The Tourism Stats Puzzle



Have you ever made sweeping statements about how good the summer season stats look using the optimistic thumb-suck method?

Every destination marketer indulges in this practise because of the pressure to achieve growth regardless of the market conditions and issues.

And therein lies the danger! We are so busy protecting ourselves from criticism that we miss the early warning clues of trends and factors that could cause damage to our destination and take years of crisis marketing and effort to reverse. Not picking up trends regarding our customers and acting on them is like inviting the disasters of Kodak and the Swiss watch industry to happen to us.

A prime example of this is captured by the article ‘Verified stats: SA sees continued tourism decline’ on Tourism Update. Although the stats clearly show a progressive decline in visitors from our 3 biggest source markets, and David Frost calling in the article for a concerted effort from public and private enterprise to arrest the decline, the attention is deflected by Minister Gigaba through hailing the provisional figures for the peak holiday season.

So, back to the optimistic thumb-sucking syndrome. I tracked the media articles regarding the summer season tourism numbers in coastal destinations this year. All spoke about a great season in prospect and said that the bookings were looking excellent. No changes in the bullish statements were evident as the holiday season proceeded.

Indicators of relevant spending trends told a different story. The sale of popular beverages indicated a flat to negative growth for the coastal areas, and a significantly positive growth for inland cities and towns. This points to more people having stayed at home for their holidays, obviously having reprioritised their spending away from a summer holiday trip. The figures also indicated that the high season was shorter for those who did make the trip to the coast.

If we continue to thumb-suck figures, ignore the trends, and fail to strategise and act in a proactive way, we could see tourism figures continue to decline both domestically and internationally. We need to carefully consider our branding and messaging to both the domestic and international markets to rebuild momentum for the future.

So, lets work together and strive for a strategy that will elevate us back to world-class… and more than anything else, lets stop being defensive about our challenges and meet them with brave and innovative action. Seth Godin says ‘the hard part about telling the truth with numbers often isn’t finding the truth. It’s having the guts to share the truth.’

And lets be clear on the fact that we cannot wait for tardy processes and responses from those who should be driving this process. The longer we wait, the further we fall behind our competitors. Momentum is a cruel mistress who is not easily reversed.



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