30th January 2013

Identifying business opportunities along the Wales Coast Path


In the guest blog below, Richard Fairhurst, one of our GeoVation Challenge winners explains how he’s been progressing with development of a website which will help businesses identify opportunities along the Wales Coast Path

Growing Routes is designed to help people identify business opportunities along the Wales Coast Path. By bringing together many sources of data, and presenting them in a simple, appealing way, it helps the would-be business owner the work out where their venture might have the greatest chance of success.

For example, Growing Routes might highlight areas along the path with a paucity of Bed & Bs and campsites, or areas with good wildlife (shown by Sites of Special Scientific Interest) that could attract visitors. By identifying the ‘sweet spots’ where all the favourable data comes together, it encourages successful businesses to start up along the Wales Coast Path.

That’s the theory. So what about the practice?

The core of the site will be a heatmap, draggable and zoomable like any modern webmap, but with a colour layer superimposed to show the best areas. The initial stages of work have been to build this heatmap, test the design, and feed sample data sources into it.

An image showing the growing routes screenshot

Most web heatmaps are fairly simple in concept, showing the density of points and nothing else. This project requires something more complex. As well as points, we need lines (for example, the line of the path itself) and polygons (such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or urban areas). A point or shape might be good news – for example, a tourist attraction that will draw in visitors; we want to show that with a higher value. But it might also be bad news, such as a competing business; we want to show that with a lower value.

The impact of each point or shape will be different, too. Walkers on the Wales Coast Path might not want to stray too far off route for their B&B – one mile maximum, perhaps; so this shape on the heatmap needs to be drawn with a mile-long radius. On the other hand, a walking tour business with its own minibus has more flexibility, so the radius can be greater. Finally, as well as radius, there’s ‘weight’ – how important a particular feature is.

The first part of the project has seen this engine successfully built and working, pulling in data from the back-end database and displaying it attractively. Work is now underway on gathering useful data and feeding it into the database. Meanwhile, development work shifts from the heatmap towards the user interface – the controls allowing users to say how important they think each data source is for their business idea.

It’s exciting to see the project taking shape. By the end of the next phase, we’ll start to have a site that can be used to inform real decisions about starting businesses on the Wales Coast Path.