By Steve Keenan, Co-Founder, Travel Perspective
Scotland is making a bold bid to become Europe’s leading travel technology laboratory and boost the country’s tourism industry.
Travel Tech for Scotland (TTfS) was set up in 2020 to help connect the 14,000 tourism-related businesses with the country’s growing number of technology entrepreneurs.
Around half are start-ups, and TTfS lends support to the cluster as well as being a dating agency between entrepreneur and tourism. And it’s already producing results.
During the pandemic, the beaches east of Edinburgh were jammed with holidaymakers unable to go abroad. Sensors were installed on the busiest beaches to monitor numbers and alert local authorities to redirect visitors elsewhere.
While managing crowds, the data also helps determine future tourism policy. The Cairngorms National Park is now planning a similar scheme, while Visit Scotland is also monitoring results to better manage overcrowding.
Another big tourism issue is a skills shortage, particularly in hotels and TTfS will soon launch a report on staff shortages and the role of technology to help alleviate the problem.
One solution is robotics and TTfS plans a ‘living lab space’ to complement the opening this autumn of a National Robotarium in Edinburgh, an advanced research facility for robotics and Artifical Intelligence.
“There is lots of stuff to be done around labour-saving: better processes, better back office systems, younger workforces and quicker recruitment,” says Joshua Ryan-Saha, director of the TTfS. “There was already a skills shortage before the pandemic – it is more acute now and will persist in the future.”
Tourism is of vital importance to Scotland’s economy, accounting for 1 in every 12 jobs and earning the devolved government £6bn a year.
It’s why there is such a drive to sustainably develop the industry and help the well-established tourism industry transform itself through technology.
“The tourism sector is massive in Scotland but so fragmented. There is some innovation – Edinburgh Zoo launched virtual tours this year – but managing the capacity to innovate for small organisations with fewer than 10 staff can be difficult,” says Ryan-Saha.
“We have two remits – to grow the tech sector and support the 14K tourism businesses in Scotland. The ambition is economic development for Scotland.”
He describes himself as an ‘innovation shepherd,’ looking to build collaborations across the tourism sector. It’s why he wants to build a searchable directory of 150 tech companies which addresses the sector that organisations work in, or the problems that they have.
The entrepreneurs include Whereverly on visitor management, community tourism with Fairbnb and Net Zero – Electrek Explorer, Fuse Mobility and ByWay.
Four other hub members – RotaReady, Lemon, OurPeople and HopSoftware – are also trialling new tech with three businesses to help them manage with fewer staff.
Giving tourism firms access to innovation, understanding where the industry is heading and what tech is needed is inspiring the opening of tech hubs globally.
Mastercard opened a new Tourism Laboratory in Spain this year and Singapore Airlines has opened a research centre with a cabin simulator, using sensors to guide seat design, cabin climate and customer experience.
TTfS is a member of the World Travel Tech Forum, which also includes hubs in Amsterdam and Barcelona – a delegation from Catalonia visited Edinburgh this summer to share knowledge.
Scotland already has a reputation for gaming technology in Aberdeen and Dundee, and its credentials for innovation are being recognised.
This summer, corporate travel firm TravelPerk announced it was opening a new office in Edinburgh, with 30 jobs. The site will be a ‘centre of excellence for software engineering,’ said a company spokesman. “Scotland is firmly in our sights as a major tech hub”.
Travel Tech for Scotland is hosted by Edinburgh’s Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh.
Scottish Enterprise helps fund it, but Ryan-Saha is looking to strategic partners to help finance his tech cluster, such as Edinburgh-based Skyscanner.
Both parties benefit with Skyscanner, for example, looking to recruit skilled staff and TTfS able to use Skyscanner data to see how sustainable tourism in Scotland can be enhanced.
Having such an established brand on your doorstep is a boost to TTfs, who even capitalise on its presence in its mission statement. “We are a cluster organisation set up to make Scotland Europe’s leading travel tech hub,” says Ryan-Saha. “We’ve done it before with Skyscanner – and we can do it again.”
Visit World Travel Market London to network with innovative technology providers, senior executives, as well as to discover the next generation of travel technology solutions for your business.