Tourism Statistics Unreliable Sans TSA

Without TSA, no institute is able to provide precise data on tourism revenue or its share in GDP
Tourism statistics in Iran are often contradictory and unreliable. Tourism statistics in Iran are often contradictory and unreliable.

In the absence of the Tourism Satellite Account, a standard statistical framework for the economic measurement of tourism, figures about the industry are considered estimates, often contradictory and unreliable.

Iran's revenues from inbound tourism, for instance, have been cited by Iranian authorities to be $8 billion in the last Iranian year that ended on March 20, 2017.

The figure was first mentioned by Zahra Ahmadipour, the former head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, and later quoted by other officials and tourism experts, ISNA reported.

However, global statistics contradict this figure. The latest data from the UN World Tourism Organization indicates that Iran received fewer than five million tourists in 2016, the year that closely corresponds to the Iranian year (March 20, 2016-March 20, 2017).  

The UNWTO has determined the average expenditure of a tourist in the South Asian region, including Iran, to be $1,220. A simple calculation shows that Iran's average revenue from inbound tourism was around $6 billion in 2016. Although there is a difference of two and a half months between 2016 and the Iranian year, it is very unlikely to have a significant effect on the results.

Besides, the expenditure of tourists from Afghanistan and Iraq is even estimated to be lower than$1,220, not to mention that the money might be spent on foreign services and goods that do not contribute to the Iranian economy.

Abdolreza Mohajerinejad, a faculty member at Cultural Heritage and Tourism Research Center, said it is not clear how the $8-billion figure was calculated without a TSA.

"Without a TSA, neither tourism officials, nor the Central Bank of Iran and the Statistical Center of Iran are able to provide precise data on tourism revenue or its share in GDP [gross domestic product]," he said. He added that TSA must be set up if the national document on tourism is to be prepared as planned by the yearend.  Last year, ICHHTO's Tourism Department forwarded a request to SCI, CBI and the Planning and Budget Organization to establish a TSA.

SCI announced that between 90 and 120 billion rials ($22-30 million) are required for the task. In spite of various propositions to supply the fund, the account was not eventually created due to changes in ICHHTO's management. Saeid Amirian, planning and statistics director at the research center, said the establishment of a TSA is being discussed for the past 15 years.

According to the official, primary studies have even been carried out and charts and calculation models have been prepared. The account was even piloted for domestic tourism in 2011 and 2012 by SCI, but the efforts never led to the official launch of the account.

"It is now up to ICHHTO's new management to resume the efforts," he told the news agency, adding that the country is able to afford the cost since the required fund is insignificant compared to other expenses of the sector.  Amirian lamented the fact that domestic tourism is often ignored in such statistics while it overtakes inbound tourism in terms of revenue.

"Moreover, domestic tourism is often directed from large cities toward smaller towns and rural areas, leading to a better distribution of wealth," he said.  Tourism Satellite Account was first developed by the United Nations to measure the size of economic sectors that are not defined as industries in national accounts.

Tourism, for example, is a blend of industries such as transportation, accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation, entertainment and travel agencies. From a measurement standpoint, the key is to associate purchases to the total supply of these goods and services within a country.

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