Monday, November 10, 2014

Doing The Same Thing: Sports tourism

It doesn't matter who supposedly came up with "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to come out different". To borrow it as a statement of tourism fact, it will do, regardless of its origin, and it is fact which can be extended to "insanity is everyone doing the same thing over and over etc.".

In the endless search for the holy grail of off-season tourism, Mallorca and the Balearics have been doing the same thing over and over for at least thirty years. They have grafted ever more niches on to the original ones of cycling, golf and culture (conceived as saviours by the first regional government from 1983), but in the process have merely managed to come up with small bits of tourism which altogether amount to something which is slightly less small. Appropriately, in the quest also for the gastronomic tourist, these niches bubble gently in the off-season promotional stew, certain ingredients periodically being added or coming to the boil of flavour of the moment which dominate the other tastes. Over and over they are tossed into the pan with the expectation that tourism chefs will produce an à la carte off-season rather than a menú del día of familiar ordinariness.

Everyone is doing the same thing. The current flavour of the moment is sports tourism. This will be the niche which finally reveals a holy grail from which everyone can drink deeply and eat richly. But unfortunately, it is everyone. If not Mallorca, then it is Croatia or any number of competitor regions of Spain: Catalonia has developed a mark "sports tourism destination"; the Basque Country has gone beyond the usual and become a "model of surfing touristic development"; Asturias has cycling and walking; Galicia has cycling; Andalusia has looked to expand its golfing appeal. Even the Canaries have their sport in something called the "Reserva de la Extremosfera", which in the case of those islands is a reinforcement for the only region of Spain which has fully functioning year-round tourism.

Go beyond the macro level of the Balearics and you find that at micro levels everyone is doing the same thing. Sports tourism will make the bay of Alcúdia off-season heaven. The new cycling route will see to that. Or it would do if Muro hadn't put a block on things, protesting that it will have to shoulder a greater financial burden than the two other municipalities because of greater engineering issues and saying that it can't pay and won't pay. Towns in the sticks which don't have tourism profiles are also in on the act. Here a cycling route, there a Nordic walking route. Ibiza is another example, going it alone at the World Travel Market with a winter tourism campaign which features, among other things, cycling.

Then there is Palma, which has discovered a new(ish) sub-niche of the sports niche: running. According to the Palma 365 foundation, this is a "running USP", a unique selling point, the implication being that there is no running anywhere else. It couldn't be unique if there was. But hang on, what were those lines of Germans in Playa de Muro doing up until only a few days ago? They weren't walking. And what about, as an example, Bilbao? It has "running tours". So, all those off-season tourists can run to what is a genuinely international attraction - the Guggenheim - which, if not actually unique in being the world's only museum, might be considered way more of a USP than Palma can boast.

Marketing speak, as in citing a supposed USP, is a shield too often raised in order to defend the absence of effective marketing which might just convince punters that there is something unique. When everyone is doing the same thing over and over, it is the marketing which must not be the same or questionable. But this marketing gets mangled. It is disjointed. Take Palma 365. It has a Facebook page, but it's called Palma and not Palma 365 or passion for something, as with the slogan. Building a brand requires a single concept not competing names for the same thing. And the great fault line with the Palma campaign is the potential confusion with destinations which sound similar or are written similarly - La Palma, Las Palmas, Parma. Mallorca 365 is what should be being marketed. There can be no confusion with the name and it would also have vastly greater recognition. The marketing is simply wrong. Palma 365 should be the bridge of a mothership brand Mallorca 365 and not the ship itself.

Everyone is doing the same thing. It isn't insane if that is all there is, but greater sanity comes from convincing the market that your same thing is a hell of a lot better than someone else's. It's all in the branding.

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