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Smart Cities and Destinations: New Paradigms for Future of Travel and Tourism

Smart Cities and Destinations: New Paradigms for Future of Travel and Tourism

Airlines, hotel chains and other entities work together with tourism authorities and destination management organizations (DMO) to prepare for converting or bringing them closer to the concept of Smart Tourist Destination. Foto: Vasin Leenanuruksa

Dr. José Enrique Salgado Febles. Dr. in Mathematical Sciences and Professor of the Faculty of Tourism of the University of Havana.

Man has always been concerned with how to create or develop spaces and cities in the future.

Since the publication of Le Corbusier’s La Ciudad del Futuro in Paris in 1924,1 a fundamental work of modern urban and rural planning, there have been all sorts of proposals in this regard, many of them reflected in the advances of the main cities of the contemporary world.

But the fast development of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and especially the Internet, has generated a significant change in the ways in which people carry out their activities on a day-to-day basis and also in their travels.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and that number is likely to increase to more than two thirds by 2030. Cities consume a large part of the world’s energy supply and are responsible for approximately 70% of global greenhouse effect gas emissions derived from energy, which absorb heat and cause the Earth’s warming.2

More and more citizens and travelers or tourists visiting destinations use different devices to access the Internet (multi-device and in the future with IoT), especially their smartphones to keep abreast of the activities, the environment, weather, transportation or attractions of the destination and its offers, book and buy online, and with a tendency to share their experiences including those of their trips and opinions of all kinds on different social media.


ICTs open new possibilities for the interaction and administration of infrastructure, equipment and public services that increasingly tend to be digitized. These factors have updated the concepts for the development and management of cities and territories in the 21st century.

The city of the future is a SMART CITY

Today, Le Corbusier’s city of the future must evolve to be a Smart City, a smart and/or efficient city, that achieves the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other new technologies, to optimize efficiency in the management of public services and provide systematized information for decision-making in the face of major urban challenges.

The City of the Future must not only be Smart but also sustainable, capable of responding adequately to the basic needs of institutions, companies and the inhabitants themselves, both economically and in operational, social and environmental aspects.3

The UN affirms that “well-designed, compact, walkable cities with good public transport greatly reduce our per capita carbon footprint and are key to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals of which climate action is a key part.”


The Travel and Tourism sector worldwide does not stop growing. The facilities for travel by plane or cruise ship make tourism advance.

And it’s not just leisure. The overall business travel expenses of 2017-2018 are the fastest growing. In 2018 alone, 7.1% was reached and despite a slight moderation between 2019-2022, it is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2022.4 This, as the UN and other organizations already point out, generates a greater “carbon footprint.”

They are hyper-connected travelers, for whom access to the destination’s Internet and the possibility of its use is an important element when deciding where to travel, since they use the net before, during and after the trip.

Airlines, hotel chains and other entities work together with tourism authorities and destination management organizations (DMO) to prepare for converting or bringing them closer to the concept of Smart Tourist Destination.

A SMART DESTINATION (STD) according to the UNWTO (1)

It is innovative, consolidated on a cutting-edge technological infrastructure that guarantees the sustainable development of the tourist territory, accessible to all, that facilitates the interaction and integration of the visitor into the environment and increases the quality of their experience in the destination.

It also seeks to improve the quality of life of residents and involves the intensive use of new technologies, especially ICTs.

The UNWTO has just brought together in 2018, in Oviedo, Spain, public administrations, the business sector, researchers and academics, technology centers, civil society and local agents and universities worldwide to analyze and build among all the tourism model of the 21st century, as well as to share knowledge, form alliances and advance in the understanding of the key elements of Smart Tourist Destinations, a concept that characterizes the current stage of development and application of the latest technologies and concepts in the management of tourist destinations.

One of the organizations that has promoted and developed the theory, concepts and methods of evaluation on the SDs is Spain’s SEGITTUR (2); they and other authors point out the differences between smart cities and smart destinations.

Of course, the concept of SD is very close to that of Smart City, but is not limited to it. A city that is not entirely “smart” can constitute one or more SDs.

Various studies and publications mention different Smart Cities or Destinations, according to the technologies implemented, the level of their infrastructure, and so on. It is not always necessary to implement the latest technology, but to manage what you have in a creative and intelligent way (3).


For destinations in emerging and/or developing countries, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is not easy to adopt many of the concepts that are used today to classify cities and destinations as smart under the European or Australian viewpoint.

That is why we must review some of them that have been accepted today and adapt them to the level of development and characteristics of each society, economic model, prioritizing or highlighting their strengths and using mature and practical technologies, not only the newest of the sophisticated SDs. Based on these concepts, adapt them and define your OWN MODEL of SD.

Guidelines of the Strategic Plan to “build” your own model of SD, based on the UNWTO’s general concept (4):

  1. Governance/management of the DMO
  2. Air and maritime connectivity
  3. Infrastructure, especially ICTs
  4. Guarantee of accessibility/diversity
  5. Environment and resilience to climate change
  6. Tourist smart information
  7. MK and “multichannel” marketing
  8. Enhance innovation intelligently
  9. Local development and citizen participation, state and private interaction
  10. Sustainability (economic, environmental and social)

In the meantime, Internet access, ICT solutions for the management, distribution, marketing, promotion and information of the destination must be expanded with the appropriate technology and adapted to our capacity, according to the real economic possibilities and social reality, so that we can really “compete” with the STD models that come from the developed countries and enhance technology, while poorer countries demonstrate that their heritage destinations and also those of sun and beach can be sufficiently “smart.”

Some Latin American countries have already started developing the subject. Mexico pioneered the adoption of the SD model developed by Spain, after they signed an agreement in 2014 that allowed a diagnostic phase to be initiated in three specific destinations in the country, starting with the island of Cozumel, with advice from SEGITTUR.

Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Uruguay and Argentina are starting to develop these concepts to guide their development in the near future. Cuba, still with debts in the digitalization of the destination despite the advances in the last year and a half, is also starting to analyze the issue. Following these projects and confronting them with the experiences of Spain and SEGITTUR, as well as others promoted by the European Union, is a permanent task.

Both the concept of Smart City and that of Smart Destination are relatively new and emerging, and therefore their meanings and definitions are constantly being reviewed and evolving. They are also current terms that are being used as marketing tools in the business field, in relation to development policies and also in the promotion of brands of the different elements of the travel and tourism value chain, as well as referring to diverse specialties and service providers and technologies.

(1) Documents of the 2nd World Congress of Smart Tourist Destinations of the UNWTO, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain, June 2018.

(2) Libro Blanco: Smart Destinations Construyendo el Futuro, SEGITTUR, Spain, 2015.

(3) See SEGITTUR documents and presentations by Carlos Romero Dexeus in Barcelona, ​​10/31/2017 and the Operational Manual for the STD configuration of the Valencia Community, Spain, 2018.

(4) Guidelines collected by SEGITUR, UNWTO and others, complemented by the author.

1 In La Ciudad del Futuro (Spanish Edition) – Ediciones Infinito, 2001, by Le Corbusier, the author carries out a general discussion of the problems Paris has in the early 20th century and, through “a laboratory study,” proposes the basic principles of what he considers is the City of the Future, many of which are fully valid.
2 Information from UN News for the Climate Action Summit, New York, Sept. 2019.
3 Mathieu Paumard, Le concept de ville intelligente s’affine et se concrétise http://www.atelier.net/fr/articles/concept-de-ville-intelligente-saffine-se-concretise. Ref:Wikipedia.
4 Rockport Analytics’ annual GBTA BTI Outlook, put together on behalf of the Global Business Travel Association, Oct. 2018.