Application of smart tourism to cities

Ulrike Gretzel (UQ Business School, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia)
Lina Zhong (Beijing International Studies University, Beijing, China)
Chulmo Koo (College of Hotel & Tourism Management, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)

International Journal of Tourism Cities

ISSN: 2056-5607

Article publication date: 3 May 2016



Gretzel, U., Zhong, L. and Koo, C. (2016), "Application of smart tourism to cities", International Journal of Tourism Cities, Vol. 2 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Application of smart tourism to cities

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Tourism Cities, Volume 2, Issue 2.

One of the most far-reaching changes to society in the twenty-first century is the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The technological advancements of the past years have not only had a great impact on society, business and people in everyday contexts in cities but also particularly in relation to tourism (Koo et al., 2015). “Smart” has become an increasingly popular term to describe technological, economic and social developments fueled by smart technologies that rely on sensors, big data, open data and open API, new ways of connectivity between humans and machines and multi-device, networked exchange of information. The mobile revolution, and specifically the role of the smartphone and its many opportunities to support travel experiences (Wang et al., 2012), is especially worth mentioning in this context. Advances in wearable technologies and augmented/virtual reality are expected to further push the boundaries of what data can be collected and how it can be utilized/displayed/experienced. However, it is not so much the individual technological advances but rather the interconnection, synchronization and concerted use of different technologies that constitutes smartness (Gretzel et al., 2015a).

The term has been added to cities (i.e. smart city) to describe efforts aimed at using technologies innovatively to achieve resource optimization, effective and fair governance, sustainability and quality of life (Gretzel et al., 2015b). In connection with physical infrastructure (e.g. smart home, smart factory, smart grid, smart transportation), the focus is on blurring the lines between the physical and the digital and on fostering technology integration (Hunter et al., 2015). Smart city initiatives are popping up around the world, focussing on building smart infrastructure. Saunders and Baeck (2015) describe the pillars of smart cities as: the collaborative economy (i.e. smarter ways of using city resources; crowdsourcing (i.e. smarter ways to collect data); and collective intelligence (i.e. smarter ways to make decisions). Google Trends shows a steep increase in searches for the terms “smart city” and “smart tourism” since 2014, indicating that there is growing interest in the phenomenon. Indeed, governments around the world are investing heavily in smart city projects and there is increasing interest in harnessing such investments for tourism purposes.

In the context of tourism, smart technologies are changing consumer experiences and are generating creative tourism business models. Cloud computing, big data, mobile apps, location-based services, geo-tag services, beacon technology, virtual reality, augmented reality, and social networking services are all cutting-edge examples of smart technologies enhancing the tourism experiences and services (Wang et al., 2012). On the business side, smart tourism allows for new ways of managing tourist flows, better tourist services, new advertising models and new collaborative ventures that build on cloud services and open data to innovate beyond the traditional industry boundaries. As a result we witness the dawn of an age of smart tourism. However, it is not clear whether cities are really ready to seize the many advantages of smart tourism.

On one hand, smart tourism refers to smart destinations (Buhalis and Amaranggana, 2014), which are special cases of smart cities: they apply smart city principles and infrastructure to urban or rural areas and not only harness big data from residents but also tourists in their efforts to support mobility, resource availability and allocation, sustainability and quality of life/visits. On the other hand, smart tourism involves smart tourism experiences. Smart tourism allows tourists to better communicate and interact with and in cities to establish closer relationships with not only residents but also local businesses, local government and city attractions. In addition, smart tourism refers to a new smart tourism economy with new resources, new players and new exchange models. Consequently, smart tourism supports city development and services in a number of different ways. Constant innovation in applications of hardware, software and network developments means that the smart tourism city can respond promptly, efficiently and effectively to tourism needs and will be able to outperform competitors and maintain long-term prosperity.

The application of smart tourism specifically to cities makes a lot of sense given the high needs for infrastructure and high concentration of other resources and users necessary. The density in urban business environments further facilitates the extensive coordination and collaborations needed across different industry and government players described by Gretzel et al. (2015b). Free Wi-Fi offered by many tourism cities and the rather easily identifiable tourism precincts also help. The great variety of tourism experiences available within relatively small areas further contributes to the viability of smart tourism initiatives in cities. Most importantly, cities can serve as testbeds for smart tourism efforts before rolling them out on a larger scale. City tourism itself is experiencing unprecedented highs and continuing growth potential (UNWTO, 2012). With a tendency toward shorter and more frequent trips, cities emerge as the ideal destinations offering compelling experiences to the increasingly sophisticated/demanding travelers with many needs to be satisfied. However, as the travel news agency Skift (Oates, 2016) points out, the push toward smart tourism comes both from the traveler as well as the industry, and in particular from the destination marketing organizations (DMOs) who can establish themselves in important coordination, facilitation and governance roles within smart tourism ecosystems. In many ways, smart tourism gives power back to the DMOs in terms of structuring and marketing/branding the smart city tourism experience. In addition, smart tourism also requires connections and interactions beyond tourism itself to other governmental departments, provincial and local administrations, demanding an overall smart tourism strategy formulation at city or even regional levels. Again, DMOs are uniquely positioned to fill such roles.

Despite the fact that the application of smart tourism to cities is becoming increasingly prominent, it has not been well documented, conceptualized, critically analyzed and discussed. Therefore, this special issue attempts to identify relevant concepts and practices resulting from the “application of smart tourism to cities” in recognition of smart tourism being a new driving force for innovation, creativity and competitiveness in tourist cities. It is a small collection of articles that provide interesting insights into the latest developments in smart city tourism development and research.

“Smart tourism destinations: ecosystems for tourism destination competitiveness” provides important conceptual foundations by exploring definitions of the smart city concept and challenging the notion of what constitutes “smartness.” It specifically distinguishes hard smartness (infrastructure) from soft smartness (people and institutional factors). Based on European city case studies, it reveals that smartness emerges from innovation that relies on the interplay of people, ICTs and city leadership and translates into the delivery of smart services. Smart tourism destinations build on these smart services in their provision of attractions, accessibility, amenities, packages, activities and ancillary tourism services.

The paper entitled “Mobile tourist guide supporting a smart city initiative: a Brazilian case study” adds a Latin American perspective and explores the design of a specific mobile app within a larger smart city initiative. It illustrates the business intelligence infrastructure and tourism information system needed in order to not only provide such a tool but also to take advantage of it in terms of deriving market intelligence and managing city resources effectively.

In contrast, the “Sharing geotags on social networks: a goal-theory perspective” paper adopts a consumer perspective and looks at the factors that drive travelers’ willingness to actively contribute data, which is an essential premise of many smart tourism applications. It finds that enjoyment is the key and that privacy concerns are not a big hurdle, suggesting that travelers derive value from smart, enhanced tourism experiences.

Together, these papers provide a first attempt to firmly establish the concept of smart tourism within the city tourism literature. They provide theoretical contributions by further refining existing definitions of smart tourism, further conceptualizing smart tourism experiences and further establishing the necessary conditions for smart tourism development in cities. They offer different regional perspectives to illustrate the global spread and impact of smart tourism initiatives. They provide practical implications by presenting important case studies and application scenarios. They further outline a number of important avenues for future research. They also illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of smart city tourism development and research, with computer science, social sciences, engineering and planning needed to drive smart city tourism projects forward. However, it is also clear that in many ways the developments are still in infancy stages and that smart tourism can be expected to grow tremendously in cities across the world and eventually also in other types of destinations. As such, this special issue is just a humble beginning in the efforts to describe and promote smart city tourism theory and practice.


© International Tourism Studies Association

This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2013S1A3A2043345).

Ulrike Gretzel - Professor of Tourism at the UQ Business School, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia.

Lina Zhong - Associate Professor at the Beijing International Studies University, Beijing, China.

Chulmo Koo - Associate Professor at the College of Hotel and Tourism Management, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.


Buhalis, D. and Amaranggana, A. (2014), “Smart tourism destinations”, in Xiang, Z. and Tussyadiah, I. (Eds), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism, Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 553-64

Gretzel, U., Sigala, M., Xiang, Z. and Koo, C. (2015a), “Smart tourism: foundations and developments”, Electronic Market (forthcoming)

Gretzel, U., Werthner, H., Koo, C. and Lamsfus, C. (2015b), “Conceptual foundations for understanding smart tourism ecosystems”, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 50, pp. 558-63

Hunter, W.C., Chung, N., Gretzel, U. and Koo, C. (2015), “Constructivist research in smart tourism”, Asia Pacific Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 105-20

Koo, C., Gretzel, U., Hunter, W.C. and Chung, N. (2015), “The role of IT in tourism”, Asia Pacific Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 99-104

Oates, G. (2016), “How the rise of smart cities is impacting travel and tourism”, Skift, New York, NY, available at: (accessed March 25, 2016)

Saunders, T. and Baeck, P. (2015), “Rethinking smart cities from the ground up”, research report, Nesta, London

UNWTO (2012), “Global report on city tourism”, UNWTO, Madrid, availabe at: (accessed March 25, 2016)

Wang, D., Park, S. and Fesenmaier, D. (2012), “The role of smartphones in mediating the tourism experience”, Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 51 No. 4, pp. 371-87

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