We present the first part of our interview with an independent consultant who has developed great tourist destinations around the world. His words are priceless!
Amusement Logic: You graduated as an engineer in telecommunications. How and why did you move towards Management and Marketing for the Tourism & Hospitality industry?
Bogdan Petrescu: When you have a dream, you have to fight for it. Since I was teenager, traveling was my passion. I used to spend hours studying maps or simply exploring the neighborhood. At the time when I had to choose my studies, I wanted to become an airline pilot to fly and explore the world. The problem was that my parents did not consider that a “serious” choice and pushed me towards a more traditional path. I graduated thus as an engineer and started my career as Strategy consultant at one of the Big Four: what many people would probably consider a perfect start. My job was very interesting and I learned a lot, but I was missing something: the combination of work and passion. I was thus discreetly exploring alternatives in the background.
After 6 years, I got a nice opportunity to work in Spain at a boutique consulting company specialized in the Tourism industry. The choice was not obvious: back in 2009, in the middle of the economic crisis, tourism was highly impacted, particularly in Spain. But I did not think twice and made the move, one of the best decisions in my life! Since then, I can really put passion in my work as I love Tourism and I love Hospitality. Creating amazing destinations and selling happiness, that’s my modest contribution to the world.
A.L.: What are the pros (and cons) of working as an external consultant?
B.P.: The good part about being a consultant is that you can work from anywhere anytime. The bad part is that you can work anytime from anywhere… Seriously, the main advantage of the consulting world is that you work for many different companies and projects, usually with very competent and inspiring people. You never get bored, it’s always new and you continuously have to challenge yourself and learn. Bad-mouthing says that consulting is about copy/paste and creating nice presentations, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Clients always expect you to make a real impact, so you cannot be just good, you must be great and innovate continuously. The cons: your clients don’t always invite you to their Christmas parties (but some do).
A.L.: You work now for destinations and resorts, covering on the one hand the Development, and on the other hand the Marketing aspect of it. What is the connection between these two activities?
B.P.: One cannot be carried out (properly) without the other. You cannot do successful marketing if you don’t develop a great destination. And you cannot develop a successful destination if you don’t think how you will market it. Today, everybody understands that tourism is about providing experiences, but very few destinations understand what that really means. These experiences must be exciting, memorable, impactful, soulful, transformative, have a meaning, a coherence, they must be unified by a story and must be relevant to your target segments. In that sense, some elements of the Marketing strategy must be defined before the development of the destination can start, because they must guide the Development strategy. Many destinations or resorts don´t integrate Development and Strategy. They first develop the destination, sometimes blindly, then pass it over to the Sales & Marketing team and tell them “sell it!”. But guess what: the marketing team usually struggles to sell it.
It reminds me of the new smartphone that was launched by a well-known manufacturer about a year ago. The engineers developed one of the most advanced smartphones of the time, but nobody bought it because it was ridiculously expensive and nobody needed the feature that served as the main selling argument. It’s the typical example of failure due to lack of collaboration between Development and Marketing.
Development and Marketing are two activities that must be integrated and work collaboratively. For big destinations like countries or cities, it’s a challenge because the DMOs have a very limited control over the development. For smaller destinations as hotels or private resorts, if this integration is correctly done, it can produce amazing results. Disney resorts or the Atlantis resorts are very successful examples.
A.L.: What are the main questions to answer when defining the development strategy of a tourism destination?
B.P.: To be successful, a destination needs two things: the magic and the logic. A destination like Disneyland is successful not only because it has great attractions and hotels, but because there is real magic there. This is why they can charge double than other theme parks. The “logic” is probably the easiest thing to develop: take some good consultants, master planners, architects and designers, brief and manage them correctly, and normally you should get a great “hardware”.
The “magic” is more tricky because many developers don´t understand it. They think that it’s just “marketing crap” that will be pasted afterwards onto the “hardware”. In reality, the “magic” creates the perceived value of the destination. It includes the “software” elements, i.e. defining a shared vision, developing a powerful storyline, designing unique experiences, creating a desired brand, and so on. It seems easy, but it’s an artist’s work (i.e. 5% of talent and 95% of hard work). The magic is what makes your destination unique, desirable, worthy and really successful. Places like Bali, Dubai, Ibiza or Costa Rica certainly have that kind of magic.
A.L.: You worked for Spain’s Ministry of Tourism. What was it about and how was this experience?
B.P.: I was leading the team elaborating the new Marketing Strategy for Spain, i.e. how to sell Spain as a destination. That was a huge responsibility because Spain is the second most visited country in the world. Spain is an amazing place with unique natural and cultural assets, but only a very small part of them were recognized abroad. In Europe, Spain was perceived mainly as a cheap and mass beach destination, with places like Benidorm, Torremolinos or Magaluf. And in the rest of the world, apart from a few places such as Barcelona, Spain remains very unknown. Many Americans still think that bulls run around the streets while the main reference for the Chinese is Julio Iglesias. As a result, they don’t consider Spain in their itineraries through Europe and visit mainly France and Italy. The challenge was to shift that perception from an outdated sun & beach destination to a fresh and vibrant diversified country appealing to all kinds of lifestyle travelers. In other words: how to transform a decadent destination established in the 1970´s into a leading destination of the new millennium.
It was not an easy task because in Spain there are hundreds of public organizations making uncoordinated promotion and very influenced by the old-fashioned hoteliers and tour operators. It´s a bit the fat cash cow making life impossible for the innovative rising calves. So the involvement of the private sector was critical and things are slowly changing. International travelers discover that Spain also has an amazing inland, charming villages, beautiful nature, green mountains, amazing volcanoes, exciting road trips, luxury boutique hotels, relaxing wellness retreats, small hidden beaches, crystal-clear waters, delicious gastronomy and a lot more. The new Marketing Strategy has been very well received and, within a few years, Spain went from 60 to 80 million tourists per year. And more importantly, these new tourists spend more per cap and produce a positive impact on both the Spanish economy and society.
Up to here this first part of the interview with Bogdan Petrescu. In the next edition of our newsletter you will be able to enjoy Part II.