News - July 6, 2015

Flickr helps map touristflows

Roelof Kleis

Photos on Flickr show exactly how tourists move around a city. Master’s student Sander van der Drift analysed this for AMS (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions), with some attention-grabbing results.

For this analysis, he sifted through three million photos of the Netherlands, the result of a decade of Flickr (2005-2014), and picked out all the snaps of Amsterdam. There were nearly half a million. He was able to use the information attached to the photos — the metadata — to see which snaps were taken by foreign tourists.

He didn’t do this by hand; he wrote software and let the computer do the work. About a quarter of the photos were left after that exercise. They already give a good overview of where the tourists come from. The Americans and Brits head the list, followed by the Germans, Italians, Spaniards and French. Smart clustering algorithms were then used to find patterns in the mass of photos. That ultimately produced the picture that drew all the attention: Amsterdam and its tourist hotspots.


Photos leave trail of crumbs in the city
Of course there are the usual sights, with the Dam as the most photographed subject. But the massive letters of Iamsterdam in front of the Rijksmuseum are also popular. More computing wizardry revealed the routes the tourists took. The hotspots were known anyway. Van der Drift: ‘But just as interesting is that my data shows that there are a lot of places where few or no tourists come. The city could do something about that in its PR.’

Amsterdam has a growing problem with its tourism,’ explains Van der Drift. ‘Too many people take the same route. You could use promotion materials to encourage a better spread.’ The Wageningen student says that is why the city’s councillors are so pleased with his work. ‘They didn’t have that kind of data before. There is data on museum visits and visitors to the Central Station, for example, but nothing on squares and public places.’

Van der Drift got a well-earned 9 as his grade for his assignment. There is no problem with his other grades (8.9) either. Even so, he was not awarded a distinction. ‘I got a waiver for the internship because of my work experience. And apparently you can’t graduate with distinction if you have a waiver. I admit I’m annoyed about that. My supervisor is discussing the matter with the board of examiners.’