In previous posts I have shared that claims of a crisis in the Samoan Tourism industry do not stand up to scrutiny. Sure the industry is struggling, but this is status quo. I’ve identified people issues to be more important to its health than external factors such as tourism-adverse events and economics. I talked about leadership issues within government and the STA; then advised on the three simple things that Samoan tourism operators should be doing to lift themselves independently of the authorities – undertaking deliberate niche marketing, ensuring strong productisation of their businesses and commencing collaboration, specifically in their marketing efforts.
In this post I get creative, sharing the impact of thinking outside the square, how to turn problems into opportunities and to achieve miracles with inversion techniques.
First, a story about realism and a realist:
An optimist, pessimist and realist were having a drink one day. An argument ensured over whether their partially consumed glasses of beer were half full or half empty. The argument was predictable with the pessimist claiming that their glasses were half empty. The optimist claimed of course that they were in fact half full. The realist agreed to hear both their arguments and adjudicate on the winner. His reward was agreed to be the loser’s half-glass of beer.
Their argument became heated but the realist listened with great attention and eventually delivered his verdict, you are both wrong he said, thanked them both for their contributions to his beer consumption and promptly slugged down the remaining beer from both contestant’s glasses!
Taken aback a little they both watched the realist enjoy the last half of their beers and scratched their heads pondering, “How could they BOTH be wrong at the same time?” Well the realist finally admitted they were also both right too, but the beer had of course long gone by then!
Note that realists always win over those with single dogmatic agendas – in the end.
The point is that if you think you can or if you think you can’t, then you’re probably right. If you think that it can’t be done or if you think that it can be done, then you are probably right. Having noted the value of realism over pessimism or even optimism, let’s apply this into the Samoan context.
Samoans as a rule lack creativity but are enormously energetic at producing something important for show – we call it ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in the Western world. If one family sets up a BBQ (a common roadside business here), rest assured that others around about will follow shortly after. If one Matai establishes a shop or gets a car (or a new car), or rebuilds his Fale, again you will see repeat behaviour from those around in quick succession.
While this predictability maintains a safe equilibrium in society and has ensured stability as a culture, it is not conducive to good business practice.
While this predictability and conservatism maintains a safe equilibrium in society and has ensured stability as a culture, they are not generally conducive to developing a business, especially in fast-changing times.
Supporting a large loan on a new resort for example built for show or with little commercial forethought (it may have no or little income of its own but be funded from offshore funds or family or another income stream) would be a source of shame to a Palagi. In Samoa however it is just the way things are, so that deals are done, people usually family help out or work extra hard just in order to save face and retain the appearances of success. I do not here pass judgement on this practice, although obviously I have an opinion on it, but I share this here because the highly predictable, peer-driven behaviour influences negatively on the capacity to think outside the square.
This negative impact on the confidence and creativity of most business leaders in Samoa is chronic. I have sat with business people here who have expressed nothing less than astonishment that I could see things, conceptualise things and think things that they knew were sound, logical even stunning for their business, but they did never, and will never do it – unless of course someone else does it, in which case everyone will copy it, or try to copy it and therefore keep up with appearances.
Thinking creatively in business is perceived as a major strength in the Western world. In Samoa it is a disadvantage.
That said, let’s talk through the principle of inversion. Any problem can simply be viewed as a business opportunity. The bigger the problem is, then the bigger the opportunity is that exists. Put another way, an opportunity is a solution waiting to be found.
Taking the 2009 Tsunami as a biggest and best example of tapping into a ‘force’, with a billion dollars worth of negative press towards ‘that poor little third world South Pacific Island that got obliterated in the Tsunami’ Samoa either has a devastating problem to deal with or it has been gifted an enormously powerful force to use for its benefit. If you are pessimistic, then it’s the former. If you are optimistic, then it’s the later. As with the half-glasses of beer in the story above, both can be right.
A realist however will look at the tourism industry and acknowledge the negative impact, admit that it is likely to be a major long-term influencer, but then work to use that opportunity for long-term benefit.
Samoan leadership at the time essentially chose to stick their collective head into the sand.
Samoa makes an art form over saying thank you. Following any adversity it excels in its capacity to receive gifts from its friends, but this is simply charity, and has only short-term benefit.
While systems and procedures for tapping into the goodwill generated following the Tsunami are well refined and worked exceedingly well in 2009 and following, not only did the government and the STA miss the opportunity to tap into international goodwill that was in the stratosphere, they totally torpedoed it by spinning the yarn that they were first fed, that tourism will bounce back in due course. Hmmm. Funny that – just the words that they wanted to hear.
I totally cringed when the then Minister of Tourism told me how tourism in a certain country on the other side of the world had bounced back after their Tsunami, and that his advisors were sure that things would be the same here. Bollocks. I told Misa in very clear words that this would never happen and that the setback would be serious and long-term. I put it in a 3,000 word report and also published it online. He ignored it and all subsequent leadership in tourism has failed to grasp the opportunity that exists by tapping into that goodwill, and inverting the problem.
Bitching session over now, I promise!
So this is the situation – a major tourism adverse event, astronomical negative bad press (believe me that if it is on the front page of the newspapers and lead story on TV in Uzbekistan, Outer Mongolia, Iraq and New York for three days straight, it’s a billion dollars worth of negative press!) and a huge, massive potential of international goodwill. How to mobilise it and tap into it? Before we get creative I’ll set some ground rules and presuppositions.
I’m assuming that there are countries that have offered support. I’m assuming that English is the spoken word. I’m assuming that there will be Samoans in every country ready and willing to help and that petty politics are put aside for a little while. I assume that first phase giving/emergency response teams deal with the immediate needs. I’m assuming that commercial enterprises will all be happy to help somewhat but that there are still commercial realities to address. I’m assuming that there is effective visionary leadership that is committed and long-term thinking. [please stop chuckling and just run with me along these lines for a minute]. I’m also assuming that the STA is willing to accept the advice of their own experts who for years have tried to encourage a unique cultural niche destination in their strategic planning.
Let’s get creative . . .
The first thing we do is speak as frankly, fearlessly and as accurately as we can.
“Dear world!” sort of thing. “Samoa has taken a major hit, and we a hurting for the losses [enter appropriate thanks, acknowledgements and so on here]. We are deeply concerned that a once in a hundred year event will impact negatively on our young and growing tourism industry but with your help this may not necessarily be so. We know that there are millions of people around the world that would love to help us if only they could. Well . . . you can! Become a friend of Samoa right now. Slip along to www.samoarocks.com [or whatever is setup] and register your interest now. We’ll keep you posted on our progress to recovery and give you a gazillion ways that you can connect with this amazing little South Pacific Island Paradise! We would be absolutely stoked if you would like to visit us. Are you are builder, manager, entrepreneur, Internet marketer, good with photography, people or plantations? Maybe you are well connected or know Samoans in your community? Perhaps we could work together? Join us at [website name] and we’ll talk about it more!”
That’s it! Trust me, just like adding the three words “and it’s spring” to the beggar’s message turned his life around, this message has massive power. It connects to where the people are, is humble and very compelling. The call-to-action is simple with a low barrier to entry, yet it has the potential to generate enormous benefit at source. It also gives the country a massive resource from which to tap into long into the future and prepares for any future tourism-adverse event that may occur.
Now assuming that the marketing people have found the best way to tap into the goodwill, the delivery or logistics people would need to step up to the mark. Hundreds if not a thousand ideas could easily flow from such a network. Crowdfunding and the various Social Media tools are plentiful, well used and easily available. Organising villages to host guests, activities and marketing efforts initiated, operated and funded by others offshore would bring a string of guests with full occupancy plus village-based volunteers for the next year straight – peak, shoulder and off-peak seasons.
All Samoa would need to do would be to coordinate and deliver their normal goods and services as people wanting to help would self-fund and help organise themselves and others. One hundred permanent volunteers nationwide for a year would be easily doable, or double that. You could also with a bit of experience and effort get that up to a thousand or so permanent Ambassadors. That’s the theory anyway!
A message along the lines of “Please don’t just send us money! Use what you’ve got available to get involved and help bring others to Paradise” would actually stop people in their tracks and many would want to engage, as it is a totally client-centric, as opposed to a self-centric message along the lines of “Please visit us”, “We’re a wonderful place to visit”, or worse still the essentially negative message that “We weren’t totally wiped out. We’re still open for business” that the STA wasted their first $500,000.00 on!
Now there are many ways of implementing the concept of tapping into international goodwill. Red Cross, SWAP, AusAid, Peace Corp as just some examples out of many, all have their own styles, funding methods, systems, objectives and processes but the important principle is that Samoa will only tap into a resource when it understands that resource. We must be creative to do this.
Creativity doesn’t mean that we should be stupid but sometimes it does necessitate taking a risk and trying things. One of the first rules of marketing is that we should never do anything in marketing unless we can measure it. STA has never in any of its presentations or events that I have seen detailed actual financial value of various kinds of visitors to the country nor justified their specific expenditure. As a Board member I would be asking to see these things and make them public. The reason is simple, if we spend $1m on a TV campaign, $500k on a printe media campaign and $100,000.00 on web related marketing, we have a $1.6m investment. I want to know how to measure the return on that investment (value of a visitor) and the relative value of each maketing cost.
I can tell you that there is NO WAY that STA has any correlation of their different forms of marketing to actual results. The reason is that there is no track-back mechanism directly connecting the marketing activities with the actual results. Now this is not hard to do, especially with integration of online technologies but the absence is simply because they and their marketing people lack creativity – deliberate or otherwise is a call for those on the inside – I’m not!
A well-known top businessman in the United States famously said:
I know very well that 50% of my advertising is totally wasted. My problem though is that I do not know which half it is!
If we do not know which component of our marketing is actually producing the results in this day and age, we are fools. We’ve been able to track this in detail for over ten years. Samoa his a decade behind the eight-ball. Don’t think they don’t know it either. They certainly do! Ask STA how many new visitors arrived as a result of which advert or promotion and you will never get a direct answer, for they themselves do not know, and can never know without some creativity and a little risk taking.
I on the other hand, with my simple little backpackers and voluntoursim business, can give you the demographics, age spread, nationality mix, booking methods, sources of business/referrals and all financials down to profitability per person per night per country back to my first day in business. The only other tourism operator who I’ve met and know in Samoa who does this well BTW is the Craterman. He’s nailed it and can tell you the number of different countries visitors have come from, the numbers of visitors per month, by month back over a decade to the first month he started and more. Why? Because it’s important to him, as it is to me. We simply put creative systems in to track it all.
Creativity is a necessity when the going gets tough. They say that it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over and to expect different results. I recall (yet another) mouth-opening meeting a couple of years ago with Sonja and Dwayne (STA, CEO and Marketing Manager) in which we were talking through ways to lift the Teuilla Festival. One of the topics we raised related to the airlines. I proposed a meeting with the two companies to talk through ways that we could work together and build bookings for extra flights around the festival dates. “We can’t do that!” I was informed. “Oh? And why is that?” I asked. The reply, “Commercial sensitivities!” finished that conversation. We got the picture and later received a very helpful and enlightening two page letter from the PM explaining why people in government cannot get involved with business-like conduct. They have to protect their backs from inquisitions by auditors, the media, adversaries and more seemingly all out to keep a lid on their activities, keep them accountable and pretty much make their life a misery! I got the picture pretty clearly. It was good of him to explain reality to me. We pretty much left the STA to their own devices around that time.
There’s a difference however between being creative (which means by its very nature doing things differently) and undertaking unreasonable risk (which may be something different but can equally be maintaining status quo and denying reality, a typical precursor in business to bankruptcy).
A high-profile tourism operator said to me over two years ago, “Dennis we desperately need some innovation here. What we are doing just isn’t working!” That was reality then. It’s reality now with reports from the industry players echoing the same sentiments, and unless there is are major attitudinal changes at the top where creativity and risk-taking become not only accepted but preferably the norm, it will likely be the same in another few years too.
Up for a million dollars in Samoa?
Let me give you an example of stepping outside the square (or the box) and inverting a problem. The principle of creativity and application of common-sense logic is the important thing here, not the details. Imagine the problem is that the STA doesn’t know how effective their advertising is (like the US businessman above). This is actually the case but let’s use it hypotheically for this idea. We may want to get better results, measure them more accurately and then reward those who actually generated the results.
Say for example STA has spent $2m on advertising in a 12 month period in a certain target market, and maybe things are not quite as healthy as we would like. Taking the next 12 months then, chopping that part of the budget in half and putting it up for grabs to those who actually deliver would be an amazingly simple thing to do and could generate massive exposure for the industry AS WELL as huge business growth. You could create a massive monetary prize for the company that brought in the most $$$ or who brought the most tourists or the best investors or gained the sexiest marketing exposure (or any other goals that you wanted to achieve).
Simply seek the proof of their delivery (no fudging figures here – we’re talking about real proof from the industry) and pay out the $1m to the people who delivered. Rewarding people who deliver is common in business – it’s just called commissions. Paying marketing and advertising companies on deliverables that they prove to you is simple and creative use of an advertising spend. If you can prove that your TV advertising works and you can have a financial return, a free famil, or a marketing contract for the next year. Trusting that a radio advert, magazine article, TV advert or even a website will generate business simply because it looks good, costs a lot, gets high exposure, or that ‘the salesperson said’ is very old-school and to be honest just – dumb in this day and age!
There are a gazillion other creative ways to lift people’s game if we’re serious. Take the churches and their international travel for example. Who will they be booking their flights with for the next year? One simple challenge the airlines to bring in xxx more guests and secure them the entire church business travel for the next year could work wonders at motivating an airline to consider Samoa as a desirable destination.
There is no limit to the extent that creativity can assist people who truly ‘get it’. Please don’t just assess a few simple ideas here, try to get the big picture and the principles behind the ideas!
Now I’ve pinged STA and the two Minsters of Tourism pretty hard in these posts. They’ve certainly deserved it but it’s not just a risk averse politician, an ineffective board and a defensive CEO that is the problem. Lack of creativity abounds in the entire tourism industry.
There are pockets of class here.
The Lupe Sina Treesort brings a little fresh air in but they are Palagi imports. As far as I can see a few operators are developing nice little niches and doing OK and of course experienced operators with scale and resources can ride the best and worst of times better, determining and servicing their own target markets independently of the authorities activities.
Let’s throw some creative curlies out there at an individual resort level. Please do not consider these ideas polished and don’t charge out there and do it just like I say without good guidance and advice. Rather take on board the way that the creative thought processes work for benefit and how they can open up business opportunities for individual businesses.
I’ve found that envisoning like this helps generate hope, and gives operators motivation to push on and lift their businesses. Sadly they usually try to do it themselves, effectively stealing the ‘golden eggs’ from me and rarely build good relationships with the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’ but that’s just Samoa for you eh?
Let’s take a hypothetical 4/5 star resort with minimal occupancy in February/March and again in November/December, possibly January too. It will likely be a loss-making business during this time or barely break even if it is lucky. I walk into the owner and tell him that I will fill it with full occupancy for any month or months that he chooses. He will have a full resort with paying customers, full employment, and that we will guarantee that he will not make a loss. We will only guarantee that he will have a totally full resort and that he will not lose, but not that he will make a million!
That will still have his attention, though.
Now we state that we will generate fully moderated Internet feedback from every single one of his guests that is honest, genuine, authentic, helpful, constructive, and with high Internet exposure forever. We will also guarantee that every single one of his guests will tell no less than ten other people about their experiences and recommend his resort if it is appropriate and actively solicit business and repeat bookings for his resort however he so chooses.
If the conversation is still going, he will be wanting to know what’s up; what’s the catch; how’s it all going to work?
We’ll do this . . .
SWAP Creative Idea #142:
If a resort owner is prepared to give me his entire resort for one week, I will fill it for four – the entire month, say, of ‘March Marketing Madness’. I will then make three weeks available to three teams in three countries who will all compete to run the resort, market the resort and produce value for both the resort and Samoa and then I will give the last week away to the winners for their reward to do whatever they like with next year.
To make this creative idea happen, the resort owner simply has to stand back a little bit, then help and watch three teams of people (most likely hospitality students and Internet marketing people in training) bring in their mums & dads, family or friends, service their needs, create their own marketing packages, menus, prices, budgets, entertainment and operational rules.
You don’t think it’s done before – closing down an entire resort? Aggie Greys did it twice for a commercial benefit did they not, and during peak season?
What about letting juniors run the show? Many resort operators in Samoa struggle to find staff willing to work. let alone trust and a team of 20 top university students from Australia, New Zealand or the States in a high profile fully filmed and documented competition would probably lift the performance of the local staff through the roof!
The industry does famils all the time. It’s flat. It’s boring. It’s un-measurable and everyone in the industry knows that it’s a con – a freebee for the tourism industries mates, cobbers and spouses, and there is again, simply NO ACCOUNTABILITY! As one operator said to me, “Dennis, we really don’t know how effective it is but we’ve always done it this way!” Sorry guys, but if I invest into some form of marketing I want to know whether it is going to work, or at least to be able to measure it to see if it did work and how good it was. You heard it from me straight. Famils are a con. Just give me the resort for a month or a day or a week, it matters not what and with a little bit of creativity I will find ways for you to get real tangible, measurable, practical benefit in return. That’s creativity in business 101.
And what about the money thing? Structure it however you like. Establish what you will invest into the deal (to get a full house and the March Marketing Madness in your off-season). The more that you can offer the better the value of the experiences to the guests. Personally I would prefer to see some real generosity and a big collection donated at the end to the people who deserve it the most.
I share more about the principal of givers gain, and the significance of working the gift economy in the next post but Samoan style giving would be great whereby guests tip the hotel owner, and the hotel owner tips the students and the locals tip the guests, but details can always follow the big picture.
There’s just one idea. It’s doable, creative, a risk to be sure, but with good planning it could be pretty secure to go off well. The great thing about an idea like this is that it need not be a big thing with high risk to start with. One resort, one month and it can be proven to work or not, and then tweaked as appropriate for wider uptake, If the STA supported the idea (heaven forbid!) then there’s nothing stopping Samoa becoming known as the place to be in March where resorts country-wide are participating in the Samoa Hospitality Intern programme. www.madmarchmarketing.com could be the event of the year in Samoa in due course with participating resorts reaping the rewards for years.
I call the underlying principle herein “inversion” – turning things upside down. No amount of begging and pleading and expensive marketing has ever filled a resort to capacity in March that I know of in Samoa. By giving it away, we invert the entire business model from begging to making something valuable and available but only if the conditions are met. Just as inverting a problem creates an opportunity (i.e. solution) in the case of the goodwill generated by the negative press surrounding the 2009 Tsunami, so too does the problem of ultra-low bookings become an opportunity when we give something valuable away. Google knows and proved this business model very well in the last decade and a half.
Ideas along the same lines, giving what we have in return for something else of value can be used creatively in many ways. We can exchange excess inventory in return for construction equipment, or marketing services, or portion-pack foods or furniture.
There is literally no limit to the possibilities. One just has to have creativity, then exercise it. If you don’t have it, simply do what everyone else has to do to be creative if they’re not – secure it from those who do.
I want to finish talking about creativity with the comments that understanding the power of the Internet is now vital in business and that operators who engage with the Internet creatively generate themselves enormous power and influence. On the bottom right of my home page there is a simple tracking system that shows the world in real-time which country viewers have visited my website from, how long ago they visited, which page they viewed immediately prior to landing on my website and which page or pages they visited.
My blog posts on Samoa get a steady readership from around the world. My post entitled Savea Sano Malifa – fooled by gossip and posts on Brendan Battles, Ormita and others have all had very steady traffic. There is good reason for that. I am seen online as an authority*. Search Engine algorithms are now very sophisticated and their capacity to use heuristics and process large volumes of data are simply stunning. Anyone serious about their business must exercise creativity and show commitment to their online presence or they lose. I can tell you that there are MANY people who have learned the skulduggery of people who have ripped me off and failed to address the issues meaningfully. The only way that Savea Sano Malifa, Brendan Battles, Mike Hart, Peter Vandever and possibly others in due course can fight back against the online authority that I hold by nature of the thousands of words, hours and effort I have invested is to do more, or be more creative in their own online activities.
Businesses MUST be creative and committed to build and protect their online presence. Allowing a negative presence to develop uncontested is just a sign of ignorance or defeat. Having no digital footprint is simply foolishness as the best way to counter a negative message is to have a strong online presence of your own and we must be creative in what we do and how we use the technology. I simply cannot emphasise the importance of this enough.
In my next post (and last in this series on Samoan Tourism) I share the power of faith and the wisdom of tapping into the heart and mind of God in specific situations. Understanding the times and seasons that we live in helps us to make wise decisions. Despite a high church presence, Samoa has dropped the ball quite badly here, but with increased understanding of what the Lord wants for her, people who connect with His purposes always receive His blessings. It’s an important but challenging message.
Next . . . Exercising Wisdom
* Authority here is not legal or moral authority, it is a term used by Search Engine Optimisation industry to refer to the view of a website taken by a Search Engine, recognising quantity and quality of online material relating to that subject, therefore measuring the degree of authority, or importance to the subject. Fresh, Unique and Meaningful are the keys.