Saturday, June 17, 2017

Culture v. Hotels: What Matters To Tourists?

Sun, you may not be surprised to know, is the most important thing for a holiday in Mallorca. This is, in order to dispel any possible confusion, sun in the sky as opposed to The Sun. The latter, if it is of any importance at all, may fall into a category "none of these", which was one of seven options offered to online users of The Bulletin in a recent poll.

The sun, the yellow thing, only made it by a whisker - 23.65% ahead of prices on 22.18%. But sun, of which we have had a fair amount of the hot variety just recently, will always rank high up the list for a predominantly northern European user base, which is what the website has. Without sun, whatever some tourism promoters might believe to the contrary, Mallorca wouldn't have one of its main USPs, albeit that I'm not sure how there can be more than one unique selling point.

Sun, for the purposes of the poll, was divorced from its normal partner - beaches. They ranked almost ten percentage points lower. Perhaps the natural alliance of sun and beach isn't quite as strong as it has always been. If so, the regional tourism ministry will feel satisfied. The more it attempts to diversify tourism away from the warmer months, the more that beaches, except for walking on or looking at, become less central to the tourism mix.

The ministry might also be pleased to discover what came third, namely culture. It scooped 16.9% of the poll and was separated from what can be considered a facet of culture - food and drink, which came in with 11.85%. And it is culture that I found to be one of the two most interesting results. The other was hotels. These came last, with 4.42%.

The point has to be made, as ever, that this was hardly scientific. But the sample size, into the thousands, would have been substantially greater than surveys tend to be. No, there was no margin of error or probability element, but nevertheless the results were somewhat intriguing.

Let's take hotels first. When one considers all the constant reminders of how much has been and is being invested into hotel stock in order to upgrade it (and push its prices up), an importance factor of less than 4.5% doesn't sound terribly encouraging for hoteliers wishing to make huge returns on their investments. Not of course that they will be worrying, because they clearly are making returns, what with levels of profit having risen significantly over the past two to three years.

But can one interpret this lowly importance to the existence of rival accommodation? I think you'll know to what I refer, and I also think that there will be many of you in agreement. Rental accommodation, of whatever sort, can offer a better experience. A further poll might seek to determine this. What does the general holidaymaking (or potential holidaymaking) market prefer? Hotel or not hotel?

The comparatively high importance given to culture differs greatly to a survey that I've dug out from 2010. That one, and I don't know who conducted it as I merely cited the results in an article, found that slightly under two per cent of all tourists who came to Mallorca classified themselves as having been cultural tourists. One has to say that there is a difference between how someone self-classifies him or herself and placing an importance on culture. Even so, there does seem to have been a big shift in the cultural direction, and just to reinforce the point, another survey of 2010 placed Mallorca and the Balearics second bottom among Spain's regions when it came to cultural interest for tourists.

The thing with culture is that it can be difficult to define. It can be the culture of the environment and landscape, the culture of music and the arts, the culture of buildings and physical heritage, the culture of history, or the culture of fiestas. It would probably be a worthwhile exercise to ask people to define culture, but as a collective concept, the importance given to it is, I would suggest, rather encouraging. Mallorca has, for so long, battled to create alternative tourist "products". Perhaps it is finally succeeding.

The poll did exclude an option which may well be more important than all others. Had security and safety been included, one fancies that this would have beaten the rest by some distance. And prices, having run the sun so close, may say something about safety. One interprets the rating for prices as being a desire for value for money and for not being excessive. Which maybe brings us back to hotels and their prices. Safety is paramount, but it can mean only so much price.

At least the sun is free, as indeed is much culture.

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