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Innovation Spotlight:

Using mobile phone data for Tourism Statistics

CSO planning new analysis of Tourism Statistics which will:  provide valuable new insights for decision makers; guarantee individual privacy and provide value for money


The role of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) is to provide independent statistics on economic, social and general activities and conditions in Ireland.  There is a growing demand for statistics across virtually all topics, to provide the insights needed by decision-makers and citizens in an informed modern democracy. 

Tourism Statistics

In 2016, some 9.5 million overseas visitors came to Ireland, up from 8.6 million the year before. Around 80% of all visitors to Ireland come into the country via Dublin airport. The CSO does carry out some paper surveys at the airport to determine where visitors are going and where they are from, but once they leave the airport; there is very little statistical data available on where they go next.

This makes it very difficult for developers and promoters of tourism products in other parts of the country to see if their products are working. Statistics on the regions visited, the popularity of tourism destinations within the country, and patterns by nationality and port of arrival would all be of great value to decision makers, the tourism industry and in planning for the future. 

The CSO is committed to providing better data for decision makers and has been developing a proposal to help solve the problem.  The solution involves using aggregate anonymised mobile phone data in a way which will not intrude on people’s time or, importantly, their privacy.

This CSO innovation project is one of several initiatives across the European Statistical System (ESS) to use new data sources in the production of statistics that provide greater insight into social and economic trends whilst at the same time guaranteeing privacy.

How does the CSO propose to do this?

The CSO hopes to address these gaps using the approximate location (such as the town) gathered from a random sample of anonymised mobile phone data of visitors to Ireland only.

Only the broad location reference and the country of origin of the phone would be collected.  It will not include any name, address, phone number, identity numbers of the phone or any other particulars which can identify any individual visitor to Ireland. 

Importantly, the CSO will not have access to the mobile phone number or any of the reference numbers which the mobile network operators use to identify a particular phone. 

The sole aim of the proposal is to use anonymised data to produce statistical aggregates. The CSO is confident that this can be done while protecting individual privacy.

What happens next?

The CSO has not obtained or analysed any mobile phone data yet.  Before doing so, several technical, legal and statistical points need to be addressed. 

In this regard, the CSO has been working closely with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the mobile network operators to identify a technical solution which meets the highest data protection standards. 


Users and researchers are kindly invited to provide us with your feedback on this project proposal by emailing:

Find out More

Feasibility study by Eurostat First project

ESS Big Data programme

Article 29 Working Party Opinion on the Concept of Personal Data

Article 29 Working Party Opinion on Anonymisation Techniques