Technologies such as mobile apps give the user the possibility to help improve the sustainability of tourist destinations. Credit: Jan Böke.

  • Innovation

Three apps for a more sustainable vacation


Summer has arrived, and with it the new travel season has begun. For a country like Spain, which in 2018 alone received 82.6 million foreign tourists, guaranteeing sustainability in this sector is an increasingly critical challenge. Applying smart solutions in aspects such as water or waste management can help many localities to tackle this issue. But there are also easy-to-use technologies that allow every traveller to do their bit to reduce negative impacts while on holiday.

Enrique Martínez, president of the State Mercantile Society for the Management of Innovation and Tourism Technologies (SEGITTUR), argues that within the concept of sustainability it is necessary to consider not only the reduction of costs, but also the quality of employment in the sector, the environmental impact of short trips and longer stays, the protection of cultural heritage and the coexistence of touristic economic activities with local businesses, as well as between visitors and residents. To do this, a joint effort is needed. "There is a cultural part and a willingness required on the part of the tourist, but there is another part that corresponds to the tourist system of a country," he says.

In this regard, an example to highlight is Benidorm. This locality was the first in Spain to obtain, at the beginning of this year, a certification as a smart tourist destination. Among the pioneering initiatives that the city has been working on, there is a Big Data system that monitors the impact of tourists during their stay through the information they generate (for example when they buy something in a shop or make a reservation at a hotel) and a smart office where that data is analysed.

In this way, as the Benidorm City Hall explains, it is possible to detect "problems or weaknesses" and "see what the solutions are and apply them." One of the possible applications is to identify points of great agglomeration in order to improve the security of that area or to control regulated tourist apartments, according to Europa Press.

While other Spanish locations are working to become smart destinations and improve sustainability, users can take advantage of their mobile phones to help achieve that goal starting from their next trip. Below, we have selected some tools that may be useful for this.

Too Good To Go is the free app which allows you to purchase unsold food from top eateries at the end of service, to prevent it from being thrown away. Credit: ToodGoodToGo

Limiting the impact when moving from one place to another

Liight is an app created in Madrid by two university students that proposes challenges with rewards in order to achieve sustainable actions. The user can select activities such as recycling waste in localised points on a map or traveling by public transport, by bicycle or on foot. As you overcome these challenges, you add points that can be redeemed later for prizes ranging from discounts to subscriptions to platforms like Spotify and Netflix, explains founder Santiago Jiménez.

When you select a transport-related activity, the application also offers a calculation of the amount of CO2 saved compared to whether you were driving by car or another polluting vehicle. The monitoring system validates the progress in a different way depending on the way you choose to move (for example, setting a speed limit if you are walking or cross-referencing the data with public transport schedules, stops and lines), explains Jiménez.

Liight is active with all its functionalities in the Community of Madrid. But the calculation of distances also works in the rest of Spain, says Jimenez, who along with his team is already working on also extending all the options of the app to Valencia, Gran Canaria and Bilbao. The app is available in the digital stores of Apple and Google.

Reducing food waste

On vacation, the chances of dining out increase, and our eating habits as tourists can impact the sustainability of the places we visit. To reduce this impact, there are options such as TooGoodToGo, an application that allows stores and restaurants to offer reduced prices on products that have not been consumed throughout the day.

The establishments adhering to the initiative are shown by proximity to the user when activating the location in the app. From their mobile, users can select restaurants that offer surprise packages, whose content and quantity depend on the food not sold that day. Among the comments from users who have tried it, some point out that there is no system to rate the offer of each restaurant and thus to know what quality level their products are really going to have.

ToGoodToGo is already present in 13 European countries and can be downloaded from the Apple store and the Google store.

Contribute to science when tourism is possible with this app, Pl @ ntNet, which allows you to identify and also to catalog plants. Credit:

Contributing to the cataloguing of plants

If you have planned a vacation in a natural environment, you can contribute to common causes such as scientific research while still doing touristic activities., for example, is a collaborative science project designed to identify unknown plants, based on an app with which a user can both recognize a plant that has been found, and participate in the cataloguing process of those which the rest of the community have located.

One just needs to take a good quality photo of a specific part of the plant (for example one of its leaves or flowers) so that the system can store it and cross-reference the information it obtains with the data already in its catalogue. The app then returns to the user a series of plants that others have catalogued.

In this way, users can search among the results that have been found, or can register on the platform and catalogue it themselves. After an initial process of moderation from the platform itself, other users can review these annotations and evaluate or modify them. The app has been developed by a consortium of public entities and French research centres, has 20,000 catalogued plants in its database and operates in different parts of the world.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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