Sunday, June 25, 2017

Selling A Winter Tourism Strategy

Aviba is the Balearic association of travel agencies. It is forty years old. A new image has been created. In the words of its president, Toni Abrines: "We are Mediterranean, which means being sea, sun, infinite sunsets, the horizon, light. Aviba and the Balearics are blue and yellow."

The association is thus banking on an image that has served Mallorca for as long as there has been mass tourism. The image was officially, in promotional terms, once captured in Joan Miró's Sol de Mallorca. Little has therefore changed, except for Abrines adding that there have to be "tourist interests that go beyond sun and beach". He wants there to be a tourism strategic plan which recognises that there are "political ups and downs" but would nevertheless support the tourism industry by sticking to a plan.

Defining a plan that achieves consensus seems like a pipe dream. It would require agreement from political parties of differing complexions, from the numerous business associations, from unions, from society. Just as one example of how difficult it might be is the fact that Podemos (in the form of Laura Camargo) have drawn winter tourism into question by pointing out that the poor workers would have to work for more than eight months a year.

Aviba itself seems unclear what the strategy might be. In opting for a refreshed image that stresses the essential components of Mallorca's tourism (its summer tourism), it is making off-season tourism secondary. There again, that it is exactly what it is. And to suggest otherwise is a nonsense.

In the Canary Islands, they are working on such a plan, and the government there is opening it up to the public. It is inviting opinion. The Canaries, though, are a different proposition to the Balearics. Those islands have genuine all-year tourism. There is little variance in tourist numbers between summer and winter. But this is not the only way that the Canaries differ from the Balearics. Promotion is innovative, whereas in the Balearics it is not. The Disney-style element to the official promotional website says it all. Here is an imaginative means of selling attractions, including the national parks in the Canaries and their winter appeal. In the Balearics, promotion is almost a dirty word, and what word there is tends to be mixed.

The travel agents association does rather sum this up. It wants winter tourism but at the same time presents an image that can seem at odds with this. The Balearic tourism ministry, meanwhile, has simply stopped any promotion of summer. Its strategic plan is the winter. All promotional eggs are in the low-season basket.

This emphasis on the winter is perfectly reasonable. Indeed, Mallorca has been crying out for a concerted and coordinated winter promotional effort for years. Herein lies the rub - coordination. When there used to be the Winter in Mallorca campaign some years ago, it didn't have the necessary support politically or from business. It was eventually and quietly dropped. Indifference and lack of will had won the day.

Having a strategy is one thing. Selling it is quite another. This selling includes the messages and in particular how they are conveyed. I'm unconvinced that the ministry and its tourism agency know how to go about this in an effective way. Let me give an example.

I am to be working on a promotion for the ministry. Basically, this is a translation from Spanish for something which, as I understand it, is to be distributed on planes from the UK (or on arrival at the airport). It's all about the low season - Better In Winter. The first paragraph of this informs the reader that the Balearic archipelago is some two hours' flight time from central European cities. I looked at this and thought - you're kidding. Firstly, what sort of an introduction is that? Secondly, it's aimed at the UK market. Thirdly, if you're on a plane or have arrived, then you know how long the flight is.

My version will relegate this factual intro, but it is indicative of the kind of mindset that dominates the messages. Facts and information come before emotion and inspiration. It's hard enough to differentiate destinations when they are all essentially selling the same things, so you have to go hard on appealing to the heart and on creating a genuine connection in the minds of visitors (both potential and actual).

The same applied towards the end of 2015. The ministry was on a mission to explain the tourist tax to the UK market. I received some copy and binned it. What resulted was much longer and was written in order to tug at the heart strings. And this was from someone who was and remains no great supporter of the tourist tax.

The strategy for winter tourism is there, and it is unlikely to be altered if there is political change in two years time. The PP had assured us back in 2011 and 2012 that the fruits of its winter promotional efforts would have been realised by the time of the 2015 election. They would not be about to put the strategy in reverse. But far more important is what the strategy says. Far more important is getting all parties (and not just political ones) on board. Everyone has to buy into it - Aviba is right in this regard - but the most important party of all is the tourist. Strategies require implementation, and their messages are key.

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