What Do You Mean It’s Cash Only?!

Experiences of an Early(ish) Adopter in the Algarve

post by Charlotte Lenton ( 2020 cohort)

The Algarve is a tourist destination located on the south coast of Portugal which is incredibly popular with tourists from across Europe including the UK. The area is famous for the guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches, and welcoming hospitality. According to Statista (2023) the region received almost 4.8 million tourists in 2022, close to pre-pandemic figures. Popular resort areas include Albufeira, Lagoa, Carvoeiro, and Vilamoura. The latter is the place I am currently calling home for the next couple of months – Picture of the villa I have ended up in below (long story with a lot of complications and incredibly stressful moments involving several accommodation providers letting us down but it turned out well in the end bagging a massive villa with pool!).

I have visited the Algarve many times with my family whilst growing up and it was actually the first abroad destination I travelled to on holiday with my husband over ten years ago. It’s safe to say that the destination has a special place in my heart. But due to the pandemic and our finances being used to renovate our house for the past couple of years, my university exchange visit would be my first time back in the Algarve for almost seven years!

Those of you that know my PhD research area will know that I am most interested in exploring the impact that the digital tourism environment has on tourist mobility, accessibility, and experience for people who do not or are not able to use digital technology for whatever reason. I believe that being a ‘late adopter’ of technology is an ever-changing and evolving factor of people’s lives as we all make decisions about what technology we want to use, why we use it, and also why we choose not to use it sometimes. This will depend on the technology of course, someone might want to use a smartphone application to help them to travel by train if they are a frequent user of the railways. Likewise, they might also decide they do not want to have a digital ticket on their smartphone when travelling by plane as they are concerned the battery might run flat and feel more ‘secure’ with a printed version of the boarding pass. So, you can see how the extent to which an individual is a late or early adopter of technology can vary a lot between different technologies, the travel situation, and their personal circumstances. I consider myself to be on the early adopter side of the spectrum for most things like smartphones, but also a late adopter of many other innovations that I am more sceptical of.

There’s also a lot of research available that has explored destinations in terms of their ability, willingness, and innovativeness to adopt and use new technologies (see Buhalis and Deimezi, 2004; Spencer et al., 2012; Collado-Agudo et al., 2023) . This isn’t my research area as I am more interested in individual passengers and tourists, but nevertheless it is an interesting topic. Again, the technologies adopted at destinations vary between countries, regions, and businesses. Generally, lots of destinations in Europe have adopted technologies such as card and contactless payments as this has been widely available for a number of years. I raise this point as this has been an area of considerable challenge for me since arriving in the Algarve a couple of weeks ago.

When I am at home or travelling domestically within the UK, I hardly ever use cash nowadays. In fact, I find myself asking businesses if they accept cash as many places like restaurants, bars, and cafes only accept contactless or card payments. This move to a cashless society seems to have picked up pace since the pandemic in the UK. Admittedly, since the pandemic, I haven’t actually travelled outside of the UK until now, but I assumed (wrongly) that other countries in Europe were also following suit with fewer establishments accepting cash. In preparation for my travel, I took out a fee-free credit card and a new bank account which would also allow me to use the debit card abroad without incurring any fees. In my naivety, I thought that 100 euros in cash would be more than enough to see me through eight weeks abroad as ‘everywhere takes card nowadays’…. I wonder how many other British tourists have the same mindset as me in this regard?!

Upon arriving in the Algarve, I realised that I had made a terrible mistake in not bringing more cash with me as I encountered a number of places that only accept cash within the first few days. In addition to bars and cafes that only accept cash, there were also cash-only car parking machines! Coming from a country where several councils are moving their parking charges to ‘app only’ payments I couldn’t believe that the car parking machines here did not even accept contactless card payments.

A few days later it was time for my first visit to the Universidade do Algarve for a tour, to see my office, and have lunch with some colleagues. As my bag was heavy, I decided to leave it in my office and just take my phone with me… after all I have Apple Pay on my phone so why on earth would I need my purse?! (You see where I am going with this!) On arrival at the university canteen, I ordered the chicken dish for lunch with the help of my lovely Portuguese colleagues to translate this for me! When we got to the till to pay, I noticed that everyone else was inserting their bank card into the machine and realised that the machine was not contactless. Luckily my colleague and friend Professor Dora paid for my lunch as I explained that I was intending to use Apple Pay. This was not the end of the card payment saga for me at the university though… A couple of days later I attended an event which was followed by a self-paying lunch in the much fancier university restaurant. I made sure that I had my purse with me on this occasion so I could pay using my credit or debit card. On presenting myself at the till to pay for my food the staff member looked at my credit card, and told me it was a foreign card so was not accepted by the university so I would have to pay cash. I tried to reason with her by saying that it would be accepted as it would pay in Euros, it was a Mastercard, etc. but she was having none of it. So, for now, at least, it appears that I will need to pay in cash for my meals at the university too.

I guess my point here is surely I cannot be alone in my approach with assuming that European popular tourist destinations, like the Algarve, would be as keen to move to a cashless society as the UK. I am not saying that I agree with the UK moving to a cashless society, as I do think this will have negative consequences for many people including those whom my research focuses on giving voice to. But as a tourist who is so used to using contactless cards and Apple Pay in UK daily life, I wonder how many other Brits are caught out by this and end up using cash points (ATMs) with appalling exchange rates to get by when abroad. Maybe the tourists who are later adopters of this sort of thing would in fact be better prepared for travelling to the Algarve as they may prefer to use cash, who knows?! In any case, I am lucky that my parents are coming out to visit me this weekend, so I have asked them to exchange more cash at home where there’s a decent exchange rate and bring it out to me!

In the pandemic, cities are scrambling to expand cycling infrastructure: Big Data can help

post by Gregor Engelmann (2014 cohort) and Maria Catalina Ochoa

The coronavirus (COVID-19) and lockdown measures have created immense challenges for urban transport. But they also provide an opportunity for cities to rethink the future of mobility. Cycling, in particular, is enjoying renewed attention. This is not surprising, as biking offers many advantages that make it an attractive form of urban transport both during and after the pandemic: bicycles can ease the pressure on public transit systems, allow for easy social distancing, contribute to better public health, and reduce air pollution.

Yet we have a long way to go before cycling can become a mainstream transport option for urban residents. Motorized transport is often the default choice—even to destinations within easy cycling distance—and most observers are concerned that traffic will come right back once the virus subsides.

One major obstacle is infrastructure… or the lack thereof. Even in cities that have actively promoted cycling, such as Rome, Paris, or Bogotá, cycling networks are often fragmented, forcing cyclists to make use of busy and dangerous roads. Over the past decade, Bogotá has constructed 500 km of bike paths, locally known as ciclorrutas. These have contributed to a big increase in daily cycling trips, from 421,000 in 2011 to 635,000 in 2015. Despite this investment, gaps in the network and maintenance issues continue to affect the paths’ usage and residents’ overall mobility. 

If we’re serious about harnessing the full potential of cycling, it’s essential that cities address these issues and connect disjointed bike paths into cohesive, user-friendly networks. But where do you start? With limited fiscal resources, which parts of your city should you focus on to expand biking infrastructure? How can you ensure cycling investments benefit the highest number of people?

To answer these questions, urban planners traditionally rely on online or household surveys. But these are slow and expensive, often taking months or years from initial data collection to the planning stage. Recent advances in digital technology, however, are creating new ways to collect and analyze data. Insights from anonymized mobile phone data are particularly promising.

In our latest research together with the Secretaria de Movilidad de Bogotá and UC Berkeley, we used Bogotá as a case study to show how mobile phone data can improve our understanding of mobility patterns and inform the planning of new infrastructure. We first tapped into data from a local fitness app called Biko to analyze how cyclists move around Colombia’s capital and identify the biggest gaps in the ciclorrutas. We also mined data from cell towers to get a better picture of overall mobility across all modes, including private cars, public transport, and walking. We found that there are 4.1 million short- to medium-length journeys across the city every day that could be completed using a bicycle instead of a car. This clearly demonstrates that potential demand for cycling in the city is much higher than the 635,000 average trips in 2015.

Cyclist in Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá
Photo: Secretaria de Movilidad of Bogotá

Our analysis found a clear link between the presence of bike paths and the number of cycling trips tracked through Biko, while the inclusion of cell tower data highlighted how gaps in the ciclorrutas impacted the volume of potential cycling trips. We also noted that the cycling situation varies significantly from one neighborhood to the next depending on the socioeconomic context: this is particularly evident across low-income areas south of the center, where bike paths are less common and cycling accounts for a smaller proportion of trips vis-a-vis its potential. Hence the paper recommends prioritizing infrastructure investment in the southern area and in a series of specific links throughout the city to address the potential demand, where a lot of short trips are happening that are well-suited for cycling.

Already a cycling champion in its region, Bogotá is now better equipped to design a more comprehensive cycling network that would fit the projected demand and provide citywide connectivity. In an ideal scenario, that means cyclists would be able to complete their journeys safely and seamlessly without having to leave a bike path.

More broadly, our research demonstrates how mobile phone data can help gain insight into mobility trends and anticipate future needs. If used properly, Big Data can lead to better decision-making, improve development outcomes, and help decision-makers respond quickly and effectively to unexpected challenges such as COVID-19. And of course, as more and more people carry phones in their pockets, the approach we piloted in Bogotá can easily be replicated elsewhere.

Whatever the post-COVID reality looks like, it’s safe to say that data-driven planning will become an integral part of our new normal. We are excited to see what Big Data has in store for urban transport, and we stand ready to help cities make the most of it.

–originally posted on World Bank blog