Technologies of the future in tourism and the role of UAVs in their evolution

The rapid development of digital technologies in recent years has transformed many business sectors. Digitalization has accelerated business growth and, in some cases, completely changed approaches to working with clients. The digital revolution has had perhaps the greatest impact on the travel business.

Over the past decades, along with the geography of travel, customer service requirements have grown significantly. Since customer preferences have always been a key factor in the development of tourism, there is an urgent need to constantly innovate to improve the user experience.

One of them is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. In our new article, we analyze the role of UAVs in the digitalization of tourism.

The role of technology in the implementation of the smart tourism concept

There are almost no segments of the travel business that are not affected by digitalization today. Technological developments and advances have already transformed the way people search, plan, and book travel, and continue to change the user experience of tourists at all stages. Quarantine restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have also played a role in the rapid development of digital technologies: from the need to limit the number of people to the introduction of secure self-service solutions and the reduction of contacts, etc.

Thus, according to Data Appeal Company, almost 49% of bookings in the hospitality industry are made online today, and this figure is expected to increase to 74% by 2026. The company also notes that a quarter of all bookings are made via smartphone.  
The term smart tourism is used to describe the changes that have taken place in the tourism industry in recent years. 

Smart tourism is a concept based on the constant and systematic use of smart technologies to create additional value for the tourist experience for users. The introduction of digital technologies allows not only simplifies and speeds up certain tourism processes and procedures but also increases the competitiveness of the industry, ensuring its sustainable development and integration into society and the economy.

The main smart technologies used in smart tourism today include:

– Big Data – for analyzing a large amount of data generated from various sources, such as social networks, websites, etc.

The information obtained allows optimizing the development of tourism products and marketing strategies for their promotion: gaining insight into consumer preferences and behavior, improving and personalizing the customer experience, improving pricing, and maximizing profits.

– IoT (Internet of Things) – to create an interconnected network of devices and sensors that collect and exchange data in real-time. This helps to improve navigation, manage the flow of visitors and waiting times, and monitor weather conditions, hazards, pollution, etc.

– AI (Artificial Intelligence) – to create chatbots, virtual assistants, and other computer systems that help plan trips, improve travel operations, and enhance customer service.

It can be used to provide personalized recommendations, automate routine tasks related to ticketing, booking, and customer service, forecast demand, and improve the overall customer experience.

– VR/AR (Virtual and Augmented Reality) – to provide an exciting and interesting interactive experience for tourists and the opportunity to immerse themselves in a virtual environment: creating VR/AR tours, interactive guides and guides, extreme types of recreation without repetition in real life, improving exhibits in museums and immersive advertising campaigns.

– Blockchain – to ensure the security of travel payment transactions, reduce fraud risks, and support sustainable tourism.

Blockchain technologies enable transaction management, secure storage, and tracking of information on reservations, ticket sales, tourist identity verification, etc.

– Development of mobile applications for quick information search, access to maps, accommodation booking, and other travel services.

Smart technologies combine innovation, marketing, and data management. For example, the combination of AI and Big Data technologies makes tourism management more accurate and efficient. Contactless solutions, developments in robotics and autonomous vehicles, check-in/check-out, payment/booking, and ordering services and experiences through apps are all part of the smart tourism concept. All of them are designed to make the user experience of tourists pleasant and exciting, develop new tourist destinations, and ensure a comfortable stay. UAVs play an important role in this process.

How UAVs help develop smart tourism technologies

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the tourism industry can improve the visitor experience, ensure their safety, and provide aerial photography of attractions. The information about the earth's surface and objects on it that UAVs collect from the air is a necessary component for the integration of smart technologies and their successful application in the tourism industry.  

For example, the photo and video materials obtained with the help of UAVs can be used to create accurate 3D copies of landmarks, virtual tours using VR/AR technologies, and promote tourist destinations.

Drones can also provide access to hard-to-reach or dangerous places. This will allow for the development of adventure tourism without exposing tourists to danger.  UAVs can also play an important role in inspecting and exploring such tourist attractions and objects as castles, palaces, museums, parks, etc.

However, the most progressive direction is the combination of smart technologies with the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles. Integration of digital solutions allows to improve the technical characteristics of UAVs, increase the efficiency of their management, and ensure complex interaction between aircraft to perform tasks with their help. In the tourism sector, this makes it possible to monitor crowded places in real time, manage crowds during mass events, increase tourist safety by preventing the impact of natural and natural disasters, and more.

The Menatir UAV networked aerial monitoring system was also developed by Culver Aviation using smart technologies. Here are the tasks it can perform for the tourism and hospitality industry.

The Menatir system is an example of combining UAV capabilities and smart technologies

The Menatir network allows for fully automated and continuous monitoring of the earth's surface without human intervention 24/7. The system's base station is a 20-foot shipping container that can simultaneously accommodate up to 6 tilt-surveyor UAVs with the same or different payloads. A network of 5 such containers with 6 UAVs in each allows collecting data from an area of up to 45,000 hectares per day.  

The system independently launches the drones - at the operator's command in case of an urgent mission or in accordance with pre-programmed tasks - and controls their flight until they land in the container. It takes only three minutes from the moment the command is received until the aircraft takes off. During this time, the system calculates the route and duration of the flight without human intervention.

To ensure the life of the entire system, Culver Aviation engineers have developed a multi-level hardware and software complex that independently analyzes the UAV's readiness for flight, controls takeoff and landing, selects the optimal location and configuration of the aircraft at the appropriate base station, and automatically generates an application for airspace use. The complex interaction of the ground station, drones in it, and the control center is achieved with the help of the company's own engineering solutions and software using AI elements. Regardless of the number of base stations in the network, MENATIR requires only one operator who can manage it from anywhere in the world.

Thanks to the presence of IoT sensors, MENATIR collects and transmits data from the earth's surface in real time. Also, before each flight, the system automatically analyzes information about weather conditions from special services and the regular weather station. In the event of unfavorable weather conditions, the flight will be canceled or postponed, and the aircraft in the air will terminate the mission and return to base.

How different types of MENATIR payloads can be used to develop smart tourism

For real-time video surveillance with the ability to automatically detect objects using AI elements, a high-precision three-axis gyro-stabilized gimbal with a video camera is installed on the aircraft. It allows for the transmission of FullHD video streaming with a delay of up to 350 ms in real time over a distance of up to 45 km. Artificial intelligence elements allow the system to automatically determine the coordinates and track objects.

The UAV can be equipped with a thermal imaging camera to provide video surveillance at any time of the day or night and in difficult weather conditions. This will allow the system to recognize people from a height of up to 500 meters. A digital camera is used for mapping, orthophotography, and creating digital models of terrain and other objects, which, depending on the shooting height, allows for images with a resolution of up to 4 cm/pixel.

Using images and video from MENATIR drones, it is possible to predict the likelihood of accidents, collapses, flooding, or other critical situations. For example, this will be useful for ski resorts to monitor slopes and protect tourists from collapses and avalanches.

The thermal imaging camera will also allow you to count the number of tourists on beaches, ski slopes, and popular hiking trails and routes to control social distancing and ensure a comfortable stay at the location. If necessary, MENATIR can be used during search and rescue operations.

MENATIR mobile app - an interactive dashboard with useful information for tourists

The Menatir system has its own mobile application, which acts as an interactive map with various information updated in real time. For example, with the help of Menatir, you can visualize popular tourist routes and provide tourists with data for rational and comfortable travel planning.

The Menatir app can become a kind of assistant to tourists and help them navigate the area, find tourist attractions, plot the best route to them, and even track queues to the location and the availability of free parking spaces.

The data obtained on visits to tourist attractions in the area will allow local authorities to analyze information about tourist preferences and use it for strategic planning of the industry development and ensuring the safety of visitors on tourist routes.  

Business users of the Menatir system will be able to order comprehensive information about the area with just a few clicks using the app. They will be informed about the progress and results of the flight mission, as well as the situation at the checkpoints, via notifications on their smartphones. You can see how it works by following the link or scanning the QR code in the image below.

Transparent, controlled and safe environment with UAV capabilities

In addition to direct observation of objects and territories, MENATIR is a valuable source of Big Data and decision support systems in the tourism sector. For example, the data collected and analyzed by the system can be useful in developing methods for attracting tourists, announcing events, and advertising certain tourist destinations. In addition, the arrays of accumulated "tourist" information can be used in the future to implement smart city development projects.

In the future, the use of large volumes of data obtained with the help of MENATIR in combination with innovative technologies will allow creating digital twins of settlements to model the impact of events of various kinds, test hypotheses, and make the lives of residents and guests of the city comfortable and safe.  

More information about MENATIR and the capabilities of other types of the system's payloads is here.