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.





Visiting friends and relatives in Samoa

I’ve recently arrived in Samoa, a beautiful and very compact destination in the South Pacific.  Mainly consisting of two islands, close to each other and connected by a one-hour car ferry, it seems like an ideal place for tourists looking for a destination a bit more off the beaten track than Fiji or Hawaii, but less remote than other islands like Niue or Kiribati.  There were around 135,000 visitors to Samoa last year, with 83% of these coming from New Zealand, Australia or its neighbour, American Samoa.

But little is currently known about the tourists who come here, which is why the Samoa Tourism Authority has been undertaking an air visitor survey (the first for over 10 years) to find out all sorts of trip characteristics and visitor demographics, as well as what tourists like and dislike, and how much they spend.

It is these latter two aspects of visitor surveys that I enjoy analysing the most.  The open questions asking tourists what they have enjoyed, what they didn’t like, or what they have been doing, are often very revealing, and sometimes amusing.  Yesterday I noted one Samoan, now living in New Zealand, stating his activities as “Grandma’s Funeral” and “Clubbing”!

I’m often asked why “tourism” includes people travelling for business, to visit friends and relatives, for health or religious purposes, or even for transit visits en route to another destination.  Surely these people are not tourists as commonly perceived?  Well, these surveys really highlight why the World Tourism Organization made that definition over 20 years ago, which states that a tourist can be travelling for ANY purpose.

The average spend per day of a tourist visiting Samoa is £84.  Holiday tourists spend £80 a day, just below the overall average.  Business tourists spend £107 a day – this is typical, business tourists usually spend more than leisure tourists as they tend to stay in more up-market accommodation.

However, in Samoa, far away at the top of the spend league table are tourists travelling to visit friends and relatives, spending a massive £131 a day, over half of which is on “family remittances”.  These travellers are predominantly Samoans living overseas, bringing money back into the country when they visit, and giving it to their families who in turn spend it on transport, in restaurants, at shops, and on other things they need.

So there are two lessons here.  Firstly, VFR (visiting friends and relatives) tourists are not always the lowest spenders – a reputation they tend to have because they usually don’t spend any money in commercial accommodation, and get treated by their hosts.

Secondly, this is a good example of why tourism is not just about holidays – those travelling for VFR, business, and other purposes also matter, because they are also contributing (directly or indirectly) to the the same businesses that holiday tourists use: restaurants, car hire, attractions, even funeral parlours and nightclubs!Image