Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ghosts Of Tourism Past: Adapt to survive

You know those little tubs of butter you get, the ones that might typically be served with a full or less-than-full English and which are, if only just out of the fridge, rock hard and cause your toast to crumble as you desperately struggle to spread their solid but very mini mass. Do you know how much they cost? Not to you as a punter but to a bar owner? It would probably depend upon supplier and probably also on any "arrangements" that exist, but the regular cost is eight centimos. Only a few years ago, seven or eight years ago perhaps, the cost was less. The little tubs then cost two centimos.

Fortunately, not all costs have risen as dramatically as the little tubs of butter have. But the increase in their cost acts as a reminder of the saying that if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. For the bar owner, the added six centimos over the past few years, multiplied by the number of little tubs that have found themselves on the ends of knives of customers trying hard to extract their content, will amount to a pretty penny or several.

The increased cost will be factored in and either absorbed or added to the price of the breakfast, and if it is the latter, then the mumblings begin. Things aren't as cheap as they used to be. The bar owner, however, has to look after the pennies (or the centimos). Were he not to, then the pounds (or the euros) would not look after themselves.

Strangely enough, things aren't as cheap as they used to be, but things not being as cheap as they once were or as cheap as some might wish them to be is of course one of the regularly voiced reasons for why there is a malaise that afflicts Mallorca's tourism.

Despite the headlining good news, or apparent good news, that comes from the summer's high occupancy rates and high air passenger numbers, there is a refusal to believe the good news, and one reason for not believing it is that tourists don't spend as they did because everything is so expensive, a perception that does really require defining, as being expensive (or cheap) is all relative.

The only thing that needs to be known is that everything did indeed used to be cheaper. Had everything not been cheap, then there would not now be the tourism that Mallorca has. It was tourism founded on low cost, on dirt cheapness. It allowed there to be what there is today.

Looking to the past is instructive in explaining how we get to a position in the present, but the constant reflection on the past gets us only so far. The standard complaints about how Mallorca's tourism model operates today have been with us for years; these complaints being prices, low spend, shorter summer seasons, lack of winter tourism, all-inclusives. Yet somehow the past suggests that they are all relatively new phenomena, when none of them are. The past conjures up some golden age, the vision of which has to be tempered by, among other things, the fact that total tourism was significantly lower. (It should be noted, for example, that between 1993 and 2008 the total number of tourists arriving in Mallorca rose by 85%.)

There are occasions when I feel as though I am winter-tourismed-out, all-inclusived-out, lower-spent-out. Just on all-inclusives, and as an example, over seven years ago (in July 2006), I concluded an article on all-inclusives by saying: "The AI has changed the nature of the market. It is for the market to make an adjustment to it. Ultimately, if the AI and other factors (such as lower spend) cause a fall in demand, then the supply (of out-of-hotel facilities) has to alter. If this means less, then so be it. This is a harsh appraisal, but I think it is a realistic one."

The image of a tourism past keeps getting in the way. It is one in which there were no all-inclusives (and there weren't - not as we know them - until the '90s) and in which everywhere was supposedly packed, but with very many fewer tourists than today. Tourism's present is not like its past and nor will its future be like its past. Though obstacles to remedies are great, there may be remedies to alleviate the absence of current winter tourism, one which, in sheer numbers, has been greater this century than in the mythical golden age. But otherwise tourism present and tourism future has to forget the past and to adapt. The day before I was told about the cost of the little tubs of butter, I spoke with a partner in a tourist business which has had a highly successful summer. The reasons why? Many, but key are marketing, service and listening to the customer and changing accordingly.

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