The cities and towns of the future are interdisciplinary knowledge sharing machines.

The global visitor economy, powered by the travel and tourism industry, is a worldwide innovation distribution channel connecting them.

The #1 challenge in the visitor economy today is that we in the industry don’t have a shared definition of what success looks like heading into the 2020s.


The “City as Platform” theme defines how governments are integrating their physical and digital spaces more intentionally to provide better infrastructure and services for both locals and visitors. It’s the foundation for smart(er) cities, built around advanced connectivity and mobility, and the future of how people will live and work together.

Traditionally, cities have been defined by “place,” relating primarily to their size, culture, economy and physical landscape. How we interpret place, in that context, has informed our identity for millennia.

Today, the definition of place is evolving to include shared digital platforms across both the public and private sectors, designed for connecting like-minded communities — regardless of location — to leverage the collective knowledge of their networks.

Meaning, cities and towns of all sizes represent an evolution from place to platform.

Most of my career has focused on trends driving the future of the global visitor economy from an industry perspective. A few years ago, a professor at the House of Logistics & Mobility in Frankfurt told me: "The city of the future is an interdisciplinary knowledge sharing machine."

The meaning behind that specific conversation related to how cities are leveraging their creative and advanced industries more strategically to attract conferences in those industries. Therefore, the competitive advantage for cities to grow their business event sector is shifting from the quality of the built environment to direct access to knowledge — from buildings to brainpower.

That was a defining conversation that informed how I contextualize the tourism industry and visitor economy as a global innovation distribution channel.

As such, travel for me is no longer about travel itself, and all of the related infrastructure and experiences: airlines, hotels, food, tours, events, etc.

Rather, the visitor economy is a platform for building more progressive communities and a pipeline for personal and professional transformation for both locals and visitors.

However, there’s not a lot of consensus today between the public and private sectors about how that actually works. Today, I work at NEXTFactor Enterprises developing that alignment between governments and tourism industry organizations worldwide. 

Greg Oates

Photo: Athena Lam