Providing Interchangeable Open Data to Accelerate Development
of Sustainable Regional Mobile Tourist Guides
Laurens de Vocht
Data Science Lab, iMinds
Data Science Lab, iMinds
Data Science Lab, iMinds
Rik Van de Walle
Multimedia Lab, iMinds
Wouter Van den Bosch
Living Labs, iMinds
Open Knowledge Belgium
Memori, Thomas More
Travelers expect access to tourism information at anytime,
anywhere, with any media. Mobile tourist guides, accessible via
the Web, provide an omnipresent approach to this. Thereby it is
expensive and not trivial to (re)model, translate and transform
data over and over. This inhibits many players, including
governments, in developing such applications. This paper reports
on the experiences of a project on mobile tourism in Flanders,
Belgium where a reusable formalization for the data disclosure
was developed. Applying open standards contributed to the
achievement of a reusable and interoperable datahub for mobile
tourisms. The organized working groups delivered in a re-usable
formal specification and serialization of the domain model that is
immediately usable for building mobile tourism applications. This
increased the awareness and lead to semantic convergence which
is forming a regional foundation to develop sustainable mobile
guides for tourism.
• Information systems
Network data models; Data exchange;
Mobile information processing systems;
• Applied computing ➝E-government
Sustainable Tourism; Mobile Guide; Domain Model; Traveler
Experience; Ontology Alignment; Semantic Convergence Process
The transition to ‘smart’ tourist destinations currently seems to be
strongly connected with the number and the variety of apps to
improve the “experiential component” . The variety of mobile
apps induces a variety of ways for the tourism industry to connect
with their visitors while they are travelling . One peculiar use
out of many, is the enforcing of hotel brands, for example,
targeting traveling students .
The notion of context is becoming popular in travel and
areas such as
services that support decision-making
on the go . The role mobile guides and apps might play
increases when more collaborative and dynamic travel decisions
facilitate sustainable travel .
Existing cases as in Flanders, Belgium indicate that supporting
the process of converging on semantics has a catalyzing effect on
the reusability of government data . Furthermore there are many
loosely coupled initiatives (e.g. small businesses or non-profit
organizations) being confronted with expensive costs to build
apps while the benefits of the investment are clear but contain a
lot of overhead in terms of data handling and transformation that
can be avoided. One of the main reasons for this is the difficulty
to deal with the heterogeneity of all the data about tourism
available for a certain region. This is mainly because there are
organizations on many levels actively gathering and publishing
this information for their own or community benefit.
1.2 Sustainable Mobile Tourist Guides
The goal of the research project, ‘Towards a sustainable mobile
touristic guide’ presented in this paper is twofold: (i) to stimulate
innovation in the (mobile) tourism sector and (ii) to identify and
create a more sustainable solution for developing such innovations.
The projects consist of consortium members from Belgium
(region of Flanders) and the Netherlands.
 on the topic of digital solutions for the
tourism sector indicated that a recurring problem for many
initiatives in this sector is the discrepancy between the relatively
high investment with regards to digital and especially mobile
innovations for the tourism sector and their ultimate reach and
lifetime. Building mobile applications for tourism holds much
potential for appealing applications for tourists, be they in the
form of interactive guides or specific utilities. The increased
adoption of smartphones and mobile internet subscriptions,
certainly creates a growing target audience and thus market for
Yet building such applications takes considerable effort both in
terms of technology as well as content production. Innovations that
have the potential of reaching a large audience are often easier
to fund, but in the tourism sector, many stakeholders work on
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a very local geographical scale where investments in digital
innovation have a limited budget to work with. With regards to
content production many digital innovations have a recurring
approach: digitalize information relevant to the application at
hand using some form of content management system and
linking this digital content to a mobile application for example.
The process of digitalizing the information and entering it into the
content management system takes a considerable time investment.
Today, most applications that are built have their own content
management system built custom to the needs of the application
itself, thus limiting its reusability for future applications as well as
the reusability of the data inside.
Furthermore, many stakeholders within the tourism sector often
already have some form of digitized data that could benefit of
being integrated in such digital innovations. While often
technically feasible, the effort needed to convert such data into a
usable form remains relatively high. Recent open data initiatives,
often boosted by government stimuli, are certainly increasing the
number of data sources available, but a lack of standards with
regards to format, contents and structure often do not make the
offering appealing enough for application developers.
As such many possible innovations and their potential economic
value for both tourism organizations as well as application
developers simply are never developed because their cost is
deemed too high. Increasing the re-usability of digital content
related to tourism would therefore allow for more of these
innovations to be realized. A standardized model for tourism
related data on the other hand would make applications easier to
reuse across different locations in a tourism region, allowing for
2. RELATED WORK
In the past, organizations, both academic,
governmental tried to do this exercise either in general or with a
slightly different scope. However to the best of our knowledge
none of these existing approaches specifically optimizes towards
mobile guides and covers all topical aspects of tourism.
An example of a specification was developed for the Australian
Tourism Sector. It introduced a framework to generate applications
and the Australian Tourism Ontology (AusTO). It was designed
with sustainability as key-factor . Another example is
, which is a community focusing on exchanging
services and technology with the latest developments for the
harmonization and seamless information exchange for the tourism
sector. In the Hi-Touch platform; ontologies are used to store and
structure knowledge on customers’ expectations and tourism
products. This knowledge can be processed in order to find the
best matching between supply and demand . The Hi-Touch
platform was deployed in some regions in France. The Hi-Touch
platform showed that a tourism information system based on
Semantic Web technologies allows the use of a multilingual
thesaurus to index tourism objects enables generic queries and
resource categorization managed in a decentralized way while
reserving the capacity to process query and filtering on distributed
With the appearance of Semantic Web technologies, it becomes
possible to develop novel, sophisticated question answering
systems, where ontologies are usually used as the core
knowledge component. In the
domain-specific ontology was developed and applied for question
Harmonise Portal: 2015. http://euromuse.harmonet.org/.
answering in the domain of tourism, along with the assistance
of two upper ontologies for concept expansion and reasoning
. However approaches such as these introduce some challenges.
Existing tourism ontologies focus mainly on domain concepts
which makes it hard to apply time to a
context. There has
been at least one attempt, for example the ‘core Domain Ontology
for Travel and Tourism’ (cDOTT) , to provide an alternative
approach for covering the semantic space of tourism through the
integration of modularized ontologies and taxonomies (e.g. the
‘Thesaurus on Tourism and Leisure Activities’ ), that center
around a core domain for the tourism sector and reuses existing
vocabularies as much as possible.
3. REGIONAL COMMUNITY SUPPORT:
THE USER GROUP
For the project to succeed a
was built, the ‘user group’.
This group of about 35-40 users consists of: SME’s, not-for-profit
organizations involved in culture and tourism activities,
representatives from the provinces and some of the major cities in
the region. The fact that the user group is composed out of
businesses, public administrations and not-for-profit organizations
ensures a critical mass with
expertise and variation in
interests. This allows covering all aspects of tourism, in particular
focusing on the
Flanders. The user group is therefore the
main feedback group. In the user group there are three main
stretches in terms of data. There are users who are (i)
consumers; (ii) providers; and (iii) combining both.
To make an inventory of the different ways the user group handles
their data we carried out a survey, of which 12 (about one third)
of the group responded to. We learned that most of the users store
their data centralized and a large part still has a website for
disclosing the data to externals. Often there is no automated access
possible by software applications due to the lack of an API. The
update frequency of the data varies. In nearly half of the cases it
is longer than monthly. The topics each users covers is in half of
the cases broad and in half of the cases specific with only a pair of
4. SCOPE DEFINITION
To define the scope of the standard’s specification and its
application topics we first sought the priorities for sustainable
mobile tourist guides in collaborations with the user group. We
asked each of the users to indicate their priorities when they
consider participating in the development of mobile tourist guides.
The ordered list of priorities in the topics is given in figure 1.
Figure 1: Members of the user group rated the priority of each
tourism related topic as data consumer and as data provider.
We see in the figure that there are bars of which the colors explain
overlapping priorities for provider / consumer side. There are some
noteworthy discrepancies in the priorities between consumer and
provider, namely: statistical data (biased towards consumer),
feedback (biased towards consumer),
(biased towards provider) and marketing / tourism promotion
(biased towards provider). We organized the topic priorities in
different sub-domains as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Topics organized in sub-domains corresponding with
the working groups.
Publications; Touristic Products
for Sale; Meetings, incentives,
conferencing and exhibitions
Channels, Reviews and
Availability and Demand
After defining the scope of each sub-domain we organized working
groups. Each working group was responsible to work out this
sub-domain in detail in terms of domain modeling, taxonomies, use
and directives towards long term governance.
5. ALIGNMENT AND FORMALIZATION
In this section we go into details about the domain model and
outline the most important aspects of each of the sub-domains, as
shown in Figure 2. To be able to align the effort of the different
working groups and ensure validity and approval of the larger user
group we formalized the domain modeling process. We therefore
incorporated the ‘Interoperability Solutions for European Public
Methodology for developing core
as the domain model and taxonomy have a crucial
role as core model in the process of developing sustainable mobile
the broader tourism sector targeting at the tourist as the consumer.
To model offering there are three main entities: Product, Price and
describes as objective as possible facts about this
entity, leaving more elaborate description to be provided as part
of entities that belong to the Experience sub-domain. Products
can be related to each other in a sibling or hierarchical
relationship, enabling groups of similar products or products
acting as a container for one or more sub-products. Multiple
product types extend the basic description of a Product,
optionally adding their own specific attributes to the description
of a touristic product:
Arrangement, Attraction, Event, Lodging,
Regional Product, Route
entity links a product with the different rates, reduction
and target groups to indicate how much it would cost for a tourist
to obtain or use a touristic
ISA. http://ec.europa.eu/isa/. Accessed: 2015-12.
ISA Process and Methodology for Developing Core
vocabularies. Accessed: 2015-12.
offers one or more products or services related to
Tourism. These could be organisations that offer or organise
Products, but plenty of other entities within the model refer to the
Organization entity to describe responsibility, contact details, etc.
The Experience sub-domain emphasizes commercial and subject
aspects that enrich the factual and object
products as modeled in the Offering sub-domain. The main
describes a touristic Product fitting a
specific target group, end-user context or medium. Multiple
entities can refer to the same
can be multi-media and used on their own or in combination with
other descriptions of the same product, when combined in a
instances of a Product are made available through a certain
can for example be a
website, a magazine, documentary... A
several issues bound to a specific and slightly different
. One can think for example about a specific
issue of a magazine or an episode of a documentary. Both
because they add additional attributes and are specifications of a
. This last-mentioned entity could represent any
generic kind of item including books, movies, photographs,
software programs, etc.
5.3 Availability and Demand
The availability sub-domain models where and when a certain
touristic Product can be obtained or accessed. This involves: (i)
the physical Location which can be described by its
; (ii) its
, either a full-text description,
a collection of calendars or a schema.org mark-up of the timetable
of the actual opening hours; and (iii) the
indicates how a certain Product is to be discovered (e.g. a QR code,
a beacon, color code).
For the demand we modeled
describing the metadata of
tabular data and relating it to a
and thus the
involved. For each entity
there can be a
example: a monthly visitor count in a museum, ‘monthly visitors’
would be the statistics and ‘visitors in January 2015’ would be a
6. DISSEMINATION AND GOVERNANCE
Following the alignment and formalization of the domain model
we serialize it as UML with specification and a description
according to the Resource Description Framework
RDF serialization makes optimal use of existing schemas and
vocabularies. This is important so that applications and other
RDF derived serializations can be linked maximally to the RDF
serialization in this project without complex mapping modules.
Furthermore it guarantees the reuse of existing schemas that
model the same or related domains. The serialization does not
aim to redesign or remodel existing IT infrastructure of related
data sources, but is intended to form an exchange layer between the
various systems. It is a technology neutral
there is a decoupling of the implementation and the description
After the development is completed and stable, the Open Belgium
Tourism Working Group which is part of Open Knowledge
RDF: 2014. http://www.w3.org/RDF/. Accessed: 2015-12.
will keep the formal specification
Knowledge Belgium is an umbrella organization for Open
in Belgium. A Github will be set-up for
version and release management, and issue reporting. At the
same time, a number of pilot projects will be launched to evaluate
the practical use of the domain model itself and its specification.
Both local governments, tourism organizations as well as
developers of apps for the sector will be invited to make data
accessible using the model’s
as well as make use of
them in mobile applications.
This approach was bottom-up approach rather than top-down and
stimulated different players to work together. Most of the
relevant stakeholders (local and regional governments, application
developers, SME’s and not-for-profit organizations) contributed to
the development and still have a say in the continued maintenance
and directions of the model its (pilot) applications. Ultimately,
this will impact how tourism organizations and other players in
this sector collaborate because as soon as they adopt the same
domain model, efficient data exchange can take place. Also, other
sectors, like the heritage and museum sector, can benefit from
the same approach: it will be easier to exchange data between
these different, but closely related, sectors.
Figure 2: The overview model of the sub-domains of tourism
data with the most important entities and their relationships
The role of the government will be to estimate impact on the
tourism policy. Initial contacts are being made during the course of
the project, and the explicit use cases with mobile applications
should convince public administrators to keep supporting this kind
of effort and recommend it throughout the sector in the regions of
Flanders but also across regions in Belgium, and beyond.
7. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK
This paper reported on a project about the development of
mobile tourism in the region of Flanders. The project is unique
in that it brings together different actors in the sector: the
of all the Flemish provinces, application and
Open Standard for Tourism Ecosystems Data: 2015-11.
http://w3id.org/ost/spec. Accessed: 2015-12.
Open Knowledge Belgium: http://www.openknowledge.be.
database developers, and publishers of touristic and recreational
data. Working together to set up the domain model, ensured that
the model is shared and supported by the most relevant
stakeholders in this sector. Meaningful processing of tourism data
is key for developing smart mobile guides. A reusable domain
model with a flexible serialization ensures a correct
representation of the data so it can be re-used and interpreted by
applications without having to hardcode or support a variety of
heterogeneous data models.
Future work will focus on maturing and disseminating the
domain model, its formalization and serialization. The
implementation of several pilot cases in the region should:
(i) prove the added value of the reduced effort in building mobile
tourist guides that use a variety of data sources on the Web; (ii)
allow testing the effect on tourism; and (iii) ensure that there is a
significant impact on the tourism policy in the region of Flanders.
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