11 March 2021
By Tom Collins
Protecting Heritage Sites
Munster Technological University’s (MTU) Dept of Computer Science researches the application of big and open data in heritage and tourism sustainability
While significant tourism activities are currently on hold, MTU’s Computer Science Department is working at the cutting edge of international research on how big, and open, data can be applied to protecting the sustainability of heritage sites. Many heritage sites can be very fragile in terms of their fabric, and structures, and mass tourism is becoming a real challenge to protecting the sustainability of such sites. Even popular mountain walks and paths can suffer from overuse, so it’s not difficult to appreciate how many urban heritage areas are also susceptible to irreparable damage if not carefully managed.
The BODAH project, which aims at improving cooperation, joint and integrated planning, and at better managing of cultural destinations is funded by the Atlantic Area Interreg Programme and led by the Foundation Santa Maria La Real del Patrimino Historica, in Spain. Partners are located in Spain, Portugal, Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland. Dr Sean McSweney and Dr Ted Scully, of MTU ‘s Computer Science Department, are providing technical expertise in the project and will collaborate with international partners in the development of a software programme, while also undertaking pilot demonstrations and field trials.
BODAH’s technical concept is to use on-site sensor equipment, coupled with locally and regionally available live data flows, to develop predictive early warning models, to trigger remedial actions at heritage and tourism locations. An example of a typical application of the technology in an Atlantic Heritage City, would be to develop an online warning tool, which would estimate visitor numbers to a heritage location on any given date. The model would capture data, such as projected inbound airline passenger numbers, number of passengers projected to disembark at a local cruise liner terminal, the local weather forecast, and similar datasets based on local tourism drivers, such local festivals or public holidays.This combined dataset is then combined with site specific data which measures real-time levels of visitor activity at a specific heritage site. This data can include inputs on live traffic flows, whether already in the area or heading for the area, background noise levels, and temperature variations. The technology can also use people counting applications in the site’s immediate vicinity. The combined datasets will be visualised via a web-based app. The app will flag when visitor numbers to any particular location are likely to become unsustainable in terms of person/vehicle numbers and crowd flows. This advance warning permits diversions of tourist flows, a slowdown in admission sales, or temporary closure of a site.
An important objective of the project and its pilot tests and demonstrations, is to influence local and regional planning bodies to adopt big and open data solutions, to secure higher levels of sustainability in local tourism and heritage management.
BODAH partners look forward to the technology being rolled out throughout the Atlantic Area as a valuable tool in supporting tourism sustainability.