The Curious Case of Missing Data

The Curious Case  of Missing DataThe Curious Case  of Missing Data

Three months into the current Iranian year (started March 21) and there is still no sign of a comprehensive study on the number of domestic and foreign tourists who traveled around Iran in the last Iranian year. The lack of a study has one – and only one – reason: No statistics.

The perennial problem of statistics – or lack thereof – has hindered Iran’s progress and crippled the country’s push for tourism development.

According to a report by Mehr News Agency, Iran’s tourism reports have historically been subject to criticisms due to inconsistencies in the reported figures. The report says in the past two governments, tourism officials would convene behind closed doors and make up numbers, and prevent their calculation methods from leaking to the media.

Most recently, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), Masoud Soltanifar, claimed 15 million Iranians holidayed in the country, while the figure was denied by his tourism deputy, Morteza Rahmani Movahed!

The most recent tourism report published by the Parliament’s Research Center was heavily censured by tourism officials. Some called it inaccurate, while others dismissed the veracity of the report.

Earlier, World Travel and Tourism Council had published their report on global tourism, and they had mentioned that to study Iran’s tourism in 2014, they had to rely on estimates rather than precise figures.

In April, Soltanifar said in a press conference that tourism statistics are compiled every month at ICHHTO and will be reported regularly. In the same conference, Movahed promised data on the number of foreign tourists would also be available within the coming weeks.

It has been two months since the press conference, yet officials have failed to provide precise numbers of domestic and foreign tourists in Iran during the Norouz holidays (March 21-April 2), as well as the last Iranian year.

  Holy Grail of Tourism

It would not be an exaggeration to call statistics the holy grail of Iran’s tourism. The importance of accurate data in the development of tourism cannot be overstated; to implement effective policies and devise development plans, precise statistics are required to pinpoint areas that need improvement.

The Majlis tourism report, published in May, attempted to define the statistical indices and their function, which are necessary to establish Tourism Satellite Accounts (TSA).

TSA is a standard statistical framework and the main tool for the economic measurement of tourism. Lack of TSA in countries like Iran forces the researchers to produce estimates instead of precise figures in their reports. It also hinders the process of precise up-to-date data gathering; something that is vital to achieving a transparent and accurate statistical system for tourism industry.

Iran’s 20-year Vision Plan (2005-25) aims to attract 20 million tourists annually by 2025, which could potentially rake in $30 billion in revenues. Iran’s share of global tourism is a meager 0.5%, which is expected to rise to 3% in the next 10 years.

The country’s tourism goals, however, will not be realized as long as there is a lack of precise data. Unless the problem is rectified, Iran’s dreams for its tourism industry will remain just that – dreams.