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.

BOTSWANA (Okavanga Delta) shutterstock_162514037

The Secret to Successful Data Collection…in Denmark


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!

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.


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.

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…

Tracking Falkland Islands Tourism

Tracking Falkland Islands Tourism

Over the last month we’ve been working with the Falkland Islands Tourist Board (FITB) to get their 2012 Tourism Statistics finalised. The great news for the Falklands is that it has turned out to be their best year ever! More tourists visited the Falklands in 2012 than any year before.

We are delighted that the FITB uses T-Stats to track tourism, as it makes compiling the data very easy, and allows everyone in the Islands who is interested in tourism to track the sector as the year progresses.

Anyway, we decided to celebrate this record breaking year by creating an infographic for the FITB.

Falkland Islands tourism infographic 2012

Falkland Islands tourism infographic 2012 by T-Stats

Indirect Impacts of Tourism

This week I’m in Jordan.  Tourism is an important sector here, and there is a feeling that things are quite fragile.  With the situation across the border in Syria getting worse…and likely to continue to get worse before it gets better…there is genuine concern that the tourism sector in Jordan will be seriously affected.

Over the last 12 months we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the tourism statistics coming out of the Inbound and Domestic Tourism Surveys, and towards the end of last year developed a Tourism Satellite Account for Jordan, which for the first time measured the direct impact of tourism on the economy (over £1 billion).

However, the direct impact only tells part of the story, and all too often the indirect impact of tourism is ignored.

The direct impacts of tourism refer to the expenditure of tourists on goods and services in a country.  However, the impact of tourists does not end there.  There is also an indirect impact on the economy.  This happens when businesses that provide goods and services to tourists then make purchases from other businesses.

Take, as an example, a tourist who spends JD 100 on a hotel room for the night.  This can be considered the direct impact of tourism.  However, the hotel needs to service that tourist.  The sheets on the bed need to be cleaned, and this might be done by a laundry company.  The tourist has a meal in the hotel.  To prepare this meal the hotel needs to buy meat and vegetables from a local supplier.  These purchases from the laundry and the food supplier would not have taken place without the initial direct expenditure by the tourist, and are the indirect impacts.

We’ve developed an Input-Output model to measure these impacts, and found them to be 57% of the direct impacts, thereby increasing the value added of tourism by 57% to around £1.6 billion.

In many countries with strong economies, the indirect impacts of tourism exceed the direct impacts (in Australia the indirect impacts are twice the size of the direct impacts).

Just a reminder that tourism is often so much more important to the national (and regional) economies that it appears from the basic expenditure statistics.