Delivering Benchmarking research which is affordable, cost effective and competitive has been a fundamental aim of England’s Regional Tourist Boards in developing benchmarking services. The adopted methodology involves face to face interviews with visitors on the street and also depends upon achieving a minimum sample for the results to be statistically robust.
In some destinations it has proved difficult to achieve the number of interviews required to deliver benchmarking through visitor survey cost effectively. This has been the case in some of the smaller destinations where overall visitor throughput is low, but also in larger towns and cities where residents, shoppers, students and people on business dominate the streets. For such destinations, an alternative approach to benchmarking is required, one that is not dependent upon volume response and which is cost effective to deliver.
The market town pilot provided an opportunity to trial an alternative approach, as it had proved uneconomic to deliver visitor survey benchmarking. A total of ten market towns participated in the trial. The route chosen was a benchmarking audit, based upon the use of Mystery Shopper techniques. An observation Document was designed, incorporating as many of the indicators from the visitor survey as possible. This involved converting them into their measurable, observable dimensions. A total of six visits were conducted to each destination over a period of six weeks.
It has been possible to compare findings of this alternative approach with the visitor survey benchmarking methodology, as in five of the towns both surveys were run. In general, both approaches highlighted similar strengths and weaknesses at an overall level. It is important to appreciate, however, that the two approaches are measuring slightly different things – the audit measures performance against a specified set of standards, whereas the visitor survey method the visitors’ satisfaction with that standard of delivery.
The trial has demonstrated that benchmarking audits are a valuable tool amongst benchmarking techniques. Its main advantages are that it is objective and consistent, is not reliant on finding actual visitors and so is cost effective to deliver and can be easily applied to those destinations where visitor surveys would be difficult to implement. Its principal weakness is that it does not provide the visitor profile data which client feedback has indicated as a valuable dimension of benchmarking through visitor survey.