Analyses - September 22, 2005



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September 2005


Print Facts and figures, Geographic markets, Management,

Statistics are not always what they seem

Everyone – those in the industry, government bodies, academics, journalists and more – uses statistics from the World Tourism Organization and Statistics Canada, thereby contributing to the dissemination of this data. However, a closer look at these statistics reveals that things are not always what they seem. Methodological considerations aside, here are a few examples of what these statistics do not tell us!

Canada may no longer be one of the WTO’s top ten international destinations, but… when it comes to the tourism statistics produced by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the data collection methods differ from one country to the next.

When compiling tourism data, some countries only count tourists, others include both tourists and same-day visitors, while still others report one tourist more than once during a single visit, because the tourist is counted each time he or she stays in a different hotel (see the table below).

If all countries used the same data collection method, the WTO’s infamous international ranking would be much different and Canada’s position would rise. Currently ranked 11th, Canada compiles its statistics using the TF method (see table), in other words, by simply counting the number of international tourists who enter its borders. The United Kingdom and Hong Kong, ranked 6th and 7th respectively, include both tourists and same-day visitors in their numbers (VF method). If Canada used the same method (tourists and same-day visitors) as the United Kingdom (27.7 million) and Hong Kong (21.8 million), it could add the 17.8 million same-day visitors who entered by car in 2004 to its 19 million or so international arrivals and thereby surpass both in the ranking. Germany and Austria, which rank 9th and 10th, employ the TCE method to compile their data, which means that if a single tourist stays in four different hotels during his or her stay, he or she is counted four times.

Tourism receipts: local currencies vs. US dollars

The WTO reports international tourism receipts in US dollars and in local currencies at constant prices. When tourism receipts (in yen, pesos, Euros, etc.) are converted into US dollars, figures can be compared and analyzed and used to create an international ranking. However, expressing receipts in local currencies at constant prices neutralizes the effect of exchange rate changes and inflation. When the US dollar depreciates against a given currency, this situation can inflate tourism receipts converted into US dollars. For example, Spain’s tourism receipts climbed 14.1% from 2003 to 2004 when expressed in US dollars, while they rose only 3.8% when expressed in Euros (the local currency). The same thing was true for Australia. Its receipts jumped 25.5% in 2004 when they were converted into US dollars, but climbed only 10.7% when they were expressed in constant Australian dollars. In addition, international tourism receipts include revenues generated by both tourists and same-day visitors.

Tourist activities

Statistics Canada has developed a special tool for finding out how many people engage in a given activity when travelling, but the Canadian Travel Survey (CTS) and the International Travel Survey (ITS) have different ways of reporting the number of participants. For example, let’s say that three people took a trip together. During their stay, one of them went shopping while the other two played golf.

  • ITS – Regardless of which person in the group answers the survey, Statistics Canada will count 3 people as shoppers and 3 people as golfers.
  • CTS – If the person answering the survey is the one who went shopping, then Statistics Canada will count 3 people as shoppers and 0 as golfers.
  • CTS – If the person answering the survey is one of those who played golf, then Statistics Canada will count 3 people as golfers and 0 as shoppers.

A solo traveller is, by definition, a person travelling alone…or is it?

Statistics Canada has a very different definition of solo traveller. According to the CTS, a person is considered to be travelling alone if they are not accompanied by someone from the same household. Therefore, a person is reported as a solo traveller even if:

  • he or she is accompanied by a family member (mother, daughter, brother, etc.) who does not live under the same roof,
  • he or she is travelling with friends, or
  • he or she is on a group tour package.

For the ITS, the method is different. People are only considered to be travelling alone if they are unable to provide any information on the expenditures and activities of the people accompanying them or if they are part of a group. However, as of 2005, the CTS was replaced by the Travel Survey of Canadian Residents, which uses the ITS definition of a person travelling solo.

Statistics will never look quite the same

When the WTO publishes its Top Ten, the data is disseminated around the globe without a word about the differences in collection methods. Statisticians must obviously work with a number of limitations if they wish to make sense of the information they gather. However, a closer look at the methodology sheds new light on the mishmash of numbers known as statistics and the way in which they are interpreted!

– World Tourism Organization. []
– Statistics Canada, Canadian Travel Survey
– Statistics Canada, International Travel Survey
– Statistics Canada, International Travel, Advance Information, December 2004, vol. 20, no. 12, released February 2005.

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