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Digital Tourism – #DEMOfestNorth

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Yesterday, I attended DEMOfest North - a "a technology showcase of leading Informatics and Computer Science research" held at my workplace, Robert Gordon University.

I joined the Digital Tourism workshop (= my background / interest!) which had a great line-up of speakers (both academic and industry), and lively debate on current tech and research projects around smart tourism. There were ample examples on how digital technology can enhance the visitor experience by solving a real, practical issue. For instance, RGU's Living History project uses NFT (near-field communications) to deliver information at Historic Scotland's unstaffed sites, such as at Tolquhon Castle in Aberdeenshire (see below, thanks Google Auto Awesome for the animated gif!).

 

DEMOfest North

Other noteworthy digital tourism projects introduced at DEMOfest North were:

  • CURIOS - linked data / semantic web and its potential for smart tourism (University of Aberdeen)
  • SMART and LADDIE - augmented reality / displays to bring sites such as St Andrew's Cathedral to life (University of St Andrews)

Digital Tourism - Smart Beacons

Finally, probably my favourite project was RGU's Smart Beacons and its associated proximity aware technology, Neatebox. The technology delivers location-specific content but not via Wifi or GPS, but instead via Bluetooth low energy beacons. It's currently being trialled at the National Museum of Flight.

The technology is impressive because of three factors:

(1) It doesn't reinvent the wheel

Museum of Flight
CC image courtesy of Dutch Simba on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dutchsimba/)

Digital tourism initiatives can suffer from a siloed approach (e.g. development of multiple costly apps / websites, which are each only used by a small number of people and so on). And digital technology itself can be unwieldy or rely too heavily on gadgetry (Google Glass, unwieldy VR headsets, 'smart fridges' etc.).

The Smart Beacons on the other hand just use a medium of delivery that is already in billions of users' pockets -their smart phones.

Yes, nothing innovative as such but what is innovative is that it doesn't rely on WiFi or GPS signals (see next point).

(2) It doesn't need Wifi / GPS, instead using BLE tech

A stumbling block in digital tourism is actually connecting to a signal. For instance, various remote locations in Scotland don't have fast internet / WiFi or indeed a mobile phone signal.

Additionally, foreign tourists will be more hesitant to use their smartphones abroad due to higher roaming costs incurred. Free WiFi abroad tends to be location-specific (e.g. the accommodation you're staying in) and often insecure and / or with a choppy signal.

Smart Beacons via Neatebox does away with that as it uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology.

(3) It's inclusive - a one-fit solution

Gavin Neate, the guy behind Neatebox, used to work as a dog trainer for people who are blind and visually impaired, and his inspiration came from seeing disabled people using their smartphones and its built-in assistive technologies in a highly sophisticated, advanced way. He argued in the workshop that advances in the last 5 years (especially championed by Apple but also Samsung) have for the first time created a level playing field where everyone - disabled or not - can use digital technology via smart devices effectively.

iPhone VoiceOver
CC image courtesy of Brett Jordan on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/x1brett/)

The key here is that the technology isn't optimised for a section of society (e.g. able bodied people) which then needs to be 'adapted' to disabled people, but that it's inclusive from the start.

It reminded me of current thinking in digital marketing - we mustn't, for example, design a website for desktop and then another version for mobile viewing - instead all web development should be device-agnostic (responsive design) and user-centric right from the start.

Using that comparison, you could say that Neatebox is ability-agnostic!

Its focus on accessibility and 'one-fit' solution should also help considerably with foreign tourists - the beacons can for example understand your smartphone's language settings and deliver the information accordingly.

From a digital marketing perspective, there are plenty of other opportunities associated with the smart beacons, including metrics and tracking (e.g. time spent at each exhibit, areas visited) and promotional opportunities (personalised offers etc.). It definitely has plenty of scope to be developed and I would be one potential user for sure.

Having said that, I don't know what the user experience is like, but I'm already planning my visit to the National Museum of Flight to try it out!

Overall, DEMOfest North was a great showcase for research projects surrounding digital tourism in Scotland. I'll definitely be following up and trying out some tech, to experience it myself.

To find out more about Smart Tourism and the organisations involved (both Universities and private sector), visit the Smart Tourism website.

 

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