Faculty member uses data to help inform tourism decisions, improve local economy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State faculty member has used big data to help inform local officials in Charleston, South Carolina, regarding tourism decisions and potentially improve the local economy.

Bing Pan, associate professor of commercial recreation and tourism in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management at Penn State, worked with doctoral student So Young Park and identified five potential cities for direct flights out of Charleston using big data, which is visitors’ digital traces when they use mobile phone devices or visit a website.

Usually the distance and the populations will determine human movements between two different cities, said Pan. Barriers to travel could contribute to the volumes, too. Using a gravity model, the researchers determined that the markets with the most potential for direct flights out of Charleston would be Portland-South Portland, Maine; Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota/Wisconsin; Jacksonville Florida; Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania/New Jersey; and Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas.

“We revealed potential cities for direct flights for the benefits of a city’s economy. This helps a city to make a case to airline companies to gain most benefit for the local tourism economy,” Pan said.

Specifically, researchers used a new conceptual model for identifying the most profitable direct flight route for a destination, which examines three overlapping visitor types: flight passengers, hotel guests and mobile device users. The study compares the market’s potential to travel to its interest in the destination, to identify the profitable markets.

Researchers developed a theoretical framework that incorporates the purchasing model with gravity models, which helped identify the most promising markets for a new direct flight route.

Empirical evidence validated that the availability of a direct route will help increase the number of visitors. The study also identified the particular markets from which the number of visitors would increase if there were a direct flight available.

Researchers also noted that airlines may not agree with the identified markets. For the airlines, the number of passengers on a flight is the sole focus. Therefore, airlines might create a new route for which there is already a large number of passengers. However, the researchers said this does not mean visitors will increase. The number of passengers for an airline can increase while the number of visitors remains the same, said Pan.

Researchers published the findings online in January in Tourism Management.

Pan conducted extensive consulting work with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau in his previous position as director of the Office of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston. The Charleston Area Tourism Bureau requested the study as the agency is researching ways to increase the presence of low-budget airlines in Charleston. Officials believe such an approach could increase tourism and boost the economy.

In a separate study, Pan worked with Yang Yang at Temple University to determine the best modeling technique for forecasting weekly hotel occupancy combined with big data sources and validated the most accurate time series model.

“Big data can help the hospitality industry predict the future more accurately and thus allocate resources or hire part-time employees accordingly. This leads to saved cost and increased profit for hotels,” Pan said.

Researchers published the findings in the seventh issue of the Journal of Travel Research in 2017.

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Last Updated April 10, 2018