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12 Mar, 2007

Another Tourism “Beauty Contest”, the WEF Competitiveness Index

BERLIN: Countries will soon be parading in yet another international beauty contest following the release of the World Economic Forum’s first Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) last week at the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel trade show.

Designed to “provide benchmarking tools that enable countries to identify key obstacles to competitiveness, and to provide a platform for dialogue among government, business, and civil society to discuss the best ways of removing them,” the report is the first issued by the Davos-based organization on the Travel & Tourism industry in recognition of its importance to the global economy.

According to World Travel & Tourism Council figures quoted in the report, in 2006, travel & tourism accounted for 10.3 percent of world GDP and 234 million jobs, making up 8.2 percent of total employment worldwide.

The report ranks the travel & tourism industries of 124 global economies based on 13 factors: 1. Policy rules and regulations 2. Environmental regulation 3. Safety and security 4. Health and hygiene 5. Prioritization of Travel & Tourism 6. Air transport infrastructure 7. Ground transport infrastructure 8. Tourism infrastructure 9. ICT infrastructure 10. Price competitiveness in the T&T industry 11. Human resources 12. National tourism perception 13. Natural and cultural resources.

Thailand is ranked 43rd in the TTCI, just behind Korea.

Says the report, “Thailand benefits from a very friendly attitude towards tourists (ranked 6th), and the sector is indeed prioritized by the government (ranked 14th) with, similar to Malaysia, excellent destination marketing campaigns and an effort to ensure national presence at major travel and tourism fairs internationally. However, important weaknesses remain, particularly regarding the quality of transport and tourism infrastructure, both of which remain relatively underdeveloped.”

The report also ranks Thailand 104 on foreign ownership restrictions and 102 on “risk of malaria and yellow fever.”

Switzerland tops the TTCI rankings, with the report lauding it for being “an extremely safe country, with excellent health and hygiene indicators, as well as environmental regulation that is among the most stringent and effective in the world.” It praises the quality of Switzerland’s human resources, air and ground transport and tourism infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources.

Others in the Top Ten are: Austria, Germany, Iceland, US, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.”

In the Asian region, the Top Ten rankings are: Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, India and China. Strangely, Hong Kong is listed as a separate “country.”

The report draws upon data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) as well as survey data from a WEF Executive Opinion Survey for which the Thailand input was provided by the NESDB.

The consultancy company Booz Allen Hamilton was the “Strategic Design Partner” and funding support came from the UNWTO, WTTC, Bombardier, Carlson Group, Emirates Group, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Silversea Cruises, Swiss International Airlines and Visa International.

Although the report quotes Jennifer Blanke, the WEF Senior Economist as saying that it is “not a ‘beauty contest’,” a closer look signals a largely unrealistic “apples vs oranges” comparison with a clear objective to drive the globalisation agenda and individual business interests of its backers.

An unduly high proportion of the criteria is related to airport and aviation infrastructure, including a very obvious reference to “Openness of bilateral air services agreements” as a category deserving its own individual ranking. The category “Tourism Infrastructure” contains sub-categories like, “ATMs accepting Visa cards” and “presence of major car rental companies”.

A number of essays, none of them authored by any Asians, Africans or Latin Americans (with the sole exception of one Arab name from Jordan), then launch into the ‘beauty contest’ element – an analysis of the “competitive advantages that industrialized states currently enjoy in this sector…..and the significant potential for improving the competitiveness of the poorest.”

Although Ms Blanke denied this is the case, the report has a clear “one-size-fits-all” approach with little apparent consideration given to individual country issues such as size of population or availability of natural resources that drive policies. How it is possible to comparatively rank Dubai and Chad in the same index is never fully explained.

The over-arching theme is that anything that is good for business, is good for both the people and the countries concerned.

However, if the rankings, biases, corporate agendas and numerous individual errors are set aside, the report does have its uses. It provides a comprehensive global state-of-play that many investors and policy-makers will find useful as an “idea-bank” to develop policy initiatives and guide business decisions.

However, policy-makers will need to resist the pressure to make decisions just in order to overtake a competing nation and rise in next year’s rankings. Academic institutions will also find it extremely useful, especially if they are willing to use it as a template to develop a counter-index of corporate behaviour by the global multinationals in the travel & tourism sector.

The full three-part report of nearly 500 pages is downloadable for free: http://www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/gcp/TravelandTourismReport/index.htm

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