Saturday, May 04, 2013

Why Low And Cost Are Not Dirty Words

Low cost is a dirty word in Mallorca. Two dirty words. Dirty because it implies cheap. And cheap is something Mallorca would rather not have. Cheap tourists.

Does anyone recall the former president of the Majorca Tourist Board placing the blame on low-cost airlines for the low-cost tourists coming from Britain? This was one example of the dirtiness of the low-cost word or term. He might not have meant it in quite the way it came out or was reported, but come out it did. Fan met brown stuff, albeit for a short time while those who recoiling in horror at being categorised as low cost asserted their high net worth.

Low cost is misunderstood. It is certainly misunderstood where airlines are concerned. Low cost may mean low-cost air tickets, but they can mean regular users of such tickets. Place a price incentive in front of someone, even someone with a bulging wallet and some platinum credit cards, and he or she will snap it up. Over and over again in the case of business travellers. Or only now and then in the case of others. The low cost matters as a means of transporting people. It doesn't follow that, once they have been transported, they display cheap tendencies. Quite the opposite can be the case. What you save on the swings through the air, you gain on the roundabouts of the destination terraces. You save, you gain. And they gain; they being businesses, such as Mallorca's restaurants.

There is an obvious problem with anything that is marketed as or named low cost. Well, two problems. One is that it might not meet with the aspirational style of the traveller. If so, that's the traveller's problem. Go high cost, if it bolsters your self-esteem. The other is that it is automatically seen as equating to cheap, which was just the mistake the ex-president of the tourist board made.

Mallorca has a good deal which is low cost. Some of it is cheap, in the sense that it brings with it a visitor class that does not have high disposable income. Is this wrong? Some would argue that it is. But wasn't tourism after the Second World War predicated on a belief that travel, and foreign travel in particular, didn't have to be for an elite? There is a potentially moral issue with the low-net-worth traveller, one of his exploiting Mallorca's resources and giving little or nothing back in return. But the other moral issue is whether a form of apartheid should exist, one that bars tourists simply on socioeconomic grounds or through some form of means testing.

Other examples of low cost in Mallorca are businesses which trade on the concept of low cost. You can't get much more obvious than Lowcostholidays. Now in a third year of a joint venture with EasyJet, the original low-cost provider for the contemporary travel market, its low cost is such that it has a major call and customer service centre in Palma. It was moved from India. And why was it moved? Because it was lower cost? I don't think so. It was moved in order to give improved service, and it is employing people in ever-increasing numbers. Moreover, its name doesn't have to mean cheap. In fact, it doesn't, when you consider that five-star accommodation can be booked. Ideally, its name would be Goodpriceholidays.

Then there is the accommodation which isn't five star. That which is well down the accommodation food chain, such as the hostels. These may be low cost, but it doesn't mean they are low standard. There is a trend towards quality improvement in hostels, and they are attracting more than a traditional backpacker, youth market. They are attracting families. And why shouldn't they? And why should there be any resistance to there being ever more hostels or lower-cost accommodation? Again, it simply doesn't follow that, because people opt for cheaper bedrooms, they don't have value. They most certainly do. And the more they save on accommodation, the more they have to spend.

Mallorca has got itself stuck into a way of thinking which sees four and five star as the ideal and everything else as catering for the idle classes with nary a euro to their name. And it suits parts of the island's tourism industry for such a mentality to prevail - the hoteliers. They may also offer lower-star accommodation but now they are gearing up to a minimum of four star in the belief that they will reap riches. They probably will. And they will gate their guests ever more behind walls of all-inclusivity. The hoteliers care little, or appear to care little, of what goes on beyond those walls. They did once. But not now.

Low cost may have become a pejorative. It may have become a catch-all for implying cheapness, but this is certainly not how it has to be or how it is. Affordable accommodation means spend elsewhere, but there are those in Mallorca's tourism industry who would rather that spend was not made elsewhere.

Any comments to please.

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