Michael Bloomberg once commented, when wanting know exactly what was going on in New York: In God we trust, but for everything else give me statistics.
Just like any industry, tourism needs to be measured. The trouble with tourism is that unlike most other industries it is more complex to gauge. Leaving aside the logistics of measuring visitors, tourism has so many facets that keeping track of it is a challenge. When we talk about measuring tourism or developing tourism statistics, we may be referring to accommodation occupancy data, the number of visitor arrivals, perhaps the economic impact of a festival, or the number of coaches parking in a city centre. We may be measuring the average spend per visitor, or their experiences at a destination, or maybe the levels of confidence of hotels, restaurants and attractions regarding the year ahead.
There is so much to consider when building up a picture of tourism in a destination, whether it is for marketing, promotion, monitoring, planning or policy making, or any other purpose, that an organised structure needs to be in place to manage all the information. All too often, this information is thrown into a big pile, and not utilised properly. It needs to be carefully sorted, stored appropriately so that linkages between all the different types of research commonly undertaken by tourism administrations (accommodation surveys, business performance monitors, visitor surveys, economic impact assessments, etc.) can be identified and exploited.
It is not uncommon in the tourism industry to find considerable data having been collected, but so poorly compiled and presented. However, maybe things are changing. Step forward VisitEngland. If you haven’t looked at it already, point your browser towards http://t-stats-uk.co.uk/visitengland and have a play with a new system that has brought together data from the GB Tourism Survey, GB Day Visitor Survey, International Passenger Survey, Visits to Visitor Attractions Survey, Serviced Occupancy Survey, Brand, Communications and Satisfaction Tracker, and data from the Office for National Statistics regarding economic impact of tourism, employment and other destination-relevant data. In addition, it includes British Destinations Organisation data that is available for BDO Members.
This is a good example of an application that brings together a wide range of data from many different surveys into one place, and ties them together through a geographical perspective, at a local authority (or larger) level. Whilst this data is useful for destinations, it has been collected at a national level, and has only limited value for each destination. For destinations to be able to understand tourism better, they need to bring together all the data they collect in a similar way. Several destinations such as Newcastle, Durham, Bath, Cotswolds, Bournemouth and Cornwall are doing just that with their own T-Stats system.
Not only does this provide destinations with a central location to collate their data, but also, because it is online, makes it easy to share too. And has the added advantage of providing a facility to capture data as well, and is a useful business engagement tool for DMO partners.