Embracing Web-based GIS to promote tourism

Embracing Web-based GIS to promote tourism

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Perak state government declared the year 2012 as the Visit Perak Year. Dato’ Dr. Dolbani Mijan shares with Geospatial World how the state government is planing to attract 5 million tourists in 2012 and what will be the role of GIS.

Dato’ Dr. Dolbani Mijan
Dato’ Dr. Dolbani Mijan
Director
Perak Town & Country Planning Department, Malaysia

What is the vision behind Web GIS for tourism in Perak?
The state of Perak in Malaysia is rich in tourism attractions, including natural, man-made, heritage and cultural attractions. To promote state tourism, the state has declared the year 2012 as the Visit Perak Year. In conjunction with Visit Perak Year 2012, 10 attractions have been chosen as “tourism icons” for the state and the state government has targeted to achieve 5 million tourists arrival in Perak for this year.

These ten icons include Matang mangrove swamp forest, Lumut and Pangkor Island, Gua Tempurung which is the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia, Perak Herbal Park, Royal town of Kuala Kangsar, Felda Residence hot springs in Sungai Klah, Sungkai; Orang Utan Island at Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, Royal Belum which is the world’s oldest rainforest, Taiping Zoo and Ipoh, which is well known for its beautiful limestone hills and diversity of food.

Our visitors might get to know about the 10 icons, but how would they know their locations? It is to address this issue that we have initiated our Web-based GIS for tourism. A general Internet search may throw up very superficial kind of information, but we want to provide much more in-depth information about the icons – their location, details and description. We want to add more visual appeal to these icons through geotagged information. We want to make the tourism-related information available to the public easily, on the fingertips and give a fillip to their travel plans for the state.

What are the activities for which you are using GIS?
We are using GIS mainly in our day-to-day operations, especially in physical planning and also giving out planning advice in the context of Perak state. We are also using Web GIS to map out the Perak tourism Icon. Our project is called ‘Discover Perak tourism icons through Web GIS.’

What is the objective of this project?
Traditionally, Department of Town and Country Planning has maintained some geospatial layers that related to tourism such as attractions including those 10 tourism icons, amenities, transportation and etc, but it was never published on the Web. The department has therefore undertaken an initiative to make the geospatial data accessible on the Web by using technology based on Free Open Source Software for GIS (FOSS4G). This application provides capabilities i.e. visualisation such as distribution of attractions, detailed information about the attractions and its accessibility.

We found out that there were tourist maps available for Perak, but all of them were in the form of graphic map or static image, they had not been produced or rendered using GIS technology. We had the data layers in our GIS but they were not published on the web. This was how the idea came about for this project and it is also in line with the Visit Perak Year 2012.

The objective of this project is to publish our current data layer on Tourist Attractions in Perak to the web. Secondly, we wanted to try out some FOSS4G solutions to develop Web GIS applications. We are hopeful that this will complement existing Perak Tourism Website in term of mapping out the attractions.

Can you describe the architecture for the Web GIS being used by the department?
For this initiative, we have chosen GeoServer as the map server and OpenLayers as the map client. Using open standards set forth by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), GeoServer allows for great flexibility in map creation and data sharing. OpenLayers is a pure Javascript client-side library, it has no dependencies on server-side scripts or software. We have found that this combination provides the ability to simply serve map data on the web without high license fees and with a minimum setup effort. In addition, the system provides good performance and reliability. We have mashed up geospatial data layers from two different map services – our data layer (from Geoserver) and Google Map Service. For each tourism icon, we have embedded photos and URL link up with the detailed info that available on portal. We have also published other attractions that Perak has to offer and link it with Google search in order to help visitor to get info about the place of interest.

Who is the custodian for this Web GIS?
Perak-GIS, which is an initiative started by Perak Town & Country Planning Department, is the central data repository. This Department therefore maintains some GIS layers include those on Perak tourism which was established last year. This repository features data layers belonging to various agencies and departments which we are trying to integrate. Given the varying capabilities of different departments, we are imparting training and undertaking the process of cleaning up the data while also encouraging data sharing. We want to use GIS Perak as a decision support system for the state.

Since the project has been initiated this year, what are the future plans?
As I mentioned earlier, tourism is very important for Perak. Perak is targeting five million tourists this year but our GIS initiative will not stop with only this. It is going to be a continuous project. Perak state has one of the highest aboriginal populations in Malaysia. It is important to identify them on the map as well, something that we will be doing shortly.

The application we have developed using GIS can be potentially enhanced with features such as routing and web 2.0 such as visitors’ reviews, ratings, social media etc. This can take us further in being able to deliver more geospatial information to the Perak-GIS stakeholders in an efficient way.

Geospatial technology can give a lot of information about different tourism spots. We have found that it can also enhance tourist traffic. For example, Perak has some of the oldest rainforests in the world. Recently we held a festival for rainforests which witnessed participation from countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Australia, Singapore, India and so on. Such turnout was facilitated by increased awareness through geospatial information on the Web.