Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Slow Death Of The Holiday Brochure

It was one of those annually exciting times. Off you went to the travel agents and back you came with armfuls of brochures. Hours would then be devoted to poring over their contents. Families would come together to select their favoured destination and hotel. Groups of friends would argue over the merits of one place or another. Others had no intention of going anywhere. Brochures were the closest they got to velvety white sands, turquoise seas and hotels that may or may not have actually been built.

The holiday brochure has the feeling of the past. It is somehow symbolic of the days of Cliff Michelmore and Judith Chalmers; of the days of holiday innocence and inexperience. If the brochure said there was a sea view, then it was accepted that there would be. Only on arrival did the hotel turn out to be a mile from the coast with other hotels in the way blocking what little view there might have been.

Eventually, consumer law was to bring to an end the misrepresentation. Brochures became more reliable and they also became more exotic, as did the destinations on offer. No more was it a straight fight between Mallorca and the Costa Brava. This additional lavishness spawned greater sophistication and an endless supply of imagery and verbiage. Brochure talk and brochure views demanded velvety white sands, crystal clear waters, turquoise seas. There are those - and not just brochure writers - who insist on using such hackneyed descriptions. The brochure views, depending on the market segment, also required smiling, happy families splashing at a water's edge; couples looking at each other adoringly as the sun set and the wine glass was filled; and for the youth there were riotous scenes of wet t-shirt contests.

All this talk, all these views became clichés. Destinations were indistinguishable. What mattered was the standardised marketing: families were all like those in the brochures, the children never older than ten; the couples were firmly middle-class and well-heeled; youth was boisterous but never with its arse hanging out of its shorts. They could have been anywhere.

Somewhere along the line came emotion. This represented an upping of the touchstone stakes. Thomson's 2011 telly ad with the line "holidays are the most precious time of all" did this more brilliantly than ever: it was marketing genius. Against this background, far better conveyed by audiovisual media, the brochure started to become less and less relevant. Its uni-dimensionality, its absence of interactivity, its sheer antiquity was making it redundant.

And redundant is what it is due to be, at least where Tui and Thomas Cook are concerned. Both plan to phase out brochures by 2020. They have for some while cut back on their printing and distribution in any event. Cost has been one reason; the inflexible nature of print is another. A consumer world consumed by multimedia no longer responds to the brochure in the same way. The tourist-consumer wants prior experience of what holiday experiences can be expected. It is no longer sufficient to explain how many square metres a room might have. The tourist-consumers want to be able, for example, to see what this means, and rightly so: how many people can actually conceive what x amount of square metres really represents?

A form of virtual reality is now to replace the brochure. Tui will "digitise" some 600 agencies in the UK so that the consumer, courtesy of high-definitiion technology, can "live" the destinations that are being offered: resorts themselves as well as hotel interiors and exteriors. It all makes total sense to do so and to therefore dispense with the brochure. There is no need for the velvety-white sand written cliché; the actual cliché, its very existence, can be confirmed in a virtual environment. Brochure copywriters are to be made redundant, and not before time.

But anachronistic as the brochure may be, should it pass totally into tourist marketing history? Old technologies, old ways of doing things have stubborn habits of persisting and indeed of making comebacks. Think vinyl, for example. Downloads cannot aspire to match the mystery of the LP cover, the smell of the cover and the hugeness of 33 rpm. Newspapers have yet to succumb to the threat of the internet; likewise books have staved off the advances of Kindle. People, consumers continue to have a taste for the physical, and this isn't simply a generational thing; the young take to vinyl partly because of its curiosity, partly because of its sound, partly because of its aesthetics.

These, however, are products. A brochure is not. It sells a product. And for any business with a view on the bottom line, the cost of sales and ultimate profit will always outweigh a nostalgic hankering for paper. The brochure is going. How many will mourn its passing?

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