How should we judge the performance of Tourism Ministers?

We have had many years of judging the performance of Ministers of Tourism by the increase in international arrivals while they hold office, although many of them hold the post only briefly. As a measure it has the advantage of being a simple indicator and of being cheap to collect, often immigration does it on behalf of tourism and from a national government perspective foreign exchange earnings may be of primary importance. Rarely do we see headline coverage of the net contribution of tourism to foreign exchange earnings and often there seems to be little or no awareness of the foreign exchange costs involved in importing capital equipment and supplies for the tourism industry.

The industry is unrelenting in its demand for government to increase arrivals, more and more hotels are built in the honeypots fuelling more demands from the industry for promotion of the existing destinations – tourism becomes more and more concentrated in “successful” destinations at the expense of other places with considerable, but untapped, potential.

Similarly the industry demands better access to Everest Base Camp or Machu Picchu, apparently oblivious of the fact that improved access means improved egress; travellers and tourists are able to arrive and leave more quickly having seen the honeypot site. Improved access may simply reduce the number of days tourists spent in the country and the tourism yield.

Deloitte with Oxford Economics have just reported on Tourism: jobs and growth for VisitBritain. Their figures are far less optimistic than many of those bandied around in the sector. This research suggests that in the UK additional  marginal revenue of £54,000 is required to create one additional full-time job and that for every 1% increase in total tourism expenditure , full time equivalent employment will increase by 0.89%.  Link

The VisitBritain report also demonstrates how much of the international tourism spend in the UK is spent in London: 53%.  Northern Ireland gets 1%, Wales gets 3%, Scotland gets 8%, the rest of England gets 35% .

New Zealand has been working for 10 years to attract tourists who will spend most in the local economy on goods and services produced in New Zealand. The Prime Minister gets it – he is also the Tourism Minister. Prime Minister John Key said last week that New Zealand needs tourists who spend more money, rather than just more people through the airport gates.  A new report on the industry shows that despite more visitors arriving in New Zealand, they’re staying for fewer days and spending less money. That’s partly because a large proportion of the growth in visitor numbers had been an increase in low-spending Australians.  Visitors from all countries had been spending less and staying fewer days since the global financial crisis in 2009. Link

New Zealand has a national strategy designed to spread the benefits of tourism throughout the country. There is a great graphic available on line that demonstrates the distribution of tourism spending both spatially and temporally. It is worth a look.  

Perhaps at last a few countries are becoming more sophisticated in thinking about what they want from tourism and how to value it.

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