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Sensing and making sense of tourism flows and urban data to foster sustainability awareness: a real-world experience

  • Prandi, Catia1, 2
  • Nisi, Valentina3, 2
  • Ribeiro, Miguel3, 2
  • Nunes, Nuno3, 2
  • 1 Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Bologna, Italy , Bologna (Italy)
  • 2 ITI/LARSyS, Funchal, Portugal , Funchal (Portugal)
  • 3 Instituto Superior Técnico, U. of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal , Lisbon (Portugal)
Published Article
Journal of Big Data
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Mar 24, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s40537-021-00442-w
Springer Nature


Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries fundamentally arising from mobility as a form of capital. In destination islands that have a delicate ecosystem to maintain, this source of income can become problematic in terms of sustainability. A difficulty in making people aware of this issue is also represented by the fact that such sustainability-related issues (and their causes) are often not “visible” to citizens. To foster awareness about the relationship between sustainability and tourism in well-known destinations, we design a platform that engages users at two levels of participation: i. at the IoT and sensors level, in order to let them becoming providers of big data, deploying and enlarging the pervasive infrastructure; ii. at the (big) data visualization level, with the aim of engaging them in making sense of large volumes of data related to sustainability. This paper presents the design and implementation of a real-world experience where a low-cost collaborative platform made it possible to sense and visualize tourist flows and urban data into a rich interactive map-based visualization, open to the local communities. We deployed our case study in the Madeira archipelago, engaging locals and visitors of the island in two exploratory studies focused on measuring the impact of providing users with meaningful representations of tourism flows and related unperceivable aspects that affect the environmental sustainability. Analysing the findings of the two studies, we discuss the potentiality of using such a system to make sense of big data, fostering awareness about sustainability issues, and we point to future open challenges about citizens’ participation in sensing and making sense of big data.

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