The (basic) problem with measuring tourism…

This week I’m in Kuwait…despite this being the time of year most people here are travelling the other way, to escape the 50 degree heat.  However, from my air conditioned office, the only real heat is that coming out of my computer as it crunches through thousands of figures trying to help me work out just how many tourists visit this small country on the Arabian Peninsular.

The problem faced here in Kuwait is one of the most fundamental faced when measuring tourism. The organisation tasked with looking after the country’s borders, the Ministry of Interior (immigration) is only really interested in security, and the swift movement of travellers across its various borders, either in or out.  On arrival in the country, they make a note of your nationality, a few passport details, and that’s the lot.

However, from a tourism perspective, we want to know what the purpose of visit of all these arrivals is, and what their country of residence is.  Only then can we determine whether the traveller is a tourist (leisure or business), and gather some useful information for marketing the country.

So for the meantime, we have to work with the data we have, and accept that it really is a rough approximation of tourist arrivals.  Getting the procedures changed at the border posts will be a long and bureaucratic process, and may not ever reach fruition.  Sadly, Kuwait is not alone.  Increasingly, as countries try to speed up border procedures, tourism statistics suffer.  The best example I remember in recent years is in South Africa.  They had a perfect Entry/Departure card that recorded all the key attributes you need to understand inbound tourism.  Then one day they got rid of it.  Enter South Africa today and you’ll find no one asks you your purpose of visit.  So despite the statistics they publish they don’t really know how many tourists visit for leisure, VFR, business…