Measuring tourism you can manage!

There’s an old adage that goes: You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Every destination around the world measures its tourism performance on the number of arrivals and how much these visitors spend. However, as we have seen over the last 30 years, tourism is affected my many external factors ranging from wars, terrorism, and disease, through to the global economy. You can run the perfect marketing campaign but still see numbers go down! So by measuring tourist arrivals it can be argued that destinations are measuring what they can’t (at least completely) manage.

This has led several destinations to start looking at what they can manage, and measuring their progress and success on that. One such measure is TripAdvisor ratings. The rationale is that destinations can have a direct influence on how visitors feel about accommodation, attractions and tours.

We have been working with the Falkland Islands Tourism Board for nearly 10 years tracking their tourism performance. The Falkland Islands has 10 accommodation establishments, 21 attractions, 4 tours operators, and 10 restaurants and bars rated on TripAdvisor. By taking the scores of each one and creating an overall out-of-10 score for these different groups we are able to see how visitors rate the Falkland Islands’ tourism sector. The results are shown below.

Not only does this allow the Falklands to see where they need to improve, but by tracking these ratings it is possible to monitor changes over time.   This is something the Falklands can manage and measure!

measurements you can manage



What is the impact of Airbnb in your destination?

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Airbnb’s new Experiences and Places has been filling the news recently – however we should not lose sight of the fact that it continues to expand its influence in the accommodation sector.

A recent report from Morgan Stanley Research indicates that the threat of Airbnb is greatest for the hotel sector. Data in 2015 and 2016 shows a significant increase in the number of travellers who have used Airbnb in the last 12 months. In 2015, only 15% of leisure travellers surveyed had used Airbnb, however this rose to 19% in 2016, and is forecast to grow to 25% in 2017. For business travellers, only 12% had used Airbnb in 2015, but this increased to 18% in 2016, and is forecast to grow to 23% in 2017.

Considering this level of interest in Airbnb by the consumer, it is of no surprise that destinations are increasingly looking at tracking the use of Airbnb in their area. Newcastle Gateshead Initiative (NGI) is the first destination to add Airbnb data to their Acorn T-Stats System, and already some interesting trends and findings are becoming apparent.


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Airbnb room occupancy rates in Newcastle tended to follow the same pattern as the hotel industry during the summer season (May-September), albeit achieving a much lower rate; however they drop off significantly in the winter.

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Average room rates in hotels and Airbnb properties are difficult to compare as the Airbnb properties vary considerably from bed and breakfasts through to apartments. Overall Airbnb properties are generating higher average nightly rates, which would be expected as they include multi-room properties.   The surge in room rates in Airbnb properties over the period November-December is mainly due to higher rates in rented houses.

If you would like to include Airbnb statistics in your T-Stats system, or would be interested in using T-Stats in your destination, please contact

7 April 2017

Acorn T-Stats


Just what is Tourism Intelligence?


by Kevin Millington, Acorn T-Stats director


So you want to market your destination more effectively. But how do you generate some really useful intelligence from a load of data that you’ve collected from existing or potential visitors?


This is the conundrum that faces most destinations. If information is data with a story attached, intelligence is information with a strategy attached – or at least some strategic pointers. Intelligence should clearly assist the user to make some decisions – it gives direction.


If you Google search Tourism Marketing Intelligence System you are unlikely to find anything significant. Put simply, the concept doesn’t really exist in any meaningful form. Some destinations have developed computer-based programmes that help interpret data, most typically relating to visitor arrivals, but these tend to be few and far between. The tourism sector, it seems, is remarkably uninventive when it comes to developing systems that help interpret data and give users some clues with regards to what they should do next.


I have just arrived in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, and this week we are gathering together representatives from all nine Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries to thrash out what will become the bones of a Tourism Marketing Intelligence System for the region.


The options up for discussion vary widely from a system that will provide intelligence on air and cruise visitors, through to the monitoring and analysis of social media campaigns to provide intelligence on their effectiveness.


Whatever is agreed upon when all the talking is over, one thing is for sure, the system will interpret the data and turn information into intelligence that will give all nine countries some clear direction on what they need to do to be more competitive in the region. Hopefully it will also inspire other destinations to think more about being creative with their data, and start making it work for them.

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February 2017

Acorn director Kevin Millington files a regular column for the online newsletter, Tourism Consultants Network News. Here are some of his latest findings:


A new survey by Signal, a global leader in real-time, cross-channel marketing, has revealed that a majority of consumers (51%) regularly uses two or more devices for planning and booking trips. UK travellers are using digital devices more than ever before, with smartphones, desktops, laptops and tablets being used for researching travel and booking holidays. The survey of 2,000 UK consumers shows that 83% of consumers used a computer, tablet or smartphone to plan their trip in the last year, a 36% increase on the previous year. For more information, click here.


Customisation has reached new heights. Travel company Black Tomato has launched Blink, a new service which allows people to ‘design their own luxury temporary accommodation in locations that are so private, pristine and untouched that no one else will have stayed there before (or again) in the same way.’ The company’s experts will hand pick unlikely locations, from the Bolivian salt flats to an Icelandic fjord, where camps can be set up for clients. Afterwards, there will be no trace it was ever there. Prices range from £8,800 to £23,000 (both based on six people), depending on destination. Check out 11 Hotel Trends for 2017.


VisitEngland has recently updated its audit of accommodation. The census includes over 33,000 serviced and 31,000 non-serviced establishments categorised by area and accommodation type. The latest England Occupancy Survey shows the average room occupancy rate up to November 2016 at 71%, up 1% on 2015. Regionally, Yorkshire and the North East have experienced the greatest occupancy growth.


According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, tourist arrivals growth was 3.7% to September 2016, weaker than the 4.6% recorded over the same period in 2015. Asia Pacific is expected to have been the fastest growing world region in terms of tourist arrivals, up by 9.3%. South Korea, Vietnam and Japan all recorded growth rates of over 20%. The Americas grew by 4.4% with Chile up 29%, Cuba 12% and Canada 11%. For more information, go to the WTTC November 2016 Full Report.

50 year UK Stats Snapshot
Sunday Times 50 years of business from National Statistics
  1964 2014
Train journeys 928m 1.6bn
London tube journeys 674m 1.3bn
Aircraft landings/take-offs 480k 2m
Airport terminal passengers 17.6m 228.4m
Strike days lost 227bn 443k


The latest arrivals data from the International Passenger Survey for January-November 2016 shows that total visitors are up 3% and spend 1%. However, digging a bit deeper reveals that any positive exchange rate fluctuations for overseas visitors to the UK do not appear to have had an effect to date. Holiday visitors are down 1% in 2016 compared to 2015. It is VFR arrivals that is most strongly supporting arrivals growth, increasing by 9%. Find out more here.


There was a change in the travelling habits of Europeans in 2016 as they opted for safe destinations, including a stagnation in sea and beach holidays, whilst taking more city trips. Outbound trips by Europeans grew by 2.5% in the first 8 months of 2016, according to World Travel Monitor figures. Outbound trips to destinations within Europe increased by 3% as travellers stayed closer to home, while trips to Asia grew by only 2%, and there was a 1% drop in trips to the Americas.

Top performers in terms of outbound growth were Poland and Ireland (both +7%), UK, The Netherlands, Spain and Denmark (all +6%), whilst the German market grew by 4%.

Interestingly, trips by Europeans for holidays increased by only 2%, while visits to friends and relatives grew by 10%. The destinations experiencing most growth included Spain and Portugal in the Mediterranean, and Norway and Iceland in northern Europe. For more details, read on here.



Tracking tourism in Oman


This week I’m back in Oman at the Ministry of Tourism in Muscat.

We’re doing lots of exciting stuff, including the development of a quarterly statistics monitor to provide some indicators about how tourism is performing in Oman.  It needs to be up-to-date and current, showing changes compared to the same period the previous year.

When you search about, there is a surprising range of useful indicators that can paint a picture of tourism in a destination.

Firstly, there are the obvious ones that most destinations focus on: tourist arrivals by purpose of visit for (at least) the top five source markets. Better still, it’s good to concentrate on leisure tourist arrivals, as these are the ones a national tourism administration will primarily be responsible for attracting. Timeliness of this data can sometimes be a challenge, but working closely with immigration departments can help.

Then there are accommodation data, ideally room occupancy and average room rates. These are usually available from monthly accommodation surveys. Not all hotels and guesthouses need to respond to these – a sample is enough.

Visits to attractions can usually be collected fairly quickly and without too much difficulty. Again, not all attractions need to provide data, as long as those that do are broadly representative of all attractions in the destination, and therefore can give an indication of change in tourist demand.

Possibly the easiest indicators to collect, and at no cost, are digital media statistics. Some of the most useful include unique visitors to the destination website and followers on Facebook and Twitter. All of these provide an indication of interest in the destination, and can be a useful measure of marketing activity.

Throwing in some national or international economic indicators is always worthwhile, to create a broader picture. These might include exchange rates with those currencies most used by inbound tourists, the domestic interest rate, rate of inflation, and fuel prices. All of these have an impact on either inbound and/or domestic tourism demand. They may not change vastly from one month to the next, but when doing annual comparisons they can provide some interesting insight.

Finally, for good measure, it’s not a bad idea to engage with the tourism sector through a business barometer survey, emailing accommodation establishments, tour operators, attractions, and other businesses that interact with tourists with a short online survey. Asking questions such as: what are your prospects for visits or forward bookings over the next three months? provide a good indication of business sentiment and confidence in the sector.

Sometimes it’s surprising how much intelligence you can pull together to track tourism in a destination; as was the case here in Oman.




Natural Capital Accounting for Tourism in Botswana

I’ve just arrived in Botswana, and whilst I’ve been working on and off here since 1999 it’s good to see Gaborone again. In many respects, Botswana is the birthplace of the tourism statistics database (T-Stats) that we’ve created and is in use around the world. Whilst I’m here to update their system and convert it into a cloud-based online system, there’s something more ground breaking to do that will utilise the information in the database.

We are working on a WAVES (Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services) project. This is a global partnership bringing together a broad coalition of governments, UN agencies and nongovernmental organisations aimed at establishing Natural Capital Accounts.

Sounds complicated? Well, not really, and in fact quite logical. Let me explain. When a company measures its annual performance it compiles a profit and loss account to find out how much it has made, and a balance sheet to identify its assets.

Traditional national accounts tend to serve the profit and loss side of things when measuring the economic performance of a country. For example the national accounts for agriculture show the output from farming, national accounts for minerals show the output from mining, etc. For tourism we develop a Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), which shows the output from tourism activities.

What these national accounts don’t show are the balance sheets. For example, when mining takes place in a country, the resource (diamonds, gold, coal, etc) is diminished. It is taken away, and the country has less of it. This is the basis behind natural capital accounting.

In Botswana a natural capital account for water has already been produced. Now it is the turn for tourism. Measuring tourism is not a straightforward process at the best of times (compared to measuring other sectors such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing). However, World Tourism Organization guidelines developed over the last 20 years have made it a well-documented process.

Developing a Natural Capital Account for tourism is less well documented, and in fact hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world yet. One of the first tasks is to determine how to measure the tourism resource. In Botswana this is mainly the national parks and game reserves that the tourists pay to visit. The quality of these parks largely determines the price tourists will pay to visit Botswana. If they become overcrowded with tourists, environmentally damaged, or suffer a reduction in wildlife stock they will become less valuable, no different from a diamond mine with fewer diamonds left in it to extract.

So that’s our task…to work out how the account will be compiled, and put together a work plan that will set out the process for collecting all the data required. It should be a busy and exciting few months.

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