Territory’s tourism tracking system runs into trouble

Liberal Party Leader Sandy Silver wants to know why an expensive new tourism tracking system, used successfully for just one year, is now unable to provide accurate numbers.

Liberal Party Leader Sandy Silver wants to know why an expensive new tourism tracking system, used successfully for just one year, is now unable to provide accurate numbers.

According to the 2015 tourism indicators year-end report recently posted online, the Department of Tourism and Culture has “encountered significant challenges.”

“This was supposed to be this big solution, the be-all end-all,” Silver said. “The tourism industry has been asking for a better measurement system for years.”

“When you spend $600,000 for a new reporting mechanism and you say it doesn’t work, we want an explanation.”

The bid to create the new tracking model, titled the Yukon Visitor Tracking Program, was won by DataPath Systems for the price of $613,423. For 13 months starting in 2012 DataPath helped create software with the goal of providing a more accurate picture of tourism numbers.

DataPath’s owner and operator, Donna Larsen, said that standard estimates based on land-border crossings, air and rail traffic can end up counting some visitors multiple times as they travel throughout the territory.

To create a more accurate picture, DataPath studied tourism behaviour through kiosk surveys and interviews. Visitors were “intercepted” at various locations and asked to fill out surveys, with the incentive of potential prizes of a $1,000 gold nugget and First Nation crafts.

With this information they created software into which Tourism Yukon could plug numbers from airports and highways and create more accurate estimates – figures that help both government and businesses make more strategic decisions.

“Businesses want numbers,” Larsen explained. “It helps them plan and invest for the future.”

According to Larsen, the hefty half-million dollar price tag reflects the labour-intensive cost of intercepting visitors and the large sample size required. But in order to remain accurate, the behaviour on which the software model is based on must be updated in two-year intervals, said Larsen.

The tourism scene in 2012 was much different than 2016, Larsen said. “We are now facing difficult economic times, people are more focused in their travel – they’re not as meandering.”

“Any change in behaviour will affect the model.”

According to Larsen, the Yukon Visitor Tracking Program surveying was designed to be ongoing so that behavioural information could be adjusted. But this didn’t happen.

“Keeping the model as is until 2014 was fine, until 2015 my confidence is breaking, and now in 2016 it is likely outdated,” Larsen said.

Larsen explained that the cost to upkeep the model is significantly cheaper – up to 75 per cent less – than the initial price tag.

Yet Sarah Marsh, industry services manager at the Tourism Department, said the decision was made not to extend the contract around March 2014. According to Marsh, they are using what the initial contract was designed to produce: a data analytics tool and a series of reports.

“The model is still working just fine but the challenge is with the inputs from other sources.”

Marsh said they have problems with two of their partners’ data, but would not share further details as she said the data is not the property of the Tourism Department.

Marsh confirmed that an example of an “input challenge” could be a broken highway meter, but would not say if this was the case. “We are actively working at getting it back into a format that our model reads.”

The department acknowledged the model needs to be updated. “We will be looking at updating and coming up with a plan in 2017-18,” said Marsh.

The Tourism Department is looking to expand the number of indicators to include new sources like occupancy reporting and campground use.

Marsh also pointed to a new partnership with the Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Tourism Research Institute to access national-level data and forecasting to compare Yukon figures with bigger trends each month.

In lieu of the Yukon Visitor Tracking Program numbers, the Tourism Department’s 2015 report cites Canada Border Services Agency data. In 2015, 327,778 people excluding Yukoners crossed international borders into Yukon, a four per cent decline from 2014.

Contact Lauren Kaljur at

lauren.kaljur@yukon-news.com

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