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Using Space Technologies to Deliver Sustainable Rural Tourism

Rural Tourism 5.0 (RT5.0) is a next generation travel planning ‘eco-algorithm’, designed to improve the visitor experience, impact on the environment, and the economic output of rural tourist destinations.

The new technology embraces an “attract and disperse” agenda, with the aim of spreading demand across visitor attractions, accommodation, and food and beverage merchants without diminishing existing levels of business. Developed over 2 years, with a 6-month visitor engagement program scheduled for Spring and Summer 2024, RT5.0 will encourage people to shift to public transport. It also aims to address ‘fly parking’ (parking in undesignated roadside and off-road areas, especially at popular holiday times) which causes problems for communities, businesses, and visitors alike.

As part of the RT5.0 project a web-based travel assistant application for use by visitors to Cumbria and Cornwall has been commissioned. The travel assistant will promote recommended routes and low-carbon travel plans, including public transport itineraries that also incorporate cycling and walking.

The service will be easily embedded in websites and linked to from marketing communications and promotional collateral. Uniquely, it will address the issue of fly parking using data from satellite imagery as part of a new eco-algorithm, designed to help reroute visitors around congested hotspots, and redistribute peak time demand by promoting viable alternatives to travelling by car.

Image: RT5.0 travel assistant using satellite imagery to recommend low-carbon routes

Balancing Growth with Environmental Sustainability

Providing viable family friendly multimodal choices, and nudging tourist behaviours towards active travel to and from rural destinations, has the potential to dramatically reduce the sectors carbon footprint. Stakeholders believe the space enabled RT5.0 travel assistant service can help manage increasing demand, alongside maintaining the biodiversity and attractiveness of the natural environment. In this way, RT5.0 is expected to help balance environmental sustainability with economic growth, benefiting visitors, host communities, and the planet.

The potential financial return on investment could be significant. The UK government acknowledges that developing rural tourism and supporting services is key to long-term economic and social welfare. It’s estimated that the north and southwest of England account for 23% of the UK tourism economy, generating £21.7bn in 2018. To successfully boost growth and overcome tourists’ perceived dependency on travelling by car, which was compounded by the pandemic, there is a collective desire to create more engaging ways of enhancing visitors’ overall experience. Understanding the pressure on access points to areas of outstanding natural beauty and helping visitors to enjoy points of interest without creating pinch-points and bottlenecks is integral to the project.

Rural Tourism 5.0 is being led by travel demand management platform ‘You. Smart. Thing.’ with support from Geospatial Insight, who are working alongside Cumbria Tourism and Visit Cornwall to deliver the service. The project is being co-funded by the European Space Agency under its Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems 4.0 (ARTES 4.0) Business Applications – Space Solutions funding stream.

Gill Haigh, MD of Cumbria Tourism said,

“It’s fantastic to be working with partners on this innovative project which uses space technology to help manage the flow of visitors, helping direct them to the less explored areas of the county for the economic benefit of all. It will also encourage visitors to plan ahead, consider more sustainable modes of transport and play their part in helping to protect our world class environment for everyone.”

Malcolm Bell, CEO, Visit Cornwall adds,

“Many destinations, including Cornwall, have experienced pressue in the honeypot locations of their destination. It’s our responsibility to ensure that local communities do not suffer from over tourism but to assist them in accommodating more visitors, to boost the local economy and employment. We see this pilot application as a key tool to have a win-win solution for delivering an attract and disperse approach to sustainable and regenerative tourism.”

Dave Fox, CEO, Geospatial Insight commented,

“This is a great opportunity to implement our established AI-based car identification and classification module into an innovative project, as it highlights the wide-ranging applicability of our model and the potential of high-resolution satellite data to solve practical problems. By leveraging satellite data, we aim to help visitors navigate away from hotspots and fully enjoy the natural beauty of these popular tourist destinations.”

‘You. Smart. Thing.’ CEO, Chris Thompson, explains the additionality the service will bring to their platform,

“We are delighted to be supporting two of the UK’s leading Destination Management Organisations in balancing visitor experience and economic growth with environmental sustainability. Using space-based technologies in this way will help to continually enhance our routing algorithm and offer travel options that are optimised to help achieve regional objectives. It represents a step-change in the purpose and utility of travel planning services.”

Editors Notes

Hashtags: #LifeIsaTripOut #Tourism, #Sustainability, #Cornwall, #ThePerfectPlaceToBe

About ‘You. Smart. Thing.’

The ‘You. Smart. Thing.’ (YST) travel assistant interface plugs into websites or smartphone apps, to offer pre-configured transport modes and routes that help manage people- flow and minimise overcrowding. For larger venues it can also integrate with ticketing and CRM systems and booking flows, streamlining box office management and customer engagement.

Curating their trip minimises visitors’ carbon footprint whilst enhancing their overall experience. Visitors receive email or SMS updates in the event of delays or disruption, and operational teams get granular GDPR-compliant information about who is coming, where from and how, creating a communication tool and valuable dataset for better informed decisions.

‘You. Smart. Thing.’ was developed in association with the Department for Transport and is currently being rolled out across the UK, helping to rebuild audiences and a thriving cultural economy by actively promoting sustainable travel to venues and events.  |

About Geospatial Insight

Geospatial Insights (GSI) harness advances in Earth observation image capture, and apply human intelligence through machine learning, to enable the rapid analysis of risk- and climate-related change at any location across the globe. With a focus on building rapidly scalable and flexible AI architectures, GSI create information products that are accurate, consistent, and reliable.  |

About Cumbria Tourism

As the destination management organisation for the Lake District and Cumbria, Cumbria Tourism’s priority is to maximise the reputation of the Lake District, Cumbria and support our member businesses in:

  • Growing staying visitors, increasing the length of stays and increasing visitor spend
  • Lobbying for businesses regionally, nationally and globally
  • Increasing the number of people visiting less well-known areas of the Lake District, Cumbria
  • Increasing the reputation of – and economic value to – Cumbria as an all-year-round destination
  • Investing and creating new sustainable tourism product to inspire both new and repeat visitors  |

About Visit Cornwall

Visit Cornwall is the destination management organisation for Cornwall. It provides a host of business and marketing services to tourism-related businesses including the promotion of Cornwall’s tourist attractions, accommodation, beaches, things to do, and what’s on.  |

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