Challenges in collecting good data

In their quest for good intelligence, DMOs are frequently hindered by time and cost issues.

Costly, inflexible tools

A destination typically has a number of different contracts with software providers to collate data. These can often be complex and inflexible, each with their own set of processes and training needs. With RDA funding this was tenable but with tight budgets it is a challenge to meet the steep set up costs and fees of many accommodation performance monitoring systems.

A local survey can be prohibitively expensive so a DMO may use data from a national survey. Yet the sample size for a specific destination is often so small, that year on year comparisons are grossly exaggerated, sometimes showing a swing of over 200%.

Are DMOs really using the right tools for the job?

Reports with limited value

Getting up-to-date statistics can take ages by the time the plethora of data sources are put together. Delays in reporting can mean missed PR opportunities and limit how responsive a DMO can be.

By the time all the Tourist Information Centres have been called and their numbers fed into a master report, it is all a bit ‘after the event’ and less than useful for partners and businesses. They want up-to-date relevant reports they can act on. How can DMOs engage with businesses when the providers feel they are giving more than they are getting back, and not getting any useful benchmarking? In some regions, providers only get a report once a year, despite feeding in data monthly.

DMOs are sometimes accused of not sharing information. But their hands are tied.

Disparate sources, labour intensive collation

Correlation and data entry is prone to human error and is just plain time consuming, due to the diverse sources of data, which may include:

  • Accommodation statistics
  • Visitor attraction and TIC footfall
  • Destination benchmarking
  • Website statistics
  • Business performance monitors
  • Visitor surveys
  • Volume and value measures (e.g. STEAM/LATI)

All too often, this information is thrown into a big pile, and not utilised properly. Data is stored in Word reports, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations…there is no central point of storage, making it difficult to compare statistics, combine data from different sources for analysis, and to compare one year with another.

It is common to find a considerable amount of data that’s been collected, but very poorly used.

Equally, there are often opportunities to cost-effectively utilise data, collected by other departments or organisations, that are being missed.

Cruise tourism…how good (or bad) is it?

There is much debate about the value of cruise visitors to a destination, and has been for some time.

I’ve just arrived in Vanuatu, as small country in the South Pacific, that is experiencing an extraordinary growth in cruise visitors – 155,000 in 2011, increasing to 215,000 in 2012.  Early indications show that 2013 will at least maintain the level of arrivals experienced in 2012.

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In Vanuatu we are implementing a cruise survey to try to measure the impact all these visitors have on the local economy.  Compared to air visitor surveys, cruise surveys are easy.  So many variables that need to be considered for air visitors (are they bonafide tourists for a start?…What is their purpose of visit?…How long do they stay?…Where do they stay?) do not enter the equation.  Cruise visitors are virtually always travelling for leisure, they don’t stay in accommodation on land, and their expenditure is relatively simple.  Shopping usually makes up the bulk of expenditure, with a small amount of spend on food and drink.

However, the biggest difficulty tends to be dealing with shore excursions.  There is considerable money in these for both the cruise lines who sell them, and the local people providing the tours and experiences in the destination.  When analysing the surveys, account must be taken of the commission taken by the cruise lines or tour operators selling the shore excursions, as this will not reach the local economy, and it is often at least 50% of the sale price.

It will be interesting to see what the findings are in six months time when the survey is complete.  In other destinations where we are currently working, such as the Falkland Islands, there is a noticeable trend in declining expenditure by cruise passengers, as more and more spend their budget on the cruise itself, and leave very little for extras on their voyage.