How the Data Driven Innovation initiative is empowering tourism businesses

Data has transformed the travel industry with people now granted more choice than ever before in how they get to their chosen destination, where they stay and what they do when they are there. Yet this change has shifted power away from small businesses and into the hands of large tech platforms.
North BerwickNorth Berwick
North Berwick

Yet this change has shifted power from small businesses and into the hands of large tech platforms.

The Data Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative is seeking to redress this imbalance by funding and supporting projects that empower small and medium-sized companies with valuable data.

Projects like Whereverly, which the DDI initiative has provided with funding, seeks to put consumer data firmly back in the hands of local organisations and businesses.

The programme is also backing a number of innovative festival initiatives and exploring how the Internet of Things (IoT) can lead to better tourism management.

Joshua Ryan-Saha, tourism, festivals and infrastructure lead for the Edinburgh Futures Institute, says: “The big platforms have huge data assets that they can leverage for market understanding and market gain. We are focused on projects that are empowering small businesses and festivals with data so that they can make their own decisions and redress the balance,

“The companies that have been struggling, particularly during the pandemic, are small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], and data can help them take control of their own destiny.”


Ryan-Saha adds that both the hospitality and tourism sectors are “uniquely interconnected”, and that demand and popularity is better when SMEs work together.

“If you are the only café on a street then you are not going to be able to build demand alone. You need other similar small businesses there so that demand and popularity grows.

“A lot of the projects that we are working on provide data to a number of businesses and organisations so that they work together and also thrive independently.”


Whereverly, which has been funded by the DDI, helps tourists plan routes and find overlooked attractions and businesses.

Its data-driven app pulls together a variety of different sources and also gives insights into tourist behaviour to help decision-makers in the sector understand what makes people visit places.

Ryan-Saha says: “Whereverly is doing a project with DDI in the south of Scotland where they are trying to get information about who is visiting back into the hands of businesses and destination management bodies.

“The Bayes Centre is working with data from their app and turning it into visualisations that will produce insights that businesses in the region can respond to and use.”

Iain McNeill, managing director of Wherverley, agrees with Ryan-Saha that, in the travel industry, the data balance was weighted heavily in favour of the larger tech firms.

He explains: “Big tech companies have such a monopoly on data. With emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, it is only large tech that can do this at scale, as they are the ones that own more data than many governments. What we have tried to do issupport local businesses and give them data insight.”


Restrictions on foreign travel led to a surge in domestic travel this year and last and this has put pressure facilities around Scottish attractions.

A project led by EDINA, the University of Edinburgh's geospatial specialist unit, collaborating with the University’s IoT team, was set up to help East Lothian Council plan ahead and allow people to be aware of how busy the region's beaches are.

An app to show visitors where they are busy and what alternative places are to visit, is expected to be launched at the end of the summer and will be available in the Google Play and Apple App store.

Anne Robertson, who leads EDINA’s Geospatial Consultancy Services, said the app would help people plan ahead.

“The aim of the East Lothian Beaches project is to provide visitors to East Lothian with a mobile application, using live sensor data, that will tell them if it’s worth going to Gullane beach, head along to Yellowcraig or go further afield in the region.

“The mobile application will also highlight other places for locals and tourists to visit around East Lothian such as cafés and shops.

“We will be capturing the data and combining it, to give visitors an indication if the capacity of a car park is increasing or decreasing.

“These sensors will contribute to the establishment of a regional IoT network covering the whole of South East Scotland, some 7,700 km2, part of the University’s Data Driven Innovation programme within the South East Scotland City Region Deal”.


The Edinburgh International Data Facility (EIDF) is bringing some of the most powerful computing power in the world to the region. Ryan-Saha believes this supercomputing power will allow SMEs to do more and test new products, while it will also act as a catalyst for the processing of festival data.

He explains: “The EIDF will help us build on the work that we are doing already. If you take the Whereverly project, we’ve done a review of their technical architecture and will continue to work with them to trial new launches and products and the EIDF will help hugely with this.

“The EIDF will also give a better view of the cultural landscape in Edinburgh. It will allow us to process massive amounts of festival-related data in a secure and controlled way, and also allow us to use this data to help with other problems in the region.”


Ryan-Saha is also a director at Traveltech for Scotland, which will be based at DDI hub the Edinburgh Futures Institute, once complete. Traveltech for Scotland is a cluster which seeks to promote greater co-operation between the country’s travel technology firms.

Elaine Ford, a member of the cluster and founder of Electrek Explorer, says: “Traveltech for Scotland is a fantasticcommunity of over 100 members that links to funding opportunities and encourages members toadopt a data-driven approach to their work.”

For more information, see

Five DDI and University of Edinburgh tourism projects to watch


Dr Morgan Currie and Dr Drew Hemment are working on a project mapping previous ticketing purchasing behaviour around Edinburgh’s festivals. The DDI Beacon-funded project is seeking to explore cultural access to the Capital’s numerous festivals and identify local population groups which are not engaging with the events, and how these people can be reached.

Covid Arcadia

Dr Liz McFall, director of Data Civics, is leading a project documenting the changes and adaptations the region’s hospitality trade is making through images and observations. The project will be turned into a toolkit and evidence bank for other businesses to pick up and learn from.

Wilderness Sensors

This Edinburgh-based firm provides an IoT solution to track footfall at remote locations around Scotland to help understand demand and contribute to better management of the areas and their surroundings.

Electrek Explorer

Traveltech for Scotland member Electrek Explorer promotes ecotourism by linking up the country’s electric vehicle charging points, while also encouraging people to explore road trips, trails and activities.


This is an experiential artificial intelligence research programme initiated by Drew Hemment, Chancellor’s Fellow and Reader at the Edinburgh Futures Institute. It has produced a self-guided walk app, which has developed a personal encounter with the environment beyond human scale. App users are invited to take part in interactions to increase their knowledge and understanding of global climate data and science.