Sunday, August 16, 2009

Can't Get No

There was a survey of tourist satisfaction recently, or perhaps one should make that dissatisfaction. You may recall my mentioning the questionnaire that does the rounds in Puerto Pollensa (29 June: Lemon Tree). That survey seems to tie in; the categories appear to be similar if not indeed the same. You may also recall in that previous piece my suggesting that much which occurs by way of market surveys gives results that are "lemons"; in other words, they prove nothing.

For what it's worth, there is a general decline in levels of satisfaction in Mallorca. Some of the lowest ratings are for public services - health being something of an exception. For all the banging on about the environment, the actual environmental settings experienced by tourists rate less than five (on a scale of one to ten). The number of people saying that they will return has fallen, yet it seems that price is not the issue some might claim it to be. The main reason for actually travelling to the island is price - which I find hard to believe - followed by the beaches and weather. Nowhere is there any mention of the likes of culture or other elements of "alternative" tourism. This is not surprising; I have said it often enough here that the Mallorca brand is all about sun and sea.

But what do we make of all of this? What do the users of the research make of all of this? The first point to make is that it is hard to know what the results actually mean. Ask people to put a quantity onto something essentially qualitative, and you immediately have a problem. What criteria does the respondent apply in making what can be a fairly arbitrary judgement? The researcher doesn't know. Unless he does, the answer is meaningless, except as an indicator, and then only a very general one.

Nevertheless, falls in satisfaction in many categories would seem to suggest that there should be concerns, but one needs to go behind such falls and appreciate the dynamics that may be affecting respondents' judgements.

Last week I spent a few hours with the assistant director at Bellevue in Alcúdia. The result of this time will be an article due to be published in "Talk Of The North". He explained to me that questionnaires Bellevue use reveal an 80% level of satisfaction with the hotel. I don't know if 20% being dissatisfied is bad or good. It depends what you are asking. Be that as it may, he had some quite revealing things to say about tourist expectations and also about the role of the internet. The crux of this was that many tourists' expectations are too high and are unrealistic. The internet, through review sites predominantly, has fuelled this. The sheer volume of information and opinion has stripped away what was once the sense of adventure in making a holiday. (When he was saying this, I could have almost heard myself speaking; precisely the same point has been made on this blog before.) Rather than experiencing holidays and hotels and so on for what they are and making a judgement as to the various aspects of those holidays with an independent mind, the judgement is prejudiced before the holiday even starts. Comparisons with other hotels, with other resorts, with other countries; all of them based on personal opinion and very often incomplete or biased information, and some of that personal opinion already informed by someone else's views. And so it goes on. But the result of all this is that the holidaymaker comes expecting either something unrealistic or expecting to find something to complain about.

Bellevue is just one example, and I should point out that from what I saw - of the apartments, the grounds, the pools etc. - there was little that one could gripe at, so long as one was being realistic. A solution to all this false expectation is to try and manage expectations - in advance. But how? The internet will always find a way of undermining this in any event: all that information, all that opinion, all those comparisons. And the tour operators don't always help either.

To discover, as the survey has, that dissatisfaction is rising may not be anything at all to do with falling standards. These may be just as good (or as bad) as they ever were; they may even actually have improved. But I come back to the point about the criteria that those interviewed adopt in conjuring up a number to put against intangible concepts of service or whatever, and those criteria are as likely to have been influenced or established by what he or she has been told on the internet as by his or her own experiences - more so in fact. We're still sitting under that lemon tree.

Yesterday's title - Kraftwerk, Today's title - what?


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