Lengthening the holiday season

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Klaus Hildebrandt is fvw’s Editor-in-chief
Klaus Hildebrandt is fvw’s Editor-in-chief

The conditions for extending the season in the Mediterranean are better than ever. Destinations must seize the chance, stop talking and start acting, argues fvw’s Klaus Hildebrandt.

Imagine that a company invested in an expensive production machine but only used it half the year. It’s a bit like that with lots of hotels in the Mediterranean. They open in April and close at the end of October. In some destinations, such as Italy, the period is even shorter. So it’s hardly surprising that the issue of how to lengthen the season has been discussed in plenty of destinations for many years.

Impressive progress has been made in some regions. The beach resorts on the German North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts now have many more winter visitors who enjoy the fresh sea climate than in the past. The Turkish Riviera had established itself – at least until the recent crisis – as a winter destination for senior citizens. These examples show that the summer season can be extended to other times of the year.

Holiday resorts and hotels must offer something for guests in the colder temperatures of the low season: cultural and sports programmes, swimming pools and wellness, for example. Apart from the Christmas holidays, prices are much lower than in the summer. And all-year opening can pay off for hoteliers. It actually costs a lot to close down and secure a holiday resort for the winter and then get it operating again in the spring. Moreover, in many destinations there is competition for good staff, who play a vital role in customer satisfaction. So it’s a strong argument if a hotel employs cooks and waiters for the whole year.

Yet many destinations still struggle with this issue. In Greece, for example, there has been talk about how to lengthen the season for countless years but little has been done. The season is currently even shorter than 20 years ago when new competitors such as Turkey and Egypt had not started their tourism expansion. On Crete and Rhodes, for example, you can swim in the sea until the end of November, but hotels close at the end of October.

Joint initiatives instead of blaming someone else

In the past, the blame was always put on someone else. Hotels demanded off-season flights, airlines complained about poor support from tour operators, tour operators demanded longer hotel opening times, hoteliers complained that nearby restaurants and shops closed too early or opened too late, while restaurants and shops pointed to the lack of hotel guests. And so on…

This complex issue can only be resolved with joint action. And it has to start in the destination. There are some promising examples. On Majorca, an initiative supported by the public and private sectors is developing winter tourism under the name ‘Palma 365’. In contrast to the holiday resorts on the north or west coast, there is good potential in the island’s capital. Palma offers many sights, shops and restaurants, while the island has a perfect infrastructure for golfers and cyclists.

Greek tourism officials want to try with sport as well on Rhodes. The idea is right but a marathon and a triathlon alone are not enough. The potential lies in the medieval capital. The cultural programme and sporting activities need to be expanded, and investments, for example, in swimming pools and city centre bicycles, are necessary. Greece has a unique opportunity to lengthen its tourist season, not least due to the crisis of Turkey. But everyone has to get involved and the offers have to be properly marketed.

Tackle overtourism with a longer season

The conditions are better than ever in many destinations. For many guests, the Mediterranean is too hot and too full in the summer. The population in Germany and the rest of Europe is getting older, and Best Agers are the ideal target group for the tourism industry for the next 20 years. These holidaymakers are more flexible with their time and are open to sporting and cultural activities.

Moreover, a longer season is a double opportunity for destinations that already operate at maximum capacity in the summer. They can still grow while countering criticism of too many visitors during the peak season. The priority is to get started and develop pilot projects. The talking has gone on for long enough.

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