Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tourism And Gurudom: Consultants

How many consultancy firms does it take to change Mallorca's tourism? There must be a joke in here somewhere, but the tourism-consultancy industrial complex and complexity don't permit jokes. Consultancy for tourism is serious business, and serious consultancy firms are paid serious money to come up with their prescriptions for change, development, evolution, strategic this, strategic that.

Long ago, in the days of innocence when tourism was a simple matter of packing pasty-faced foreign-holiday virgins onto a turbo prop held together with sticky-back plastic and a ball of string from Woolworths, consultants had yet to latch on to the riches to be had from a sandy beach, a blue sea and a hot sun. Mostly, they weren't consultants but mere number-crunchers. Consultants that there were might typically only have consulted on systems. I daresay that somewhere there are ASME flow diagrams that depict the most efficient means of moving a plate of chips from one place to another. Work study for the Mallorcan hotel. That would have been a tough assignment.

Once accountancy firms realised there was even more money to be made from inventing management terminology and jargon, writing business best-sellers to promote this jargon and its case-study-supporting "excellence" and baffling managements into submission and agreement to whatever new bit of gurudom the "Harvard Business Review" was touting that month, they acquired the imperial new clothes of solutions consultancy. And for industries deemed to be "strategic" and for countries with such strategic industries in marched the suits with flip-charts and later on the graphical persuasion of a new orthodoxy known as PowerPoint. Here a pie chart, there a bell graph, everywhere a set of bullet-points.

Tourism is one such strategic industry and, you may have noticed, an industry that is moderately strategic for Mallorca. Alongside this strategic industry another industry has grown, that of the strategy sellers. The consultants. Not satisfied with the micro climates of individual corporate cultures, consultants tackled bigger pictures. They went macro. Whole national industries, whole nations, whole globes. The picture got bigger and bigger.

Consultants are now indistinguishable from the industries they consult for. They are part of these industries, a partner in tourism industry symbiosis, the consultant attaching himself to the lifeblood of herds of sweating tourists packaged hither and thither. This symbiosis demands that the life force be guaranteed, hence the prescriptions for change, development, innovation, call it what you, or the life-force-piggybacking consultant, will.

Such a description does injustice, however. Consultancy has become intrinsic to the tourism industry and, rather than being an irritant that attaches itself to the neck of the industry and simply draws the blood that it can, it can be the provider of shots in the industry's arm. When it works best, consultancy can objectify and be a partner in the manner that a pure, mutually beneficial relationship should function.

But this said, what does the consultancy wing of the Spanish tourism industry offer that might be described as innovative? As an example, while PwC (aka PricewaterhouseCoopers) can call on representatives from the likes of Melià, Globalia, Turespaña and TUI as participants in its latest report, its "innovative solutions" for burning tourism topics include the notion of the "connected tourist" (connected through technologies and social media) who will be attracted to Spain where he currently isn't because Spain is known only for sun and beach tourism. Rather than innovative, this sounds all too familiar.

This is an admittedly simplistic summation of what is a fairly extensive report, but its references to wine and gastronomy tourism, sports tourism, cultural tourism leave one (well, it left me) thinking that it's all been said many times before. And it has. It's the technology part which is different, but even then not that different.

The consultants THR have different proposals, ones to get tourists to break with their normal routines by incentivising them to take holidays in winter through sales promotions and for establishing a grand coalition organisation (hotels, theme parks, town halls, whatever) in order to implement plans for attracting winter tourists (and these would include getting AENA to scrap landing fees in the off-season).

Again, this only sketches what THR suggest, but their proposals are more radical.

Consultants can no doubt (or one would hope) offer good solutions, but perhaps, because of how they have become a part of the tourism industry, they can be too close to the industry to be able to step back and generate genuinely innovative solutions. Always assuming there are innovative solutions to be found. If there aren't, then why ask a consultant?

Any comments to please.

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