Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Team Thessaloniki completed week three, the final stretch, of our assignment to help the city further its Open Data initiative.  One of the key outcomes for the city will be a prototype dashboard, a hub for a variety of stakeholders to share and use data, and the roadmap for ensuring its effectiveness.

We think an important success factor will be populating the dashboard with a large cross section of data within a particular domain. One that is critical to the city and its economic competitiveness.

Tourism is one of great resonance to the city and could be a good place to start.

In collaboration with the Deputy Mayor Spiros Pengas we hosted a Design Thinking workshop that brought together over 40 stakeholders in the city’s tourism ecosystem.

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IBM’s Tim Coates kicks off the workshop

It became clear quickly to the IBM team that tourism would uncover vast opportunities for data sharing. The City of Thessaloniki is awash in rich culture. Often referred to as the “co-capital” of Greece, the city is renowned for its vast architectural and religious heritage where in, and around the municipality, there are numerous and notable historical treasures. The Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, the tomb of Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish architectural structures.

In addition to history, there is a vibrant arts community that has helped the city receive the European Capital of Culture designation, as well as named a best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle. Throughout the year numerous annual events are hosted including the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and the Thessaloniki Song Festival.

Mayor Boutaris, who has been named ‘the best mayor of the world’ by the City Mayors Foundation, has led a transformation of Thessaloniki to strengthen its reputation as a tourist destination. His belief in public and private partnerships is widely credited with increasing visitors to the city (in turn generating revenues without the need for expensive investments). For example, collaborations with neighboring Turkey and Israel, have increased tourists to the city due to its strong historical and cultural ties with both countries.

Our workshop was organized to uncover and seek out solutions to some of the challenges in the tourism sector. We used Design Thinking in order to uncover the key data sets that would be of most value to open and share – and also because the methodology is ideally suited to fostering strong collaboration.

Like so many public services, a diverse mix of travel agents, hotel owners, entrepreneurs, convention organizations and others all share an interest in promoting the city. But data is held by different organizations or not at all. The lack of a central tourism organization to collect and share needed data makes bringing these constituents together complicated.

By asking participants to explore the travel experience through four ‘personas,’ characters facing experiences we heard in our interviews, we were able to identify and prioritize a range of data sets for the municipality. These ranged from segmentation information of visitors by age, nationality and interest; mobile phone usage; an event calendar; conversations on social media and a breakdown of leisure vs business tourists.

The excitement and energy in the room was validation that Thessaloniki will gain significant benefit from an open data dashboard, it also stands to gain from more closely connected and collaborative stakeholder communities across all policy areas.

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Thessaloniki’s Tourism Ecosystem, including Thessaloniki Convention Bureau, Thessaloniki Tourism Organization, Thessaloniki’s Hotel Association, the Chamber of Commerce, city employees, entrepreneurs, and independent travel agents who took part in a Design Workshop with IBM’s Rahul Chenny, Xenia Zoppas, Georgios Pakos and Tim Coates.

Now we work to weave in key outcomes from the workshop into the final recommendations for the city. We do this having also experienced Thessaloniki as active tourists ourselves. If we could figure out a way to remain here for several more weeks we would. The opportunity to immerse ourselves in all that this great city has to offer has been an experience of a lifetime!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One
The Universal Language of Post-it Notes
Team Salonika Heads Back to School

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