VAIL, Colo. -- Anytime an event like the NBA All-Star Game comes to a city, destination managers know they need to prepare for a visitation surge.
But when the NBA takes its midseason showcase to Salt Lake City next February, tourism officials there believe they'll have more than just a general idea of what to expect, thanks to a strategic application of Big Data.
With the game less than a year away, Visit Salt Lake has been able to analyze massive quantities of geolocation and credit card spending data provided by the Utah-based technology company Zartico to learn the visitation patterns that were prevalent in Charlotte when the All-Star Game was held there in 2019.
The analysis, said Visit Salt Lake CEO Kaitlin Eskelon, revealed that the average visitor spent a week in Charlotte around the game. It also showed how late those visitors stayed out in the evening and during which hours they spent the most money.
Salt Lake officials plans to use that knowledge to beef up transit schedules around the event and to encourage some restaurants to stay open later than normal.
"Instead of saying, 'Hey, we think it's going to be busy,' we can say, 'We think it's going to be busy until 2 a.m., and here's the data to prove it,'" Eskelon said.
Salt Lake City is just one of many destinations that is now fine-tuning marketing and destination management strategies with the assistance of visitor movement data acquired from mobile devices as well as anonymized spending data reported by more than 5,000 financial institutions.
At the Mountain Travel Symposium held here in early April, an event produced by Travel Weekly parent company Northstar Travel Group, a handful of destination management professionals took to the stage to explain how they're using Zartico not only to drive visitor traffic but also help balance the competing needs of tourism and local residents.
The company, founded in 2019, is already working with 120 clients, said chief innovation officer Jay Kinghorn. But while Eskelon said Zartico is the only company she knows of that is offering the combination of geolocation data and credit card spend numbers, it's not the lone technology company informing DMOs with reams of location-tracking material. Among the others are Datafy, Arrivalist and Tourism Economics.
James Jackson, CEO of Tourism Jasper in Alberta, told symposium attendees how it used geolocation data to examine the correlation between weather conditions and visitation within Jasper National Park and its Marmot Basin ski area, helping it spend marketing dollars more efficiently.
"We know that if we have the right weather and the right precipitation, we don't have to spend on marketing. People are going to come anyway," Jackson said.
Likewise, the use of geolocation data can tell destination managers where visitors are coming from, and when that information is layered with credit card spending data, it can inform destination promoters about which markets tend to send the higher-spending visitors.
Help with overtourism
Steering clear of overtourism is another way DMOs are deploying geolocation data. Generally, Kinghorn said, residents begin feeling a significant impact on their quality of life when the ratio of visitors to locals is greater than 2-to-1.
Cathy Ritter, CEO of consulting company Better Destinations, said she's using geolocation data to help the eight-county Glacier Country region in Montana develop a stewardship plan. The plan isn't slated for completion until June, but sharing that data with Glacier National Park has already strengthened the relationship between the local DMO and public land managers, Ritter said.
The park and the local forest service, she said, could use such data to steer visitors toward less utilized trails or to make a funding case for new visitor services.