Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Baby And The Bathwater: Selling Mallorca

Let's just imagine ... There is no ISIS. North African countries - Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia - are oases of peace and harmony. Turkey does not have Syria next to it and does not have its own internal troubles. The pound, rather than strong against the euro, is weak. As opposed to wage growth of around 3% in the UK, growth is stalled.

Tourism is a product of politics, international relations and events, economies, spending power. This, more so than marketing, consumer behaviour and logistics, determines its success or it failure. No one in the tourism industry is blind to these underlying determinants, the ones which create an environment for investment and renewal, for branding and niching, for the development of air routes. These are the products of the basic product, one that is beyond the control of the industry, a basic product which can turn with unpredictability.

Were the factors listed above present, Mallorca and the Balearics would most likely not be registering a further record year for tourism, and the same can be said for other parts of Spain. But they aren't present. They have thus created a perfect set of circumstances for tourism. They have created a perfect situation for greater exploitation. Would there be a tourist tax in the Balearics if tourism was not as buoyant as it is or indeed was enduring a slight decline? Is the tax, therefore, pure opportunism?

When Catalonia was discussing, approving in its parliament and then finally implementing its tourist tax, the circumstances were less favourable. Yet, the tax went ahead nevertheless. Perhaps Catalonia got lucky, as the circumstances turned very much in its favour. It has experienced healthy, upward tourism growth since the tax was introduced three years ago. Or perhaps its imposition is considered to be one of those things, just as it is in so many parts of the globe.

Four out of five British holidaymakers, says ABTA, will be choosing not to go to Muslim lands next summer. Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey - each a direct competitor - will be avoided, as will less direct and more distant competitors, such as Dubai. To the British, you can probably assume that a similar mindset exists with German, Scandinavian, French and Italian holidaymakers. 2016 will be another bonanza for Spain and Mallorca, tour operators from the UK, Germany and other European markets having been desperate to tie up contracts for 2016 and beyond, ones that have placed greater power in the hands of the hoteliers. It's payback time for the years of lost profitability.

The British market is now, once more, the darling of Mallorca and of Spain. To the virtues of safety, reliability, proximity, air connectivity (in summer anyway) are those of affordability and perceptions of value for money. One trusts, therefore, that at the World Travel Market, they are not about to allow a view to take hold of the baby being about to be thrown out with the bathwater. Supply and demand, yes, but over-pricing and greed, no. Which brings us back to the tax. Many will consider that three per cent wage growth, resultant increased spending power and a weak euro should not be eaten up by a fiscal measure.

The fact is, though, that the tax is unlikely to be damaging. If it isn't finally implemented until late 2016, then it will have no impact, other than the uncertainties surrounding it. Even if it does come in for the season, a harmful effect is questionable. A tax is worth paying when contrasted with terrorism.

The big items to be sold in London are Magalluf and the tax. The sales message is not straightforward in either case. When presented with the challenge of appraising the changes in Magalluf for the Bulletin's World Travel Market supplement, I spent an age looking to get the right words for the British market. There has been much talk of the more diverse tourism market, of other nationalities moving in to Magalluf. The last thing that's needed is a perception that the bedrock market ever since Magalluf became a resort is becoming less valued. Great care has to be exercised in not alienating this core market.

With the tax, there are two options for the government's selling of it: either ignore it or confront it. The latter brings the potential for overstatement and of too much attention being paid to the tax, but this is preferable to pretending it doesn't exist and isn't - perhaps - opportunistic. How best to sell it, though? As one who isn't convinced of the merits of lavishing spend on prime-time broadcast advertising, here is an instance when there may well be merit. Not in mentioning the tax but in hammering home the benefits of Mallorca and the Balearics in case there are those who are wavering because of the tax. This won't be done, though. The tourism budget is to be cut again. Where's the tax going?

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