Smart solutions to be applied in smart cities of several sizes are already available
Two discussion sessions were performed, along with two fieldwork sessions
Braganza and Mirandela, in the north-east of Portugal, hosted a 4-day meeting of international experts to analyze the application of new technologies to tourist activity.
The first international forum on smart tourism was a great success, and it proved itself to be a significant driving force towards the promotion and development of “Smart Destinations” in regions with low population density
The first international forum on smart tourism was held on 4-7 December in the north-east of Portugal. Smart Travel 2014 gathered, in the same geographical region (the district of Braganza), world-renowned experts in the tourism sector and specialists in new information technologies.
The goal of their promoters was to hold an international event to consider the future of small and medium-sized cities, focusing on the tourism issue. It was not by chance that its motto was “Smart is the way to go”. The meeting fulfilled both its goals: on the one hand, sharing smart knowledge, experience and solutions in tourismat global level; on the other hand, appreciating local resources as well as adopting innovative technology and processes in the promotion and development of Smart Destinations in regions with low population density. And this was done from a small, little-known European region far from centres of power and from large cities. A region, however, proud of its history, with great tourist potential, with already-available smart solutions that were installed and created by local initiative and with commonly accepted concepts such as entrepreneurship, innovation, willingness to achieve one’s goals or a business-like spirit.
The historical region of Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro showed, in these few days, what it is and what it wants to be in the future. And perhaps most remarkably, its willingness to learn more from others in order to tackle future challenges with new impetus. Experts from the tourist industry, from technology and innovation fields, either from Portugal or from any other country, shared their knowledge with attendants eager to learn more about how to manage holidays, business and regional products in a smart way. In particular, tourism (after all, it was a Smart Travel meeting) was the cornerstone of the more than 20 conferences given during the meeting.
Two conference venues were available: the Teatro Municipal de Bragança (Braganza Municipal Theater) and the Auditorio Municipal de Mirandela (Municipal Auditorium in Mirandela). Conferences were attended by city representatives, public officers, hotel managers, tourist guides, restaurant managers, tourism students, researchers and executives in companies devoted to innovation and technology. Overall, more than 500 national and foreign delegates, which exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. All of them were willing to discover and share a way towards innovation that helps companies and institutions be more competitive and efficient and identify opportunities to promote technological innovation as well as economic and corporate sustainability.
In their conferences, speakers shared their knowledge on currently available smart solutions that could be applied to tourism; success case studies; new administrative approaches; technological tools for touristic products and tourist destinations; current trends and boldest, most innovative and efficient solutions; networking, etc. The take-home message implicitly shared by all speakers could be summarized as follows:
- There is no single model to be a Smart City.
- We must get on board the technology train unless we want to be left behind.
- Knowledge and solutions should be shared: this involves co-creation and cooperation
The two days were filled with conferences that tackled the integration and the junction points of many aspects that large cities in the world (Internet of Things, Big Data, etc) are facing right now. There were also glimpses of creativity and culture, urban planning, energy and environmental sustainability, economy, communication tools, introduction to markets…
There was a long, relevant list of speakers in Smart Travel 2014. There were several international guests, including Boyd Cohen, Manel Sanromà, Nick Hall, Iñigo de la Serna, David Tuinzing, Lorenzo Cantoni, Steve Lewis, Clara Soler, Rob Adams, Caroline Couret, Pablo Sánchez Chillón, Orla de Díez, Carlos Moreno (using skype from Colombia), Francis Ortiz and Francisco Morcillo. Several Portuguese speakers were also included: Alexandre Nilo da Fonseca, Joaquim Pereira, Catarina Selada, Carlos Martins, Rui Vasquez, Vítor Pereira, Artur Cristóvâo, Hélder Alves, Orlando Rodrigues and Almeida Henriques, among others. Speakers in the opening sessions should also be mentioned: the presidents of Corane (Artur Nunes) and Desteque (Duarte Moreno) as well as the mayors of Braganza (Hernâni Dias) and Mirandela (António Branco).
Boyd Cohen’s conference was particularly significant. The well-known urban strategist presented a proposal for the nort-east of Portugal to introduce a pilot project at global level, with a view to increase its development using smart possibilities.
Miguel de Castro Almeida, Secretary of State for Spatial Planning and Energy, attended the event to support it from an institutional point of view, and underscored “the relevance of a forum where subjects included in international agendas are discussed”.
Experiences: discovering the region
After two days of conferences, attendants to Smart Travel 2014 devoted the following two days to “fieldwork”. Two days of experiments devoted to the discovery of the Tras-os-Montes y Alto Douro region. The organization offered “experiencies” to know and promote the region while showcasing the tourist potential of the north-east of Portugal: gastronomy, landscape, culture, folklore, artistic heritage, nature and smart solutions as well, such as sustainable businesses and buildings. Several tour operators and journalists participated in the trips, such as Tom Rooney, the well-known Australian blogger. It was also possible to participate in the creative processes of urban artists; this was the case for Zabou (French) and Bordallo (Portuguese), each of whom left their own mark in two walls in Braganza.
Smart Travel 2014 was organized by the local development associations Desteque and Corane, and it was chaired by Vitor Pereira and Ana Fragoso. The event was streamed live online, simultaneous interpretation was provided for the conferences and room was set aside for the demonstration of product and services.
Opinions in the forum
Some of the most relevant contributions among all the speakers that gave a conference in Braganza and Mirandela, in order of appearance:
Pablo Sánchez Chillón, Political Scientist, Urban Planner and Innovation Researcher, co-founder and CEO of Eolexcitylab, Alicante
“We are still using tools from the 19th century to design cities in the 21th century (…) I am in for Policy Making: political action and decision. We must make decisions; we may make mistakes, but taking action is necessary (…) It is time for intangible values”
Steve Lewis, CEO, Founder of Living PlanIT, the award winning international technology company that licenses the PlanIT Operating System, London
“We are the Internet, it is already a part of us (…) Open software platforms should be developed so that operations and memory of rural and urban zones may be designed and strengthened, making interaction among people, places and things easier”
Boyd Cohen, Ph.D. Urban Strategist, Smart Cities, Civic Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Sharing Economy, Professor, Chile
“Six emerging trends are currently on the rise: vision, co-creation, support to social entrepreneurs, innovation, creation of innovation districts and design of sharing cities (…) I suggest the nort-east of Portugal becomes the first Smart Sharing Region in the world”
Catarina Selada, Director of ‘Cidades&Territórios of INTELI and responsible of RENER, Lisboa
“Small cities and regions should network to reach a critical mass (…) Entrepreneurial talents should be recruited (…) Four basic concepts: culture, creativity, tradition, innovation. There is no single model to become a smart city: each one has its own”
Vitor Pereira, (Founder of Conteúdo Chave, Communication and Innovation Agency), Bragança
“Large cities are searching for big solutions to big problems. But small cities have big problems as well; being less populated and having less political relevance, they need to reinvent themselves to be heard”
Clara Soler, Marketing Consultant & online communication online. CEO at @turisticate, Madrid
“Nowadays, social media and other online tools play an essential role when gathering information about tourist destinations. The traditional travel cycle has changed, now travellers get informed online beforehand. New functionalities have changed their habits”
Lorenzo Cantoni, President of IFITT - International Federation for Information Technologies in Travel and Tourism, Lugano
“Five aspects should be taken into account if you intend to become a tourist destination: identification, protection, preservation, presentation and transmission of cultural and natural heritage for the coming generations (…) Visitors should always be listened to.”
Rob Adams,Strategic Innovator. Owner Six Fingers. Author 'No Ego' & 'Ga Vreemd!’, Eindhoven
“Being different, creative and innovative in your message is essential (…) Current dogmas should not be followed to showcase opportunities and identify new conceptual models. Every problem is born with its own solution. Everything has already been invented”.
Francis Ortiz, Creative Art & Design Studios, Founder of UBIKUA, Tenerife
“The first thing to do is reach an agreement between all the members in a community, and be sure of the desire to become an intelligent destination (…) In order to bring new energy into tourism, resources must be geo-localized, visitor loyalty should be promoted and we should move back to personal contact”
Manel Sanromà, Chief Information Officer Barcelona City Council, Barcelona
“We need each other to live in a network (…) we are moving towards a urbanized world, and cities are the places where things happen. Cities are the way their people are (…) We should shift from Smart Cities to Internet of Cities. Cooperating and sharing problems and solutions is essential”.
Íñigo de la Serna, Mayor of Santander, President of FEMP and RECI, Santander
“The way we understand cities has changed. Co-creation is changing action structure: citizens may also produce services. (…) We need social leadership, not only political leadership (…) It is essential for cities to take care of one another”
Nick Hall, Managing Director, Digital Tourism Think Tank and SE1 Media, UK
“The travel cycle should be redefined: we should think as human beings, think in terms of digital experiences and also in terms of our cell phones (…) Technology is becoming more and more personal (…) Our cell phones will fit all our needs: eventually, they will become the only “wallet” we carry around”.
Carlos Moreno, Scientific Advisor of the CEO of Cofely INEO, GDFSUEZ Group and Member of CSFRS, Paris
“The most essential aspect of a smart city is its being human (…) Every city has its own identity (…) Deep changes will take place in the next 15 years. There are four technological revolutions going on at the same time. A human paradigm shift is under way”
David Tuinzing, Co-Founder of Smart Cities Strategies and founder of The Smart City Kitchen, Groningen
“Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration (…) The key points to make a shared project work are the following: set a common goal, create new products and services, be confident enough to share and develop everything in a smart way”
Caroline Couret, Co-founder and Director, Creative Tourism Network ®, Barcelona
“Tourists are completely different today, and they are now the ones in charge: they are creative, want to single out their experience and are extremely fond of “do it yourself”. Social networks must be used in order to reach them (…) Tourism agents should renew themselves (…) «How» is more important than «why»”
Francisco J. Morcillo, Planner in Urban Innovation&Project Manager. CEO in MB3 GESTIÓN, CEO in AHYSS, Badajoz
“We should keep close to each other and share our problems, create a network (…) The hardest thing is to find out which are the straightforward actions that need to be applied in every given region. According to Ferran Adrià: “Being the first is not what matters most; what really matters is knowing that what comes first is most important”
An unavoidable challenge
Is the smart phenomenon limited to large cities? Although it is true that the smart phenomenon is mostly oriented towards large cities, it should not be limited to them. It should also be applicable in regions with low population density, with different but equally serious problems: lack of development, population loss and unsustainability issues.
Small and medium cities, as well as regions far away from large metropolitan areas, need to develop smart solutions as well. This is no easy task in today’s changing world, in which new technologies are having its impact mainly in large metropolitan areas. The gap between “large” and “small” may keep growing and growing and eventually become a wall. Something should be done about that before this happens.
We think that was the goal of the Smart Travel 2014 organizers: showing how knowledge, research, technology and communication tools may be at the service of far-away regions, medium and small cities, towns and villages, with a view to finding new ways to attract investments, new citizens and creative talent; discussing how the technological world affects places other than large cities; how they should maintain their human component and be sustainable to ensure growth and prosperity; how to manage coexistence between a rural, ageing population and the new generations of digital natives. And, above all (as stated by the name of the event itself) how fostering tourism may help create this future.
The Portuguese region of Tras-os-Montes y Alto Douro has a good tourist potential to develop: heritage, culture and tradition, nature, gastronomy, leisure, local products and hotel accommodation, located in a natural, unspoiled and genuine region. Accessibility is needed above all: a nearby airport that makes it possible for visitors to travel there. It would be great if Smart Travel was to be held there again, as a large international forum of Smart Tourism for small and medium villages. Making it possible will require a certain degree of commitment by the the administrative organizations involved.