The agency model

I have been told that, until recent years, travel agents in Germany and elsewhere would buy packages of weeks on Irish hire-boatsa and then sell them on to their own clients. I have also been told that this “agency model” ceased to be used [or became less used], perhaps because of the growth of internet booking. And it has been suggested that this was one of the factors in the decline of the Shannon hire-boat trade, to which I have repeatedly drawn attention [most recently here].

I do not know whether this phenomenon has been documented or formally studied. If it has, I would be grateful if any reader can point me to the documents or studies. I would also welcome other Comments on the proposition.

Packaging and marketing

I mention it now because, when launching the Shannon Blueway project, the waterways minister Heather Humphreys said:

The launch of the Blueway will allow local businesses [to] capitalise on an increase in demand for transport, equipment hire, accommodation and entertainment.

I think that the Blueway is an excellent idea, but I am concerned about whether small local companies will be able to package and market it effectively to overseas tourists. If the long-established cruiser-hire-firms were or are finding effective marketing difficult, why would (say) a canoe- or bicycle-hire-firm in Drumshanbo find it any easier?

Marketing to anglers

There was an interesting discussion at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications about “Depletion of Inland Fish Stocks and Impact of Estuary Poaching: Inland Fisheries Ireland” on 22 October 2014. Note in particular the contributions of Dr Ciaran Byrne from 10:25 onwards about how Inland Fisheries Ireland markets Irish angling to overseas anglers.

What struck me was not that IFI uses any particularly magical marketing methods but that it is dealing with a well-defined interest group: people who are committed to a particular activity and have invested heavily in it (buying rods and stools and nets and umbrellas and maggots and whatever else anglers use).

Identifying potential customers

Anglers form one segment of the market for inland waterways holidays, but the task of selling to other segments is harder if they lack a single compelling interest. Hence, no doubt, those rather demented attempts by Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland to categorise potential customers as ‘Sightseers and Culture Seekers’, ‘Family & Loved Ones’, ‘Relaxers’ and ‘Outdoor Actives’. None of their interests strikes me as being exactly compelling: there are several countries where you can relax, engage in outdoor activities or look at sights.

What you really need is obsessive customers: folk, with money to spare, who are really interested in one thing. Then you entice them to your area and take their money from them: not, as Brian Ború would have done, by hitting them over the head and stealing it, but by selling them overpriced goods and services.

Lough Derg

If you don’t have obsessive customers, who are compelled by their inner urges to dangle maggots in your waters (or whatever else turns them on), then you might try offering a compelling attraction: something that is so interesting that folk put it on their to-do lists. Unfortunately, as Fáilte Ireland’s Lakelands Lough Derg Roadmap [PDF, 6.7MB; well worth reading] admits,

Lough Derg does not have suffient key attractions that act as a draw to the area.

The same thought has often struck me. As you drive around the lake, you see signs pointing towards it. But suppose you’re a casual tourist who hasn’t already booked an activity. When you get to the lake, about the only thing you can do is look at the water (which becomes less interesting after a while) or at the jolly people enjoying themselves on boats (ditto).

You can, in some places, go to a pub or eatery, but you don’t need to come to Ireland to do that. Or you can paddle. If you fish, you can fish, but I’m trying to think of things for non-anglers. In Killaloe, you can take a boat trip; in Dromineer, you can hire a sailing boat; in Mountshannon, you can visit Holy Island. But there is nothing you would come to Ireland for: nothing you can’t do in other places.

Roadmap remedies

The Roadmap proposes these remedies:

The following three key tourism products are proposed:

  • A Discovery Point and Trailhead at the Portroe lookout
  • A Lough Derg Canoe/Kayak trail
  • An enhanced offering and facilities at University of Limerick Activities Centre (ULAC).

Two additional tourism products are proposed:

  • Portumna eco-park (masterplanning required)
  • Publications to promote and support active enjoyment of Lough Derg and surrounds.

There is, alas, another set of categories of potential visitors:

The three market segments identified with the best potential for delivering international visitors to Lough Derg have been identified as Curiously Cultural, Great Escapers and Nature Lovers.

Other, less exploitable, market segments are identified too, but I can’t bring myself even to name them.

Finding the punters

I’d hate it to be thought that I was a marketing expert, but it seems to me that this segmentalisation is coming at things from the wrong end. In effect, it’s saying “We have these things; what sort of person might be induced to buy them?” Then you give each of those sorts of person a category and say that you’ve found your market.

But compare that with what the fisheries folk do. They can identify magazines that anglers read, maybe (for aught I know) television programmes they watch, trade shows they visit. Identification is easy: the titles will include words like “fishing” or “angling”.

But what magazines — other than those on the top shelf — have “Curiously Cultural” or “Nature Lovers” in the title? How do you track down “Great Escapers”? It seems to me that these categories might help you to tailor a message that is broadcast to large audiences through mass media: in such cases it doesn’t matter if you appeal to only 1% of the audience, provided that that audience is large enough. However, that’s not an option available to those with small budgets: they need cheaper marketing through channels that will provide much higher returns.

Small operators

And that’s where we come back to the fact that most of the potential tourism operators around Lough Derg are pretty small. Who is going to put together packages of activities that will appeal to the curiously cultural? I’m interested only in filling my B&B and you’re interested in hiring out bicycles. I’m happy to refer customers to you and vice versa, but are we going to get together to provide packages and to share our marketing budgets? There is a Lough Derg Marketing and Strategy Group, but it seems to be dominated by representatives of public sector bodies, and there is a limit to what they can do.

To compete on a European scale, what’s really needed is a large commercial organisation. I suggest, therefore, that the best thing to do would be to get Goldman Sachs to advise on how Lough Derg might be privatised.

Second-best would be the formation of a tourism cooperative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 responses to “The agency model

  1. Hi Brian, I think Sven in waveline / Carrick craft may be able to help you with details of how to market in Germany, I think he is going there to do just that. Lough Derg doesn’t do Disneyland. It has heritage and activity and cultural appeal and a nifty little app which will interpret for you when you look at the water and ancient castles, flora and fauna and locals walks. It’s not enough for some marketeers to be sure, but then could it ever be?
    Best wishes Tim

  2. It’s not the marketers that matter: it’s the punters. Lough Derg has some stuff you can do or look at once you’re there, but it is short of things to attract folk to go there in the first place. And, because of the small scale of the operators, it has difficulty in packaging and selling what it does have. bjg

  3. Surely the main appeal of a “boating holiday” is that your travel and accommodation are combined in one, and you dawdle along a waterway, mooring where you like, look at what you like. There do not necessarily need to be lots of “tourist attractions” per se along the route, just vaguely pleasant countryside. It is a bit silly to say “but there’s already nice countryside in Germany” – going somewhere different and traveling through it, exploring it, is all part of the appeal of a boating holiday. If someone has already enjoyed a boating holiday elsewhere, they may think “let’s try Ireland this time”.

    The things that will make a big difference are good clear website for booking in the first place (up to date, prices & availability & routes all clear), and good facilities along the water ways (water points, rubbish points, locks that work, shops, no railway bridges where passage has to be booked 3 years in advance, etc etc…)
    At the moment, Irish websites and facilities often lag well behind French, German and British ones. You won’t change this by building a Disneyland on Lough Derg.

  4. If you were to read the Lough Derg document, you would see that it it not about boating holidays.

    There are no railway bridges on Lough Derg.

    bjg

  5. I know that, but I thought the decline in hire numbers was general across the whole ‘network’?

  6. I am puzzled: I don’t see how the concept of “hire” applies to a non-boat holiday. bjg

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