Julian Zarb | Wednesday, 08 July 2009

Competition or complementary?

Tourism is facing a war on two fronts at the moment. On one hand, we are facing the repercussions of an economic recession and on the other hand, we feel the effects of a pandemic that is threatening to dissuade people from travelling abroad. In the past, I have said we need to take this opportunity to develop our product and enhance our attractiveness for visitors and, indeed, this policy is still important but perhaps we need to consider our position on competitiveness.

We have this longstanding habit of considering that our competition includes destinations such as Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece. I have reiterated enough times that these are the real mass tourism destinations that receive between 30 to 50 million visitors a year and that our market is very much a more modest niche market. But today, with the issues that I have mentioned, looming high on our horizon, we are facing a competition from within. Many of our core markets including Germany and the UK are taking the opportunity of promoting holidays at home this year, leaving these islands struggling to meet our forecasts. Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Maybe we were too myopic to realise that trends could change as easily as that. Or maybe we were simply too complacent to be proactive in our marketing strategies and we simply chose to go with the flow, not wanting to “rock the boat” too much. Of course, it has not been that much of a struggle to achieve the million visitors that we have managed to host over the past ten to fifteen years (after all that figure has always remained the same throughout these last few years); yet we have never changed our marketing strategies too much, a little tweaking here and a little enhancement there, perhaps – but we have always looked for the visitor whose perception of these islands, has, in the long run, been of a sun and sea destination – mainly the client who happens to be here rather than the one who really wants to be here. Our islands could offer a much more varied and diverse attractiveness if only we put our minds to it and realised this. We should not have to compete with our neighbours on price and sun and sea, we should be complementing a more interesting Mediterranean brand.
We need to take a broader look at competition and complementarities here – we should be working to develop the strong historical and cultural links we all speak about – why don’t we now put these words into practice? Why do we persist in trying to compete on such simple resources as sun and sea when there is so much more for the visitor to experience? When we talk about facing competition in tourism, perhaps what we are more scared of our own internal struggles to segment our present market among the many stakeholders instead of working to improve that segment by complementing the Mediterranean experience?
We have a choice today, we can either persist with our present strategy of promoting summer holidays, sun and sea and only a passing reference to culture and history or we can add value to our product by complementing the Mediterranean experience by promoting the aspect of civilizations, culture, history and commonalities such as gastronomy and the patrimony of this vast sea that has featured in so many literary and historical documents.
This complementary strategy should not mean that we must abandon our present policy of sun and sea attractiveness but it should strengthen the common attractiveness of the Mediterranean by providing both a fun place as well as an educational experience – one thing is for sure – we have to change our own definition of competition when we refer to the tourism industry.


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08 July 2009


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