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A complete success: Outdooractive Roundtable “Open Data in Tourism” at the Tourism Camp 2018

Open Data in Tourism is considered to be an essential theme of the tourism sector’s future, but its development is still in its early stages. However, in the run-up to the 11th “Tourismuscamp”, “Tourismuszukunft” initiated a roundtable on January 28, 2018 discussing open data in tourism. Next to more transparency in already existing sector projects, the roundtable focused on the active support of collaborations and integrative cooperations.

With 50 interested participants the exchange was very well attended. For the first time the event took place as part of the “Tourismuscamp”. The team of “Tourismuszukunft” had the idea of integrating a roundtable to discuss the topic of open data. In cooperation with Outdooractive the concept was created and realized. Some participants followed the instruction to come up with activities and projects in form of PechaKucha presentations regarding open and structured data, digital data acquisition, data maintenance and distribution. A PechuKucha presentation has a maximum speaking time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds – 20 slides with 20 seconds per slide. This concept posed a new challenge to most speakers, but in the end the different contributions were presented comprehensively in a short amount of time.

The presentations in short:

Florian Bauhuber, CEO of our host Tourismuszukunft, opened up the roundtable with a presentation on new developments artificial intelligence (i.e. chatbots or virtual assistants) that require a general shift in thinking. According to his prognosis, the classical destination website loses importance as an information channel for touristic content. In the future, more and more guests will inform themselves via intelligent systems. A central digital management for open data is necessary to provide an efficient data base for the numerous touchpoints and channels. Instead of websites, networked data hubs become increasingly more important. How successful a destination operates in distributing topics and information will be barely measurable via classic key performance indicators (KPI) such as accessing the own DMO website. Florian Bauhuber underlined the meaning of a coordinated collaboration in this sector by referring to a project of the Salzburger Land Tourismus Gesellschaft (SLTG) that already offers touristic information as Linked Open Data (LOD) and the declared aim of other regions of also building Knowledge Graphs in tourism.

In his presentation Outdooractive’s Martin Soutschek talked about the results of the first Think Tank that made open data in tourism a subject of discussion and was organized by the University of Kempten. The event that was initiated by Prof. Guido Sommer and took place on September 27, 2017 in the run-up to the Outdooractive Conference. One central realization during the Think Tank was also confirmed during the roundtable in Berchtesgaden: The challenges of using the potential of open data in tourism are usually not of a technical nature but rather on the organizational side. Thus, the development of a digital data infrastructure initially requires digital leadership qualities. To tackle this challenge a pilot project to test the usability and potential of open data in tourism is set to begin in March 2018 with the support of the Bavarian Ministry of Economy. All results, which were worked out by experts participating in the Think Tank, will be published in due time in form of a White Paper.

Next, Athina Fortunati – a student of the University of Kempten – presented her master thesis that focuses on the analyzation of open data of events that take place in the Allgaeu region. Among other things, it examines which sources publish events and to what extend (regarding content) as well as which business models play a role. Subsequently, on the basis of these information a concept can be developed that would improve event information via open data synergies and furthermore would avoid unnecessary data maintenance.

South Tyrol is one destination that already went through the process of rethinking demanded by Florian Bauhuber and that is now occupied with the resulting consequences. Representing IDM South Tyrol, Patrick Ohnewein introduced the innovative project Geobank from South Tyrol. The data strategy used is called “Open by Default” that is meant to develop South Tyrol as a leading residential and economic destination with a value-based focus on sustainable quality of life. The provision of an open data infrastructure is sought to be the future of a dynamic data flow that public authorities, universities and companies profit from. Thus, digital information from different sectors such as traffic, retail trade, geo data or tourism are collected via interfaces and then published via a publicly controlled organization. In South Tyrol open data is considered to be the vital basis for innovative start-ups.

Due to a prevention Detlev Klinge was unable to attend which is way Florian Bauhuber presented the “Tourismusstrategie 2025 des Landes Thüringen” (Thuringia’s tourism strategy for 2025) that involves the structure of an open data infrastructure. Its purpose is to reach the highest level of the five star concept introduced by Tim Berners-Lees. For this purpose a Knowledge Graph as Linked Open Data (LOD) on the basis of semantic web standards needs to be developed and provided for Thuringia.

Last but not least, Stefan Huber held a short presentation on a project called “Initiative zur touristischen Grundversorgung” (Initiative for a Basic Touristic Supply) that is meant to provide a simple and free of charge use of touristic data on the basis of a cloud solution of his company, hubermedia. He also gave a clear assessment on how organizational and legal aspects could be a much bigger challenge compared to the present technical difficulties. According to him, those are already solved or can be solved with appropriate expertise. The need of open and structured data becomes obvious by palpable developments such as Amazon’s Alexa and the spectrum of involved parties from economy, politics and tourism. Stefan Huber views this as a confirmation that topics such as open data in communication are difficult to convey if there is no clear and obvious use to show for.


Summary of discussions and results:

The topic of open data is relatively new for the sector, triggered the interest of all participants and caused intense discussions as some participants already provide open data, use it or apply it for projects. Different perspectives called for the need of cooperation to create structured data and to develop common standards for data exchange or the construction interoperable Knowledge Graphs as Linked Open Data. Instead of new isolated solutions, interoperable and transboundary solutions are required – and as it’s generally known, there are no boundaries for guests. The example of road blockings (i.e. of hiking and cycling paths) illustrated that competing companies – such as Komoot, hubermedia and Outdooractive – have realized the need of cooperation. Standardization requires teamwork.

It could be a common objective to initiate a solution that would gather information of e.g. road blockings on leisure tracks locally and that would be provided on a central as well as neutral open data platform with an area coverage that is as big as possible – as it’s already the case with traffic information via a TMC standard. Thus, current information on road blockings could easily be integrated in a number of applications and channels. Users would already be informed – via their chosen touchpoints/channels – about possible blockings while looking for information or planning a tour.

Questions about data quality and the responsibility of providing open data show that further exchange is required to build a common digital data infrastructure network in tourism. Especially the handling of licensing causes many questions: Data that are provided via a CCO Public Domain for example no longer require a mentioning of the source. However, this prevents transparency about who uses content at what place and how often. But exactly those information are interesting for destinations. After all, they want to provide their guests with information that arouse their interests.

The further course of discussion concentrated on the chance of providing a better quality of data through a commonly organized data maintenance and reducing duplicative work. However, this requires a great amount of trust between the participants which equally means a loss of control. Again, the legal questions controlled the conversation: What happens if open data that was originally provided by data of destinations are changed by a third party and who might have to deal with consequences? Who has to take responsibility and how are issues of liability sorted out? Next to an improved transparency regarding open data activities in tourism, the legal questions need to be clarified. The potentials of development can only be used with the required legal security. Thus, it is necessary to further discuss this topic at future events in order to continually push forward the requirements of development.

While discussing as an initiative for a standardized recording of structured data on websites, Florian Bauhuber evaluated that a strong focus to optimize would only strengthen big players such as Google, Facebook, Amazon & Co. He only foresees a real competition through Open Data. If the tourism sector should manage to organize a collaboration and build an extensive, open and interoperable data infrastructure for tourism, it could encourage competition and innovation, enable new business models and reduce the independence of the few big corporations. Others, however, assume that their independence could thereby only be strengthened more rapidly as big corporations are most likely to be the first to gratefully accept a centrally provided data infrastructure to further expand their information advantage. Thus far, no clear opinion has been established. We as Outdooractive, however, primarily see chances and despite all risks and challenges that the topic provides, we will continue to actively engage for a future with open data and – in cooperation with other players – take a clear approach and responsibility for the shaping tourism’s future.