A record number of U.S. travelers visited a foreign country in 2018, and big data just may be an underlying reason behind the significant jump in tourism numbers. Reports indicate that 93 million Americans traveled outside the country in 2018, for both business and leisure. Of those international destinations, Europe saw the highest tourism numbers, with more than 17 million visitors equaling a 12.3 percent jump from the previous year.
The tourism industry is expected to remain on track, or further grow, into the near future. Tourism holds vast potential for global wealth and employment, according to Bismart, and big data can help countries and cities to better manage tourism numbers. For instance, big data analysis conducted in Spain in 2014 allowed industry leaders to identify trends such as country of origin, favorite tourist destinations, and even how much money visitors spent, and on what.
But big data is also beneficial to travelers themselves: It is being used to improve the safety of general travel, protect identities and personal information, and even track fluctuating currency exchange rates between countries, both in Europe and beyond. And in the near future, smart contracts may replace online travel agencies (OTAs) to give you a great deal on your hotel or flight in a decentralized marketplace. But, blockchain technology is just the beginning when it comes to improving and altering the travel industry as a whole.
Safety and Identity in the Realm of International Travel
Safety is of paramount importance for every international traveler, no matter the destination or reason behind the trip. If you’re a U.S. citizen planning a European visit in the near future, rest assured that visiting the continent comes with very little risk. In fact, Smarter Travel reports that 7 of the 10 safest destinations for U.S. travelers are located in Europe, with Ireland coming out on top.
At the crux of safety among European travelers is big data, as information sharing and data collection software are being used to improve security across the EU as a whole. The continent’s largest information sharing system for security and border tracking management is known as the Schengen Information System (SIS), and, interestingly, Ireland is one of only two countries in the EU that are not connected to the SIS.
The main purpose of the SIS is to cultivate a safer EU and heighten border security, for both travelers as well as citizens. The comprehensive database contains about 79 million personal records and statistics. Any terrorism alerts or threats are complied into the SIS database, which is also used for identity documents as well as lost or stolen objects. In 2017, the SIS was consulted more than 5 billion times.
Analytics, Big Data, and Tourism
Physical safety is just one aspect of security afforded to European travelers via big data, however. In the EU, data privacy is of paramount importance whether you’re accessing the internet via your smartphone, a computer in your hotel’s lobby, or another device. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in 2018, giving European citizens nearly unlimited access to their personal information.
And when it comes to “personal information,” your collected data goes way beyond basic identifiers such as your full name, address, and alma mater. Records requested by a New York Times writer in 2018 contained myriad bits of personal information, from internet articles read to restaurant reservations made and spending habits. In total, the writer’s GDPR request netted 200 rows of personal data and 343 rows of assigned consumer marketing segments.
It’s important to note that the GDPR won’t protect your personal data from marketing schemes or the possibility of identity theft — it simply gives EU citizens the ability to have greater transparency when it comes to who is utilizing their personal data, and why. And, keep in mind that the tracking of spending habits isn’t as innocent as it may seem. In the realm of tourism and online booking, marketing categorization could limit your options when it comes to lodging, dining and flight options, and more.
International travel has always been a pastime for Americans with disposable income. However, the modern travel landscape has changed considerably with the advent of the internet and the spread of blockchain technology. Big data helps keep us safe from the moment we board our plane to the EU, and even keeps our borders more secure. Further, thanks to data, we can compare hotel fees and amenities from the comfort of our living room, and look up currency exchange rates while en route to our European vacation destination.