Not satisfied with simply being a busy transportation hub, the Spanish city of Málaga has taken advantage of its technology companies to turn itself into a smart city that attracts more and more visitors with the image of a smart tourism destination.
What is “smart tourism”?
“Smart tourism” is a new term which describes the increasing dependence of destinations and travelers on emerging forms of information and communication technologies using large amounts of data to bring added value to customers. Smart tourism is developed on the basis of applying modern science and technology achievements, especially information and communication technology to meet travelers’ demands.
Smart tourism destinations are usually smart cities with advanced technology infrastructure that ensures sustainable development while making it easy for visitors to access, increasing the quality of the visitor’s experience and enhancing residents’ life quality. One of the “smartest” cities in the world is Guangzhou (China), where people barely carry cash when going out as all services from taxis, bicycle rental, grocery shopping, food and beverage are taking advantage of information technology for reservation and payment.
How did Málaga make use of “smart tourism”?
Málaga is Spain’s sixth-largest city with a population of 1.1 million and can also be addressed as “Málaga Valley”. Since various technology companies, either from Spain or from foreign countries, continue to rise at Málaga Tech Park, which is just 15 kilometers from the city center, Málaga can apply technological solutions to its infrastructure to support people’s lives and become a smart city.
Realizing that technological solutions will lead to sustainability and environmental protection in general, Málaga has strategically planned to bring these elements into the tourism industry to attract visitors. Taking advantage of the technology companies available there, Málaga begins to develop solutions and applications that make the experiences in the traveler journey easier and more convenient than ever.
First, Málaga launches the EMT Málaga application for the bus system. This application allows visitors to easily find the nearest bus stop, necessary bus routes to reach a certain location, when the next bus arrives. Furthermore, the application also integrates Augmented Reality (AR) technology to support the authenticity of the features in the application.
Furthermore, the city organizes a contest to encourage entrepreneurs and technology companies to propose new initiatives to develop the city’s tourism. With the winning idea from this contest, Málaga created a smart travel guide application called Málaga Travel Guide, which contains automated recordings to introduce different tourist attractions in the city. Therefore, sightseers are able to peacefully stroll around the city by themselves without any local guide, which means it helps visitors ensure social distance as well as have a private and authentic experience.
Costasoleando, which is a crowd control application, is another spotlight emphasizing how Málaga utilizes technology to develop smart tourism. With this app, the beaches in the city can avoid overcrowding, which leads to forced closure for safety. According to the local authority, this application will use predictive algorithms based on artificial intelligence and data collected from sensors and staff working at the coast, thereby providing in hourly intervals, the current occupancy rate, air temperature, water temperature, wind speed and direction, etc. This solution not only helps the authorities to ensure social distancing measures are being taken, to keep the beach open all day but also to help visitors become more proactive in arranging their schedule in a reasonable and safe approach.
During the challenging phase, Málaga created a website to provide both visitors and residents with the most authentic and latest information and data about the current situation of the city, and to ensure travelers’ safety and confidence in coming back. The localities also work closely with the airport and the train station to create a safe corridor for arriving tourists, whether they were using municipal buses or taxis, all the way to their hotels. In addition, Málaga also signed an agreement with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to pilot “digital passport”, which displays up-to-date information that makes contact tracing easier and perhaps even lessen the mandatory quarantines many travelers currently face.
After decades of digital transformation, Málaga has become a popular urban destination that keeps attracting more and more tourists from just a transportation hub. The number of tourist arrivals in Málaga has increased to 3 million in 2019, making it a rising star of smart tourism destinations.
In 2020, the tourism industry in Spain was one of those hit most severely by the pandemic. However, Málaga, together with Gothenburg of Sweden, was still named as the winner of the 2020 European Capital of Smart Tourism competition. The award was the strongest recognition, showing that the city’s development strategies and initiatives have really helped both residents and visitors, and provide a solid foundation for restoring travel and tourism post-pandemic.