Saturday, February 13, 2016

Intelligent Tourism: What are the Balearics doing?

While the regional government can give the impression that all it is concerned with is its arguments over the tourist tax, it does occasionally show signs of devoting itself to other tourism issues, one aspect of which is the use of technology. This said, the tourism technology equation has not been well managed over the years, and there hasn't been a great deal of evidence of improvement with the current government, as was typified by the flop with its demonstrating its tourism "escarparate turístico intelligente" showcase at London's World Travel Market. It wasn't that someone forgot to plug it in, they didn't bother taking it at all, despite making a song and dance about its appearance. The no-show, said the official version, was due to some "errors". These were due, apparently, to deficient information contained in this showcase, in particular that which town halls were meant to have input to the system, as well as poor translations. There are certain things which never get any better, and translating is one of them. What had they done? Tried putting into Google or Bing? Quite possibly.

The Balearic Tourism Agency said at the time that the information will be invaluable. It's impossible to say if it will be or it won't be. No one, apart from some ministry types and developers, has set eyes on this wonder of touristic technology. And they might not see it this year either.

This "escarparate turístico intelligente" is a system of touch screens (we are led to believe) that will give everything that could possibly be needed to be known about tourist resources in the Balearics. Where it might actually be deployed, other than at travel fairs, is another unknown. It is a project, the genesis of which was firmly with the previous government, and one goes back to 2012 when it was first being hailed as the great technological innovation of the modern tourism world.

The experience with the "escarparate" (which means showcase) might serve as something of a warning. That's because the government has this week signed an agreement for collaboration with the University of the Balearic Islands which has to do with the use of technology for tourism. Specifically, there is to be a project for the processing of "big data" in segmenting tourist product demand and individual overseas markets which provide the islands' tourists. There are also going to be multimedia projects, video projects, while market intelligence will be significantly enhanced.

If it sounds like a lot of jargon, then it probably is. But the warning should come from the fact that the "escarparate" involved, from the outset, the university. It then involved the Fundación Bit (or ParcBit, if you prefer). Which isn't to say that there aren't very good people at both the university and the technology park who can come up with some highly advanced tourism technology systems. But the fact that the "escarparate" remains a mystery requires some explaining, and it is the ministry which should be giving it. Why on earth have there been these "errors" and why has there been such a delay? Is it a case of the ministry being incapable of managing a project? Someone should say and hold up his or her hands.

Moreover, is it not about time that we heard from Biel Barceló, who is minister for innovation and research as well as for tourism, about what he's actually doing in respect of the coming-together of tourism and technology? When he appointed social media guru Benjamí Villoslada as director-general for technological development, it seemed a good move. Yet we know nothing of what Villoslada does. Indeed, apart from him being a fairly prolific user of Twitter, we never hear from him.

One element of the Fundación Bit's collaboration with the "escarparate" has been a "Twitter Report". We were first made aware of this a year ago and also made aware of the fact that tweets (almost ten million of them) had been analysed since August 2013. This is all an exercise in extracting something useful from the big data that Twitter and social media offer. But what are they doing with it? We now learn, because it has been reported this week, that a further eight million or so tweets in 2015 have been analysed. They will help to "optimise the strategy of our destination", says the director of the tourism agency, Miquel Ángel Roig. Which all sounds very impressive, but what actually is the strategy? Has it ever been elucidated?

Still, there may yet be a great deal of good to come from all of this. But it would help us all in assessing this goodness if the government were to adequately explain what it is doing with all this technological effort.

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