Monday, March 28, 2011

We'll Fight Them On The Beach Restaurants

So, here was an interesting little thing that caught my eye. In "The Bulletin" on Sunday. The headline was "Menorca fights all-inclusive tourist offer". The short news item said that the "Council of Menorca" (was) fighting back against the all-inclusive offer by setting up an online scheme where(by) visitors planning to come to the island can survey local restaurants giving meals at a special price, and calculate their expenses in advance."

What a very good idea, thought I. Visitors would also be able, the piece continued, to compare costs against that of an all-inclusive offer. Intrigued, I went in search of the website. I was intrigued not just by what seemed a good idea but also by the surprise of it. Why was I surprised? Well, would an island council, Menorca's or any other, actually be presenting something that might be seen to undermine its hotels? Yes, it wants to boost its restaurants and other businesses, and no, the councils aren't necessarily in cahoots with the hotels as such, but "fighting back" against AI? Was it really doing this?

Disappointingly, it isn't doing this. On the "Menorca Full Experience" site, the introduction says that we (tourists) want to know in advance costs of various things and that we have a problem with budgeting for lunches and dinners. Nowhere is there any mention of all-inclusives. Might this be for a reason other than letting tourists make some cost comparison, as in all-inclusives will soon be a thing of the past?

The island's tourism minister, Lázaro Criado, said, when the site was launched at the start of March, that "we understand that all-inclusive is not the agreed strategy for the long term in Menorca, although it can prove useful in the short term". Just like Mallorca, then. If anyone can decipher what the minister means (and it is hard to believe what he appears to mean), answers on a postcard with a picture of one of the participating restaurants, assuming you can find one of them.

The idea behind the site is that restaurants are listed, along with their menus, and a discount price is offered on production of a voucher that can be printed out. Fair enough. But hardly new. A slight problem with what there is on the website at present is that there are very few restaurants participating. How many? Three. Yes, three. In the whole of Menorca. In certain sections of cuisine and in certain "urbanisations", there are none listed. One presumes it's all early days.

This website has nothing to do with all-inclusives, but everything to do with promoting local gastronomy, all three restaurants' worth of it. There's nothing wrong with such promotion, while it would indeed have been a surprise had there been some sort of cost-comparison measures being presented, which there aren't. One can of course do one's own cost comparison, by schlepping through all manner of websites to get to the comparison, but you won't get it by "falling in love" with Menorca, the claim of the tourism board's site.

Giving some advance information about what it might cost to eat out is not, in itself, a completely bad idea. It is one of the questions holidaymakers ask all the time, along with how much does a pint cost and what's the weather like. The trouble is that the answers to them are of the string variety. How long is a piece of it? The weather you can be reasonably sure of, in July for example, but not in September. As for the costs of eating out, one man's meat is another man's pizza, as indeed one man's Burger King is another man's typical Mallorcan (or Menorcan) cuisine in a romantic, beach-side setting. It's not comparing eggs with eggs, or a fried egg with a rasher of bacon with quail's eggs and smoked salmon.

Calculating the holiday budget in advance, by sizing up less than a handful of restaurants' menus, with or without discounts, does rather overlook the increasing trend for the holidaymaker to have pretty much a set budget to spend, regardless of advance price information or discounts. And while a discount here or there might be tempting, it won't be if it means trekking across an entire island in search of it. To be of any real value, discounts have to be clustered in an area close to the holidaymaker, but if enough establishments offer them then the offer itself becomes standard and thus loses its capacity to incentivise.

As for a cost comparison between all-inclusives and a mix of accommodation and eating-out, it could well be that one can make a case for the latter working out cheaper. Again, it does all rather depend. But even this overlooks a crucial ingredient in the all-inclusive's favour, which is its sheer convenience. Holidaymakers should be more adventurous, but many have lost the capacity for adventure-seeking because they are handed everything on a paper plate, together with the poolside, plastic knife and fork.

Menorca is not fighting back. It is not fighting the all-inclusive on the beaches, as only one of the three restaurants is indeed a beach restaurant. Criado also reckoned that "with this formula (that of the website, whatever this formula actually is) we wish to respond specifically to the demand for all-inclusive in Menorca". If so, when why not say so. On the website. There again, all-inclusive is not for the long term, says Sr. Criado. Who's he trying to kid?

Any comments to please.

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