21 years of Tourism Development – Crusader and Acorn


Back to the future! Kevin Millington, Director of Acorn, set up his first tourism consultancy firm Crusader Consulting Ltd 21 years ago (a forerunner to Acorn Tourism Consulting Ltd which emerged six years later) – and it was the future that launched the firm back in 1996.

Tourism 2020 Vision, commissioned by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), was Crusader’s first contract. Working with Robert Cleverdon Associates, the aim was to predict what tourism would look like in 2020. So before we look at what we’ve been up to over the last 21 years it would only be right to present our credentials by investigating our vision then for tourism in 2020!

Well, we are delighted to report that our forecast of 1.6 billion international tourist arrivals in 2020 looks like being almost spot on! In 2016, the UNWTO reported over 1.2 billion tourist arrivals worldwide, and current growth rates indicate this reaching at least 1.5 billion by 2020. However, our forecast of tourists spending US$ 2 trillion by 2020 looks a little overcooked – current data suggests it will be around US$ 1.6 trillion.

We predicted that the most visited tourist destinations in 2020 would be China, France, and USA, in that order. Today France and USA occupy the top two places, followed by Spain, with China in 4th place, but rapidly climbing. There’s a good chance it will be in the top spot by 2020.

The Tourism 2020 Vision work led us to focus on the future of tourism, and we set up a publication called Tourism Trendspotter on the back of this expertise. Matt ‘n’ Jeff were the two ignorant and politically incorrect tourists that brought to life some of our forecasts. They ended up as space tourists, visiting the Antarctic, taking religious tourism trips, and purchasing holidays on the Internet (yes, back in the late 1990s that was still quite a novel concept!)

Whilst we predicted strong growth in segments such as adventure tourism, cruises, and thematic tourism over the period to 2020, our suggestion that space tourism would be commonplace, albeit not mass-market, is still a little premature!


So having started off trying to predict where we would be today, and I think making a reasonable job of it, what have we been doing in the intervening 21 years?

Well, essentially it has been a grand tour of the globe. We’ve worked in 72 countries in every continent: that is over one third of the world’s countries. There are some areas we’ve been to more than others. Africa is well trodden, and so is the Middle East and, naturally, the United Kingdom. Some destinations that held so much promise during our studies now lie in ruins, most notably Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Small islands have become a speciality. Most of the tiny islands of the South Pacific have been the focus of some of Acorn’s work, including the wonderfully remote Tuvalu, which holds the honour of being the least visited country in the world! Other beautiful and remote destinations we have worked in include Saint Helena in the South Atlantic (five days on a ship) and the Falkland Islands and we’re currently working with 12 Caribbean islands including the Colombian owned Isla de Providencia.

Twenty-one years ago we predicted huge growth in adventure tourism by 2020, and in particular suggested that as the world becomes increasingly explored there will be a trend of tourists travelling to high places, under water, to the ends of the earth, and off the planet itself. The World Tourism Organisation organised a conference around this forecast, and it became known as Mountain High – Ocean Deep – Ends of the Earth – Moon and Space.

Interestingly, that closely reflects our work today. We’re up in the mountains in Lesotho developing high altitude tourism; we are working on an exciting and (at present confidential) underwater project; we are marketing a destination on the edge of the Antarctic – the Falkland Islands; and, well we’ve not made it into space yet, but Matt ‘n’ Jeff are still up there, somewhere!

Kevin Millington, Director, Acorn Tourism Consulting Limited

October 2017





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 tamsyn@acorntourism.co.uk

7 April 2017

Acorn T-Stats