World Economic Forum

A Fiendishly Difficult Geo-Quiz

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After mapping a number of the indicators found in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, I realized that the results could make a particularly challenging geo-quiz. Many of the results seemed surprising to me, and as a result I am not sure if I would have done very well on the quiz.

At any rate, I have included six world maps, all of which use a color scheme ranging from dark blue to dark red. On every map, blue shading indicated conditions favorable to tourism, the darker the better, whereas red indicates conditions disfavorable to tourism, the darker the shade, the worse the conditions. As the World Economic Forum’s report includes data for only 140 countries, many states are left in grey. I cannot vouch for the data quality, and I must note that one map, that of the “reliability of police service,” is based on highly subjective survey data.

The maps, labeled A though F,  show the following features.

1. Reliability of Police Services (“To what extent can police services be relied upon to enforce law and order in your country?”)

2. Hotel Rooms (Number of hotel rooms per 100 population, 2011 or most recent)

3. Broadband Internet Subscribers (Fixed broadband Internet subscriptions per 100 population, 2011 or most recent)

4. Sports Stadiums (Sports stadium capacity per million population, 2011 or most recent)

5. ATMs Accepting Visa Cards (Number of automated teller machines (ATMs) accepting Visa credit cards per million population, 2012 or most recent)

6. Road Traffic Accidents (Estimated deaths due to road traffic accidents per 100,000 population, 2007 or most recent)

See if you can match the map letters with the answer numbers, and post your responses if you would like in the comment section of the blog.






Map EmF Map F

Mapping the Cell Phone Revolution

Mobile Telephone Subscriptions World MapIt is often noted that inexpensive cellular telephones have revolutionized communications across much of the world, especially in poor countries that lack landlines. Confirmation of this development is found in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which features detailed data tables for 140 countries. According to the report, 80 countries have more mobile telephone subscriptions than people. The United States, Canada, and France are not among them. Over most of the world, levels of economic development correlate poorly with cell phone subscription levels.

I have mapped the mobile telephone data to make the geographical patterns immediately evident. As can be seen, high subscription rates are found across much of the former Soviet Union and in the Arabian Peninsula, and more generally in Central and Eastern Europe and in South America. Hong Kong, however, has the highest figure (214.7), followed by Saudi Arabia, Panama, Montenegro, Russia, and Suriname. Such extremely high subscription rates are likely linked to the widespread use of inexpensive disposable phones. In Russia, moreover, people often keep different phones or, more commonly,  different SIM (subscriber identity module) cards, for personal and business purposes, and many purchase local phones when traveling.

Cell phone subscription levels are lower than average across much of Asia and Africa. Yet even in countries as poor as Mali and Zimbabwe, the figures are still relatively high, at 68 and 72 subscriptions per 100 people respectively. In only two countries, Burundi and Ethiopia, is the figure below 25 percent, although several unmapped countries, such as DR Congo and Central African Republic, could well have lower rates.

Mobile Boradband Subscriptions World MapThe situation is quite different in regard to mobile broadband subscriptions, as can be seen in the second map. Here subscription rates range from negligible (fewer than 0.1 per 100 people) across most of Africa and South Asia to a high of 114 in Singapore. South Korea and Japan also boast more broadband mobile subscriptions than people. It is significant that Germany, France, and Italy lag behind Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia in this regard. The high figure for Ghana is also noteworthy.

Problems with Global Infrastructure Rankings

Map of World Economic Forum's Infrastructure RankingsSeptember 17th 2011 article in The Economist stresses the inadequacy of Colombia’s transportation system, arguing that poor roads hold back the country’s economic growth. As evidence of the severity of the problem, the author notes that in terms of overall infrastructure, Colombia comes out “79th of 139 countries’ networks ranked by the World Economic Forum.” In actuality, it seems to rank slightly lower than that; the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012” places Colombia in the 85th position out of 142 countries surveyed (page 18).

Yet as the GeoCurrents map constructed from the World Economic Forum data indicates, Colombia’s standing is similar to those of its neighbors. Overall, Latin America fares poorly in global comparisons of infrastructure; only Chile, Uruguay, and Panama placed within the top 60. Such standings are lower than what might be expected based on the region’s overall economic development. This in turn suggests that investments in Latin American transportation and communications could return substantial economic benefits—precisely what is argued in regard to Colombia in The Economist article referenced above.

Intriguingly, fast-growing Panama stands out in the World Economic Forum’s infrastructural rankings, where it occupies first place for Latin America and 38th for the world as a whole. The report highlights Panama’s relatively high level of “competitiveness” overall, noting that it has “the strongest competitive position in Central America.” It especially touts Panama’s recent improvements in its “port and air transport infrastructure,” while acknowledging that the country is held back by its lagging educational system and questionable governance.

World Economic Forum's Infrastructure Criteria The infrastructure index compiled by the World Economic Forum assesses transportation, energy, and telephone networks, as can be seen in the chart posted here. It is unclear whether the methodology employed is adequate to the task. Although some components of the index use hard data (per capita telephone lines, for example), most are based on subjective assessments established through surveys. Respondents are asked, for example, “How would you assess port facilities in your country? [1 = extremely underdeveloped; 7 = well developed and efficient by international standards].”* Such personal evaluations, however, are unlikely to be determined in the same manner across the globe. Some of the other “competitiveness” indicators tracked by the Forum are even more misleading. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, are ranked alongside Denmark and Iceland as having the least organized crime (p. 404). The notion that Egypt, where human trafficking is a major concern, is less plagued by Mafioso activity than Singapore or Sweden is not credible.

Similar data issues may account for some of the surprising rankings on the infrastructure index. Australia (24th), for example, barely beats Malaysia (26th), a much less developed country. Australia does not place in the top twenty positions in any of the infrastructure sub-indices except that pertaining to airline travel. Its lowest showing (69th) comes in the objective category of mobile cellular telephone subscriptions per 100 population. That Montenegro ranked 3rd, Vietnam 5th, and Suriname 6th on this particular measurement calls its significance in question; high levels of cellular telephone use are often linked to underdeveloped land-lines, and thus make poor indicators of infrastructural development in general. It is also notable that other sources from only a few years earlier give strikingly different figures on global cell-phone usage, which casts doubt on the data themselves.

I am attracted to such indices as those provided in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report largely because they are easily mapped, generating clear visual pictures of particular aspects of global socio-economic development. Yet when I examine such indicators in detail, I am usually disappointed. Numbers that seem solid often melt into air.

*For landlocked countries, the question is as follows: How accessible are port facilities? [1 = extremely inaccessible; 7 = extremely accessible].”