How many people visit our destination? This is an age-old question asked of destination marketers and researchers on a regular basis. Short of having a turnstile at the entrance to each state, region or city, visitation to any geography can only be estimated. The question then becomes how to do that.

There are a variety of metrics for counting visitors, and each will tell you something different about your guests. The metric you choose depends on how you want to describe visitation to your destination. Keep in mind this may change depending on a specific circumstance. The most important metric for any destination is the amount of money generated by visitors, and the metric you choose will have an impact on how spending is calculated.

There are two basic metrics for counting visitors: Trips and Stays. Trips count unique visits to a destination, while Stays count all visits, whether or not they are unique. For example, if a travel party visits three cities within a state, it is counted as one Trip to the state, but three Stays to the state. The assumption is that it doesn’t matter who the people are; what matters is the number of visits or Stays. Note that at the city level, Trips and Stays are virtually the same metric.

Like inches, feet and yards, visitor metrics can be described by the level of detail that is reported.

Trips – Trips are simply the number of travel parties visiting a destination. For a state, they are only counted once, regardless of the number of destinations visited within the state. This metric is useful for counting unique Trips or travel parties to a destination.

Person-Trips – This metric takes the number of people on the Trip into consideration, so this is the number of people who were in the travel party on the trip. Again, for a state this is only counted once, regardless of the number of destinations visited within the state. This is useful for counting the number of unique people who travel to a destination.

Stays – This metric accounts for each city a travel party visits. It makes the assumption that each Stay is a unique Trip, ignoring the identity of the travel party but counting the number of places visited instead. This is useful when evaluating the total number of Stays to cities and the state, as well as the associated spending distribution.

Person-Stays – Like Person-Trips, this metric takes the number of people in the travel party for any given Stay into consideration. This is useful when evaluating the number of people visiting a destination as well as spending distribution at the destination and state levels.

Person-Days – This metric adds the number of days to the Person-Stays metric and is most useful in determining per-person-per-day spending.

Following is an example of how the various metrics count a vacation for a family of four on a 17-day vacation to the West Coast where they visit California, Oregon and Washington. For simplicity, we will assume every member of the travel party visited every destination for the same number of days.

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If we look just at California, we see that our family of four stayed nine days in California and spent a total of $4,500. Each of the metrics will tell us something different about this Trip to California and the associated spending.

If we look just at Trips, we would count this family of four as one Trip during which $4,500 was spent. We don’t know anything about the size of the travel party, how long they stayed in California, where they stayed or how much money they spent in each destination.

Person-Trips will tell us a little more about this Trip to California. We know there were four people on the Trip; thus, we now know that there were four Person-Trips and the spending was $1,125 per person. We still don’t know anything about the number of places they visited or how much money they spent in each destination within the state.

Stays give a bit more information about the California portion than trips. Stays not only tell us how many travel parties there were, but how many places they visited, which in the case of California is three. Thus, we now know that there were three Stays with an average of $1,500 spent per Stay in each destination within California. If we look at the actual spend per Stay, there are marked differences, which could have an impact on tax estimations as well as economic impact analyses.

Person-Stays will refine this estimation even more by adding the number of persons on each Stay. While the number of persons can obviously vary by destination, for simplicity we have assumed that the entire travel party visited each destination within California. Thus, combining the number of destinations visited within California with the number of people in the travel party generates 12 Person-Stays with an average spend of $375 per person per stay. The person-per-stay spending at each destination is $500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively for Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Again, these differences could make a difference in how tax dollars are estimated for the state as a whole.

Person-Days is the most refined by combining the total number of people on the stay with the number of days on the stay. This metric also is the best at describing the distribution of money spent in a destination and in a state. In describing this California Trip, Person-Days tell us that there were 36 Person-Days spent in California and that the average person-per-day spending was $125. The per-person-per-day spending for Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles was respectively $62.50, $156.25 and $125.00.

In summary, all these metrics can be used to describe your visitors, but the metric you choose should depend on how you want to account for your visitors and their associated spending.

With questions, please reach out to Cheryl Schutz at cschutz@dkshifflet.com.