Helsinki attracted over 20 million visits last year of which a growing number by cruise ships (2012: 368.000 visitors). Compared to the size of the city – about 600 000 inhabitants – Helsinki seems to succeed in attracting more and more visitors. Russia is still the biggest source country of tourists arriving to Helsinki. These are the figures Tuulikki Becker, the Deputy Tourist Director from the City of Helsinki, illustrated last week in an event organised by Forum Virium Helsinki and CitySDK project.
In our event, Digital Tourism Workshop, we wanted to focus on how we could boost the amount of available information for the visitors with digital services, such as mobile applications. Information about sights, events and traffic help tourists in planning their trip as well as finding their way in the city. All together, around 60 participants took part in the Digital Tourism-day, including the city authorities, app developers and travel entrepreneurs, so we had a nice mix of viewpoints and expertise. In the workshop we identified few main challenges related to the digital travel services:
In Helsinki we have a pretty good variety of above mentioned data open and available from the visithelsinki.fi – service. How applications use this data and what info is still crucially needed was thoroughly discussed during the day. In addition to hearing the City entities, we had case presentations from applications such as Blindsquare, Citynomadi and Spot in Helsinki.
One of the most highlighted challenge relating to digital travel services came out as still low availability of the Wi-Fi hotspots. Data costs might be high for tourists, thus services that can be used also offline were favoured. At the moment there isn’t an open Wi-Fi in the center of Helsinki, but most cafes and City units offer a free Wi-Fi for visitors. However, these might be hard to find and not helpful when navigating in the city, for example.
The afternoon of the Digital Tourism-day was spent workshopping and brainstorming challenges relating to tourism in Helsinki. We had focus groups on the following traveller-types: 1) Russians, 2) Cruise ship passengers, 3) Families and 4) Active Helsinkians. The app concepts included, for example, helping Russian tourists to find services and shops where they can get service in their own language, and an audio guide for cruise ship passengers, to mention a few.
We also brainstormed what info we as travellers search for prior and during our trip. The most favorite themes were traffic routing and info about how to get to the city from the airport. Also, what was of my personal interest too, was finding the local “hip areas” and locals’ favourite places when travelling. Crowdsourced info about these places in Helsinki, however, is not widely available for non-Finns. In addition, a good question was raised: How could we help travellers to find all these services and Apps in the first place?