VISITFLANDERS combats COVID-19 with app


The free YouFlanders app from VISITFLANDERS lets tourists check how busy or quiet specific tourist attractions are. It also tells them which safety precautions are in place there. If the location is too busy the app proposes an alternative destination. By supplying the localisation data, Orange is contributing to safe tourism.

The tourist sector is among those that have been severely impacted by COVID-19. From the start of the lockdown, VISITFLANDERS looked into ways to support the sector. It quickly became clear that providing information on the coronavirus and safe tourism were absolute priorities. Sam Versele, Ambassador Relations & Recovery Projects at VISITFLANDERS: “We wanted to offer people a tool to help them make the right choices for their outings. At the same time we also wanted to support operators in the industry in their struggle against the virus. In late April, we decided to develop a mobile app.”

To make tourism in corona times as safe as possible, it is important to avoid high visitor concentrations in any single location. This allows everyone to respect the safe minimum distance. “We were already working on a crowd barometer for our app, based on crowd sourcing,” Sam Versele explains. “Every app user can check how busy any specific location is. However, when an app like this is first launched there aren’t enough users yet, so it’s hard to gain an accurate idea of the level of activity. That meant we needed an additional information source.”


Level of activity per zone

Before long, VISITFLANDERS settled on telecom data: deriving the level of activity in a specific location from the number of mobile devices detected in the zone around a cell tower. “We contacted several operators,” says Sam Versele. “Orange quickly emerged as the best partner to help us reach our goal.”

The data Orange supplies has been made completely anonymous. Every five minutes, an update is forwarded, showing how many phones are connected to any particular cell tower. Data analysis partner Cropland uses the Orange market share and statistical models to extrapolate a number relative to the entire population. This number per zone (the area around the cell tower) is translated to a scale of 1 to 4, and to four colour codes (from green to red). “This analysis compares the level of activity with a reference point; in this case, it shows how busy the site is compared to mid-June”, Sam Versele explains.

“We took the time to make a detailed examination of the data each party had to offer”, Sam Versele recalls. “Once we’d made our choice the implementation took slightly less than a month to complete. Our collaboration with Orange and Cropland went very smoothly.” Since the introduction of the functionality that measures the level of activity per zone, the number of downloads of the YouFlanders app has risen considerably.


Active role for visitors

It’s the first time that real-time telecom data has been used in our country on this scale. VISITFLANDERS purchases the data on a monthly basis. “Originally we planned to do this until the end of August but since the second wave of COVID-19 has started much sooner than anticipated, it may be a good idea to offer this functionality a while longer. The main thing is that the app gives users active control, hence the name YouFlanders: we give visitors the information they need to make their own choices so that not everyone ends up in the same locations.” Sam Versele concludes: “I would like to see everyone who visits any part of Flanders install our app. This way we can fight COVID-19 together but, more importantly, we can also support the local tourist sector.”


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