Enhancing visitor experiences: new digital technologies for public spaces


8 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Placemaking

Digital Insights

Lockdown has bestowed uncertainty upon us all. So, understandably, as we return to familiar public spaces, we find our perceptions of those neighbourhoods, town centres and transport systems are not so familiar. Similarly, our relationships with the places where we used to seek an escape – our holiday destinations – have changed. Indeed, recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that only 9% of adults are likely or very likely to go on holiday abroad this summer and only 28% will do so in the UK this year. All of which stems from uncertainty, and rocks economies.

Despite this apparent reluctance to travel, many ‘social distancing-friendly’ destinations such as cottages, caravan sites and holiday parks are booked up. Some are even seeing higher bookings for next year than they would ordinarily. The South West and Lake Districts are proving so popular that more tourists have visited in August than the local facilities can cope with — causing overcrowding, resentment amongst communities, damage to the environment and reducing visitor satisfaction overall. This is a difficult situation for place leaders entrusted with supporting the visitor economy, place-based recovery and growth.

At the time of writing, quarantine rules continue to change (e.g. France, Malta, Spain, and Belgium were removed from the UK’s ‘safe’ list), which makes overseas travel uncertain for holidaymakers and businesses. The ONS found that 20% of UK adults reported cancelling travel plans after discovering the need to self-isolate for two weeks upon returning from abroad. 

With this uncertainty and threats of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections, how can digital technologies support people’s engagement with places, and consequently improve the visitor economies of many towns and cities? I’m particularly interested in this area as Calvium has developed an innovative digital placemaking solution that is both a place assurance companion for visitors and a visitor management system for place management professionals. I’m presently working on the launch of the Place Experience Platform for towns and cities, and shall be sharing more information in the coming weeks.

As part of my research for the Place Experience Platform I’ve discovered a range of new digital tools that have been developed to support visitors at each stage of their holiday journey, be it a day trip to the nearby town or a sunny fortnight abroad. So, this article is inspired by all those valuable digital tools that are intended to alleviate the evolving uncertainty of the visitor experience lifecycle.

Researching Places To Visit

Choosing a destination is the first step to every traveller’s journey. Today, however, it’s not as easy as having a destination in mind and researching some flights and hotels online. Now, travel and health restrictions are significant factors to consider. Here are three digital resources that provide much needed travel restriction data and coronavirus stats:

  • COVID-19 International Travellers Guide — Created by C-trip, the COVID-19 International Travellers Guide is an app that can help tourists with up-to-date travel restrictions, immigration policies, and airline policies for each country or region. This travel guide can be accessed through its site version, on the App Store, and Google Play Store.
  • Re-open EU — To slowly but safely re-open EU to both internal and external visitors, The Commission created Re-open EU, an interactive map that details travel restrictions (e.g. flights, public transport), public health measures (e.g. face mask requirements), and destinations that are open (e.g. bars, restaurants) in each member state. As a web platform, users can access this easily whether they are using a desktop or a mobile device. It’s also available in all 24 official EU languages.
  • Sitata — This app is hailed as one of the most comprehensive travel and health safety apps developed because of the outbreak. Created not just for travellers but also for travel advisors, this COVID-19 checker tool uses AI to collect the latest data from the WHO, Johns Hopkins CSSE, ProMED, and several public health departments to show updated coronavirus statistics and travel restrictions worldwide. While it’s available for both iOS and Android devices, users can also add an embed code on their website or simply use the web platform itself.

Choosing a location on the day

These days, travellers need to dedicate more time to create their on-the-day itineraries.The good news, however, is that there are tools available to check whether places are safe to visit ahead of time:

  • Safe Space Indicator — With the government encouraging us to start visiting our high streets again, we need to know whether social distancing is possible in these areas. The Safe Space Indicator, created by Proximity Features, measures the footfall and popular times in town centres—two examples being Retford and Worksop—so shoppers can make an informed decision as to whether it’s safe for them to make that trip or reschedule.
  • PlayasApp — Marbella, a paradise for beach lovers, is one of Spain’s international tourist attractions. To control visitor capacity in its 26 beaches, the Marbella City Council created the PlayasApp which uses AI to gather real-time footprint on its coastline. This can help users check if beaches are full. It’s available for free from the Play Store and App Store.

  • BCP Beach Check — Back in June, Bournemouth saw thousands of visitors crowding the beach to seek relief from the heatwave. To prevent this from happening again, the BCP Council launched the BCP Beach Check app which predicts congestion levels on their beaches every hour, so people will know which areas to avoid. It’s available for Android and Apple devices.

Smooth check-ins

Upon arrival at a pub or restaurant, visitors are expected to provide their names and contact details to comply with the government’s requirement for hospitality businesses to gather data about their customers. To minimise this interaction, visitors in Norwich and Norfolk can now check-in with just their smartphones – a great example of how digital tools are being used to create a less intrusive or jarring visitor experience.

The Norwich Business Improvement District, in partnership with Thyngs, created a GDPR-compliant check-in and touch-free solution. Upon arriving at the venue, customers can scan a QR code using their phone’s camera where they can then submit their details—all in under a minute. The same data will then be sent to the NHS Test and Trace in the event that a customer tests positive for COVID-19. 

Enjoying places safely

Place Management Consultant, Martin Blackwell, is behind the location-based digital game ‘MonsterHero Safari’ that has been created for families to have fun on the high street – while supporting NHS Charities Together. The safari consists of 10 vinyl monster superhero characters placed in various shop and venue windows; families can collect each character on their smartphones as they go on a treasure hunt about the high street. This game shows how digital experiences are fun for all the family and can attract visitors back to town centres.

I mentioned Calvium’s new Place Experience Platform earlier, so now is an opportune time to say a little bit more. It is a new digital product for place managers entrusted with supporting the visitor economy and combines the Place Experience App and the Place Experience System.

A place manager creates unique stories, maps and information for visitors to enjoy through their smartphone

The Place Experience App provides compelling content about a place to visitors; combining wayfinding, storytelling & real-time information about a destination – all while providing a responsive and personalised visitor experience. The up-to-date information about the place ensures an efficient and easy visitor experience. 

The Place Management System puts control of the visitor experience into the hands of place managers. The ability of place managers to create content, and design and map the trails means that visitors can be drawn away from busy thoroughfares and bottlenecks that cause long wait times and clustering, strain infrastructure and damage assets. As such, the experiences of a destination’s visitors, residents and businesses are radically improved.

The Place Experience Platform is inspired by Calvium’s deep experience of digital placemaking innovation with prestigious organisations such as City of London, Battersea Power Station Development Company, National Trust and Bristol City Council.  

Digital Tech Supporting our Safe Return to Public Spaces

These are just a few of the many digital solutions that are available to help visitors have a safe, secure and hugely enjoyable experience when out and about on holiday, or for a day trip. The rapid adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic has changed the expectations of visitors and how they wish to interact with destinations. Digital technologies are helping them at every stage of their journey, and should therefore play a large part in the place strategies of all place leaders.

By harnessing the power of digital technologies to drive place-based recovery and growth, the overall experience of visitors, communities, and businesses will significantly improve. 

If you wish to learn more about the Place Experience Platform or how Calvium’s digital placemaking services can support your own town or city, call us at +44 (0) 117 226 2000 or email hello@calvium.com

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