Sunday, April 17, 2011

Never Mind The Quantity

They do it in Bali, they do it in Thailand, they do it in Turkey, they even do it in Oman. What do they do? They talk about quality tourists. And of course they talk about them in Mallorca.

Quality. The word used to have meaning. It used also to be something that could be measured. It still can be, but the term has become so widely used and abused that it can mean whatever you like and it can be applied to whatever you like, as can its absence.

In Mallorca, there is a distinction. Tourism quality is not the same as tourist quality. The former refers to services, standards of hotels, resorts and infrastructure. Theoretically, tourism quality begets tourist quality, or doesn't if the tourism quality is low.

The problem with all of this is terminology and precise meaning. While systems exist which can measure quality in tourism destinations, such as "Qualitest", developed under the auspices of the European Commission, similar systems are not applied to people - tourists themselves and their perceived quality or lack of. How would you? Get tourists to fill out a questionnaire to determine their socioeconomic grouping or means test them? It's a nonsense of vagueness and one that leads to accusations of the pejorative and the insult, as has been the case with Pedro Iriondo and his taunt of low-quality tourists coming from the UK.

Nevertheless, and despite the umbrage that has been taken, Iriondo was not totally wrong. He was wrong in his choice of words, but not in his sentiments. Yet, the quality descriptor is used by default and has been for years in Mallorca. Just as it is now used in Thailand, where the prime minister has urged the tourism industry to focus on the quality of tourists. Same concept, same insult.

Iriondo's outburst has been met differently in the UK (and among some Britons in Mallorca) and in Mallorca by both local people and the local media. This difference is far from unimportant. While the quality insult and the attack on low-cost airlines caused the headlines for the British, it was his criticism of foreign workers in Mallorcan hotels and bars that caused the most fuss locally. The tourist quality argument is one that few would quibble with, including many a British business owner in Mallorca.

Unpalatable though it may be, vague though the word quality may also be, we still know what Iriondo was getting at. Money. And you can probably throw in behaviour as well. Mallorca is not alone. In Bali, they are thinking of introducing standard pricing policies to prevent tourism being too cheap. "In order to obtain quality tourists, one step we must take is to avoid selling Bali too cheaply," has said the assistant governor. A Dutch restaurateur in Istanbul has criticised governmental policy of placing quantity before quality. "Turkey should get rid of its image (for) cheap vacations with all-inclusive travel packages."

The Thai prime minister went on to say that the tourism industry should not aim for high numbers, thus placing quality first. The same argument as in Turkey, therefore, and one that has been broached in Mallorca before now, not least by the current regional government president.

Regardless of background, people are entitled to a holiday. It is the seeking to deny this that grates as much as the distasteful term "quality tourist" and its opposite. However, a destination surely has the right to determine what type of tourism it wants. Mallorca, in part, as is the case with other destinations, operates a type of social service. It is one, and the point was proved as long ago as the early 90s by researchers at the university, that leads to a net loss among a percentage of tourists. Then, it was 10%; it would be higher now.

The solution, if this is the right word, lies not just with the quality of the tourism offer but also with a reduction in tourism numbers. This has been spoken about. President Antich once said as much himself. But it would be a minefield of implementation. Mallorca's tourism is based on volume, as are strategies of airlines, tour operators, hotel chains, the airport, transport providers and the government itself, sensitive to the need to constantly report high tourism numbers and to the creation of employment.

Volume means tourism of all types, of all backgrounds. Iriondo's insult remains an insult insomuch as Mallorca's tourism has always been all things to all men. But if Mallorca wants something different, then so be it. If it does, though, it should be aware of what it would mean. Quality, assuming it can be adequately defined, does not always mean quantity.

Any comments to please.

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