Tourism sector must have timely, accurate statistics
OPINION:We know more about the travel patterns of our cows than of the millions of tourists who visit Ireland each year
STATISTICS ARE hugely important to the tourism business, as borne out by the results of the latest Irish Hotels Federation quarterly barometer. On the surface, results indicate an upturn nationally, but when you drill into the figures, tourism performance has been very disappointing in the regions. A marginal increase in business in certain urban areas disguises a worrying trend of under- performance across the rest of the country.
Nationally, over half of hoteliers are seeing some increase in business compared with this time last year. However, this is concentrated around the cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway and is due mainly to business and event tourism. The anticipated upturn has failed to materialise elsewhere, with occupancy levels lagging way behind in many seasonal hotels and resorts, particularly on the west coast.
The old business maxim that “what gets measured gets managed” really holds true for tourism. Statistics help in benchmarking against previous performance and, in turn, give direction as to where energy and emphasis for swift actions to save the season need to be placed.
I remember in my younger days being bamboozled by a series of charts that would accumulate in the little warren of a cubbyhole my dad used as his office in our family hotel: large square-ruled sheets with pencilled arrows and names scribbled against dates and room numbers. Later, in my student years, I learned these sheets and ledgers were how my father managed his business. He would use the combination of statistics and commentary to predict the season ahead.
Last week as the poor weather took its toll on my business, I was musing on this and thinking how we analyse our greatest Cinderella industry: tourism. For a business sector that is reported widely to be worth over €6 billion annually, employing some 150,000 people here, it is shocking how little we know about its performance. Although agriculture has been heralded as the greatest national endeavour, it has failed to generate the level of jobs that tourism has brought and that it is capable of delivering to Ireland’s recovery.
We know more about the travel patterns of the 6.8 million cows on the island than we do about the 5.86 million tourists or so that visit our shores each year. It seems Eurostat rules when it comes to the Government deciding what statistics get reported. Tourism rates low on the Eurostat ask list, so it has been ignored by Government data hounds.
Take the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for example: it used to provide monthly statistics on tourism nationally. Now the industry is provided with a rolling three-month cycle of data. It seems we cannot hire people to collect the raw data at our airports and ports. The upshot it seems is that a business that brings in over €6 billion a year to the State is not worthy of the same degree of analysis as the suckler herd, Rural Environment Protection Scheme (Reps), or any other agricultural or industrial endeavour in this country.