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Food for thoughtTourism

Lists, Damn Lists and Top 10 (or 20, or 100) Lists

By June 12, 2017May 13th, 2022No Comments

(With apologies to Mark Twain and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who are credited with the original commentary on three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.”)

It’s that season again!  List season.  The point in time where Canadians take pride (for the most part rightly so) for landing atop a range of lists that speak to the desirability of living or working in, or simply visiting, Canada.  Inevitably Canada is on these lists.  Almost always in the top ten.  Often in the top one or two.

What I’ve always been curious about however, is why the strong showing of Canada’s “livability” doesn’t always translate to actual visitation.  Wouldn’t you think that a country rated #1 (or 2, or 3) on the best places to live list, would be inundated with visitors checking out what makes the country so desirable?

Let’s look at some of these lists, starting with the general “best of” variety and comparing the results to Canada’s standing among the world’s most visited countries.

These three “best of” lists place Canada in 2nd, 10th and 9th place respectively for being the “best country in which to live”, the “most livable country” and the “most competitive” travel destination.  But…from a visitation perspective…Canada is tied with Saudi Arabia for 17th place, according to UNWTO data.

What’s more interesting though, are the number of countries posting impressive visitation numbers, but that don’t appear anywhere in the Top 20 of these three lists.  Number 4 (China), #6 (Turkey) and positions 9 through 15 for example.

But let’s dig a bit deeper.  (And…for the previous table and the next, let’s just agree that while the years in which these surveys were conducted don’t line up exactly, the trendline is still indicative).

Maybe the standards used in these general livability and competitiveness surveys don’t line up with what leisure (and corporate) visitors are looking for. So, let’s get more specific and look at referral sources, country “brand” image/awareness and a host of characteristics likely to motivate travel (or prevent it, if these characteristics aren’t present.

One of the better-known referral sources is Lonely Planet’s “best places to visit”, an annual publication identifying countries, cities, value destinations, etc.  Canada made it to 1st place on the country list for 2017 amid much fanfare.  The quirkiness of the countries selected for this list however, is underlined by the nine countries rounding out Lonely Planet’s top ten…none of which are among international tourism’s heavyweights.

From a brand perspective, Canada has posted top honours in the past (#1 in 2010 and 2011) and remains in the top five.  Far better than 17th place France (most visited) or, in 7th place, the United States (second most visited).

When looking at specific country attributes that might resonate with prospective visitors, Canada is a stellar performer.   Of the Top 20 most visited countries, per UNWTO, Canada is the only one to place in the top ten in every one of these country attributes:  happiest, most peaceful, best lifestyle, safest and friendliest.  In fact, Canada Is the only one of the Top 20 to be mentioned at all in “happiest” and “most “peaceful. Except for Germany, Canada is also the sole mention in best lifestyle (although if food and wine are considered as part of lifestyle, one must wonder about the absence of France and Italy!)

So…what does it all mean?

  • Canada’s reputation, across a broad range of descriptors and characteristics, is as positive as any competitor destination…arguably much more positive than most.
  • A strong and positive reputation on livability measures does not always translate into visits. The ten most-visited countries among the UNWTO’s Top 20 lists are virtually absent on the livability, brand reputation and visitor attributes lists.

Ultimately, as suggested by the parallel to the saying “lies, damn lies and statistics”, lists are subjective and reflect points of view at a given time.  It’s nice to be mentioned.  But just as our strong showing on some lists is weighed against a modest showing on visitation, let’s not lose sight of the learning opportunities at hand. How do we translate a stellar reputation into increased visitation in this, the 150th anniversary of confederation, or in future years.

Author Lyle Hall

A trusted adviser to private- and public-sector clients in the international tourism, hospitality and gaming industries...for 35+ years. Areas of focus: Gaming, Hotels/Integrated Resorts, Convention and other Public Assembly Venues, Destination Management, Attractions, Entertainment and general Tourism.

More posts by Lyle Hall