Critical Analysis of Exeter Visitor/Tourism Strategy 2007-2010
According to Kotler et.al. (2006, p.6) marketing nowadays is not only the business function: “it’s a philosophy, a way of thinking, and a way of structuring your business and your mind.” The marketing task is never to disappoint the customer but vice versa to create the best clear vision of the product or service that will correspond to reality, so customers will be satisfied and might become your “loyal friends”.
From the moment when tourism became popular and attainable for all, customers became more demanding of the product and destination itself, creating the need for individualised services. Many tourists are well aware of the mass-tourism fact that created standardised and strictly packaged tourism, so they formed the new need for alternative marketing strategies themselves, which can open new attractive views for both sides of interest and puts them in a win/win position. Thus the development of such new marketing strategies is based on the study of the customer’s behaviour, of how they will identify the destination’s tourism product and how these products are proposed to please the needs of the target market.
In the analysis of the Exeter Visitor/Tourism strategy the author will to conduct a description of the destination marketing strategy plan, carrying out the theoretical frameworks while at the same time considering the real practical example. This study is going to analyse the three-year strategy (2007-2010) implemented in Exeter, showing strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A small survey will also be conducted, looking at what did the destination achieved after the strategy was implemented.
Strategic aims and objectives
According to Papadopoulos (1987) the systematic gathering of information through a marketing information system and a periodic analysis of tourism marketing audit provides the groundwork for strategic and tactical agendas in achieving organisational objectives. In the described case study of Exeter it was mentioned that the previous Tourism Development Strategy 2001-2004 “was successful in building partnership with surrounding local authorities and private sector businesses in and around Exeter.”(2006, p.3) This information created the necessary amount of feedback to conduct the new marketing strategy and to set the new aims, which were described as “an intention to increase the tourism activity by 15% within the lifetime of the strategy.”(p.3)
According to Kotter (1999, p. 82) “a vision says something that clarifies the direction in which the organization needs to move.” Exeter describes its vision as “to describe and build on Exeter’s position as the regional capital and work with all sectors of the local community to provide a healthy, prosperous and safe place to live, work in and visit.”(p.41) In that way they are concerned not only about the main tourist stream – travellers, but about creating an environment that would attract people to stay for longer periods and to provide the economic and social benefits within the city for its further development. This leads Exeter through the noble purpose of maintaining the long term vision.
Several authors (Yasin et.al., 2003; Buhalis, 2001; Kotler et.al., 2006; Papadopoulos, 1987) in their studies use a framework that is concerned with several questions:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to go?
- How are we going to get there?
And only a few authors address if they have achieved success by implementing the strategy.
Following Kotter’s definition, vision is mainly based in the second question, showing us the aims and objectives of why we need to implement the strategy. Exeter describes the answer by showing four strategic priorities which are briefly described below:
- To create a vision of Exeter as a year-round quality tourist destination
- To increase the competitiveness and quality of the destination
- To maximise the economic and social benefits from tourism income
- To raise sustainability of and popularise the short term break in Exeter.
According to Buhalis (2000) there are four key generic strategic objectives that must be addressed by the destination management organisation:
- Enhance the long-term prosperity of local people
- Delight visitors by maximising their satisfaction
- Maximise profitability of local enterprises and maximise multiplier effects
- Optimise tourism impacts by ensuring a sustainable balance between economic benefits and socio-cultural and environmental costs (p.100)
These bullet points clearly prove the vision that Exeter holds that the author described above. On the other hand it was already described that Exeter worked to another strategy until 2004. If it was successful than why did they need to create the new one? Their aims might have changed but what led to the change? Trout and Rivkin (1996) proposed three different scenarios when repositioning strategy becomes necessary:
- Customer attitudes have changed
- Technology has overtaken existing products and/or
- Products have strayed from the customers’ long-standing perception of them.”(p.173)
In the Exeter Strategy all of the above causes might have taken place, though the author stands more for the idea that the proposed products and services might have started to lag behind visitors’ expectations. Though the main idea of the whole strategy was about changing the target and aim, in other words making the strategy different, just like Beckwith (1997, p.17) claimed: “Don’t just think better. Think different.”
Market and industry structure and trends
The study of Longinotti-Buitoni (1999) discussed that choosing a great client will make your organisation become better itself. Nowadays clients have a greater choice of where to spend their money, so they demand a greater quality for fulfilling their dreams. Customers possess more knowledge in our time and they became more curious, always searching for new destinations, ideas and experiences that they can gain. In our case Exeter’s strategy describes the uniqueness of the destination because it is close to a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has natural beauty, including two national parks and many other historical memorials. At the same time it’s a small city that gained different architectural styles from different periods of time, and they are not ruining the harmony of the city but complementing one another. Exeter is considered to be one of the top twenty best places to eat within the UK. Exeter present themselves as a highly cultural city with many interesting events that are unique, and at the same time having great shopping provisions.
First of all, why is choosing the group of your preferred clients so important? As Wearne et.al (1996) noticed in targeting, management can create strategies for each market. “The rule is – one market, one strategy.”(p.68). This again is stressing the fact that the strategy was changed, probably to attract new or different market segments, and to occupy another market niche on the market. It was also mentioned that targeting is important as it recognises the needs of different people, proving that it is much easier to predict the behaviour of a small group than the big one. Targeting can itself create a new dimension to the product or a change to the existing product that will fulfil the customer’s satisfaction.
The target market is primarily described in the Exeter strategy as dividing the visitors into several group segments:
- Short break market
- Day visitor market
- Visiting friends and relatives
- Group travel market
- Conference market
- Overseas market
They also notified the visitor profile in their strategy by describing the most popular home town of visitors and a summary of the key findings. Thus the organisation describes the future impact of each group showing the prediction in the market increase from the strategy implementation. At the same time each segment is described from the demographic, geographic and behavioural characteristic, mainly concerning the difference in age, country of origin, economic activity, use of transportation, length of stay, etc. Their prediction for future customers is also followed by the survey that they did in 2001 to understand three main issues:
- Why people did or did not visit Exeter
- The nature of any trip and how Exeter was evaluated in relation to other cities
- Whether there are any weaknesses in the tourism service by Exeter
Exeter’s strategy is highly based on providing quality services and so increasing the customer’s satisfaction, which as Beckwith (1997, p.221) described is mainly about the gap between what the customer expects and what he gets. Thus the intention of the new strategy is not to create the wrong vision of the destination but to provide the promised quality of services.
According to Reis and Trout (1986, pp.4-5) nowadays “every company is customer oriented. Knowing what a customer wants isn’t too helpful if a dozen other companies are already serving the same customer’s wants.” They came to the conclusion that beyond being customer oriented the company must be competition oriented, attacking the competitor’s weak points to gain important target market and competitive advantage.
Another strong point of the Exeter strategy is that they implemented the action plan that covers the time period of the strategy. It was important to conduct such a technique in order to show how the marketing plan will be carried out. The action plan that Exeter created assigns special responsibilities to individuals, shows the partners and people who will be involved in the process, the outcomes and the dates for accomplishment.
The marketing mix elements
According to Ranaghan (1981, p.32) the product/service mix is “the combination of products and services, whether free or for sale, aimed at satisfying the needs of the target market.” The main aim of using the marketing mix is to analyse the nature of service. Marketing mix is usually shown as comprising the 4 P’s: product, price, promotion and place. On the other hand the Exeter strategy has differences in the product type. The product in this case is service and a new vision for the city. Knowles (1996, p.5) proposes to re-examine and redefine the 4 P model to show the unique aspects of service. Instead he proposes to focus more on the service special features:
- Simultaneous product and consumption
- Ease of duplication
- Difficulty of comparison
- Variability of output
Intangibility is the main feature of any service as the customer should rely only on the promises without the opportunity to return the product or the money paid. Exeter’s strategy is highly promising in increasing the value for money and the quality of service. Though this aim can only be assessed by the customers after the strategy is implemented.
Perish ability is mainly based on the talent of forecasting, if there are no clients in the hotel the opportunity to generate value is lost. The prediction methods must be on a high level in order to act accordingly to the situation. Exeter’s strategy is showing their statistics of 2004 for the average bed occupancy, which by the end of the year was around 49.7%. That is a pretty high economic indicator. Also, they presented their future evaluation of the number of hotels, rooms available and average nights spend, considering the statistics and the annual growth from the previous years.
Simultaneous production and consumption is the feature that shows that as the customers are creating the demand for the special kind of product, they are themselves creating the product as it is produced, serviced and consumed at the same time. So if the customer is not satisfied and is not the employee’s fault, personnel is still viewed as the cause of a problem. This issue is not discussed in the Exeter strategy, though at some point it should be developed and shown as the periodical trainings of the personnel. From the other point of view the strategy is basically focused on the whole city and not any particular hospitality object, so that might be the reason for missing this tip.
As the services are intangible it is difficult to make a proper comparison for the customers. Every customer comes to the city with his own views and expectations, so the main point, which was already noticed previously, is not to market your product in such a way so that it creates the wrong image.
Variability of output shows the differences in the demand and different economic results by the change of time periods. Though in Exeter’s strategy the point of making the city available for tourists all year round was discussed. But maybe they still should have stressed the high and low season, as it is impossible to have it stable all year round.
Again concerning the 4 P model, the product, in our case is the service, and the place was fully described in the previous chapter. The price factor is not fully described in the strategy; it is only concerning the previous years’ indicators of tourist expenditure. Exeter City Council could have conducted the research on the planned expenditure per visitor and changes of the price, if there are any, in the hospitality industry. Promotion is highly described in the action plan, highlighting different types of promotion for various places like the Green Tourism Business Scheme within Exeter, advertising cultural events/activities, and collaboration with the community and environment on the promotion and regeneration of the heritage parks in Exeter etc.
Partnership and collaboration between stakeholders
The strategy basically focuses on collaboration with the three levels of stakeholders:
The national policy stakeholders, such as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) “is responsible for supporting the tourism industry on the national level, and for putting regional and local support for the sector into strategic content”(p.31).
In 2002 the DCMS launched the special program that aimed to improve relations between partners in both the public and private sector. This action was supported by stressing the areas where collaboration was needed:
- Marketing and e-tourism
- Product quality
- Workforce skills
- Improved data on customers
- Advocacy across Government
It was also mentioned that the City Council “aims to work hand to hand with its partners to increase tourism activity within the city by 10% within the lifetime of this strategy”(p.28). That fact shows that the established connection are important for the city and partners can help to implement the strategy and also probably to improve it in a way. On the other hand it was mentioned before that the city of Exeter was using a different strategy for the period of 2001-2004 and it was aimed at creating partnerships with surrounding local authorities and private sector businesses in and around Exeter. So in the author’s opinion the strategy for 2007-2010 in this scenario was mostly aiming to improve the established relationships.
In Exeter’s strategy the value of tourism was highlighted, showing how many jobs it generates. And it was mentioned several times that Exeter is not only trying to improve the cultural and historical heritage but trying to create different places of interest, e.g. they currently have around 700 shops in the city. This shows the connections with the private sector that Exeter city council is trying to establish by showing their support to new business.
The author thinks that Exeter’s strategy is highly positive and consists of elements such as:
- Target marketing strategy;
- Product strategy;
- Competitive strategy;
- Market strategy;
- Positioning strategy.
The author didn’t stress the SWOT analysis, but several aspects of it were shown separately in different chapters of this study. Also a small survey was completed in order to get an idea of how the implemented strategy is working nowadays.
Exeter started a special program – Exeter’s Red Coat Guided Tours. (www.exeterviews.co.uk) It provides a hospitable service where visitors can walk the city and see all its historical places with a volunteer guide wearing a special red coat. This is an attempt to increase visitor numbers and enhance the popularity of the destination. Another source (www.exeterandessentialdevon.com) has information about the South West Tourism Excellence Award, in which Exeter has received gold. The city also supports new developments, and in 2009 it was announced the opening or renovation of many places of attraction, including:
- Otter Brewery – develop new eco cellar
- University of Exeter – new online accommodation booking service
- Mercure Southgate Hotel – project to increase the hotel’s capacity, etc.
This shows that Exeter’s visitor strategy is working successfully in all the directions it planned to be, like increasing sustainability, implementing new technology and helping to develop the private sector by increasing the service quality.
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