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Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority Tracking Visitor Trends Through Cellphone Geolocation Data

The U.S. Supreme Court confronts the digital age again on Wednesday. At issue is whether police have to get a search warrant in order to obtain cellphone location information that is routinely collected and stored by wireless providers.

As tourism rebounds across the islands, the issues about management continue to be front and center. The Fourth of July weekend drew more than 100,000 travelers to Hawaiʻi's shores.

The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority announced it is using geolocation data, through a contract with location data company UM (formerly known as UberMedia), to track the recreational areas visitors and residents have been flocking to as the pandemic restrictions are being relaxed.

The Conversation talked to Jennifer Chun, the director of HTA’s Tourism Research about collecting that data from cellphones and analyzing the findings.

"One of the big reasons why we wanted to collect location data is to see how all our state resources and our county resources are being used," Chun said. "We've been working with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to put together a list of points of interest for parks and trail systems, and also for county parks and trails and beaches, to try and see how these assets are being utilized."

She says geolocation data comes from phone applications that use location services such as Yelp and Instagram. The HTA says the data is anonymous and individual devices cannot be identified.

Chun says it is her plan to begin sharing additional data with the counties. Click here for the latest geolocation report. The dashboard also highlights metrics for hotels, vacation or short-term rentals, and timeshares.

This segment aired on The Conversation on July 6, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
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