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University of Ulster Research to Boost Tourism

19 April 2011

University of Ulster academics investigating how emerging mobile technology can be used to boost tourism in Northern Ireland have received significant funding from the EU’s Northern Periphery Programme to develop their project.

Dr Peter Bolan, Director for International Travel and Tourism Management at the University’s Coleraine campus says mobile applications technology (apps) could be used to create site specific interpretive visitor information for key tourist attractions in Northern Ireland, effectively turning the tourist’s mobile phone into their very own personalised tour guide.

Some tourism providers are already using ‘apps’ to provide tourists with information but Dr Bolan says their project will bring the use of apps to the next level by providing a much more extensive and immersive experience for visitors to key tourism attractions.

“People want fast, efficient and easy access to all kinds of information and mobile technology has huge potential to improve the visitor experience at tourist attractions. The current ‘apps’ are really just replicating information already readily available in a variety of other formats, such as online or in guidebooks or brochures. The proposed apps will use audio and video clips in new and creative ways to provide onsite location specific information.”

Dr Bolan continued: “If visitors can access all the necessary information through their mobile phone, it makes it much easier for them to plan their visit and make the most of their time here. We would hope that by making the information more accessible to visitors, they will be encouraged to explore more and ultimately, spend more time and money here. Another important benefit would be to showcase how Northern Ireland is leading the way in harnessing the latest technology to promote tourism in such an innovative way.”   

Initially the project will target sites of cultural and historical significance along the north coast, such as the Mussenden Temple at Downhill and Dunluce Castle, using computer generated imagery to create ‘augmented reality’ by combining virtual scenes with real scenes.

“This way we can overlay existing historic ruins such as Dunluce with virtual views of what the building would have looked like down through the centuries,” he said.

The project also plans to use the latest GPS technology to pinpoint the visitor’s exact location and then highlight other attractions of related interest nearby. Visitors will be able to key in their specific needs and preferences to generate their own personalised tour.  

Dr Bolan will work in collaboration with colleagues in the School of Media, film and Journalism. Helen Jackson, Project Leader and  lecturer in Interactive Media said: “This project implements the latest mobile applications to provide the tourist with a host of important information whilst on site at a specific visitor attraction.

“This in turn will avoid isolation of the visitor from their surroundings and encourage greater interaction with the attraction and associated aspects, providing a more worthwhile and satisfying experience.”

“This is an exciting time for tourism in Northern Ireland and we need to capitalise on the exciting opportunities coming up in the next few years such as the Titanic anniversary and opening of the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre in 2012 and Londonderry hosting the first ever UK City of Culture in 2013.

“It’s vitally important that we tap into emerging forms of technology that tourists are now becoming familiar with and indeed demand, to further support and develop tourism in the province,” she added.