Experts Convene for a Global Conversation | Destination Cities: Accelerating Urban Tourism and Economies

On Thursday, July 8th, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and City Possible convened experts from around the globe for a virtual conversation to discuss strategies for bringing back tourism in a sustainable way that also produces inclusive prosperity for great destinations.

The global pandemic has devastated the tourism and travel industries. In 2019, more than 10% of global GDP was attributed to tourism. Following the pandemic, the tourism and travel sector lost almost $4.5 trillion, and around 120 million people have lost their jobs. 

Experts Convene for a Global Conversation | Destination Cities: Accelerating Urban Tourism and Economies Share on X

Thank you to all the speakers and audience members who joined our virtual event. We’ll be sharing more key insights shared by experts to help spark ideas and conversation topics that you can take back to city leadership. 

Accelerating Urban Tourism and Economies - city travel

Dublin – Evaluating Data to Plan for the Future 

Jamie Cudden, the Smart City Programme Manager and a key member of the Dublin City Council, and Barry Rogers, the Smart Tourism Programme Manager, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic forced popular travel destinations to reimagine how they could leverage data to understand the tourism economy. Cudden says data is key to giving a picture of the tourism window of recovery and noted that data helps officials understand policy and program development.  

Below are some key data points from the Dublin Economic Monitor. These numbers reflect an overall year-over-year change:

  • – 61.1% in tourism spend in Dublin
  • – 87.1% in tourism spend in Ireland
  • – 94.4% in American tourism spend in Dublin
  • – 98% in Chinese tourism spend in Ireland

In partnership with Mastercard and City Possible, Dublin can effectively use data insights to help them understand the economic health of the city and informs their economic and tourism revitalization strategy. 

Rome – Engaging Visitors and Citizens With Innovative Solutions 

Raffaele Gareri, the co-founder and former president of the Smart City Association Italy, outlined Rome’s unique strategies to engage citizens and tourists. Rome’s Smart City Plan has invested 200 million euros across 11 different areas of intervention for residents, local businesses, and tourists. Rome has also implemented a “tourism dashboard” that surveys, analyzes, and monitors statistical data that can be accessed by various departments in the city.  

The dashboard includes:

  • Tourist spending
  • Employment data of the tourism sector
  • Number of visitors to museums and other cultural attractions 

This platform helps city officials in Rome monitor the different aspects of the tourism industry. It enables city officials and partners to share information and understand what’s happening in Rome as they map the presence and flow of tourists. 

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Some innovative city-wide programs Rome initiated are: 

  • The Roma Pass: Contactless smart card that gives tourists free or reduced admission to city-managed museums and attractions 
  • The Citizen Wallet: Incentive system that rewards citizens and tourists for using public transit, online services, or other sustainable activities

Gareri noted that developing cooperation with public partnerships is essential to these programs so users can get rewards from those partners. 

Athens – Using Tourism to Make a Better Livelihood for All Citizens 

Alexia Panagiotopoulou, the Head of Strategy at the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, spoke about how the city of Athens has a holistic response to the pandemic and to the city’s tourism development. The goal is to make Athens a safe, accessible, and sustainable destination for everyone and to establish a circular tourism model, which would enable tourism revenue to stay in the city. 

One of the ways Athens hopes to accomplish this is by improving the overall quality of life for both citizens and visitors. Panagiotopoulou discussed how Athens is building long-term collaborations with partners in the private sector that contribute to social, business, and urban development.

Some of these programs include:

  • Athens Partnership
  • This is Athens and Partners
  • Adopt your city
  • Athens Traders Association

Athens is actively working to attract more initiatives from creative industries. Over the past year, the Athens Film Office provided support for more than 40 productions by helping to book film crews and various services, bringing international film productions to Athens, and boosting the local economy. 

Prague – Using Data to Make Educated Decisions

Jana Adamcova, a board member at Prague City Tourism, outlined the city’s approach to elevate its city as a desirable tourist destination and improve the quality of life for its residents by implementing similar city passes and Citizen Wallets as Athens and Rome, and partnering with the film and entertainment industry to provide more benefits to tourists. 

In 2020, the tourism board created the “At Home in Prague” program, which provided hotel guests free admission to city attractions for each night they stayed in a hotel. The city was able to review data to determine the efficacy of the program at each hotel and understand which attractions were benefitting from the complimentary vouchers. They extended the program this summer as the program boosted the city’s economy by over 200 million CZK. 

To learn more about Prague’s data-driven approach to solutions, read about it in an upcoming blog from Adamcova. 

World Travel & Tourism Council – Supporting Cities Around the World

Tiffany Misrahi, the Vice President of Policy and Research at the World Travel & Tourism Council, discussed the economic impact of the COVID-19 on travel and tourism worldwide. While 2019 was a great year for the sector, 2020 had a devastating impact, resulting in jobs lost and decreased national and city revenue. According to Misrahi, for every 30 new international travelers that come through a destination, one new job is created. Travel destinations benefit from the increased economic revenue from international travelers, but the sector also drives job opportunities and creates meaningful social impact as tourism is a way to bring people back together and connect residents and travelers in an impactful way. 

Accelerating Urban Tourism and Economies - Global TravelMany data-driven findings the WTTC has determined align with the way cities globally have begun preparing for the return of tourism. Some of these findings include:

  • Public-private partnerships are needed to establish an international mobility framework and restore international mobility
  • Cities including Rome, Athens, and Prague are already working towards enhancing their destination readiness in preparation for the recovery of international tourism
  • Destinations have to be a great place to live, not just to visit
  • There’s a need for coordination and collaboration to recover from COVID-19 and build resilience for future crises

Misrahi noted that no country had done it perfectly, but they have gotten different pieces right. Coming together in a virtual setting will help cities gather the right pieces together. 


Global Cities Seek to Revitalize Tourism Sector 

This virtual conference allowed city leaders to share insights they’ve learned throughout the past year. We learned what they’re doing to bring tourists into their city while improving their residents’ overall quality of life. 

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more information from city experts. We hope to continue the conversation and bring more innovative solutions to cities around the globe. 

If you missed the event, you can watch the replay of the event on the City Innovators website. To learn more about how cities are leveraging data insights to build a more inclusive and sustainable tourism economy, contact Rita Okcuoglu, Director of City Possible Partnerships at Mastercard at or visit  

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