Big Brother may not be watching you in Thompson-Okanagan but big data is - InfoNews

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Big Brother may not be watching you in Thompson-Okanagan but big data is

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
January 29, 2020 - 8:00 AM

Take a walk in the Myra Canyon above Kelowna and your visit there will be tracked.

Stop for lunch afterwards? That will also be tracked.

Stay overnight at a Kamloops hotel? Again, that will be recorded.

The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association has joined forces with Telus Insights to develop a unique data collection system based on cell phone tracking, Simone Carlysle-Smith, managing director of Symphony Tourism Services, told iNFOnews.ca

Symphony is the commercial arm of the tourism association. They were approached by Telus and launched a pilot project in the Myra Canyon in 2017.

“We needed to take a pilot project to test the technology with Telus and also to create something that was relevant to our organization,” Carlysle-Smith said. “So, because the Myra Canyon is such a popular destination area for our region it brings travellers from outside the region. We wanted to understand how many residents were actually using the trail versus how many were from out of town.”

Telus can track cell phones and record, for example, if one is moving quickly along the trail, that it’s probably being carried by someone on a bike. If it stops for 90 minutes, that probably means the person carrying the phone is having a meal. Or, if it’s in one spot overnight, that’s likely a hotel stay.

In the old days, trail counts were done by students hired in the summer to use a clicker to count people as they passed.

One of the things the pilot project found was that peak use of the Myra Canyon trail was in September and October. People visited then because it wasn’t so hot but students had gone back to school so no one was counting the visitors.

Since that was a pilot project, the findings are not public but data from 2018 and 2019 will be compiled and be released in the next few months, Carlysle-Smith said.

After the pilot, the technical bugs were worked out of the system and it was expanded in 2018 to cover the entire Thompson and Okanagan tourism regions and served as the basis for its recently released 2019 report.

The data factors in things like the fact that only a certain percentage of visitors are on the Telus network and a certain percentage don’t carry cell phones. That means any numbers generated are estimates. Visitor counts are based on the first three characters of a postal code area so they are not personalized.

It is specific enough that, for example, if the same mobile phone visits Myra Canyon three times in September, that’s counted as one unique visitor that month. If it comes back another three times in October, that’s counted as one unique visitor in October.

“It tracks phones, not people,” Carlysle-Smith stressed.

The data collection could be expanded to record usage of other trails in the region, she said. But it’s expensive to do that so a tourism association member would have to contract with Symphony to compile that data.

The tourism association combines the Telus information with other data collection services, such as Environics and Explorer Quotient to create its reports.

Since the association focused its report on visits from outside the region, the total of 11,355,380 overnight stays recorded in 2019 were just for visitors from outside the region. Actual stays were higher since, for example, they leave out records of a cell phone from Salmon Arm sitting overnight in a Kamloops hotel room.

The plan is to refine the process further so it can be more useful and affordable for small businesses that belong to the organization.

The 2019 Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association report can be viewed here.


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