How New York’s official tourism agency NYC & Co leverages anonymized people-and-places data from Near

“We’re very similar to the New York Sanitation Department,” said Jon Tesser, VP Research and Insights at NYC & Company (he has since moved on to another opportunity). He was explaining the quasi-governmental status of the nonprofit. “The city funds us to a degree but we are not a city agency. They provide a certain level of funding and the rest of the funding comes from membership, since we’re a trade organization.”

NYC & Co is reponsible for nycgo.com, the official guide to the city, and it’s also behind the popular discounted dining event Restaurant Week. That’s all in plain view. What is less well-known is the value exchange with its business members, providing research and insights in return for membership fees.

The quality and specificity of the insights provided has been transformed, said Tesser, by their use of Near, the global people-and-places intelligence platform.

Near is the most important new source of data we could have asked for. With tourism data, basically none of it is real-time. The only real-time data we get is hotel data; it comes every week and we learn about hotel occupancy – that’s the only thing that gives us the pulse of the industry. Beyond that we don’t actually know what people are doing when they get here. We have a survey we do every year: Go and ask people at an airport, what did you do while you were here? That’s as deep as it goes.”

That’s how things were before Near, anyway.

Near’s technology literally tells you where they’re going, down to each individual restaurant, hotel, attraction, neighborhood, when they go, what they do – and that’s the intelligence piece of the puzzle that we’ve been missing.

Jon Tesser, VP – Research & Insights, NYC & Company

A pandemic-led change of focus

Pre-pandemic, said Tesser, “our focus was solely tourists.” That included international visitors, domestic tourists and day-trippers. “As the pandemic hit, there were literally zero tourists.” NYC & Co became a marketing organization to encourage residents to undertake appropriate activities around the city and support local institutions. “The focus has shifted back to being tourism promotion with the return of tourists to New York — getting people to come here and spend money.”

During COVID, NYC & Co leveraged Near to find out what locals were doing, creating a Mobility Index. “Are they going to parks, are they going to restaurants? What kinds of activities are they doing? We could see certain neighborhoods recovering faster than others. The other cool thing that we did was we set up an index by type of industry — restaurant, hotel, park, cultural attraction. How is foot traffic to every single business in that category, how is that doing for international, domestic and local? We provide that information to our members on a monthly basis to show them how certain sectors are recovering.”

Operational and marketing intelligence

Near’s roots lie in aggregating, resolving and segmenting vast quantities of consumer data for targeting and advertising purposes. Through two strategic acquisitions — Teemo in November 2020 and UberMedia in April this year, it acquired extensive location intelligence capabilities, resulting in the people-and-places intelligence proffer.

“We position ourselves in the data intelligence space,” said CMO Karen Steele. “The way we characterize that is twofold. There’s the marketing intelligence side, and then there’s the operational intelligence side. The core mission is delivering companies the data to make the smartest decisions, whether they be operational or marketing decisions.” Near manages some 1.6 billion user profiles from about 44 countries.

The question which immediately arises is whether the data collection practices are intrusive. In fact, Near bills its practices as “privacy led” and they have Global Chief Privacy Officer, Benoit Grouchko. As head of Teemo, Grouchko was one of the very first executives to run afoul of GDPR regulations — following which he re-cast Teemo as scrupoulously compliant, an experience he now brings to Near.

“Everything is anonymized,” said Steele. “Our data comes from many, many sources.” These include customers such as major credit card vendors, a rich source of transactional data, and well-known telcos. “We have a ton of partners in the data space too, including very specific vertical data providers. In the tourism space, for example we work with a company called Zartico that provides intelligence on the global visitor economy.

Near’s Vista product provides location intelligence based on opt-in geo data from smartphones. Allspark is a product specifically designed for marketers offering audience curation and activation; it’s the Vista product NYC & Co have been using.

A use case: World Pride

“World Pride is one of the biggest LGBTQ celebrations in the world, and it changes host city every year,” said Tesser. 2019 was the first time New York City ever hosted.” Using Near’s Vista product, NYC & Co were able to tell what individuals did during the actual day of the Pride march. “We were actually able to watch what those people did during their entire trips to New York City. I could tell you, of all the people who went to Pride, who were native New Yorkers, who came from out of town, what airports they came from, did they stay at a hotel or not, how long they stayed – now I’m getting specific information about this event, which without near is impossible to do.” All anonymized, of course.

The analysis went deeper. “The march was one thing, but we had all these celebrations after the march, all these parties. We were able to tell, like, 40% of the people who went to World Pride went to one of the after-parties,” information which could then be conveyed to member venues. “You can see the layers of intelligence you are able to get and it wouldn’t have been possible without this tool.”

This kind of “people who did this also did that” information is invaluable to NYC & Co’s members. “It gives you intelligence about the movement of aggregate groups of people so that you can better reach them while they’re here and talk to them at the places where they are at a microscopic level,” Tesser said.

“They’re starting to feed it back into marketing teams so that they can create a great experience, in this case for all those customers coming to New York City,” said Steele. “I think the big linkage and opportunity we see is this journey where marketing intelligence and operational intelligence come together to help companies make really smart decisions around how they run and grow their business and ultimately make a great customer experience.”

Recovery from COVID

When focused on the activity of New York City residents, Tesser found that using Near data in combination with Google search data produced more valuable insights. “In May, lots of people start searching for the local beaches; then you can cross-reference that to the Near data to see if people are actually going to those locations. You start to combine these data sources to get real intelligence about people’s behavior and the intent behind it.”

One important result: “If you know people are going to certain locations or areas, you can input that into a macro-economic forecast for tourism over the next six to twelve months, just based on the foot traffic that’s happening right now.” Invaluable for the city; invaluable too, said Tesser, to political representatives tracking recovery in their own neighborhoods.

“Near has become a huge center piece of a lot of the work we’re doing, and will be doing,” he said.

Note: Shortly after the interview, Tesser left NYC & Co to pursue another opportunity.

Published on MarTech