Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Visitors to the canal.

I have puzzled long and hard over various figures bandied around about the number of visit and visitors to the inland waterways. The figures seem to suggest that around 10 million people visit the Canal and River Trust inland waterways. So I decided to see what I could do to gather the information. So I made a freedom of information request to the Canal and River Trust.

I see many references in various publications of the number of visitors to the canal network. I understand that CaRT currently estimate the visitors at 10 million a year. That description is quite a broad brush stroke figure. From my own experience it seems to me that the ten million figure is quite a significant footfall for anyone contemplating a canal side business venture.

However as far as I am aware the methodology used to calculate the ten million figure has not been published. This leads to quite a bit of speculation on my part to what the term 'visitor' actually means. Is the figure a total of 10 million individual people using the canal towpath on an annual basis. With a figure of 63.1 million total population for the United Kingdom published in 2012. That would be a truly astonishing figure.

Alternatively the figure could represent a much smaller group of individuals who walk a short distance several times a day. In this case the 'visitor' number would be significantly lower in numbers of real individual visitors. Could you provide details of the 'methodology' used and a definition of the term 'visitor.'

The Trust responded by saying that the requested information fell outside the terms of the FoI act. But I was pleased to see that they were not sticking to the point as a matter of principal. The Trust volunteered the following information.

You are indeed correct that the use of the term ‘visitor’ is often used in the leisure sector to refer to the number of visits people make as well as the number of people who actually visit. The Canal & River Trust monitors both visitors (people) and visits (occasions) through our Inland Waterways Visitor Survey (IWVS). The IWVS was established in 2003 and is currently conducted by independent market research agency BDRC Continental. The IWVS is a telephone survey that runs continuously through the year, interviewing almost 12,000 people annually.

A nationally representative sample of just under 1,000 adults is interviewed each month. Data is weighted on a monthly basis to the national GB population profile in terms of region, sex and age. A Random Digit Dialling (RDD) approach is used. This is a system which offers a totally geographically unclustered sample; vital since an individual’s usage of waterways is determined in part by their proximity to waterways (either living or working).

The visitor figure referred to, of around 10 million is based on the number of people who say they have visited a canal in the last year. Some will only have visited once, perhaps to a canal side pub for Sunday lunch; others may be visiting everyday as their route to work or to walk the dog. We know asking about behaviour over the last year presents some problems – some people may think back beyond a year, others will have forgotten their visit. We feel however, that this measure gives us a reasonable overview of visitor behaviour on an annual basis.

We also measure total visit occasions, and although there is obviously varies from year to year, depending on the weather, external events as well as our own marketing and communications. It is usually around 300 million visits.

The total visits figure is gathered by first asking people if they have visited one of our waterways in the last two weeks. Why two weeks? Two weeks is used as it is short enough to accurately remember more detailed information about their visit, but gives a larger and more robust sample than just asking about visits in the last week. Some people may have only visited once; others may have visited lots, doing different activities on different occasions. By counting all these different occasions we can monitor the number of visits made each month and in total over the year.
There was an amendment made to the request. I did this because, what was not clear was whether the waterways were limited to the Canal and River Trust waterways or the waterways in general.

Thanks for the reply and the information was helpful in improving my understanding the difference between visitor and visits. There is an annotation to the original request by Mr Richards.

I would suggest that the requester asks for clarification regarding the word 'canal' in the response. In particular, ask if 'canal' means the Trust's canal's, all the Trust's waterways (i.e. canals, rivers, reservoirs etc), or does it include non-trust waterways?

The more I think about the content of the annotation the more I have come to realise. That to get a more complete understanding. It would be useful to know if the figures are based upon visits/visitor to any waterway or if the figures apply only to visits to the trusts waterways.

Once again the Trust waived the fact that there was no compulsion upon them to answer my Freedom of Information Request. 

The figures are based only on visits/visitors to any of the Trust's waterways, no others.
You may wonder why the Trust is collecting such information. One reason is because of what are known as KPI or 'Key Performance Indicators'.  If you like, the trust has certain performances to aim for and visitor/visit numbers are one of them. Not meeting a KPI could mean that the money received each year by the trust from DEFRA could be reduced. I think it is good that there are such checksums in place. It means that there is a financial incentive for the trust to meet the KPI and that the inland waterways will benefit from such monitoring.

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