Much as I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, particular at the height of the peak summer holiday season, but the latest report from international tourism marketing organisation VisitBritain makes pretty grim reading for those of us in the Southwest.

According to VB’s Foresight study, overseas travellers made fewer visits to our region than in 2013, they didn’t stay as long when they did come and – crucially for the Southwest’s economy as a whole – they spent less money while they were here.

Admittedly the number of visits was down only 0.3 per cent, but the number overnight stays was down 4.6 per cent, and spending was 4.5 per cent lower. The East Midlands fared even worse, but that’s not much of a consolation.

Barclaycard does manage to come up with some crumbs of comfort. Its latest Consumer Spending Report suggests that that in the second quarter of this year, Britons spent 12.1 per cent more in pubs, and 14.8 per cent more in restaurants, than they did in April-June 2014.

More significantly, the Barclaycard research suggests that 26 per cent of UK holidaymakers are planning to take a ‘staycation’ this year instead of heading abroad.

Clearly, UK holidaymakers are more likely than overseas visitors to be aware of, and tempted by, the attractions of the Southwest, so there would appear to be a good chance that what the region is losing in foreigners can be made up by increased visits by our fellow countrymen.

The key word in that preceding paragraph is “chance”. The Southwest’s economy – and that of Dorset – remains hugely dependent on the tourism sector. Tourism, from home or abroad, simply cannot be left to “chance”.

The trouble with the VisitBritain report is that it is almost exclusively quantitative. Overseas visitors are coming here less frequently, for less time, and spending less money – but why? What is the Southwest doing (or not doing) that is causing these declines?

The trouble with the Barclaycard report is that while it identified spending trends, it doesn’t tell us why or where all this extra money is being spent.

UK residents have been spending nearly 15 per cent more in restaurants, but is that just because restaurateurs have been putting their prices up? More than a quarter of all holidaymakers plan to take a ‘staycation’ – but where? Are they all going to Blackpool, or is Bridport about to be swamped?

The Southwest in general, and Dorset in particular, cannot rely on others to do the research for us. While quantitative research tells us what has happened, qualitative research tells us why – and what to do about it.

There is some serious work to be done. It will take time and money. However, we cannot leave the future of our all-important tourism industry to “chance”.

By Simon Scarborough, Simon Scarborough Associates