Friday, May 06, 2016

Taking Family Tourism For Granted

Family tourism. The bedrock of Mallorca's tourism over decades. A market for which the sale was simple. Cheap, very cheap destination. Hotels of sufficient standard, assuming they had in fact been built. Sun, water and adventure for the kids. Bars with ten peseta shots for mum and dad and some dabbling with "foreign" food. So sophisticated.

In the days when holidays came in standard packages, there was no tourism market more standardised than the family market. One size fitted all. Families were families: 2.4 and all that, lifted from some standardised middle to lower middle class estate in middle England or the middles of other European countries - a few countries at any rate.

Somewhere along the line, between the 1960s and the present day, the standard family split into various branch lines. But even allowing for the changing nature of family units, the products had remained largely unaltered. Until, that is, hotels and tour operators realised that branding, theming, internet were as applicable to families as to other tourism markets. Mallorca has a pirates village and will have more. Mallorca has Katmandu. Mallorca has Vivas with their ships and an increasing abundance of watery themes involving models of animals and more ships. Mallorca still has Flintstones, positively Stone Age now in terms of theming but a remarkably enduring theme nevertheless. A bedrock of Mallorca's tourism: Bedrock in Palmanova.

For all its centrality to the tourism industry, the family tourism market had tended to be overlooked. It had remained a comparatively simple market to sell to. It hadn't required massive amounts of innovation. It was solid, dependable and, in purely marketing terms, unexciting. Various things happened: recession, heightened sophistication, greater demands, ease of cost comparisons, children guiding the purchasing decision. The family was back in marketing vogue after years when the tourism industry had focused its efforts and demographic segmentation on ever more defined niches, pandered to and pampered by the all-powerful nature of The Brand.

For Mallorca, a redefinition of family tourism created themes and gave the all-inclusive hotel a quantum leap. Long since cheap as chips and faced with competitor destinations that had managed to combine higher standards of hotel offer with cheapness, the all-inclusive provided Mallorca with a new front line in the family tourism battle.

All this did, however, was to reinforce what had long been known. Once Mallorca ceased to be the cheap destination of the earlier years of mass tourism, it was appreciated that family tourism wasn't terribly profitable. In general terms, it still isn't. But given its size, it is not a market that can be ignored: hence, the greater attention now paid to theming and branding. There again, how big is big?

In November last year, there was a further recognition of the revival of industry interest in the family market when the first international congress for family tourism was held at Port Aventura, the Tarragona holiday world with its multiple themes of a variety and scale unimaginable in Mallorca. Representing the Balearics was the tourism minister, Biel Barceló. He made the observation that the family market accounts for 25% of the whole Balearic tourism market. It sounds on the low side, but one trusts that the minister has his statistics correct.

Barceló also noted that the family market poses something of a handicap. It does nothing to address seasonality, and for an obvious reason: schooling. He then added that it is, however, a market that is very loyal. Families have been coming to the Balearics, he said, for more than fifteen years.

Official announcements from local authorities, be they government or municipal, constantly refer to family tourism as a virtuous market. Calvia is always harping on about it, for example. And yet here is a market which accounts for at least a quarter of all tourism that doesn't fit with another constant mantra - the desire to address seasonality, for which we have all the various niches that are promoted (cycling, food, birdwatching and so on). Strategically, therefore, it isn't given the level of emphasis that other markets are, while that loyalty is going to be sorely tested by the tourist tax. Precisely because the family market is less profitable than others, owing to it having a generally lower spending power, precisely because nowadays any destination is only as important as its security and convenience but is otherwise chosen on price, the tax threatens that very loyalty.

The point is that family tourism has always been taken for granted. The industry has identified that it no longer can be. Therefore, it invests in themes and branding. The government, however, does take it for granted. It doesn't promote to it, it is a market of value only in summer, and the government is going to tax it. The gap between how officialdom talks about family tourism and how officialdom treats it is great.

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