This week I was browsing through some 460 pages of project proposals that were submitted during a conference in Sardinia for EU funding under the ENPICPC programme. It was very surprising to read that, despite the fact that these projects were supposed to have been generated through cooperation and partnering in a number of Mediterranean countries, there were around just three project proposals from Malta (and, of these, just one was somewhat related to the tourism industry). There are opportunities out there for research and development that can and will lead to innovation and creativity for a better product and service. On the other hand, we should have realised that the option to do nothing is not an option at all.
There are millions of euros out there waiting to be used for Research and Development so that we, as Europeans, can fulfil at least two very important clauses of the Lisbon Agenda – Increase employment opportunities and make the member countries competitive, but this will not happen if we are complacent and do not make an effort to grasp the challenge with both hands.
On several occasions, I have spoken to people who find it difficult to change their set habits and procedures as they prefer to continue with their old ideas and policies – just take a look at the marketing process we have all been following for these past forty years. Despite efforts to broaden the seasonality factor and create new niches, we are still very attached to our sun and sea imagery and the concept of summer fun and family holidays. Ironically, some seventy years ago, these islands were perceived as the ideal winter destination – a number of guide books were written by expatriate visitors describing some of the ideal walks, villages and towns to visit while also enjoying the characteristics, traditions, food and festas that were still celebrated in a unique and indigenous manner. But these villages and towns, as well as many of the walks, are still there for all to enjoy. We need to explore the hidden secrets of these islands, rediscover our characteristic and traditional culture and create new itineraries that can form part of an interesting and diverse Mediterranean tour – instead of competing with our neighbours on sun and sea, we can work together to build a real Mediterranean experience.
What better way of creating this synergy than by cooperating through some project or programme which is part funded by the European Union? This is the ideal way of learning best practice, exchanging new concepts, ideas and possible attractions - one can also formulate a workable management policy and strategy which is common to all partners and destinations within the region, thus leading to a better system of accountability and synergy. Working as a team will achieve a stronger business procedure – perhaps the best way of realising when a life cycle for any product or service is nearing its peak and will need regeneration or re-creation.
We definitely need to spend some time on Research and Development, especially when it comes to looking for those opportunities such as new project proposals which are part-funded by the EU. It will not take much to make an effort in being creative and innovative, but we need to seize every opportunity and challenge with both hands. If we use half measures or if we are not so motivated, we could run the risk of falling into the complacency that has led to our failure to come up with the “wow” factor which is such a vital ingredient for our tourism industry.