Friday, August 25, 2017

The Carelessness Of Facts

When I was at school, a general edict was that one could under no circumstances ever use "nice" or "a lot of". To use them on their own carried enough risk as it was. To have combined them, not that one did, would probably have resulted in an invitation to attend the headmaster's study. Only now, with the safety of many years' distance, dare I mention "a nice lot of". Thwack!

"Nice" might therefore have fallen by an etymological wayside, had it not been for "have a nice day". Nice, were it truly ever in danger of lexicological Dodoism, has been rejuvenated. Even test cricketers can be nice, as they are known to "play nicely". Ask Michael Vaughan, if you don't believe me. Ask him what it means, and he'll probably tell you that, erm ... .

There was much to be said for that edict. Meaningless is carelessness. Or put it another way, meaningless is anything you want it to mean, and the carelessness is the consequence of this meaninglessness. It is what the person on the receiving end takes to be the meaning. "A lot of people don't use the word nice." God, really? How many is a lot? Hundreds, thousands, millions? It all depends on interpretation and will almost invariably be wrong. That's careless.

This preamble is by way of introducing you to the following: "European families are seeking to cancel their holidays in Spain." What one can say of this is that it at least abides by the edict. But the absence of anything even vaguely quantifiable may well lead the person on the receiving end to conclude that "a lot of" European families are seeking to cancel and to make a mental note that this lot runs into the thousands or millions, when it might only be the odd hundred (if any). Not quantifying the number presupposes that there is a lot. And to compound this is the fact that "foreign tour operators" are saying this. How many of them are there? Two? Twenty? One hundred and twenty? One has no idea, but apparently they are all saying the same thing: exactly the same words. I don't think so.

The terrorist attacks will clearly deter some people. It is important, though, to know how much is the some who finally choose to indeed cancel. Only armed with actual numbers will we have any idea as to what impact the attacks have had. And, as importantly, where has been affected. I still find it hard to believe, as said two days ago, that the Balearics will be affected, but then those foreign tour operators ... blah, blah, blah.

What we have at present, in addition to the unquantified European families, includes Ada Colau, Barcelona's mayor, saying that there have been "very few" hotel cancellations in the city. So, there haven't been a lot of them. But how few is very few? Meanwhile, the president of the hoteliers' guild in Barcelona, Jordi Clos, says a reaction (a negative one) will soon be seen. He didn't wish to make a prediction and quantify the fall. What might it be? Very few, a few, some, a fair number, or a lot? We are left to wallow in vagueness and attempt to apply meaning to the meaningless. And in the process, there can be carelessness from misinterpreting this vagueness. One would be to over-emphasise the impact, the other would be to underestimate it and wrongly fail to apply remedial and preventive measures.

We are fed a constant barrage of facts that have little or no quantifiable meaning, but even when a quantity is offered, we can be forgiven either for not believing it or for shrugging our shoulders with a bewildered or indifferent so-what. I give as examples all the tourist spending stats. According to these, spending is up, then along comes an association like Acotur and says it isn't. Between twenty and thirty per cent of tourist businesses (bars, shops and so on, but not hotels) say spending is down. So, which do we believe? It will largely depend on what we want to believe. The fact is that the facts are usually elusive. We never get a true picture or one that we genuinely feel we can believe.

But if we want to get a feel for the state of the tourism economy, there are some very hard facts, and they have nothing to do with spending or terrorism. They are to do with prices. Look at examples of these and I defy anyone not to conclude that bookings for 2018 may be affected, and not in a positive way. But by how much? A lot? A bit?

I have a "fact" related to this, which I shall leave hanging for now, but it is somewhat startling. I shall share it tomorrow. Is it a lot? Yes. Is it nice? No. Whatever nice means.

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