Tagging and releasing has long been used in animal studies but a Tasmanian university is now trialling the technique – with a modern twist – on tourists.
In research which could reshape the multi-billion dollar tourism industry, select holidaymakers arriving in Tasmania are handed phones loaded with free data, then tracked via an app as they travel around the state.
The result is detailed information on how long someone stands at a lookout, walks through a national park or browses an art gallery – potentially lucrative information for tourism operators.
“It’s almost jaw-dropping when you see the potential of what that could mean for the state,” Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said.
The project, undertaken by Sense-T – a research collaboration involving the University of Tasmania and the state government, is the largest and longest of its kind in the world.
Project leader Dr Anne Hardy said the research came about because the tourism industry wanted to know more about exactly where people were going.
It is only halfway through but project leader Dr Hardy says that it could replace traditional research.
“Surveys are really great because you can get really detailed information from people but you don’t really know where they go,” she said.
Tasmania is already a leader in tourism research, mainly due to its island geography, and the industry is worth more than $2 billion, Mr Martin said.
“That’s basically forestry, mining, dairy and agriculture almost combined … tourism is a big deal for Tassie. One in eight Tasmanian’s jobs are directly or indirectly linked to tourism,” he said.
In February the number of overseas visitors to Australia who spent most of their stay in Tasmania rose to 11,700 – a jump of 30 per cent on 12 months earlier and the highest monthly number in at least 25 years.
So far 337 tourists have taken part in the project and 95 per cent of them even returned the phones, Dr Hardy said.
“They have been fantastic because it is such an interesting project. We have had no problems at all recruiting people … I think they see it as having a little bit of a say in the future of tourism research,” she said.
Data collection will end in May and results are expected by September.