When we travel, we’d like to think that our impact is minimal. Whether we’re climbing the steps of the 2,500-year-old Acropolis in Athens, or setting up a tent on Tasmania's Cradle Mountain, the aim is to leave the places we visit more or less how we found them.

But how do we know what our ecological footprint actually is? And how can businesses build products around the principles of sustainable tourism, where travellers only make positive impacts on the local environment, society, and economy?

That’s what Dr Anne Hardy, a senior lecturer in tourism at the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, is figuring out, as she connects researchers with industry to provide the first real evidence of what tourists get up to, minute by minute, while on vacation. 

“Very early on in my research I realised that, while we did know where tourists went and where they stopped, we didn’t have the technology to figure out the details, and that stayed with me for 10 or 15 years,” said Dr Hardy. 

“So we designed an app to track and survey people as they travelled. It was the first time in the world that tourists had been traced for the entire duration of their trip. The industry loved it so much, they funded it in 2017.” 

At a time when our daily movements and personal data are being surreptitiously bought and sold by various corporations, the Tourism Tracer project has been revolutionary in the way Dr Hardy and her team have been able to provide a positive tracking experience for their volunteer tourists. 

And the insights, which have been made available at the online Tourism Tracer dashboard for anyone to access, have been extraordinary.

“Until recently, people haven’t wanted to be tracked,” Dr Hardy said. 

Telephone companies tend to do it without our consent, and when researchers tried to do it, the tourists said no, or would not allow tracking for more than one day. But we were able to get the most incredible detail.

Dr Hardy

Dr Hardy and her team have been able to gather information about how long tourists would stand at a particular lookout, and what they’d do after visiting Hobart’s art museum, MONA.  

“We know the speed they’re travelling, and we know that 13 per cent of them do most of their travelling between 11pm and 3am,” she said. “Researchers and industry wanted to understand how we did it." 

The project has been so transformative that Dr Hardy was invited to showcase it as a tool for sustainable tourism at the 2017 United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation conference in Botswana. 

“The goal of the conference was to share cutting-edge research, develop a call to action, and enable the industry to lobby governments around the world to include sustainable tourism principles in their policy,” said Dr Hardy. 

Back home, data from the Tourism Tracer project is already being used to inform a massive review of how the state of Tasmania does tourism research. 

We realised it’s a positive form of disruptive technology. In the past, we used paper-based surveys, asking if people could recall where they’ve been. Now we don’t have to ask those questions, we just know where they’ve been.

“We’ve done a report for road safety on who’s driving fast, and who’s breaking the speed limit, and we know who goes to the national parks, and who’s crowding car parks at busy times. Knowing this, we can tinker with tourists’ behaviour through marketing to have a major impact.” 

Insights from Tourism Tracer are not only helping government and industry decision-makers execute smarter tourism marketing, strategy, and infrastructure, they’ve also helped bust some long-held myths, such as where people go after they depart from the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in Devonport. 

“For a long time, the tourism industry has made decisions on anecdotal evidence, but we now have data that has challenged these myths,” said Dr Hardy. 

“It’s been a game-changer for Tasmania and tourism research.”

About Dr Anne Hardy

Dr Anne Hardy is a Senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania and the Director of the Tourism Research and Education Network (TRENd). Her PhD was awarded from the University of Queensland. Her research interests are neo-tribal marketing, the self drive tourism market and stakeholder perspectives of tourism development. Her recent projects have included: research into the behaviour and motivation of Recreational Vehicle Users in Canada and Australia; a study into the attitudes of Tasmanians towards tourism development; and research into the neo-tribal behaviours of tourists.

View Dr Anne Hardy's full researcher profile