The use of the vast quantities of social media data to identify trends is on the rise. Most of these projects have been for real time analysis such as understanding the spread of flu or the movement of people after a disaster.
A novel application of social data analysis has emerged from researchers at the Natural Capital Project, who have tapped into the million or so photos uploaded to Flickr with geo information attached to them.
The researchers wanted to try and replicate the high level of understanding surrounding who visits man-made tourist attractions for natural areas such as parks and beaches.
They mined the 1.4 million geo-tagged images on Flickr to get a picture of where people were going, and indeed where they were coming from. They then cross profiled this against the visitor surveys from 836 recreational sites around the world. They found that the Flickr trends were a pretty reliable indicator of how many people both visit the tourist attraction each year, and when they choose to do so.
The study represents the first of its kind, with no previous mining of social data being used to predict tourism trends.
“No one has been able to crack the problem of figuring out visitation rates and values for tourism and recreation without on-site studies until now,” said Anne Guerry, lead scientist at the Natural Capital Project. Until now, researchers had to rely on local surveys and head counts to get this type of visitation information. Using social media to get ideas of where people are visiting, and where they are coming from, is faster, less expensive and better for looking at changes over time and space.
It provides a nice example of how social data can be utilised to better manage our natural resources. It will give officials greater insight into what attracts people. It also holds the promise of better natural area management because land-use planners, park managers and government officials can use the information on visitation rates to better manage their lands for the people who use them.