Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pop-Ups For Mallorca?

In 2009, and so against a background of economic crisis, the market research consultancy Euromonitor presented a report at London's World Travel Market which identified new tourist industry opportunities. One was for "eco-luxury". A second was the "nano-break" of only one day or perhaps two. The third was the "pop-up hotel". This was essentially a type of prefab that could be put up at small cost. It was particularly attractive, it was said, to Generation Y, aka the Millennials, defined - insofar as there is an accurate definition (which there isn't) - as those born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s.

These three opportunities have in a sense all collided, although the break is generally not "nano"; it's more likely to be longer. But it was nano enough at what was one of the first examples of a luxury, ecologically designed pop-up hotel. This was at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival. It was a giant tent - a luxury one.

The point about Glastonbury is that, while the Millennials will go, so also do other generations. The previous one - Generation X - is sometimes also referred to as the MTV Generation: music therefore. The one before Generation X is the baby boomers, who grew up with The Beatles, Motown and the Summer of Love.

Marketing loves to categorise generations according to aspirations, attributes and attitudes. As products of their times, generations do have different characteristics, but to assign them to everyone is just plain daft. It is also daft to assume that previous generations don't have some of these characteristics as well, and in tourism terms, the desire for "experiences" and for seeking out something different and alternative cuts right across generations.

Whichever generation, where the pop-up hotel is concerned, it helps to have a fair amount of disposable income. One of the leaders in the market is the UK travel company Black Tomato. It has a brand called Blink, as in blink and you'll miss it. According to the company's co-founder Tom Marchant, Blink offers 751,074,508,800 possible combinations to choose from in selecting and designing holidays: I'll take his word for it. The ultimate in customisation, Blink offers personalised pop-ups that come at a pretty hefty price. Four nights (so not quite nano) in "lunar-like bubbles" on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia costs six people a staggering 167,800 euros, to which the cost of transport has to be added.

As part of the ecological equation, the pop-up installations leave no trace of there having been there. I have to say that I don't know how they deal with issues such as, well waste, but I'm guessing that's all been thought about. But pop-ups don't have to be here today-gone tomorrow. In Tel Aviv, they've created the first pop-up hotel in a beach lifeguards' tower. Transformed into an ocean-front suite, it forms part of a tourism campaign by the city and the Israeli ministry of tourism.

It seems instructive that government should be supportive of this scheme. Israel is therefore not quite the same as Mallorca. When I became aware of the bubbles in Bolivia, my first thought - on seeing them on the salt flat - turned to Mallorca. If someone came up with an idea like the bubbles, everyone would have a screaming fit. And everyone would include environmentalist groups. That first thought was quickly followed by last summer's memory of the so-called privatisation of the beach in Cabrera by people who had hired a superyacht. The bubbles may be eco-friendly, but in Mallorca, the eco-brigades would cry foul. And which, among all the governmental agencies that exist in Mallorca, would ever give permission? The answer is almost certainly none of them.

The thing with Mallorca is that it doesn't do alternatives. Airbnb, with a good deal of justification it has to be said, is being demonised for offering alternatives. Nevertheless, there is opposition just because it isn't the same. And this can also be said of the tents and tree house offered via Airbnb that have attracted publicity in the past few days. These have been greeted with "horror", so it is being said.

Apart from any regulatory issues, this camping has been criticised as an example of attracting less than quality tourism, i.e. people who don't spend money. But who says that they don't spend? Moreover, the tents demonstrate that there is a demand for the alternative, something which Mallorca cannot tolerate. If it did, the legislative obstacles to establishing campsites set out over thirty years ago would not have been raised.

Had the tents not been just tents but pop-ups such as the Bolivian ones, would there be the same horror? Yes. The tourists would undoubtedly be "quality" because of their money, but Mallorca wouldn't want them or permit them.

Image of the pop-ups on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat from https://www.blacktomato.com/blink/

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