Monday, April 08, 2013

A Plan For Seasonality, At Last

You will know those ten-best lists that are the stock-in-trade of every newspaper. They are easy enough to put together and so to fill some space; just do a bit of Googling and in no time you have your ten for this and your ten for that.

The miserable weather in Britain provoked "The Guardian" (as much of an offender as any other newspaper when it comes to the ten-bests) into offering its "top ten sun spots to escape Britain's endless winter". It's travel journalism for old rope, to be honest. Google a map of the Med, a map of the Middle East and the Atlantic, get some tour operator or other business to maybe offer a few quid to get a link or a namecheck and off you go. And where are the top ten sun spots? Morocco, Cyprus, Malta, Tenerife ... yea, yea, yea. Where isn't a top ten sun spot? Where do you think?

The "Hosteltur" magazine has recently published a report entitled "Seasonality, Spanish tourism's cancer". Reflecting the absences in the top ten from "The Guardian", the report pointed out that, with the exception of the Canaries, all of Spain's main summer tourism centres are suffering as a consequence of the seasonality. Actually, "The Guardian", ignoring Mallorca but advocating Tenerife and Gran Canaria, did also recommend Alicante, not for Benidorm, you wouldn't expect "The Guardian" to do that, but for the Marjal Costa Blanca Resort, an eco-camping resort; Mallorca doesn't have such a thing, which is probably why it fails to register with "The Guardian".

The report makes it clear that the problem of seasonality has been exacerbated in recent years. It goes on to pay a good deal of attention to Mallorca, starting out by looking at all the developments in Magalluf and at the hope that these developments will lengthen the season to nine months of the year rather than seven. There are those who would challenge Calvià mayor's assertion that there are seven months of the season (it is he that the report quotes), but even if there were, how does he envisage extending the season to nine months? Well, he doesn't, other than to say that it's all the fault of the airlines that all this brand spanking new real estate that has required colossal amounts of investment will sit empty during the winter.

The president of the Balearics Hotel Chains Group, Margalida Ramis of Grupotel, is then quoted as saying that there have been greater losses over the 2012/2013 winter because of cuts to air connections. So, there we have it. It's no one else's fault; just the airlines. They say, however, that there isn't a "tourist offer" to make routes worth their while. And we all say, in response to what Calviá's mayor reckons, to what Margalida Ramis states and to the airlines' justification, that we have heard it all over and over and over. For years and years and years.

Though winter business was of a level sufficient enough in the 1990s to justify tour operators retaining tour reps through the winter (for parts of Mallorca), it was this decade that witnessed a tailing-off of what had never, despite what some might say, been huge winter tourism business. The problem of seasonality is almost as old as Mallorca's tourism industry since the boom of the 1960s. It has, as a consultant in the "Hosteltur" report points out, been a problem that has been spoken about for at least 40 years. He, Eulogio Bordas, president of THR (Turismo, Hotelería y Recreación), says that all the talk over all these years has amounted to nothing because of the absence of coherent plans and quantifiable objectives.

Bordas has a plan, and so he must be all but unique in this regard. The plan would apply to Spain, as opposed to just Mallorca, though it could, were there anyone with the vision to take it on, be applied specifically to Mallorca. What he envisages is the setting of specific goals in terms of increasing the number of winter tourists. Two million is the amount he would start out with. Crucial to doing this, he says, is not all the publicity that gets chucked around (hallelujah) but sales promotion. And this sales promotion would be designed to getting tourists to break with well-established habits. i.e. they would holiday in winter and not in the summer. In order to get them to change their routine, there would have to be all sorts of incentives, including, for example, free entrances (to some attractions).

To implement such a plan, an organisation would need to be established that comprises all the various relevant parties - from hotels, to theme parks, to restaurants, to town halls, to you name it - and absolutely critical would be the obtaining of concessions from the airports authority, AENA. Tax-free landing, for example.

One drawback with this scheme might be that if routines were changed and tourists started coming in winter, wouldn't this leave a hole in summer tourism? Not necessarily. The new markets like Russia that are coming on-stream have to be accommodated in summer. Moving some of the summer market to winter would actually be a benefit.

It is an ambitious plan (and I have only sketched part of it). It might appear impractical, though I don't think so, and at least it is a plan, something that, like Mallorca's absence from the top ten sun spots, has been conspicuous by its absence for at least 40 years.

Any comments to please.

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