New Zealand’s tourism policy is based on figures found to contain glaring inaccuracies, a report has found.
A review of the government’s International Visitor Survey, carried out by Stats NZ in response to industry concerns about the document’s veracity, has identified a number of errors in the data.
While Stats NZ says it is “generally fit for purpose, but some key areas need attention”, the survey has been slated by representative body Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA).
“The review has found significant failings with the way the International Visitor Survey has been carried out and an alarming lack of oversight from government officials,” said TIA in a statement.
CEO Chris Roberts said the organisation had sought a review of the survey in September because of “long-standing concerns over the reliability of the expenditure data and how it was being collected”.
“The review has uncovered some deeply concerning shortcomings, including a failure to carry out the survey as it was designed, no training manual for survey interviewers, insufficient supervision and monitoring, and a lack of interaction between the survey company, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Stats NZ, which has allowed sampling and data processing problems to build up.
“As an example, there have been too many Australians surveyed and not enough Chinese. This means the Chinese visitor data has a confidence level of plus or minus 23 percent – against a design target of plus or minus ten percent.”
The visitor survey is designed to provide accurate national information on the expenditure of international visitors to New Zealand.
Mr Roberts says it is crucial that recommendations across ten areas of weakness identified by Stats NZ are implemented.
“The IVS is the source of unique understandings of our international visitors, and understanding our markets is essential for tourism development.
“Issues with the IVS flow through all industry expenditure data and into the wider government accounts.”
The Stats NZ review calls for better processes for survey design documentation, improved sample allocation, improving the online questionnaire, improvement of governance and improved engagement with stakeholders and customers.
It recommends assessing the combined effects of the recommended improvements to the survey for the next 12 months before deciding whether to revise previously published figures.
“The extensive review showed the survey works but it should be improved. It needs a tune-up, not a complete overhaul,” said Stats NZ’s Dean Rutherford.
“The IVS should be seen along with other indicators of the state of tourism in New Zealand. It’s part of the panorama of information, not the only available snapshot of tourism.”
Mr Rutherford said some issues with the survey had already been fixed and further improvements were expected.
“Stats NZ acknowledges earlier tourism industry concerns about the volatility in past IVS results, which showed visitor spend dropping while visitor arrivals rose. Those concerns led to this review.”
Mr Roberts said it was vital the ten areas recommended for action were tackled, in order to restore industry trust in the survey.
“It is encouraging that MBIE has already made improvements in a number of areas,” he said.
“The problems with the IVS have undoubtedly shaken the tourism industry’s confidence in MBIE data, and it’s a concern we have heard time and time again from industry members.
“This needs to be fixed and TIA will continue to engage closely with MBIE and Stats NZ.”