Beyond consumer products and services, destinations also need to be marketed. But as marketing is not just about fancy advertising, a well-managed integrated marketing mix is essential to contribute to the destination’s development.
Destination marketing is more complex and challenging due to the fragmentation of existing interests of the various tourism stakeholders. Using the 15 Cs framework advocated by British tourism management scholar Alan Fyall, we attempt to evaluate the future marketing challenges of destination Gozo.
Even though a small island, Gozo has its own complexities as is the case of many other destinations. Gozo too has its own set of multiple stakeholders which together, as well as individually, try to promote and deliver the Gozo experience to multiple markets. The identification of common goals is essential to charter a realistic and achievable vision for the future.
Successful destination marketing and branding highly depends on the capability to control the elements of the destination product. Gozo needs its own brand image to stand out as a separate product to the ‘Visit Malta’ umbrella brand. But who champions the destination marketing and brand image of Gozo? Is it the Ministry for Gozo? The Gozo Tourism Association? The Malta Tourism Authority? The general idea is that they are all part of the process. But the unfortunate truth is that marketing is not a very democratic process. Therefore one entity needs to rise above the rest to establish full control and champion the marketing of destination Gozo.
The key to survival has and will always be about the ability and agility to adopt to change. Is this the case of Gozo which was once promoted as ‘the island where time stood still’? Liking it or not, private enterprise is adopting to change. But what about the public sector and the local community? Do we actually realize the continuous evolution of the external environment around us? No man is an island and therefore fellow Gozitans need to depart from an island mentality and grasp the integrated community around us.
Any destination would be impacted negatively with the occurrence of a crisis or disaster. Be it flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, oil spills, or terrorism amongst some examples, such situational events hit destinations unexpectedly. Is Gozo prepared for a possible ecological disaster? What would the impact be like? And how would the stakeholders and community react? Some food for thought.
Continuous change and fear of crisis normally prevent complacency. Unfortunately change and prevention are not popular buzzwords in Gozo. Hence the tendency is to take things for granted and let progress take its natural course. This should not be the case as Gozo needs to be more proactive. For those who know the Maltese proverb, “Min jorqod ma jaqbadx hut!”
Gozo attracts visitors from a diversity of sources. Be it our fellow Maltese to other main markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, Gozo needs to continue in its efforts to identify and target potential new markets and travel segments. Gozo has done it in the past when for example the diving segment was successfully created. It should not stop there but more effort should be made to create new segments which will attract repeat and new visitors to the island. Gozo also needs to strike the right balance by offering something for everyone; be it for the kids, youths, mature couples, families, and senior citizens.
Culture is a main component which can successfully differentiate Gozo from other destinations. Food, hospitality, cultural heritage, sites and events are main attributes which make Gozo a very attractive destination to market. Gozo is iconic for the ‘gbejna’, home of ‘Gganitija’ which is the oldest stone structure in the world, and surprisingly has the capability to produce high quality cultural productions. Notwithstanding the several positive efforts already made, there is still much room for improvement where quality, forward planning and innovation should be the order of the day.
Like it or not, competition exists and will only get fiercer. But which destinations is Gozo competing with? It all depends on how we position the island destination. Gozo has the potential to choose who it competes with. Gozo should avoid competing in a metaphorical red ocean where competition is cutthroat and intense. Instead Gozo should adopt a blue ocean strategy where a consolidated effort is made on capturing new markets and segments whilst delivering an exceptional experience. Gozo is a unique proposition where the competition can be irrelevant through effective marketing. We should not undervalue it.
With increased competition, differentiation and uniqueness have become essential attributes for Gozo as an augmented destination. Most competitors conveniently select the low-price model to compete – which is in fact a very bloody red ocean. Destinations such as Cyprus and Costa Brava come to mind. Even though such tactics might deliver an immediate impact, it is a short-term strategy which will certainly not contribute to the long-term sustainability of the destination. Gozo certainly has much more to offer than meets the eye. Gozo is not just about sun and sea. It all depends on our capability to propose an attractive lifestyle to travelers and fulfill it.
Gozo needs to be creative to add value to its identity and experience. For example a long time ago the Gozo Cathedral chapter didn’t have the funds to erect a proper dome. Instead they creatively commissioned a remarkable trompe l’oeil painting. And what is the Gozo Cathedral renown for today? Gozo must be creative in utilizing its limited resources to stand out and inspire those who are potentially interested in visiting Gozo.
Communication with customers is essential to forge a lasting relationship. To communicate effectively, this can no longer be done solely pre-visit. It must also be done during and post-visit. This is how you create a positive relationship where the visitor leaves Gozo with a positive experience and confidently recommends the island to their family, friends, and co-workers. With digital mediums and smart phones communicating has become a lot easier.
Gozo through various stakeholders utilize many channels to promote the destination. It is through various channels such as booking engines, tour operators, and trade exhibitions that the world out there discovers Gozo as a potential destination. Notwithstanding the current efforts, Gozo needs to be clever and shrewd in the future to avoid the emphasis on mainstream channels which are solely motivated by low price. For example the various Gozitans living overseas is a case in point as a tremendously underutilised channel. You would be surprised how proud first and second generation Gozitans are of their island of origin.
The world-wide-web has dramatically changed the way people travel. Gozo was an early adopter of the internet with the various websites popping up to promote Gozo, accommodation, and other services. Just recently the Ministry for Gozo launched a dedicated destination portal – visitgozo.com. The Gozo Tourism Association too has its own online presence – islandofgozo.com. But the internet has become a much cluttered virtual place. Online browsing has become even more sophisticated. It is no longer about having a website but the capability to deliver relevant and engaging content. Plus the internet now provides us with the opportunity to not only target people by geographic location, but also by user preferences and interests. Hence smart online tactics can reap great dividends.
With pressing competition and lower yields, partnerships, mergers and acquisitions can become common practice to consolidate and offer long-term sustainability to local enterprise. It is either survive or die. Considering that most local businesses in Gozo are family based, this might seem farfetched. But what is the purpose of operating a business if not for profit?
This is where it all comes together. All stakeholders in Gozo need to cooperate more than ever to pool resources and expertise to develop an effective marketing mix and destination experience. Collaboration is no longer a luxury but a necessity as resources (financial, human, and time) are limited, competition continues to increase, and environmental challenges persist.
Through the above analysis we holistically highlighted the current and future challenges of destination Gozo. Destination marketing should not be solely considered as a promotional tool but as a strategic mechanism to increase stakeholder involvement and deliver suitable gains for the destination, its visitors, providers, and community. Borrowed from another tourism scholar Dimitrius Buhalis, destination marketing should fulfill four key generic strategic objectives:
- Enhance the long-term prosperity of local people;
- Delight visitors by maximising their satisfaction;
- Maximise profitability of local enterprise and maximize multiplier effects;
- Optimise tourism impacts by ensuring a sustainable balance between economic benefits and socio-cultural and environmental costs.
Gozo’s capability to successfully manage an integrated marketing mix is paramount in maintaining tourism as a prosperous pillar to the island’s economic development.