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Popular Tourist Hotspot Becomes First ‘Smart Village’ on West Highland Way

Ross Kelly

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West Highland Way

More than 120,000 people walk the West Highland Way each year, generating millions of pounds for the local economy.

A popular tourist hotspot on the West Highland Way has become one of the first ‘smart villages’ in Scotland following the deployment of new digital tools.

The village of Gartness near the beginning of the popular trekking route will use a new IoT (Internet of Things) system to support tourism and development in the local community.

The move is part of a ‘digital village project’ backed by the Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER programme, which hopes to use technology to revitalise rural communities and attract future investment.

A series of IoT-enabled sensors, developed by Wilderness Sensors, have been installed throughout the village to provide the community with near real-time data on the number of walkers heading towards Gartness and nearby Drymen, via the West Highland Way.

Long-term, it is hoped the system will help local businesses to monitor the demand for their services.

Around 120,000 people walk the West Highland Way on average each year, with tourism generating an estimated £5.5 million for the local economy.

Accommodation providers and hospitality businesses often rely on estimated numbers to anticipate the popularity of campsites, B&Bs and food and drink venues.

However, the new technology counts the number of footsteps on the popular walking trail, with the numerical data available to view online.

In addition to counting footfall, the smart network also includes an IoT-connected weather station, hosted at Drymen primary school, and water level sensors deployed on the nearby Endrick Water which offer a low-cost way for the community to monitor flood risks.

Douglas Johnston, chair of Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER, said it is hoped the project will demonstrate the capability and potential of IoT technology for similar rural communities.

“The Smart Digital Village project at Gartness is just the beginning of what could become a vast network of digital communities, including other points on the West Highland Way and beyond,” he said.

The IoT system makes use of North’s IoT Scotland network, powered by LoRaWAN technology – a wireless wide area network that enables long-range communications between sensors and application servers, using very little power.

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Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, said the project marks a positive step in unlocking the economic value of IoT tech.

“I am pleased to see sensor technologies being used in such a practical application, supporting local community regeneration. Digital connectivity is critical to Scotland’s economic and social recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic and for a rural village like Gartness, which depends on tourism, the use of sensor technology is delivering good results,” he commented.

“By providing a lifeline to local businesses alongside improving community resilience to events outwith their control, Internet of Things (IoT) has offered a cost effective and future-proofed solution and one that will continue to benefit the community for years to come.”

The project was born from a ‘FutureTech’ seminar held by CENSIS at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Country Park HQ in Balloch, which explored the use of IoT in tourism.

This workshop was part of a wider programme of business support commissioned by the Scottish Government and delivered by CENSIS to explore and support the use of IoT in Scotland’s key sectors.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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