Thomas Cook is making the news this week for a new programme it is trialling to enable guests to pre-book sunloungers before they come on holiday. From the end of February, customers at three hotels in the Canary Islands can reserve their personal place by the pool for the entirety of their trip.
How will I feel if I arrive at the hotel and the ‘free’ loungers are better positioned than mine are? I have to have the best seats in the house. And so a divide has been created, like a roped off area in a bar, or the priority boarding queue. I will sit there, basking on my sun lounger that has been singled out for special treatment, resenting those who are lying next to me who didn’t pay and are sharing my perfect sunshine. Or luxuriating in the shade, and feeling smugly superior to those poor souls sweating in the cheap seats.
Our holidays are becoming even more commercialised, even more commoditised, than the commercialised, commoditised world we were supposed to be leaving behind
What if another tourist knows I have bought my bed for £22? What if all the beds are gone and they offer me £10 for one afternoon? £20? What’s my price? Suppose I go off for a daytrip, leaving my bed empty for four hours… surely I should sublet it? Why not convert sunbeds into tradeable units? You have hired a car and I’ve pre-booked a sunbed. I’ll trade you four hours on my sunbed one day, for the loan of your car that afternoon. Understandably, if your car has a sunroof, we might need to offer you a longer lie down. Perhaps someone will create an app that uses blockchain to enable the redistribution of unused hours on sunbeds – Airbed.com.
Our holidays are becoming even more commercialised, even more commoditised, than the commercialised, commoditised world we were supposed to be leaving behind. Everything now has to be priced to be of value. We are in danger of becoming the cynics that Oscar Wilde defined as those who know ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’.
The sustainable / responsible tourism sector is far from immune. For totally understandable reasons, we demand that those who claim that their business delivers positive impacts show us the numbers. If you tell me about your pioneering social or environmental initiative, then my first question is how much has been achieved? How many have been saved?
Oscar Wilde doesn’t have an opposite quote about the perils of over-reliance on the value of measurement. But it does have a name. It’s called the McNamara Fallacy, after the American army general in the Vietnam War who sought to evaluate failure or success by measuring relative body counts. The complex tragedy of war was reduced to a mathematical model.
As the social scientist Daniel Yankelovich wrote in 1972: “The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.”
This is an extract from my fortnightly blog for World Travel Market. To read the full post, click here.