Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Challenge of Benchmarking Tourism's Global Economic Value

In 2008, I posted on this blog: "Tourism is Not the World's Largest Industry" -- which actually came from my book: Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: An Integrated Approach (with C.Michael Hall, 2009, Routledge, UK).  That post has been one of the most visited on my blog.

I see today that the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has recently commissioned a study to, yet again, prove to policy makers that tourism is a really big deal (see their press release here: Travel and tourism larger industry than automotive manufacturing; and on more on the website here - they have a couple of ppt files on their site that details their findings, though as usual, the methodology is fuzzy, at best).

The problem is that the co-called "tourism industry" is so diverse that almost any activity remotely related to travel and hospitality can be considered all or part of it.  The WTTC tends to use the Tourism Satellite Accounting System to "guestimate" how much each sector of an economy contributes to tourism -- and this really is just a guess!  In addition, the Tourism Satellite Accounting System is inherently unsuitable for comparison across political boundaries (beyond a single country) and across different industries.  Each of those transgressions involves exponentially greater guesswork.  Also, comparing service industries to manufacturing is wrought with challenges and is not recommended by the WTO (World Trade Organization), which compiles most of the international trade data for the world.  (I know, I did make this last transgression myself in my original blog post on the topic, but at least I admit that it is a fundamental flaw in my analysis.) 

Anyway ... yes, I fully agree that tourism is a huge global economic activity that just continues to grow despite economic upheavals across the globe.  However, I caution everyone to be careful in accepting the illusion of hard number results from any study that tries to compare tourism economic activities with other industries at a global or even regional scale. 

(Cross-posted at

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Top 10 Dive Destinations in the World -- Really!

I just finished writing a book chapter on the World Geography of Scuba Diving for a book that a friend is putting together on recreation dive tourism. One of the things that I did for that chapter was to look at 15 online lists of "the top ten dive sites in the world".

Taken at Pulau Sapi (Sapi Island) very close to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Here is my list of the World's Top 10 Dive Destinations that comes from my combining 15 lists created by other people. (A longer version of this list will appear in the book when it comes out.)


1) Australia (S Pacific) -10- Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island
1) Indonesia (SE Asia) -10- Sulawesi, Raja Ampat
1) Mexico (M America) -10- Baja California, Riviera Maya and Cozumel
1) Thailand (SE Asia) -10- Koh Tao Island, Phuket Island

5) Malaysia (SE Asia) -9- Sipadan Island, Mabul Island
5) Egypt (Africa/M East) -9- Ras Mohammed Nat. Park, Red Sea (south)

7) Belize (M America) -8- Barrier Reef Reserve, Great Blue Hole
8) Fiji (S Pacific) -7-
9) Ecuador (S America) -6- Galapagos Islands

10) USA - Hawaii (C Pacific) -5- Kona Coast
10) Maldives (Indian Ocean) -5-
10) Micronesia, F.S (S Pacific) -5- Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon

OK. So my list is more than 10, due to so many ties.  But let me explain it.

The top four countries that tied for first place were each listed on 10 of the 15 lists that I looked at.  No country appeared on more than 10 of the lists, indicating how variable these lists are.  Malaysia, which is where I am currently living, appeared on 9 of the lists, as did Egypt.

To the right of the listings number are any specific sites that might have been mentioned more than once.  Lists tend to combine countries (like the Maldives and Fiji) and destinations (such as the Kona Coast or Sipidan).   My list is based on countries.  Dive destinations are shown only if they appeared on two different lists or more.  So Maui, which appeared on only one of the 15 lists, did not make it onto the list above.

I took this photo of a pregnant pygmy seahorse at Lembeh Strait, near Manado on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia.

Personally, even though I included top dive destinations from both the US and UK, I think the results are a bit biased.  Based on other data I used for the book chapter, I believe that Australia, Indonesia, Mexico and Belize may be ranked a little too high and Pacific Island countries area little too low.

Australia, Indonesia and Mexico are all far larger in land area and coastlines than any of the other countries on this top ten list. (The mainland US and Canada were in the top 25, but not the top 10.)  This gives them an advantage in that they have many more dive sites, as well as dive sites from widely different parts of their country.  Mexico and Belize are boosted by their close proximity to the very large US diver market, which puts them on more top dive lists than they otherwise might be.  On the other hand, the Pacific island countries may be a bit lower because they are so remote from both North America and Europe (the second largest dive market).  Many, but not all, of the top 10 dive spot lists are written for specific diver markets, such as the US, the UK or Australia.

In addition, I doubt that very many Americans get to Egypt's Red Sea to dive, as I almost never see it in articles or advertisements in the dive magazines in the US.  However, it still ranked quite high on this list.  I believe that this is because it is such an important dive destinations for the UK and Europe in general.  The Red Sea is the closest tropical-like coral reef destination for Europe.

All of these destinations are in warm water regions of the world.  Europe does not appear at all, not even on the full list of  25 countries that I ended up with.  Colder water dive sites, in general, only occasionally appear on top 10 diving lists that I reviewed. I wonder why? ;-)

I have personally dived at five of the places on this list, and snorkeled at one more of them.  One of the problems is that any one dive spot, no matter how fantastic it is, may not be that great on the day that you are there due to water and weather conditions.  Thus, my one day diving experience at the Great Barrier Reef was not very memorable, in part because a large cyclone a couple of months earlier had covered a lot of the coral with muck.

Still, I love scuba diving, and I love the Asia-Pacific region -- and I now have a (growing) list of places that I need to visit!!!

You can read how I got lost on my last dive just last week at :