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FOCUS on Data: Studying the numbers

14 Jul 2017  By Bridget O'Connell

Collecting, managing and interpreting data is playing an increasingly important role within tourism education.
As the world becomes a more data rich environment, the education of New Zealand’s tourism leaders of tomorrow is evolving to meet the needs of businesses and organisations.
Jacqui McLean, academic director at Queenstown Resort College said that the use of data is seen across the breadth of its programs. In subjects like hotel management it is becoming ever more important.
“For us, the data is really important for tracking the trends. So, hospitality diploma and adventure tourism diploma students are looking at visitor numbers, and length of stay and nationality to work out spend. It’s all about the dollar spend in tourism.”
From a hospitality point of view, there has been a longer relationship with data, from a yield and revenue management point of view, says McLean.
“But it is becoming more advanced now. In the past, a hotel would aim to fill their rooms at any rate but now, once you do the analytics, you realize it may not be worth selling a room at a certain price.”
Otago University’s tourism department head, Professor Neil Carr, agrees that setting students up with the tools to understand and interpret data is an integral part of its university degrees, albeit mostly quantitative data.
“As the tourism industry is maturing we’re seeing an increasing desire to engage with data,” says Professor Carr.
“The majority of the available data is quantitative, which is fine if you want a generic big brush picture of the industry. But if we want to really drill down into a specific area we need more qualitative data – there is a gap there.”
There is also an issue around emerging issues and having the data to explore them properly. Data can also be slow to show fast moving trends, like the large growth in Chinese visitor numbers, or concerns regarding the sustainability of mass tourism.
“There are some lovely big data sets that are longitudinal, that is, collected over a long period of time, and we don’t want to break that continuity because there is value in having that entire set,” says Professor Carr.
“But when we get down to the real issues around things like freedom camping we need to know what people in New Zealand really think about it – it’s an emotive issue.”

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