Blog post

From Smart Cities to Smart Tourism

Learn how smart technology revolutionizes the way tourists are experiencing cities and new destinations

October 06, 2020

6 mins read

Tourism has always been a multi-billion-dollar business, with hundreds of millions of people traveling around the world every year. In 2019, the total contribution of traveling and tourism accounted for 10.4% of the global GDP.

The direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in leading countries worldwide in 2019 (in billion U.S. dollars)

From Smart Cities to Smart Tourism
Source: Statista

A fast-growing sector, tourism is far from immune to technological advancements. Augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things, next-gen 5G connectivity, and other technologies are reshaping how people travel and experience new destinations.

What is smart tourism?

A tech buzzword of the last decade, “smart” has been applied to everything from mobile phones and TVs to factories and production sites. In the context of traveling, smart tourism refers to the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to transform business models and facilitate access to hospitality, while generating new revenue opportunities.

Inspired by IBM’s idea of the “Smarter Planet”, the smart tourism concept came into being when the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) officially launched an initiative to transform tourism into a technology- and knowledge-intensive modern industry.

Today, smart tourism is gaining traction across the world as more and more countries heavily invest in this sector, turning it into a competitive advantage. That said, smart tourism relies on a larger concept of smart cities that provide the necessary infrastructure and resources to win over digital-savvy tourists.

Smart cities are paving the way for the future of tourism

In a broad sense, a smart city is an urban area that leverages technology to transform its core systems and improve its operational efficiency. The ultimate goal of any smart city initiative is to provide an intelligent, connected infrastructure and engage all stakeholders into a holistic ecosystem to improve citizen services and create better living environments.

In 2011, IBM officially registered the trademark “smarter cities”, heralding the company’s strong intention to contribute to the next generation of urban evolution. According to IBM’s vision, the essence of a smart city is constituted by three I’s:

  • Instrumentation refers to the extensive use of sensors, meters, connected devices to collect real-time data.
  • Interconnection means integrating different services into a unified system and bringing this valuable data together.
  • Intelligence refers to the use of advanced analytics to model patterns and potential outcomes, and make informed decisions.

According to the definition above, intelligent infrastructure is key to unlocking the full potential of a smart city and preparing for the tourism of the future. By leveraging cloud-based and edge computing, connected applications transmit, analyze, and manage real-world data, empowering governments, businesses, and communities with deep insights. This real-time 360-degree view can further translate into better energy resource management, more efficient trash collection, decreased traffic congestion, and better competitiveness.

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These benefits are not lost on forward-thinking cities that have already made smart tourism a part of their digital transformation roadmap.

Meet smart tourism cities

Pyeongchang, South Korea

One example of smart tourism cities is Pyeongchang, which hosted the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The city became a live stage for cutting-edge 5G technology that opened new opportunities for visitors, like 4K video streaming, VR/MR broadcasting, and 360-degree video. The most tech-centric Olympics to date also featured AI-powered translation robots, self-driving buses, and patrolling drones.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Having recognized the value of digital transformation, Middle Eastern countries also make the move to put themselves on the map as smart tourism destinations. Mecca is on the fast track to becoming a world-class smart city. Already a popular tourist spot for millions of visitors, Mecca launched a smart tourism project aimed at ensuring better pilgrim experiences and services. The plan includes the use of smart transport cards, better surveillance measures, as well as AI and IoT to connect arriving pilgrims to medical services if needed.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Driven by the ambitious goal to emerge as a world-leading city by 2021, Dubai has implemented over 1000 smart services and initiatives to promote technological advancements for the benefit of residents and visitors. One such example is the smart tourism guide solutions that leverage NFC tags to help tourists with effortless city navigation. Another initiative is the smart parks with VR learning centers and solar-powered smart benches that allow visitors to charge their mobile devices.

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Key elements of smart tourism

In addition to its technological foundation, smart tourism encompasses various layers and components. According to some research, there are three pillars of smart tourism — smart destination, smart business, and smart experiences.

The expression ‘smart destinations’ refers to the integration of ICT into the physical infrastructure to provide mobility, allocate resources, and ensure sustainable quality of life for residents and visitors. ‘Smart business’ means the digitalization of core processes and the creation of a complex ecosystem with close public-private collaboration in order to exchange resources and co-create touristic experiences. And finally, the ‘smart experience’ component refers to enhancing and enriching experiences through personalization, real-time monitoring, and context-aware services.

From Smart Cities to Smart Tourism

Smart tourism solutions

There is no shortage of ways that governments, businesses, and communities can leverage innovative technology in tourism to achieve their goals. Here are some of these solutions:

Smart ticketing

Smart ticketing solutions enable a more efficient and integrated way for travelers to use public transport. These solutions can include smart cards, NFC mobile payments, ticketing kiosks, ticket wallets, and more.

Smart mobility

Smart urban mobility solutions bundle up different transport modes like public transport, ride-hailing services, and shared-mobility services into one platform, enabling travelers to seamlessly compare options, routes, schedules, and costs.

Smart security services

Safety can never be an afterthought in a smart city. Connected cameras, public safety monitoring solutions, intelligent road systems, and the like can add an extra layer of security and emergency support for residents and visitors.

Augmented and virtual reality

With the ability to overlay computer-generated images over the real-world view, AR can significantly improve the navigation experience and provide location-aware guidance. VR too can be leveraged to create interactive virtual tours or to visualize and collaborate on smart city design concepts and architectural decisions.

Smart city bots

AI-powered intelligent chatbots can become reliable city assistants. Integrated with smart tourism apps, intelligent chatbots are able to manage flights and bookings, provide translation services, and deliver all the necessary information about city services, tourist attractions, events, restaurants, and more.

Crowd management solutions

As the influx of tourists is increasing, crowd management becomes one of the top priorities for smart cities to ensure a pleasant and safe experience for tourists. Smart crowd management solutions leverage multiple technologies, including beacons, motion sensors, RFID tags, and AI-powered cameras to monitor traffic patterns and keep crowds under control.

Wrapping up

Smart and sustainable tourism is the future as countries across the world launch respective initiatives to gain a competitive edge. Supported by cutting-edge technologies like IoT, big data, artificial intelligence, and augmented and virtual reality, smart tourism solutions make cities more accessible and discoverable while significantly enhancing tourist experiences.


Intellias brings to the table its multi-year experience in driving digital transformation for smart cities through next-gen data-driven solutions that improve the quality and sustainability of a smart destination. Get in touch with our experts to discuss your business needs and develop a roadmap for achieving them.

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