Data-driven tourism
Joshua Ryan-Saha

By Joshua Ryan-Saha, Data-Driven Innovation Lead, Tourism & Festivals

The tourism sector is integral to both the Scottish economy and our country’s reputation on the global stage. Data-driven innovation has the potential to boost the tourism sector and the entire regional economy.

So where should we start with applying new data approaches?

  1. Trust. The integrity and reputation of a travel destination depends on visitors consistently enjoying their experience. The rise of fake news and fake reviews has made it difficult for visitors to know what to trust when choosing and booking a holiday. There are some interesting approaches being tested. Amassing text data means ‘unnatural reviews’ are now being unmasked on Amazon and other sites.
  2. Rising costs. The prices of staff and raw materials are increasing. Tourism is a sector made up of mostly small companies with tight turnover. Data science has a role to play in relieving this pressure. From optimising a restaurant’s perishable stock, to Fisher’s intelligent bedsheets, data has been shown to improve the efficiency of the supply chain in the tourism sector.
  3. Overcrowding. In August, Edinburgh’s Old Town gets very busy. Traffic increases, making it harder for everyone to get to where they want to be. The invisible burden on our infrastructure is what we haven’t yet quantified. Using data science to understand and predict typical visitor flows and transport demand could help move visitors to underserved destinations across the city region.
  4. Local Residents. The relationship between visitors and local residents is under strain. Noise, house prices, short-term lets, traffic, and new developments have all at times attracted the ire of those who call Edinburgh their home. We need to find ways to empower local residents using data. Barcelona provided families with sensors to measure the level of noise in the wee hours. Using this information they advocated for change to rubbish collection times and earlier closing times.
  5. Forecasting. Forecasting models that give better insight into when, why and how many visitors arrive over the short, medium and long term could unlock huge productivity gains for the whole industry. It could help us build a case for investment in infrastructure or better manage staff rotas, change opening hours and develop new business ideas.

The city region has all the necessary ingredients to bring data to life for the tourism sector. The University of Edinburgh’s Schools of Informatics and Geosciences are world-leading. It is the home of Skyscanner and a burgeoning travel tech sector. Perhaps most exciting of all is the investment from the City Region Deal Programme.

We recently held two workshops. One with Travel Massive Edinburgh and Interface that brought together 40 travel professionals to explore the challenges facing the tourism sector. The second brought together interested academics to bring about a smart, sustainable tourism industry in the region.

Join our new LinkedIn group to take part in the conversation! 

This is an abbreviated version of the full article by Joshua Ryan-Saha - read it here. The University of Edinburgh is partnering with Heriot-Watt University to deliver the landmark Data-Driven Innovation Programme, part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. Its aim is to attract investment, fuel entrepreneurship, contribute to inclusive growth – and establish the City Region as data capital of Europe.

If you’re interested in finding out how Interface can support data driven tourism projects, email Lesley Judge:


14 February 2019