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Part two: How visitor data easily gets misinterpreted


Most destinations have no shortage of data. But is it good data for making strategic decisions?

Since I just returned from the Great State of Iowa, I’d like to use it as an example.

Iowa has two sources for determining a visitor profile: 1) people who are savvy enough to go online and order a visitor’s guide, but prefer to have it mailed to them in print (not simply click for a PDF download) 2) people who make time to take a survey at a welcome center rest stop.   Let’s overlook this odd semi-digital hybrid of respondents for the moment and focus on how one might read the data.

The welcome center figures showed that the most popular thing to do (55% ticked this box) was visit a historical attraction.  So how do you interpret this? Here are just two of the many ways:

1. People who visit Iowa like history and particularly historical architecture (“it’s the most popular activity!”). We should convert more of our old buildings to historical centers and maybe add a few historical museums to give our visitors some more fun historical things to do so we can build on a proven product.

2. When people drive through the state (on their way to visit grandma or to Colorado for a ski trip or national park), they typically build in an hour or two of cushion to stretch their legs, grab a bite to eat and use the bathroom. While many are fine with using the generic freeway rest stops and gas stations for this, some prefer to take the opportunity to see what makes Iowa unique… so they follow our brown cultural marker signs to the “historical city center”  when looking for a place to stop. While stretching their legs in the small historic city centers (typically just a few blocks on a single street), they wander into to what seems to be the main historic building.  It’s architecturally appealing and aimed at visitors and allows them to feel they’ve ticked the mental box that they’ve “done the main thing to do” in town.  Plus, it’s typically not much of a time or financial commitment to enter. Nor does it require advance planning.  So let’s use our time and money to see what other diverse things we can offer to get them to stay a little longer.

I’m not saying either of these interpretations are correct; just wanted to highlight potentially opposing views. Naturally, more information is required before any conclusion can be drawn.


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