Measuring tourism experience

One would expect that the quality of the experience that visitors have at tourist attractions and while undertaking tourist activities would be a key factor in driving demand and keep people returning to the state. However, the Tasmanian Tourism industry has inadequate measures of the visitor experience.

Even the very broad measure of ‘visitor satisfaction’ gets little reporting and does not seem to influence government and industry policy. Growth in numbers of visitors is seen as the only proof required that the world wants to come to Tasmania.

Tourism Tasmania’s ‘Tourism Information Monitor’, reports regularly on Tasmania’s ‘appeal to visitors’ and ‘the willingness of visitors to recommend Tasmania to others’. These are measures of overall satisfaction of a visit and not of the tourist attractions and activities. It doesn’t allow visitors to say that certain things were good and others bad. Most states achieve very similar high scores (60-80 percent) for both measures which suggests that the surveys are self-selecting and those doing the survey want to give positive answers. Tasmania is normally similar to the ACT: is this what we want?

I would like to see more specific measures such as asking visitors how satisfied they are with particular destinations and activities, e.g. ‘Was your visit to Cradle Mountain as good as you had hoped?’

The Premier’s six-monthly reports on Tourism 21 (the industry and government tourism strategy) only reports on customer ‘service satisfaction’ and ‘value for money’ and does not report on what people think of tourist attractions and experiences. 

In any business it is vital to be aware of negative responses to products and services and respond as soon as you can to maintain customer satisfaction. 

There has been some reporting on the need to improve our customer service and accommodation, perhaps in response to the fairly poor results reported in the Premier’s Tourism 21 reports. But this is swamped by self-congratulatory publicity that tells the industry that, while it is busy, everything is fine. And it is seen as un-Tasmanian to question whether most visitors to Cradle Mountain and Freycinet get more out their visit other than a selfie.

The rapid rise in numbers of visitors to Tasmania is falsely seen as a measure of happy customers. This rise has happened across the country (with Tasmanian being a little higher) and is due primarily to the lower Australian dollar.  When the Australian dollar rises again, many of those who can still afford to travel will go where they have had previously experienced high quality attractions, activities and customer services. Tasmania should be using the good times to make sure it stands out against its competitors. 

Melinda Anderson from Destination Southern Tasmania has been the only tourism industry representative over the last four years of rapid growth asking ‘how do we keep tourists coming back?’. I recommend her Mercury Talking Point articles ‘Tourism stars keep visitors coming back’, 6 February 2017 and ‘Community involvement critical to ensure tourists want to return’, 21 November 2016. 

Melinda outlines what Destinations Southern Tasmania is doing to encourage high quality service and improve the visitor experience. Her organisation is working with regional communities to develop Destination Action Plans (DAPs) to set ‘local priorities to improve visitor experience’. Key to these seems to be involving the broader community in identifying what needs to be improved and doing something about it. The DAPs are a good initiative but there is a need to have broader strategies to prevent tourism destinations being degraded and overcrowded. 

Melinda is also the only industry spokesperson who comments on statistics about returning visitors. This is possibly the best broad measure of success for a service industry. In 2016-17, 66% of visitors said they had been to Tasmania before. This seems a high proportion of return visitors but there is no comparison given to our competitors interstate and it does not say anything about why they are returning and if most returning visitors are tourists or people visiting family. Such surveys should be geared toward knowing the specific reasons why people return and why they do not, so that real improvements can be made.

Article by Peter McGlone