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St. Petersburg on Instagram. What pictures do tourists and residents take

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Pavel Nikiforov takes a look at the pictures from the Northern Capital on the popular social media app

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: “Over the past years, there were 12 million pictures made on Instagram in St. Petersburg. And if we study these 12 million pictures – who, when and where made them – we can learn not only the routes of tourists in our city, but the spots which they particularly liked”

Students of the ITMO University made those calculations. The young scientists have developed a computer algorithm, which allows finding museums, cafes, streets, parks and other places which are the most popular among residents of St. Petersburg – based on Instagram postings. The project author is Kseniya Mukhina. She’s yet to graduate next year, but her work has already been published at a prestigious English-language scientific magazine.

Kseniya Mukhina, engineer at the research institute within ITMO University: “The main idea was to find the places which interest the locals the most and suggest those to tourists. Because when somebody comes here, that person is given a rather limited list of places – which are always available in tourist guide books.

  • All people just go to the same places and bring identical pictures back from St. Petersburg. To the point that tourists’ view of St. Petersburg is very limited.

  • That is the problem. We took a look at Instagram – what tourists post and what the locals post. Turns out that tourists just go to Nevskiy and a few steps on the sides, and they see nothing else. But St. Petersburg is a big and beautiful city, with a lot to see.

In other words, tourists have locked themselves around Nevskiy. More specifically – at the segment between Ploschad Vosstaniya and Dvortsovaya. Certainly, you can also see tourists by the “Aurora” or the Petropavlovskaya Fortress, but Nevskiy stands no competition. And they are hardly to blame for this. Its our flaw and miscalculation. But the residents are much more diverse. The most popular spot in the “theatres and museums” turned out to be Ledovyi Dvorets. It has surpassed Mariinskiy in terms of the number of pictures taken there. The most popular place in “parks and gardens” section is Park Trekhsot Letiya.

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: “There’s no more popular place in the city’s North than Park Trekhsot Letiya. No other place in Primorskiy district can boast more photos taken than here. The map of the most popular places in St. Petersburg is ready and publicly available. Theoretically speaking, any tourist from abroad can study this map and put the park on his or her route. But one would see here is a beach which has not been taken care of well enough”.

Its not really self-criticism, but rather an example of what a map and an app like this can give us. On the one hand, the city’s administration and local businesses can pay special attention to the places recommended for tourists on the map – like improving the beach which happens to be very popular among the residents. Meanwhile, tourists will be able to go beyond Nevskiy, where they were put by tourist guide books and travel agents.

Evgeniy Pankevich, general director at “City tourist information bureau”: “It’s a debatable topic, and we can come up with many examples. But our task today is not only developing the classic St. Petersburg and classic tourist routes, but also exploit new popular directions. Here’s an example. We are launching high-tech information stands at Pulkovo and other places. We’re not talking about just providing information, but also receiving it. We want to know who our tourist is, what’s the preferences. There will be an in-built app at those stands which will gather stats and help us offer particular content for a particular tourist”

Moreover, information on particular interests of particular tourists who come to St. Petersburg is already there. The Angels have its. The self-described “Angels Service” consists of 12 employees of the city’s mobile information service. They are cruising around the city center on Segways, with a logo “I know St. Petersburg”. Their job is to give directions to tourists, provide them with different information and – most importantly – point them towards the most interesting places.

Ekaterina Maksimova, city mobile information service: “The Chinese mostly ask not about museums, but shopping malls. They are mostly interested in shopping, because they move around in groups, not individually”

-Ok, so the Chinese ask about shopping centers. What are Europeans interested in?

- Europeans ask about exhibitions. They are more interested in culture and historic places, like Spas-Na-Krovi temple.

- Is anyone asking about food?

-Yes, but those are mostly Russian-speaking tourists.

There you go – concrete preferences and interests, based on nations. And if we manage to apply this knowledge right, all those – the Chinese, Europeans and tourists from other regions of Russia – will bring more money into the city’s budget. But even more importantly – we’d be able to raise the city’s profile, make it more popular in the world. Aleander Vischeratin is Kseniya Mukhina’s curator, she wrote the algorithm to determining the most popular places in the city based on posts and pictures. He is doing post-grad studies now – and it seems that soon enough these young specialists will enter the tourist market with readymade solutions.

Alexander Vischeratin, research curator at research institute within ITMO: “We only have to continue the research in the current direction. It is the first research of such kind, in such direction. We are now working on two more articles related to tourism. And we are planning to go even deeper into this field, expanding our knowledge of the subject.”

We will all win from this scientific study. The only thing we have to avoid is the rather common scenario – we invent something, but it is used somewhere else.

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