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Tourism statistics: Dimensions of Awareness and Comparisons

19 August 2014 05:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Recent arrivals data show continued momentum in overseas tourism demand, which, if sustained will result in stronger than expected growth in 2014.
According to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), tourist arrivals in the first seven months of this year totalled 861,324, which is a 24.7 percent increase over the 690,589 visitors received during the corresponding period in 2013.

The 24.7 percent Year-on-Year-to date increase in 2014 over 2013 has been ecstatically described by some as, “Tourists arrivals up and above target”, “Growing in leaps and bounds”, “Booming with huge increase in arrivals” and so on. I too, find myself unable to curb my enthusiasm over these figures. However, I do have some misgivings – nay, let me hastily correct that to mean a few questions – because we live in times where ‘dissension’ is considered ‘hearsay’.

In my article titled ‘The need for reliable tourism-related statistics’ published in the Mirror Business of 24th June 2014, I mentioned that ‘The transition from capturing data manually to one that now does it electronically ensured that the average 21 percent margin of miscalculation during 2013, was wiped out - resulting in the number of arrivals to the country last year, climbing from a flawed count of 1,005,605 to 1,274,593’. Statistically, a 26.7 percent increase of arrivals in 2013 over 2012 was one of the outcomes of this exercise.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but was this not a case of comparing ‘apples to oranges’? Briefly explained, the 2012 figure of a million + arrivals was based upon the previous method of calculating the cards manually. I.e. an unadjusted total that likely carried the similar plethora of counting errors, right up until November 2014, before the adjustment arising from the migration to the current computer data collection method- added another near 125,000 arrivals, arguably lost in count during 2013. We therefore have the adjusted 2013 arrivals figure of 1,274,593, recorded as a 26.7 percebt increase over that of 2012’s unadjusted 1,005,605 arrivals figure! Let us for a moment consider adjusting the arrivals figure for 2012. Let us also assume that the errors in the manual count and the missing bags of arrivals’ cards in 2012, were 50 percent less than what occurred during 2013. Accordingly, the adjusted arrival figure for 2012 would be 1,139,350. (Refer figure A) and the year-on-year increase for 2013 over 2012 is then down to 11.9 percent and not 26.7 percent.

In this context, the year-to-date 2014 arrivals increase of 24.7 percent over last year’s corresponding figure (both been adjusted to the new method for accuracy), has simply not been appreciated enough! Mark you, at this point in time, the rate of growth momentum this year is twice that of last year, and, all it now requires, is  a mere 10 percent increase over 2013’s August to December period total, to reach the 1.5 million arrivals target for 2014. The stage however, is set to reach or go beyond a total 1.6 million arrivals by year end. Indeed an accomplishment that would take some beating.

Hide and Seek

In mature and in some developing countries, such as the Seychelles which attracts around 300,000 visitors annually, the country’s tourism authority usually carries out a mid-year marketing meeting with all industry stakeholders to put visitor arrivals statistics under the microscope.

It delves deeper into evaluating the trend in order to draw a realistic picture of the state of its tourism industry and the impact on the economy – all of which can only be relevant if based on factual and up-to-date information. The mid-year assessment is an ‘enabler’ for decision-makers to focus on what is working/not working and to redirect the marketing spend and effort towards maximising results for the second half of year ahead. The results of the meeting, including the good and the not so good together with the decisions arrived at, are then publicly announced so that everyone, including the public under the ‘right-to-information’ principle, is made aware of the planned strategies and actions to be taken.

Whether such a mid-year meeting is held by SLIDA is an unknown - and even if it is held (which is a good thing), the mid-year state of tourism including the steps that are to be taken to improve/remedy the situation is a closed secret – known only to those in the inner circle of power. Infuriatingly, what the public receives is information characterized by unsystematic partial measures taken over a period of time and best described as the ‘Drip feed’ syndrome.                 
The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Development, as announced in a recent press release, tells us that an international campaign in order to increase awareness of destination Sri Lanka in countries around the world was launched. The campaign involves branding 1,200 taxis in UK, France, Germany, Korea and Japan. The launch began in August, featuring 450 taxis in Manchester, Birmingham and London - deemed as three of UK’s biggest cities offering the wealthiest audiences in that country.
Whether the Taxi branding campaign is adequate to deliver the right kind of awareness is left to be seen. Let’s consider some of the various awareness problems Sri Lanka might to going through now. Are the people in the five selected countries unaware of Sri Lanka? Of course not…perhaps only the South Koreans who may face the issue of limited awareness. But that’s not exactly what we’re speaking of here.

What we need to deal with is unfavourable awareness! It’s never a position a country, company or brand foresees being in, alas it happens - be it unintentionally or through one’s own making. Many in the UK know of Tangalle: not for its idyllic beach location, but for the death of 27-year old Kuram Shaikh Zaman. The incident which received wide publicity was discussed in Britain’s Parliament - the House of Commons with even Prince Charles offering to help in the effort to win justice for the British man who was killed on Christmas Eve 2011.
The deportation of a British nurse, Naomi Coleman, on 24th April this year, for having a tattoo of Buddha on her arm did not help either – despite Sri Lanka’s Tourism Development Authority expressing regret for the incident and paying for her flight home in business class and also offering to fly her back for a free holiday in future. You’ve heard the old adage, “good news travels fast but bad news travels faster.” Well these days, because of social media, it would be much more accurate to say “good news travels fast, bad news travels instantly.” Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs make it extremely easy for users to post unsavoury incidents for everyone to see and to potentially hurt the country’s image. Whether this negative press was deserved or not is entirely another matter, but how we deal with eradicating unfavourable awareness is fundamental to the problem. The social Web and social media have essentially become weapons of mass persuasion.

Otherwise, can someone explain why visitor arrivals from the UK, during the first seven months ending July, are up by only 6.4 percent over the 2013 corresponding period? Interestingly, German, France and Japan show flattering year-on-year visitor arrivals increases (refer Figure B). South Korea on the other hand has dipped below the total 6,767 arrivals, last year- same period, to much less during 2014. Will taking an expensive cab ride in the three cities in Britain and in Seoul be enough to get more of the English and South Koreans to embark on a ‘journey that awaits you’?

-To be continued
(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on [email protected] Website:

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