Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Brave New World Of Tourism Products

Holidays have long ceased to be a simple matter of promoting a resort, a hotel and a flight. In fact, one could argue that none of these are that important any longer. Holidays are all about selling specific needs, aspirations and lifestyles. The selling is no longer directed at one homogeneous market, that of the typical family breadwinner who, in the past, would consult with his or her spouse as they pored over a brochure in which the choice was all but uniform. This selling can be directed at single people, adults-only, gay people, those people on limited or all but unlimited budgets, older or younger people, and at the very young; children never used to be heard when the decisions were made about holidays, now theirs is the loudest voice.

The days of merely heading off to sunny Spain and praying to God that the Clarkson Dan-Air Comet would deliver you in one piece are long, long gone. Were there any marketing sophistication applied by the pioneering tour operators, it was limited to conceiving an unsophisticated travelling consumer according to socioeconomics. The ABC classification could as easily have also been an Alpha to Epsilon system lifted from Aldous Huxley. Alphas would end up in a three-star palace with running water and a pool, the Epsilons would be herded into a starless hovel where, assuming there was any water, it would be doubly fortunate if water in a sink was actually capable of disappearing down the plug hole.

Nowadays, this simplistic classification has been superseded by innumerable segments. There is no one holidaymaker, other than the holidaymaker who conforms to whatever system of segmentation a tour operator wishes to adopt in selling a niched holiday. Ah but, is it not the tour operator selling on the basis of what the holidaymaker-consumer demands?

Unquestionably, holidaymakers are vastly more sophisticated and demanding than was once the case. Also unquestionably, tour operators engage in massive amounts of market research in determining how they might position their holidays. But is it really true that tour operators respond to demand?

The holiday offer is now a bewildering array of products. Branded in one way, branded in another, niched for this consumer group and for that. Holidays have become like technology, little of which over the past thirty years or so has actually met a stated need. Did anyone actually ever say that they needed a Sony Walkman or a PC? They got them not because of demand but because of wherewithal, that created through miniaturisation and the microprocessor. The product came first, not the demand.

The best example of tour operator product that highlights marketing dissembling on behalf of tour operators is the all-inclusive. It is in response to consumer demand, they insist. Yes, now it is. But it didn't used to be. Tour operators, and some hoteliers, looked on what Club Med was doing, nicked the concept and moulded it. The product came first. And product is what all-inclusive is. It is not a paragon of customer-driven virtuousness.

A consequence of all this alleged demand, trend-monitoring, segmentation etc. is that tour operators are creating multiple product lines to meet what they maintain are the specific needs of all those groups I identified above. But they are still products, and in the classic marketing mix, it is product that dominates at the top of the marketing pyramid. It is supported by the lavish promotion and to a lesser extent, depending on the target market, by price. At the bottom comes the place, and this is the crux of this development. The destination is no longer important. It is the product that matters, and the tour operators select the place - the island, the resort, the hotel - not the consumer, as he or she has already decided that he or she wants a particular product. And this can be seen no better than in TUI's marketing. Its Family Fly 4 segment, the typical, rather old-fashioned family holiday group, is now overwhelmingly offered in Turkey. The Balearics are way down. But then Fly 4 Friends, a newer group for those seeking fun and activities, are shepherded mainly to the Balearics - Mallorca and Ibiza.

What all this means is that, in a similar way to all-inclusives having made specific destinations immaterial, so will the new products of the tour operators. Resorts will become repositories for certain market segments. It is tourism engineering on a grand scale, one that will lead to resorts needing to conform to the demands of the product and, in the process, shed themselves of idiosyncrasy and individualism. It is the brave new world of tour operator product.

Any comments to please.

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