Muskie School of Public Service

Muskie undergraduate & faculty advisor win Best Research Paper at tourism conference

Colleen Metcalf, a first-generation college student, and her faculty partner, Dr. Tracy Michaud, recently won the award for best research paper at the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, North Eastern North America chapter (ICHRIE-NENA) conference.

Their paper uses metadata of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) from Flickr (the most popular social media site of professional photographers) to study the connections between photography, tourism, and social media in Maine. VGI is sourced from publicly shared photos with attached geotags (latitude and longitude). These photo tags provide a wealth of knowledge for researchers; they can detail meaning, intent, feelings, value, and consumer interest in a destination. Colleen and Dr. Michaud used this information to look at the tagging behavior of two groups (visitors and locals) from 2010-2019. Studying tag semantics between these two groups allowed them to find differences that had not yet been seen in other analyses of VGI.  

This project has been six months in the making but is built from collaborative work that they have been performing for the past two years. They were initially introduced by Dr. Bampton, a GIS professor at USM who Colleen took a class with, he recognized Colleen and Dr. Michaud had similar interests when it came to VGI and facilitated a meeting. Colleen was drawn to this topic because she is fascinated by the digital footprints that people leave as they go about their everyday lives, some purposeful and some not. They both laude VGI as a non-invasive means of gathering data on how people use and perceive space.

Both Dr. Michaud and Colleen are from Maine and understand the importance of tourism to Maine’s economy. This knowledge also helped spur their research, as both know how important understanding people’s use of space in the state is for marketing it as a tourism destination. This research has further implications for helping inform on relationships. Tension between locals and visitors is a common issue when discussing tourism, and Maine is not stranger to this issue. This data can help inform them on relationships between these two groups and hopefully inform policy that caters to the interests of both.

This method of studying individuals has the potential to be broadly beneficial as it can be used anywhere that visitors are taking photos and uploading to Flickr. It is also scalable in geographic scope; it can be used to look at smaller areas like towns or cities, or it can be expanded to include regions, states, or even entire countries. They plan to next use the research and analysis techniques employed here to compare travel patterns in Maine to other North Atlantic destinations, including Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, as well as Alaska.

Dr. Michaud has been teaching full time in the Tourism and Hospitality department for ten years. She was drawn to USM because of the engaged nature of the program with the greater community and Portland itself. She is passionate about making sure that USM students understand the importance of the tourism industry in Maine and graduate with the necessary skills to become leaders within it.

Colleen is a fourth-year undergraduate in the Geography/Anthropology program with a specialization in applied GIS and geospatial analysis and a minor in computer science. She will be graduating this May. She was drawn to USM for its well-known GIS program and affordability to her as a Maine student. After graduating she hopes to find employment that offers tuition reimbursement and would like to pursue a master degree part time, potentially in spatial informatics or data science, but is keeping her options open.