ smart phones and the short-term private rental market which can help solve capacity issues.

Speakers from research companies TCI and Transparent, Digital Tourism Think Tank, the Croatian National Tourist Board and the Vincent Van Gogh museum, which saw an average increase in visitors of 20% between 2015 and 2017, all agreed that accurate analysis of good data combined with great leadership can inform planning strategies to significantly improve customer experience.

Combine big data with traditional surveys

Olivier Henry-Biabaud from TCI Research told 150 ETOA members and delegates of the City Fair Conference how combining traditional surveys with big data provides the most accurate picture of visitor sentiment and trends.

He highlighted how social listening on a global/multi-lingual scale can help destinations discover relevant insights. For example, the new branch of the Louvre in the industrial French city of Lens became unexpectedly popular amongst Japanese visitors because the Japanese architect of the new building – Sannaa – started to appear on hashtags. The attraction used this knowledge to develop products and accelerate storytelling which added extra sales.

Henry-Biabaud also outlined how anonymised mobile phone location data tracking for cruise arrivals can provide heat maps and information on where passengers are going to compared to where the reputed ‘best’ sites are – in some instances there is a mis-match, which can help destinations promote the less well-known areas.

How disruptive is the peer-to-peer market?

Fernando Dal Re from Transparent, which has a large data set for the short-term rental sector and scans 28 million listings a day, reported that today one in every four dollars spent on lodgings is for private accommodation. In London alone there are 80,746 listings with 117,540 bedrooms while France, Italy and Spain have the largest number of unique properties in the private short-term rental sector in Europe.

Dal Re argued that the traditional industry needs to have more data about the size, demand and strategy of this disruptive sector. Transparent has discovered a growing number of properties using third party platforms such as Tripadvisor, Airbnb and are being managed by professional hosts with supply managed by the top 20% of hosts growing by 32% between 2017 and 2018.

Be Bold

Nick Hall from the Digital Tourism Think Tank shared some best practice examples of capacity management from destinations. Amsterdam, for example, uses a range of digital platforms to educate visitors to respect local culture; Copenhagen now measures tourism success in terms of benefits to Danish society, rather than just in receipts.

He recommended destinations be part of creating the next ‘insta’ trend, by appealing to visitors with new products – such as the new ‘Glass of Thrones’ attraction in Northern Ireland, which has created demand to new areas in the region.

Hall also highlighted environmental credentials and sustainability choices that destinations like Iceland are providing in the form of a formal invitation to visitors to behave responsibly. Meanwhile the Faroe Islands recently launched a range of initiatives to improve infrastructure to protect the environment and at the same time appealed to visitors for volunteers to help them to do it.

Hall’s final observation was that strong and effective leadership can and should steer destinations in a different – and more sustainable – direction.

John Boulding, Vox Group

The Vox Group provides high end tour guide systems via an app on guests’ smartphones. Companies can design bespoke packages for different itineraries and link to hop-on, hop-off or walking itineraries, audio guides, cultural and historical information, photo locations and dining suggestions – all in the customer’s own language. In turn, while customers are using the systems, they can provide anonymised trend data on what customers decide to do, which is helpful for planning for future itineraries. They have also proved useful for controlling tourism flows, as customers can be encouraged to walk less-busy routes.

Case study: Using API Technology

The Croatian National Tourist Board outlined its eVisitor tool which enables the tourism sector to fulfil its legal obligation to register every visitor using API technology as well as linking the private accommodation sector to the eVisitor mobile and websites.

Case study: Improving customer experience by utilising data

Laurine van de Wiel and Ellen Feberwee from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which has the largest collection of Van Gogh artworks, reported success in working with a sudden increase in visitor numbers, peaking at 2.3 million in 2017 from an average of 1.5 million in the years preceding this. The museum now has more visitors per square metre of gallery space than the Louvre, British Museum and Tate Modern. The Van Gogh Museum team looked at increasing their opening hours but could not because of the amount of light that the artworks are allowed to be exposed to.

Instead, the team used different counting systems, harnessed information from the use of multi-media headsets and took into account seasonal patterns and major exhibitions in galleries elsewhere in the city to create a predictive formula. As a result, they introduced an online dynamic timed ticket system, which releases more tickets at times of lower demand. They made sure the gallery space was optimised by stimulating conversion to temporary exhibitions, improving signage and providing extra multi-media stops.

They manage expectations by emailing customers before and after their visit with a personalised video, warning visitors that there is a no photography policy and limiting the size of groups. Their implemented strategy has decreased waiting times at the entrances and cloakroom, as well as reducing bustle in the galleries, while customer satisfaction improved to 90%.

Tom Jenkins, ETOA’s CEO said: “Our City Fair Conference provided delegates with fascinating takeaway insights on how to better manage visitor flows and improve customer experience. Recently, the public conversation with regards to increased visitor demand at certain sites or at peak times has lost sight of the long-term interests of visitors and residents in a polarised and over-simplistic debate. Our conference has re-set the agenda and provided detail on some realistic solutions which could relieve pressure on attractions and infrastructure.”