Tracking the traveler

Unique study traces the visitors view of Florence

Editorial Staff
February 21, 2008

Recent technological advances allow tourists to leave their mark on a city in a way never before possible. The digital footprint of the international traveler is the focus of a study analyzing how visitors with technology experience Florence.

Conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston for the province of Florence, the study collected and analyzed scores of tourist-generated geotagged photos retrieved from the publicly accessible, photo-sharing platform Flickr to track the mobility patterns of visitors to Italys most visited citt dellarte.

A unique tool to describe and analyze tourist dynamics in the urban setting, people-generated geospatial data and analysis is at the forefront of an emerging techno-savvy approach to understanding where and when tourists have been in a city. These data provide fresh new insight on how people, and especially tourists, use and experience urban space.

Researchers Filippo Dal Fiore and Fabien Girardino collected 85, 910 photos taken by 3348 Flickr users in the province of Florence betwee January 2005 and April 2007. In Flickr online photo-sharing platform, a trove of publicly accessible people-generated location- and time-sensitive data, photos are geotagged, meaning that they implicitly or explicitly indicate a location to a piece of information. Researchers used the Flickr photos, plotting them on a Google map to create a series of heat maps, column and area charts basic flow maps.

Tourists movements in and around the city were tracked by detecting the first photo taken by users. Differences were noted in the density of tourists with respect to the city and the province: for every 40 photos taken in the historic centre, there were only three shot in throughout the province.

The study confirms what Florentines already know: the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo della Signoria and the Piazzale degli Uffizi are the most photographed tourist attractions in the city. However, it also reveals fresh new information on visitors movements: Florence was the most snapped city in the country, ahead of Rome, and most travelers visiting Florence had been to Rome the day prior. Before-and-after snapshots also indicate that visitors tend to make stops in Venice, Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano on their way in or out of Florence, all within a 48-hour threshold.

The data and analysis performed by researchers at MIT could be used to enhance the tourist experience. Moreover, the knowledge that the digital traces left by previous tourists could influence the behaviour of current or future tourists is a useful tool for improving urban infrastructure and services.

Provincial president Matteo Renzi affirms the importance of this new take on how the tourist sees and uses the city: Technological innovation allows us to use new tools to explore tourism as well as manage the cities and territories. Florence is open to leading-edge ways to enhance tourist services in the province.

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