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Over 80% industry leaders doubt accuracy of tourism statistics

6 October 2017 10:13 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Chandeepa Wettasinghe 
Over 80 percent of local tourism industry leaders do not trust the tourism research statistics, and the country’s tourism earnings figures published by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), which is following erroneous methodology for its research, according to a Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) report.


The government is expecting to attract US$ 7 billion in foreign exchange from tourism through 4 million tourist arrivals by 2020 to make the industry the leading income earner for Sri Lanka—an ambition which has been brought to question with the CCC report.


Out of 37 tourism industry leaders surveyed for the CCC’s, ‘Troubling Numbers: Can Sri Lanka’s Tourism Sector Sustain its Growth?’ report, 86 percent said that the tourist arrivals data were inaccurate, while 83 percent of them said that the tourism earnings figures 
were inaccurate. Sri Lanka had earned US$ 3.52 billion in foreign exchange from tourism in 2016, up from US$ 2.98 billion, according to Sri Lanka’s Central Bank, which had sourced this piece of data from the SLTDA research.


The CCC debunked this research for being based on an incorrectly sampled departure survey. This may indicate that the erroneous statistics disseminated by SLTDA to the Central Bank could have widespread effects on the country’s national accounts.


The CCC noted that although India and China—the two largest individual source markets—made up over 30 percent of tourist arrivals to the country in 2016, they consisted of just over 10 percent of the 5,500 tourists who participated in the SLTDA departure survey.


German, French and British travellers made up over 30 percent of the sample. The sample was already small, encompassing just 0.27 percent of the 2.05 million tourists to visit Sri Lanka last year. The CCC said that the arrival figures also largely exclude business travellers due to the way SLTDA sources information from the Department of Immigration and Emigration.


This may help explain how business travellers travelling to Sri Lanka fell from 12.7 percent of the total tourists in 2010, down to 1.8 percent of total tourists in 2016 according to SLTDA data, despite the fact that Colombo city hotels, which mainly cater to business travellers, operating at high occupancy.
The CCC said the main objective of the departure survey is not to capture the foreign exchange earnings for the country, but to enrich statistics on tourism to identify trends and provide the public and private sectors with the information required to make strategic decisions.


“Yet, this is the primary instrument used to formulate the tourism earnings number,” it said.

The CCC survey noted that even the primary aim of the departure survey—to collect data which could be used to make strategic decisions—is not being fulfilled properly.


The lobby group said that a revision to the research methodology is required.


“Our research revealed that many countries have now adopted the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) developed by the World Tourism Organization to calculate contribution from the industry. The next step would be to check the relevance and suitability for Sri Lanka of this method, and adopt it accordingly,” the CCC said.


The Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020 appears to have identified this weakness and has called for an overhaul to the government’s research efforts in tourism.

 

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