WHAT MATTERS MOST: Reporting arrivals not enough
WHENEVER THE FIGURES for December are known, Barbados is expected to record its highest level of tourist arrivals in 2015.
However, two unusual factors emerged over the course of the year. One, the visitors’ length of stay declined, and two, visitors staying for one day and two to three days have become the fastest growing categories.
It is fascinating how figures can be used to convey particular messages. In the recent past, the national debt, foreign reserves and unemployment figures have been manipulated to send particular messages. The sentiment is equally evident now, as it applies to tourist arrivals. The numbers demand proper analysis, if not hidden trends and changes can be masked.
If what matters most in tourism is arrivals, then the country’s foreign reserves should have grown proportionately in 2015. If arrivals are all that matter, then workers in the sector would have received bigger salary increases. If arrivals are sufficient, then the Barbados economy would not be experiencing anaemic growth and uncertain recovery.
The problem that the economic spokesmen have in preaching recovery is consistency. On the one hand, economic recovery is consistent with spending money for 11 months on the Independence anniversary. On the other hand, it is inconsistent with telling the public servants that they do not deserve a salary increase after several years of frozen salaries.
In the absence of providing detailed analysis of the available economic and financial data, several political and non-political commentators believe that a premature message of recovery will inspire hope.
How do you inspire hope with infrequent and ineffective communication and weak data? The answer to this question lies in the notion that there are some who believe that keeping the public in ignorance is the best way to counter the “body of fact” that supports their daily reality. In fact, a friend of mine recently shared an article that noted “the tactics of big tobacco to obscure the fact of smoking’s harmful effects led Robert Proctor to create a new word”.
The word is agnotology, which is “the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favour”.
In the past, concerns were raised about the inclusion of intransit passengers in the country’s long-stay visitors. The practice continues, but more troubling is the rising number of one-dayers in the tourism statistics. This is compounded by growing numbers among the two- to three-dayers. The layman may not appreciate that all tourists are not the same and this is understandable.
The numbers in the table reflect that visitors staying one to three days accounted for more than 40 per cent of the increase in tourist arrivals during 2015. In addition, all the visitor categories above 14-dayers showed some decline in arrivals. The numbers confirm why it is not enough to report the total arrivals without analysing its parts. But then again, ignorance has its own power.
The definition of a long-stay visitor is someone who stays on the island for at least 24 hours. If the definition and the relative number of one-dayers remained constant over the years, then the error would be consistent and therefore not unduly affect the analysis in the sector. However, significant growth in any category of visitors is worthy of consideration, especially if it is unusual.
In 2014, the category of visitors staying for eight to 14 days accounted for the largest number of tourists coming to Barbados.
For January to November 2015, the category of visitors staying for four to seven days had outstripped the eight to 14 dayers by more than 10 000 tourists. This gap will not be reversed in the December figures based on historical evidence.
It is hoped that my attempt to provide a small “body of fact” increases your understanding and helps you to detect the use of agnotology in politics. More to come!
Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.