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.





Why technology is challenging the way we measure tourism in Africa


I’ve just arrived in Lesotho to help improve the accuracy of tourist arrivals statistics.  Like most other countries in Africa, there is considerable cross-border traffic in Lesotho, a country that is completely surrounded by South Africa.

Consequently the main problems faced when measuring tourist arrivals is identifying who they are (we need to exclude regular border crossers and returning residents), and also dealing with the sheer volume of people arriving at the border posts.

This latter point is usually the deal breaker when trying to accurately measure tourist arrivals in African countries.  For each arrival (and there can be hundreds of thousands each year) we need, at the very least, to capture their country of residence and purpose of visit – two attributes that are essential for measuring and understanding tourism, and two attributes that are not coded into the traveller’s passport.

Here lies the root of the problem – computerisation of border posts in African countries is starting to become more commonplace, and to speed things up, some countries have implemented a system whereby immigration officials scan the traveller’s passport, stamp it, and then grant entry (assuming all is in order) to the person.

South Africa is a good example of this – when you arrive at a border post in South Africa, no one asks your purpose of visit or country of residence, and therefore in the absence of a large sample passenger survey (such as those undertaken in European countries to measure tourism, due to the open borders prevalent across most of the continent) it is not possible to measure tourism accurately.

Here in Lesotho, our goal is to ensure that immigration officials at the border posts not only electronically capture some useful data that is encoded into the passport of each traveller (age, gender and nationality), but also to ask each arrival what their purpose of visit, country of residence and intended length of stay is, so that these three pieces of data can be added to the record stored on the computer.

If that can be achieved, then the computerisation of border posts can be a very positive change.  It means that data are available almost immediately, and information on the number of tourists, where they come from and what they are doing, is much more useful.

Here in Lesotho (thanks to the World Bank Private Sector Competitiveness Project) we are going to load this information into an online database that will, through a web interface, enable the sharing of these statistics so that they can be accessed by hotels, attractions, and potential investors, as well as the government for planning, marketing and monitoring the sector.

And that should make a big difference.

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…