To make any concept sound exciting we tend to simply put the word smart in front of it. So, we have smart phones, smart energy, smart transport, smart agriculture, and in this article we are going to look at smart cities. But what exactly is a smart city?
A recent publication, called Smart Cities – A Roadmap for Development, offers this straightforward definition: a smart city is a city that engages its citizens and visitors, and connects its infrastructure electronically. This may be the unexciting reality behind the concept but it is what this enables that provides so many opportunities for city authorities. Being ‘smart’ allows cities to centrally manage their assets including local administrative departments, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, law enforcement, and other community services. Further, it enhances the city’s reputation as a modern, exciting place to do business and supports new digital entrepreneurs.
One area that is attracting considerable smart city interest is how to involve visitors in the concept, and in particular with attractions and places-of-interest located in different parts of the city.
There are several advantages for both the smart cities themselves and the tourists, and we describe some of them here.
Benefits for cities and tourists
Beginning with the city’s resources, introducing smartness into the management of energy, transport, and other logistic functions means the city as a whole operates more efficiently. This allows the city to be run at a lower cost than might otherwise be the case, making accommodation and food outlets more cost-effective destinations for tourists. Better value means more tourists visiting the city.
Several smart city initiatives are already well-established. These include Barcelona which has implemented Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors to help monitor and manage traffic. London is also looking at smart traffic technology to try to reduce congestion, while in Oslo the emphasis is on better management of energy use. There are countless other examples and the European Commission even has a dedicated funding programme for smart city projects.
As these tourists engage with different functions such as buses, trains, hotels, restaurants, museums, and all the other attractions, they generate a data trail that the smart city can capture and follow. Privacy issues must naturally be addressed, but appropriate analysis of this data should allow cities to better plan for future tourists in terms of moving people around the city, popular attractions, and potential issues they may be having.
Additional marketing collateral is another benefit accruing to smart cities, if they engage tourists in the concept of co-creation. This would involve visitors taking pictures and recording videos around the city, and sharing this content online for others to view. High quality Internet connectivity and easy access to it would be the chief criteria for the smart city to gain from this element.
In the first instance, smart cities benefit from these examples of engaging the tourist, but equally the tourist also gains. Their costs are lower and they can move around easier. The biggest change though will probably be an enhanced visitor experience, with the city suggesting itineraries and related resources such as interactive maps and audio guides.
Smart tourism cities
So, where can a city start when it comes to making itself smart? Connecting the infrastructure electronically is relatively easy, but that is only half the definition we stated in the opening.
If you have more questions than answers regarding smart cities, you could start with this indicator which includes a grading system for city authorities to reflect on their digital policy, measure their city, and explore areas for improvement. Next, you could consider how Smart Tourism Destinations are implementing policies and initiatives to support the 6As of successful tourism: attractions, accessibility, amenities, available packages, activities, and ancillary services.
The final consideration is perhaps the most fundamental. Recall that the lifecycle of any particular digital technology is short and smart cities must plan accordingly. Rather than committing to a certain product or service, a smart city will embed a system that allows new technologies to build on existing ones rather than replacing them. In addition, truly smart cities will realise digital innovation is merely part of their ongoing evolution: they will do more than just invest in the latest technologies and ‘buy smart’. Instead they will seek to ‘be smart’ by investing time in understanding what benefits and improvements technology can offer to make the city a better experience for residents and visitors alike.