How 5G could help reignite the tourism industry next year

The tourism industry is currently flat-lining, but could 5G technology help revitalize it with new experiences next year?
1 April 2020

Passenger in a 5G AR tour bus. Source: Telefónica

Besides being a cultural and tourism hotspot, in any normal year, Barcelona is an annual meeting point for the world’s largest gathering for mobile technology.

Mobile World Congress (MWC) attracts more than 100,000 technologists to the European city, and while the show was forced to cancel this year, Barcelona’s spirit of innovation certainly hasn’t been lost in 2020. 

This year, local telecom Telefónica, Mediapro Group, and Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) collaborated in one of the very first 5G AR (augmented reality) projects, which is set to give the tourism industry a taste of the city’s new digital pulse. 

Running as a pilot program, passengers on the tour bus were treated to an immersive experience in which digital content is projected onto the front window of the vehicle, superimposed on the landmarks and landscape while touring. 

The 5G Augmented Tourism pilot integrates 5G data and location service capabilities to power an atypically-wide AR display where digital content appears.

In contrast with the current market, where AR development is focused on lighter and smaller screens, such as headsets or smartphone screens, equipping the tour bus with a large screen while allowing passengers to freely move, provides a collective and immersive experience. 

Customers can also interact with the touchscreen display for more information on attractions and monuments – the technology offers and alternative to traditional audio tapes or tour guides. 

The pilot program may demonstrate the power of AR in the tourism industry with new experiences and technologies becoming crucial to rejuvenate the industry when widespread travel restrictions are eventually lifted. 

“5G networks will transform tourism by giving us almost unlimited real-time access to communications, data and computation services,” Arturo Azcorra, Director of IMDEA Networks, said in an interview

Due to 5G’s light speed and low latency capabilities, data-heavy technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), extended reality (XR) technologies, cloud, and edge computing rely on the wireless network to unleash its full potentials.

Azcorra emphasized that “Any country left behind in this [5G] race will suffer a severe setback in its appeal as a destination.”

Recognizing the rapidly essential role of 5G in bolstering tourism, the UK has also kicked started a 5G Smart Tourism project in the West of England. 

The Royal Crescent in Bath, a city in the West of England. Source: Shutterstock

In connection with the UK’s push to roll out 5G services nationwide, tourism is one of the industries that is set to profit. In the report, visitors contribute up to £2 billion (US$2.48 billion) to the region. 

While the project is focused on establishing robust and secure 5G infrastructure, its uses cases in tourism aim to provide “compelling experiences that add value to high-quality destinations, enhanced visitor safety, and wide awareness of 5G benefits,” as stated in the report. 

An increasing number of next-gen tourism projects are poised to kick-off in the coming year thanks to 5G technology.

According to Ericsson, 25 percent of respondents in the tourism industry experimenting with new tech believe that in a year from now, we will be exploring destinations through AR-enabled information and maps overlaid onto our physical environment, facilitated by the cellular technology.