Augmented Reality

The importance of Augmented Reality for cities and tourism


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The range of possibilities offered by smartphones today has generated the need for services adapted to new technologies. Among those that have grown the most in recent years is Augmented Reality, also known as AR. The transition to this technology has been organic and driven by the significant importance that mobile phones have acquired in people’s personal and professional lives, especially during travel.

Nowadays, people like traveling light and versatile.

Gone are the days of carrying around a map, a translation dictionary, a travel guide, a wallet, and a camera. Now, all these elements are within reach of unlocking a cellphone screen, and pointing the camera at specific directions, places or elements.

What is AR?

AR adds digital visual information and elements, in real time, that overlay the physical world we see through the camera lens of an electronic device, such as a smartphone, which enhances the way we experience reality. This hybrid reality, made up of both the real and virtual world, allows for immersive and interactive experiences that are now revolutionizing tourism.

Smart city + smart destination = Smart travel

The term “smart city” refers to a city which uses new technologies to make all of its systems interconnected, including administration, transport, health, education, security, energy and utilities. This allows for great optimization opportunities on many different levels, from citizens’ apps and devices to buildings and even entire urban regions. When we understand how this works, cities can be made more efficient, interactive and comfortable for their inhabitants, as well as sustainable and mindful of the environment.

Similarly, “A smart destination is a geographical space (which can range from a neighborhood to a network of cities) where tourism development is planned and executed based on technological infrastructure, allowing local sustainable development while providing quality of the experiences for visitors and the quality of life for locals.”

Some examples of smart cities are New York, Songdo (South Korea), Oslo and Singapore.


Common uses and fun examples of AR in tourism


  • Getting complementary information of places of interest within a city:
    There are specific apps that use the phone’s camera to identify the places that surround you and give you useful information about them. You can do this while walking the city or even inside a hotel room with a wall map!

  • Finding places to eat/grab a bite:
    Using the same functions that you use for sightseeing, you can also satisfy your local food craving by looking at all the different eatery options scattered throughout the city.

  • Using public transport:
    Whether it is the bus, subway, tram or train, an AR app can provide you with useful information on the nearest stops and stations, as well as schedules and arrival times.

  • Experiencing museums in a different way:
    With the boom of QR codes, you can now scan each plaque and get information of every single piece, and you can even play it as an audio guide if you prefer to skip reading during your visit. Tour guides are still a very much welcome option, but AR in museums gives you the freedom of not being tied to a scheduled group. Some museums even offer AR experiences which allow you to look at the artwork with animation and movement of the scenes they represent.

  • Visualizing life in that city in the past:
    And if museums aren’t your thing, you can still get your dose of history and culture by using an AR app that recreates historic events and lets you see ancient landmarks as they were at the peak of their glory. Fun fact: Rome is already doing this with the Colosseum.

  • Gamification:
    Aside from the clear example of Pokemon Go, the tourism industry can also benefit from the gaming possibilities that AR offers. Some hotels have already started to implement entertainment elements to their physical environments, in order to improve customer experience. One example is scavenger hunt-type activities, which can be either inside a specific hotel or building, or it can be a massive city-wide activity.Activities and games such as these allow tourists to explore the city, interact with it, and visit different landmarks in a fun way, which is also great if you are with kids!

  • Accessing special events:
    While you play, you can even get rewards for completing quests, or even get lucky and find a specific place where the AR app gives you information on exclusive events.

  • Translation:
    Sometimes you may feel silly when you are in a supermarket, in a foreign language speaking country, and it looks like you are taking pictures of the stuff in the shelves.

    But if it works, then none of that matters. With apps like Google Translate, which use AR, you can point your smartphone camera towards the text that you want translated, and it will change to your own language on your phone screen. This is one of the most helpful functions for tourism.Suppose you want to eat at a restaurant with authentic local food, but the menu is in a language you don’t understand. Apps like these can help you look at the menu in your own language.

    You can also use it to translate public signage that can help you find a restroom, and even avoid getting into places you shouldn’t!

  • Seeing places that are difficult to reach:
    Finally, AR can also show you spaces that are hard to access, or you can even make an AR test visit to places that you are interested in touring physically, before you commit to buying a plane ticket.

Advantages of using augmented reality in tourism


  • Increase visitor interaction and immersion:
    AR in tourism has proven to be a great way to help people learn more about their surroundings and save time by learning about different places on the go. This greatly improves the user experience.

  • Attracting new users:
    Because of the innovative factor it involves, people are curious about all the possibilities that the digital transformation offers. As a result of this, new kind of tourists such as flashpackers have emerged, enjoying the freedom of traveling alone and without a schedule, like backpackers, but still wanting to have some comfort and luxury, and embracing technology as an important part of their trip. When these travelers go to smart destinations, they will appreciate the differentiation it offers in terms of possibilities.

  • Sharing information with other users:
    Word of mouth recommendation is the best advertising you can get, and this applies for tourism as well. When people tell their friends and relatives all about this city that is so innovative and provides the best experience for tourists, chances are most of them will want to go (or at least be curious).

  • Saving time:
    Doing quick searches to find any place you need to go or checking the public transport schedule beforehand can spare you a lot of your precious vacation minutes.

    Augmented Reality is also a great way to make the most of your time and gives kids a reason to go outside and enjoy a social experience like no other.

  • Easy to use and accessible:
    Due to most people having smartphones, AR is readily available for everyone, especially if a city has public Wi-Fi connections. Most apps are also free to download, so that is a bonus.

What does an AR app need to work?

AR requires you to have a mobile device (typically a smartphone) with these specific elements:

  • Camera
  • Marker (an image or object that is used to activate AR features and position the visual content)
  • Virtual information
  • Screen
  • Augmented Reality Software

It may also need other elements like geolocation (GPS), Bluetooth and Internet connection (although some functionalities may work offline).


Success stories and inspiration!

World Around Me (WAM): You can find and visualize information about many tourist destinations, and locate any place you need, like ATMs, museums, parks, shops, restaurants, hospitals, public transport stops and more. This convenient and useful app won the Google Play Award in 2016 and continues to grow and help tourists make the most of their trips.

Smartify: When you are in a museum, this app will come in handy when you want more information about a specific artwork. You can even learn more about the artists and listen to audio guide tours. The app is constantly adding new content, and it currently contains data of several museums, like the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

ViewRanger: For the outdoors and nature lovers, this app maximizes your hiking and biking experience. You can find trekking routes and save them as maps, and even identify landscape elements.

To recap


So, how can a city make the most of its tourist attractions and bring in some added value to them? We think giving Augmented Reality a shot may help to stay on the loop and upgrade their travel game 😉

At ThinkUp we want to help you use Augmented Reality for your city, neighborhood, museum, school or even for the tour of your company either for visits or your own employees. Let’s think together about how we can help you apply AR!

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