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mobile positioning data

UNWTO workshop: Creating meaningful tourism statistics through mobile positioning data

What is mobile positioning data and what can it bring to a country? Big Data has been proven to help governments and businesses make effective decisions, so much so that it is now accepted as contributing substantially to the achievement of the UN SDGs. Mobile positioning data (MPD) is one form of this Big Data resulting from the high data volumes of mobile positioning – tracking the location of mobile phones. At the latest UNWTO workshop, which took place online on Wednesday 20 April, it became clear that this MPD, in addition to playing a key role in the creation of meaningful tourism statistics, can be used for multiple beneficial purposes for the socio-economic development of a country.

Highlighting the potential of Mobile Positioning Data for tourism statistics

The tourism sector worldwide has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Workshop moderator Elcia Grandcourt, Director of the UNWTO’s Regional Department for Africa, stated, at the start of the event, that Big Data gathered from mobile networks was an essential component to this sector’s restart. Following which Esperanza Magpantay, senior statistician at the ITU, highlighted, in her opening remarks, the need for good quality tourism statistics, as well as new data sources. The participants in the workshop, Laurent Sarr, Technical Director at GVG, Siim Esko and Kaisa Vent, Head of Sales and Head of Methodology respectively at Positium, and Jaanus Kroon, Head of the Statistics Department at the Bank of Estonia, then offered their respective insights on the potential and challenges of MPD as a means to produce meaningful statistics.

Actual benefits of MPD

In his presentation on the potential of MPD, Laurent Sarr showed that MPD supports governments’ decision- and policy-making processes, regardless of the sector concerned, by enabling predictive analysis and highlighting mobility trends. He also explained, through two case studies, that in Rwanda and Ghana, GVG’s data solutions respectively helped enhance the governance of the digital sector and provided visibility over the spread of Covid-19. The Ghana case study specifically is a compelling example of how MPD can be used for the purpose of crisis management. Other purposes include the analysis of migration trends or urban resource planning and management.

In the presentation that followed, Siim Esko focused on the role of MPD specifically in the production of tourism statistics. He pointed out that, from a global perspective, mobile networks stood out as one of the best sources of data, not only for tourism statistics but also as a way to optimize the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He also reported on findings from the Bank of Estonia, which show that MPD is more cost-effective, faster, provides a larger sample size, and removes the burden that surveys may create on tourists. Positium has also found that MPD provides greater granularity and accuracy. MPD has thus enabled the company to uncover new tourism patterns not only in its home country, Estonia, but in various countries globally. This led Siim Esko to describe MPD as “the future of tourism statistics”.

The challenges of MPD

The issue of data privacy was raised several times during the session. On that topic, Laurent Sarr highlighted the importance of meeting the GDPR’s requirements to build trust. He also explained that data privacy can be ensured by acquiring real-time data, which cannot be manipulated or tampered with. Another possibility is to collect raw, binary data that the relevant agencies can then decode themselves.

Ensuring the quality of the data is, of course, also essential. In their interventions, Kaisa Vent and Janus Kroon both referred to solid methodological and quality assurance frameworks as ways to achieve this objective. According to Mr. Kroon, not only do these frameworks need to be standardized, but they should also be reevaluated regularly.

The insights shared by the participants confirmed that data, and MPD more specifically, was key for governments. Elcia Grandcourt rounded off this informative event by pointing out the significant role of the private sector in accompanying governments in their efforts to harness data to strengthen their decision-making processes.

Want to watch the recording of the workshop? Click here.