Grading Accommodation in the Falkland Islands

ImageFor the last two weeks I’ve been in the Falkland Islands, grading serviced and self-catering accommodation for their new accreditation scheme.  In simple words: dishing out stars…one, two, three, four or five, based on a set of criteria.

Following some fairly useful discussions with hotels, lodges, guest houses and ownersof self-catering houses earlier in the year, we established a set of guidelines that we hoped would work for the Falklands, where the environment is considerably more harsh than here in the UK, and supplies of food, in fact anything, are harder to come by.  Allowances had to be made.

Nevertheless, the grading had to sit well within international standards.  There’s no point in developing a scheme that works in isolation to the rest of the world.  A tourist booking a 4 star hotel in the Falkland Islands will expect it to be broadly in line with his or her understanding of what they would expect in a 4 star hotel in, say, Newcastle.

That was the core principal behind the establishment of this scheme – to align international visitor expectations with what they actually get when they stay in the Islands.  Over-promising and under-delivering only leads to unhappy tourists who are unlikely to return, or worse still, spread the word that the destination isn’t worth visiting.

Using the scheme to encourage accommodation establishments to improve their services and facilities was only a secondary reason for the scheme, but nonetheless an important one too.

Typically, with these schemes, an inspector grading an accommodation establishment would turn up, and check in incognito, as a regular paying guest.  They would undertake the inspection, and only reveal their identity at the end of their stay in order to discuss their findings and gain access to other parts of the property that they would not be able to see as a normal guest (such as other bedrooms and the kitchen).

This procedure is completely out of the question in the Falkland Islands, where most people know who is on their way before they even cross the equator, on the long airbridge flight from Brize Norton, and where the names of passengers travelling on internal flights are read out on the radio the night before!  So this scheme had to be implemented in an open way.

Fortunately this worked in the Falklands.  I would say without exception, no one put on a display for me.  Everyone was very honest about their property, and on the whole were delighted to receive suggestions about how they could improve.  And in most cases the evaluation awarded their property with a higher grade than they expected.

It’s like all data collection.  Be open, tell people what you are going to use the information for and how it will help them, and you are 90% of the way there.

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The Secret to Successful Data Collection…in Denmark

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I’m in Denmark for the week, introducing a number of coastal towns to T-Stats.  It’s all part of a project to develop seaside towns in the country, and my remit is to provide a solution that will allow each town to measure and track tourism at the local level.

The situation here is very similar to that in England, VisitDenmark (like VisitEngland) commissions a nationwide accommodation occupancy survey, and there is also an annual attractions survey.  However, whilst these are useful for generating a picture of tourism at the national, and even regional level, they are of little use at the local level.

One issue is that the number of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other types of accommodation that report their statistics is too small in these surveys to provide meaningful information at the local level.  Another issue, possibly more pertinent, is the lack of immediacy in the national survey data.  It takes too long for the data to be released, and so by the time it is, the moment has passed.  It no longer has the significance or usefulness that it would have had if it had been published a month after it was collected.

What we are doing in Denmark is holding meetings at each town that is part of the coastal tourism project.  Owners or managers of accommodation establishments and attractions are invited to attend, and the online database system is explained to them: how they enter data, how they can track their own performance on it, and how they can compare themselves with their peers.

The overall success of this is, of course, dependant on their buy-in to the system, as without their data the database is merely an empty structure.

So, do they buy-in?

Well, most of the time, yes, they do.  And the reason for this is what makes local-level data collection so much more appealing than that at the national level.  The local tourism administration usually has close ties with the hotels, bed and breakfasts, attractions, and so on.  Consequently they are best placed to persuade them to divulge their data.  In turn, the owners and managers are more likely to trust the organisation collecting the data, and therefore more readily provide it. 

And above all, the accommodation establishments and attractions are most likely to appreciate the benefits that this local level information could have on their businesses, as it provides vital information for planning, marketing and promoting the sector. 

And that’s why collecting data at the local level is king!