Some claim that Samoa Tourism is in crisis. I say it’s not, rather a struggling industry is just the way things work here in Samoa with inefficient leadership, unrealistic expectations and inability to think strategically. I’ve suggested that it’s far better than to make a small bad business better than to make it bigger. In this post I share more about the three key teachings of the SWAP Foundation, the importance of niche marketing, productisation and collaboration.
Core SWAP teaching is that Samoa Tourism operators can lift their businesses with three simple things:
- Developing Niche Marketing
- Strong Productisation, and
- Working Collaboratively – Collaboration
Those are the big words but you can help yourself remember these three points with the acronym TET – Targeted, Easy and Together.
Before we get into the details let me say that I believe that any good business principle (and by good I mean biblically based) should be straight-forward, logical, universally applicable and widely beneficial in the long-term with a win-win scenario. I find it extraordinary and ‘typical’ of governments and bureaucracy that despite STA bringing in a string of experts that have pretty much been teaching the same things as I do, yet seems to have totally failed to grasp the importance of these points and actively heads in alternative directions!
As I work through the three points I will show how they can apply at a personal, individual business, local region and national level.
1. Niche Marketing
The principles behind developing niche (or vertical) markets are that when you target or specialise in a certain area, you build a reputation, increase your understanding of, empathy with, and service levels to a certain sector. Flow on effects are that you can more easily generate repeat business, referral business becomes easier and then in time you can develop still more refined niches. You become perceived expert or specialist in that niche which then in turn becomes a strong component of your marketing efforts. Much or your business will also then be uncontested.
A broad niche may be businesses sports, music, the arts, food, religion or culture. Geographic based niches can be working the USA, Aussie, European or NZ markets. Demographic niches can be based on relationships – servicing and working extended family contacts, or the uber-rich, or ultra-budget markets.
It actually doesn’t matter what the niche is or indeed how many you have. The important thing is to just target one to start with, learn to ‘work’ that market understanding their needs and how to satisfy them and then apply the same principles as you develop more and dig deeper refining niches still further. I advise people to start with what they already have rather than to seek something glorious and unrealistic. If an accommodation provider has had great success with hosting a sports team for example, then specifically working those contacts to build repeat or complementary (even competing) experiences is targeting and developing a niche. Over time that sport or becomes a strength, and is a niche.
Smart business operators will do this naturally to some extent but recognising this as a vitally important and desirable strategic activity in business is rare. You can tell that most operators fail to understand the significance of their niches by viewing an accommodation provider’s website. Ninety nine time out of a hundred you will see a resort with only one website that contains one generic self-centric message, and little mention of a niche. At the very minimum there should be one dedicated Search Engine Optimised page focussing on each niche, and certainly it is rare to find dedicated websites on a particular niche.
I run a backpackers operation up towards Aleisa. It’s a small, ultra-budget operation but I have several niche markets that each have their own dedicated websites. The reason? I know how important that those niches are to my business so well that I’d be crazy not to push them at every opportunity. For those interested, they are our Village Stay experiences and Voluntourism through the WWOOFing and SWAP programmes.
My Samoa Village Stays niche market has been ticking over for three years now. It’s a tricky, dare I say it, a very difficult business to operate but it’s a very rewarding experience for the punter, and having developed the niche, we are seen as leaders in the field. That helps us in business.
Voluntourism, the business of volunteering while travelling the world is a growth industry internationally. Again it is not an easy business to run. It can be jolly hard work at times, can be a little contentious with shady or selfish operators giving the industry troubles internationally, but we’ve been doing it well and it is a clear niche market that we have successfully developed in Samoa.
While Camp Samoa has it’s own core website pushing the Samoa Budget Accommodation or Samoa Backpackers themes we also have dedicated websites for each of the various niche markets. Samoa Village Stays, SWAP Voluntourism (Volunteering in Samoa) and WWOOFers (Volunteering on Samoan farms or plantations). I will continue to produce other websites for other niche markets and products & services as we develop them. The point here is that I do this because I know the importance to my business of developing and effectively ‘owning’ the online space in the niches that I have chosen. I teach that others should do the same as well.
Niche marketing can happen by accident but should be no accident. It should be a permanent primary focus of every person, organisation and the entire tourism industry in Samoa. Few understand this. Even fewer actively implement it.
If a rank outsider like me can establish and build three niche markets inside three years on his own, then how much more can a well-connected Samoan tourist operator do – if they understand the importance of what I have just shared. At an individual level a business can do it. At a local regional level people can do it. SSTA struggled to get off the ground in Savaii, but given an even break and if they apply some ‘smarts’ they should be able to draw more people to Savaii. Multi-resort beaches are also quite capable of developing niches – be it the upper-end, budget, music, VFR or whatever!
At a national level, Samoa has pretty much been all talk as far as I can see. I’ll never forget Misa’s beam when he told me that Cabinet had allocated $500,000.00 to marketing efforts following the Tsunami. He was thrilled to also get a few minutes of primetime on Australian TV letting that country know that Samoa hadn’t been entirely wiped off the map and would bounce back. I flushed with embarrassment for I knew that half a million dollars of advertising would just go up in smoke as nobody would actually visit as a result and the media organizations would thank Samoa profusely for helping them out with a donation to their business!
Working the VFR market is not as sexy as competing head-on with the likes of Fiji, Bali and the Gold Coast, but developing that niche will secure far, far greater returns than a broad, bums-on-beaches approach. I’ve noted a couple of single events that STA has been involved in but pretty much stopped looking for creativity or the niche marketing of Samoa from SAT materials. It’s clear that they simply don’t get it. The board should be asking the CEO, “What efforts have you/we undertaken to develop niche markets for Samoa?” and then examining the answer to determine the source of and quality of advice that continues to hammer away at competing with strong incumbents.
Creating products from a service basically makes it easy to do business. ANYthing that helps people to see what you have to buy and facilitates a purchase is a form of productisation.
Henry Ford productised the vehicle. The Model A Ford was $X and simply came in black if you were unlucky, or if you were lucky . . . black, but he turned vehicles a commodity. It was then much easier to sell and to buy.
McDonalds restaurant pioneered and systemised this concept remarkably well in the retail fast food industry with their combos and meal options. “I’ll take Meal Deal #3, please” is a vast improvement from “Can I have a hamburger with cheese and onions, $2.00 worth of chips and a small coke”.
Value adding is also facilitated enormously with productisation. “Would like to upsize that sir?” is simple and generates enormous extra business and wealth as a result.
Putting on a show on a certain night is a form of productisation. It’s creating a product that can then be sold. Developing any weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual event too can be effective productisation. Packages are also effective. You can package and bundle anything you like! Join wine with the full moon, or a limousine with fun, or music with a beach, or volleyball with a school visit – the sky is the limit!
In the tourism industry some have productised the transport offering. $25.00pp on the shuttle to anywhere in town from the airport, is much simpler than, “How much for a taxi to Hotel Elisa?” Any industry can be productised. In the accommodation space, offering a weekend getaway, a five-day package including X,Y & Z bonuses, or bundling in value-adds into fringe or off-peak season deals is a form of productisation.
Unfortunately I do not see much creativity in this area in Samoa.
Discounting by the way is just nuts! I was in a top resort the other day and saw a chalkboard outside the spa. “20% off today!” it said. First I bet the same sign was there the day before AND the next day making it marginally misleading advertising. Secondly it gave me no reason to buy; no information on how much it would cost me, nor what I would get or would save. Third it screamed desperation at me. I could have increased the turnover and profitability manyfold by just encouraging a little creativity and by simple productising.
Just one possibility could have been, “Your next drink at the bar is on me, with your massage today.” The new product offering combines a drink and a spa. No discount is good. We have effective emotional connection as everyone wants a drink and appreciates a deal. Three needs are met – thirst, muscle relaxation and the need to be appreciates (with a deal). No begging, just a serious offer. If the drink cost the resort owner less than the 20% discount he offered then not only is he winning by getting more spa customers he is making money by saving on the discount.
There are multitudes of other ways to make business easy too.
As an aside, I am reminded of the supreme importance of the art of copywriting when one of the pioneers of the industry added just three words to a blind beggar’s sign and turned his life upside down with an instant miraculous turnaround in donations. The three words he added? To the sign that read:
“I am blind!”
he just added,
“. . . and it’s spring.”
Whereas people passed by before with a ‘so what’ attitude, when they realised that he could not see the newly risen flowers or young birds or other such springtime events, many more connected with the blind man’s plight and stopped to cough up a copper or two.
That’s marketing 101, something that is sadly and badly lacking in Samoa. STA should be practicing this at a national level too. I’m not aware of what they actually do so cannot comment in detail here, but what I see points to nothing very effective. If they truly understood the principle of productisation I would see it applied at a national level and flow through to local businesses. In the absence of evidence, I can only assume the worst.
If Samoa struggles with strategic thinking and marketing, working collaboratively is nigh on impossible here. I’m more into trying to lift people than knock them but we have to be honest about this, Samoans rarely want to work with others. They simply do not trust and often fear others especially in business. Apart from simply being proud about it, there is actually good reason for this mistrust of course, but regardless of the environment we all have to work in the price for this mentality and trait is very high.
At some stage we will have to start trusting others.
The point though is this . . it is that the principle of working together with others can work at any level – even at the lowest level personally. Even just two businesses coordinating their marketing efforts, working together, helping each other does work for them. I know of people here who do feed business to each other and look after each other a little but widespread cooperation does not exist.
Even just two or three businesses on the same beach working together can achieve major gains for themselves (and of course eventually the whole industry) when they truly understand the power of cooperation. One of the things that the leadership of STA simply does not understand is that trust can never be legislated or established from on high. It can never be sold. It is always bought.
The industry does not trust the STA, and does not work with it effectively because STA has not earned the right to have that trust. When they start listening, truly caring about the industry and less about their own careers, perks and maintaining or building power, then they will find a lot less negativity, and a truckload of hurting and motivated people to get involved.
Never underestimate the commitment and access to resources available when there is pain involved. The more the pain, the more that things can be done, but tapping into that potential takes a certain type of person and a specific leadership approach that is currently absent from the political scene in Samoa Tourism.
My prediction is again that nothing will change much in political circles and my advice is for proactive people to consciously implement the three core SWAP teachings. A commercial plug now for the SWAP Foundation: I am available for consultation and can help businesses work through their issues creatively. I’m very good at what I do, shoot straight, know my stuff and enjoy helping others. It’s certainly a political risk to engage with SWAP as there are people with power who would prefer us not to be here but that’s generally a relatively simple thing to measure and deal with! We just get on and work with those that want our help.
So, to recap: TET – Targeting your markets, making it Easy with simple offerings and working Together.
In my next post I share the impact of thinking outside the square, turning problems into opportunities and achieving miracles with simple inversion techniques.
Next . . . Exercising Creativity