Accurate statistics vital in development of tourism sector

Saturday, March 14, 2009

RELIABILITY and accuracy of the number of visitors entering the country for tourism purposes play a crucial role in not only laying out the overall picture of where we are in the development of our tourism industry, but also as a basis for mapping out the sector's future directions.

Decisions in strategies, changes in the approaches or tactics for attracting more tourists into the Sultanate largely depend on the degree of success of past marketing and self-promotion strategies. The country needs to have an accurate figure of how many tourists we are actually drawing in.

At present, the Brunei Tourism Board, as the lead agency responsible for promotion and development of Brunei's tourism sector, relies mostly on the number of visitors arriving by air to determine how many tourists we have in the country.

Recently, it was stated that Brunei experienced a 36 per cent rise in tourist arrivals by air in 2008 compared to 2007. The percentage increase from the 176,000 visitors seen in 2007 meant that the Sultanate saw about 242,000 foreign visitors last year. However, this figure does not take into account visitors entering Brunei via other means, such as land routes.

Brunei Tourism Board CEO Sheikh Jamaluddin Sheikh Mohamed remarked that this figure would be much higher if tourist arrivals included those entering Brunei checkpoints by land, with the Sultanate welcoming anywhere as many as 800,000 tourists in 2008.

Even though these numbers are encouraging, there is a significant difference between the two figures, leaving a dark gap in our tourism statistics. Thus, we cannot really rely on tourist arrivals by air alone.

Speaking to The Brunei Times recently, Marketing and Promotion Director for Brunei Tourism Jean Christophe Robles Espinosa said that data based on tourist arrivals by air are quite precise.

"From experience, most of the visitors who actually classify as tourists come (into the country) by air," he said.

Espinosa said that there were a lot of complications when trying to account for tourist arrivals by land. He explained that Malaysians who frequently pass through Brunei checkpoints cannot always be considered to be tourists since they may not meet the criteria.

A similar situation was observed with among expatriates in Brunei. On weekends, they may go to Malaysia and come back to Brunei after a couple of days, he said. However, since they have a foreign passport, they can be mistaken as a tourist and that is why it is difficult to record tourist arrivals by land, he explained.

He also mentioned that Brunei Tourism was looking into other techniques to accurately measure tourist arrivals.

Given the complex nature of calculating tourist arrivals, another method to evaluate the direct impact of tourism on the economy has also been introduced in Brunei.

The Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) is a tool which uses data compiled from all the relevant agencies involved in the tourism sector to calculate the direct effect of tourism to the country. The TSA may provide us with a more elaborate representation of the weight of the tourism industry's value to the country. However, the possession of this tool should not let us sly away from addressing the grey area that looms over tourism arrivals.

A more precise method of tallying the number of tourist arrivals needs to be formulated, especially now as more visitors are entering Brunei not only by air, but also via land and sea. This system should also utilise latest developments in technology, to ensure easier access to the data and coordination of data collection from all of Brunei's checkpoints.

Brunei Tourism needs to rally the cooperation of all the relevant agencies to work out a more automated system which can generate accurate data.

With more reliable data readily accessible, we can shape and adapt our tourism promotion strategies to the ever changing trends of the travel industry. The Brunei Times