Jul 27, 2022 - Business

Des Moines' tourism agency tracks visitors via cell phones

An illustration of a cell phone.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Catch Des Moines began using Arrivalist, a service that tracks visitors by their cell phones, in April, Trina Flack, vice president of sales, tells Axios.

Why it matters: It can better estimate the economic value of events and where future promotional investments are spent, Flack said.

  • Catch Des Moines will give out more than $500,000 in incentives this year to attract or assist events in the metro.

How it works: Arrivalist uses algorithms and mobile location data with an average accuracy of 30 feet.

  • In the past, Catch Des Moines was more reliant on an event's self-reported stats like registration numbers to estimate economic impact, Flack said.
  • The new data allows tourism officials to review how many people were in specific locations during an event.

For example: Some of the initial Arrivalist DSM reports are just coming back, including data on last month's Red Bull Soapbox (which Axios Des Moines participated in).

  • It generated an estimated total economic impact of almost $1.4 million, which is good for a one-day event, Flack said.

Of note: No personal information is collected or distributed to third parties, according to the Arrivalist's privacy policy.

  • The information provided to Catch Des Moines measures aggregate data and does not identify people or their phone numbers, Flack said.
  • Heidi Mannetter, an associate professor who teaches digital marketing at Drake University, told Axios because of that, she believes the threat level to personal privacy is low.

Yes, and: The data can also help with public safety by alerting event planners to things like overcrowding or traffic congestion, Arrivalist CEO Cree Lawson told Axios Tuesday.

  • Plus: Only people who allow apps like weather services permission to track their locations are included in Arrivalist's algorithms, he said.

The big picture: There are concerns about the use of location or mobile data technologies.

  • The Federal Trade Commission threatened this month to use privacy laws against companies that exploit sensitive health information.
  • The ACLU last week published thousands of government records, alleging mobile location data has led to constitutional violations of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Bottom line: Phones are now influencing DSM tourism.

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