Hospitality and tourism on the Highlands and Islands are set for an IoT refresh thanks to technology developed by CENSIS, Scotland’s innovation centre for sensing, imaging, and IoT.
In partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise area team on the Isle of Lewis, the HIE Innovation team, and the Outer Hebrides Cruise Forum, the a new pilot IoT system has been installed at the Calanais Stones.
Ahead of an anticipated growth in cruise tourism in 2024, the team at Calanais has turned to technology to help monitor busy periods that have a knock-on impact on other businesses in the community such as shops and cafes.
The new internet-connected visitor monitoring sensors are helping hospitality and tourism businesses on Lewis to understand these patterns in visitor numbers.
“This technology can provide accurate real-time data that will undoubtedly support the booming tourism industry in the islands, and we’ve seen success from similar initiatives in the past involving sites on the West Highland Way,” Ally Longmuir, business development manager at CENSIS, said.
“We hope to expand the initiative to cover additional sites that will paint a more detailed picture of how visitors are interacting with the Islands key heritage sites.”
Starting with the standing stones – one of Scotland’s best-preserved Neolithic monuments, erected around 5,000 years ago – the partnership already has a view to expand the technology to cover other popular areas and attractions.
The IoT sensors collect information about the number of people attending the site at one time, allowing patterns to be identified. Data collected is then displayed via an app-based dashboard where the Calanais team can monitor numbers in real-time.
If the data dashboard shows the site is particularly busy as soon as visitors arrive on Lewis, for example, they could be advised to visit the attraction at a quieter point of the day.
The Calanais Stones, which pre-date Stonehenge, currently attract over 130,000 visitors per year. However, a £60m Deep Water Terminal set for completion next year will boost tourism in the islands – with the new infrastructure enabling larger cruise ships to berth in the Stornoway port.
The Outer Hebrides Cruise Forum was established to help communities maximise the economic opportunity, including the introduction of new technology.
Mark Davies, project manager of the Calanais 2025 project said: “The Calanais Stones are a must-see for visitors to the island and while the site has coped with large visitor numbers, car parking is often limited. We have an opportunity to better manage the peaks and troughs throughout the day.
“Visitors to the Islands bring fantastic opportunities for the local community and businesses, but it is important that we ensure they have the best possible experience while here and we have the infrastructure and capacity to make their visit memorable.”
John Mackenzie, senior development manager innovation HIE said: “This is a great example of a technology driven innovation project in the tourism sector adopting a data driven approach to understanding and managing visitor numbers to enable strategies to be developed to maintain the quality of the visitor experience whilst managing infrastructure capabilities across the island and taking into consideration environmental factors.
“This is a great example of IOT, sensing and data being used to help achieve a specific output.”