Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Margin Of Error: Tourist satisfaction

Opinion surveys can with some justification be said to only provide a snapshot of opinion, but companies which conduct them will always point to the professionalism of market researchers and the rigour of their methodologies, for which margins of error are taken into account and indeed duly noted.

The most recent Gadeso survey of tourist satisfaction had a maximum margin of error of five per cent either way plus a 95.5% level of confidence. What that means is that if other batches of people were surveyed, 95.5 times out of 100 there would be the same results within a five per cent margin. The original survey results can therefore be said to be if not totally definitive, then more or less definitive.

The survey only asked 400 people. Of all the millions of tourists who come to Mallorca, that sounds like a pretty small sample. It is, but within the market research industry (and a similar process is observable with all the statistics about tourist spend, etc. that are trotted out), there is an accepted standard for providing "reliable" data. The margin of error is that standard. For 400 people, the margin is defined as five per cent. The greater the sample, the lower the margin.

This explanation, whether of course you accept it or not, means that the satisfaction survey is sound in statistical terms. The problem, and this is the case with tourist spending surveys, is that the research is based on random sampling. Again, the margin of error would maintain that there is reliability, but of the millions who come to Mallorca, to be boiled down to 400 and to be representative of highly diverse backgrounds is a method that does make one wonder.

But let's say that the survey was pretty much accurate. If so, it doesn't provide for particularly encouraging reading. Despite the improvements that have been and are being made, the general level of satisfaction stubbornly refuses to increase. There are factors which start from higher base levels of satisfaction, such as the overall approval for accommodation, but this higher base is skewed through elevated appreciation of the non-mainstream, e.g. rural accommodation, to which can be added the newest element in the survey, that of the holiday rental. Both these secure significantly greater scores than hotels. In the case of holiday rentals, this should tell its own story of refuting claims that they are of a low standard, while hoteliers - for all their investment - are discovering that the punter isn't impressed enough to push the satisfaction rating upwards.

The factors which more than others drag the satisfaction level down are lack of cleanliness, noise and the "gastronomic and commercial offers": these are bars, restaurants and shops to you and me. As with all the time, effort, investment and publicity directed towards hotel improvements, so gastronomy, we are told repeatedly, has undergone something of a revolution. It may indeed have, but the revolution seems to have passed tourists by. As for the price-quality ratio of this "specialised offer", it is the worst performing factor of all. Ouch!

Of all the findings, it is the one about returning to Mallorca that perhaps offers the greatest alarm. This is down quite markedly from 2014, insofar as a 3.2% fall can be described as being marked, which the market research industry would insist that it can be. What does one conclude from this decline? Is it because of the numbers of tourists who, through a form of holidaying Hobson's choice, have abandoned other destinations, come to the safe haven of Mallorca and found it less than wholly satisfying? Hard to say, but if this is the case, then it is some confirmation of the fear that Mallorca is living through a time of plenty thanks only to the travails of others. 

Another type of snapshot of opinion, social media, provides an insight into what people on the island make of all this. If tourists are so apparently dissatisfied, then why are they coming? There was one comment from a shop owner who berated tourists (all of them?) for being rude. Unfortunately, it may be that rudeness or lack of good service which leads to the "commercial offer" being rated as low as it is.

But amidst those who join in on what for some is currently high season for tourist-baiting (nothing to actually do with the survey as such), there are others who are in agreement. There is an issue with cleanliness, for instance. And as for the hoteliers, they're just out for what they can make. No change there then, when it comes to a general local perception of the hotel industry.

Is the static level of satisfaction a reason to be concerned? Maybe it is, but I can't help but feel that if the same survey were to be conducted in some specific locations the levels would be considerably higher. Margin of error or not.

No comments: