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Eleonora Lorenzini, Director of the Travel Innovation Observatory at Politecnico di Milano, takes us on a journey to explore the concept of a smart destination.

The essence of “smart” destinations lies in their effectiveness in implementing cutting-edge, data-driven strategies and practices to optimise flows and advance sustainability.

Together, we discussed:

  • What is the Travel Innovation Observatory?
  • What does it mean to be a smart destination?
  • What role does data play in the process of becoming a smart destination?
  • How many Italian destinations are considered ‘smart’?
  • What are the most common challenges in achieving this status?

Starting with the Travel Innovation Observatory, organised in partnership with Data Appeal. What is the aim of the Observatory?

The Observatory, founded in 2014, is a reference point in Italy for understanding the opportunities arising from innovation in tourism to support businesses, destinations, and public administration throughout their innovation journey.

The Observatory uses qualitative and quantitative research methods to get an insight into the present status and future outlook of innovation in the travel sector, encompassing supply and demand.

The annual activities are built upon three primary pillars:

  • Researching and sharing updated data and innovative analyses to comprehend the current state and prospects of innovation in the travel industry.
  • Informed and current engagement with key market stakeholders.
  • Effective external communication through informative events and media coverage, aiming to share knowledge across the entire sector.


This year’s focus was the concept of smart destinations. What does this terminology mean for Politecnico, and in your opinion, what elements are indispensable for a destination to become a smart destination?

As part of its research activities this year, the Observatory introduced a particular focus on smart destinations. The aim was to analyse the value chain of destinations and grasp how digitalisation and data-driven innovation can aid in destination management and enhance territorial sustainability.

Data plays a pivotal role in the destination value creation processes, serving as the basis for the exchange and coordination system between demand and supply facilitated by the DMO.

This is why tourist destinations are increasingly shifting towards a smart destination management model.

In other words, destinations leveraging state-of-the-art ICT technologies and employing a data-driven approach to develop an efficient tourist offering, coordinate diverse stakeholders, and encourage sustainable long-term territorial development.


What role do data and data analysis play within this context? What is the most relevant data to gather, and how can it support destinations in making strategic decisions?

Data is a critical resource for developing tourism products and services, and its collection marks the initial stage in creating valuable information.

By embracing innovative technologies and systems, DMOs can gather and process substantial real-time data on a destination and how visitors and operators engage with it.

For instance, DMOs are increasingly collecting data related to the sustainability of the tourism system, considering both environmental and social aspects. As coordinators, they can illustrate how tourism impacts the destination and advocate for sustainability goals.

Being a data-driven organisation means making decisions and taking actions based on a clear understanding of real and documented situations.

Many challenges are associated with data collection and utilisation, most of which should not be underestimated.

Nevertheless, using data to interpret any phenomenon helps organisations not only to make a more significant impact but also to measure it.

At the core of a ‘data culture’ lies the ability to ask the right questions and seek answers within data that have been identified and collected for a specific purpose.

After establishing these foundations, data can empower destinations to capture and comprehend current events, respond to trends by making strategic decisions with stakeholders, and develop a vision for the future that encompasses tangible objectives related to sustainability, accessibility, and development.

smart destination


In your opinion, what is the current state of the art in Italy? Are there any destinations we can rightfully label as smart destinations, or is there still a long way to go?

We showcased several exemplary Italian case studies that have effectively implemented a data-driven approach by referring to the DMOs involved in the “Smart Destination: Analysis and Data-Driven Marketing Strategies for Tourism Operators and Destinations” workshop.

Trentino Marketing has developed efficient and effective processes for gathering, analysing, and sharing data. These processes inform historical analyses and generate predictive indicators that are valuable for shaping the destination’s tourism policies with a focus on sustainability.

The DMO Toscana Promozione Turistica has successfully forged meaningful partnerships for collecting data on visitor spending behaviours and preferences. The primary goal is to assess how the economic impact of tourism is distributed across the local area.

In Piedmont, too, guided by Visit Piemonte at the Regional Tourist Observatory, well-established practices are in place for collecting and analysing valuable data. This encompasses data derived from online interactions and behaviours.

The journey is long, but these examples show its value.


What are the typical challenges destinations may face in their journey towards becoming smart destinations, and what are the most effective solutions to overcome them?

Becoming a “smart” destination requires coordinating a comprehensive set of resources (human, technological, relational, financial, etc.).

However, the challenge is to engage all relevant stakeholders, ranging from public administrations to local operators and the community.

Working with stakeholders is essential because innovative technologies can only help a destination if everyone understands and appreciates their usefulness. For instance, installing a sophisticated sensor for detecting and monitoring flows within an archaeological park would only be effective if the park is interested in basing its strategies and initiatives on this data.

However, clear and extensive communication is often the key to overcoming this absence of collaboration and coordination among stakeholders.

For instance, Trentino Marketing has established consistent communication channels with different target groups (e.g., a Telegram channel for sharing news and messages with tourism operators). This approach has enabled them to become a focal point for the region while facilitating more efficient and rapid access to resources and expertise.

Interested in learning more about sustainable destination management?
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