Measuring Tourist Flow and Inflow: Perspectives and Constraints

Special Report: Varia 2006‒Methodological Note
By Christophe Terrier

Due to of the importance of tourism in the French economy and society, a proper knowledge of tourism flows is required. But the design of a measuring system and the regular gathering of statistical data raise several difficulties. First, tourism is, by definition, based on movement and all phenomena involving movement are difficult to measure. Second, there are diverse forms of tourism, including holiday and business trips, short and long stays etc. Third, the notion of tourism flows has a different meaning for those in charge of road, rail or air flow management, and for those in charge of tourists stays.
The paper first discusses the ambiguities of the notions used in tourism studies. It emphasizes the distinction between the circulation of tourist flows on communication routes and tourist inflows and stays in given places. Second, the paper recalls the proper calculation rules associated with each of the geographical entities on which the measure of tourism phenomena is based, in particular lines and areas. It also addresses some of the problems raised by the non-compliance to these rules in public information. Third, the paper presents the various systems used to measure tourist flows and inflows, and discusses their usefulness, their limitations, and some new developments in this field. Finally, the paper examines the potential value of modern communication technologies in studies of mobility, and in particular raises the problem of finding the proper balance between statistical precision and individual freedom.

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