Portugal, our oldest trading partner, has everything a holiday-maker could want - beautiful countryside, massive empty golden beaches, Moorish castles and an astonishing seafaring legacy. Yet the country is in a mess. During a recent visit I started wondering what comparisons can be drawn between the UK and our former close ally.
As I stepped off the plane from Faro recently the words of a local ferry operator were echoing in my ears: “We aren’t good at marketing in Portugal.”
The operator complains that the season has been reduced to a chaotic six weeks a year. The only advertising she has done was using airline magazines. It didn’t work. She had not thought to advertise in the local tourist media and saw half-price deals as her only hope. She is investing in a new party boat because she thinks it would be a good idea, but has undertaken no research to support this view.
The hillsides all around are filled with the evidence of this approach to business. They are covered with hundreds of half-finished villas, entire tourist towns with no inhabitants, car parks and road economy shifts infrastructures but without the intended supermarket. Even local farmers have built villas in bizarre places in the hope of a fast euro. They are deserted.
Most restaurants offer a standard fare of clams, piri-piri chicken and home- fried prawns. Most wine lists have unpronounceable wines made from unpronounceable local grapes. Unemployment is so bad people are happy to work for €400 a month.
Yet there are signs of life. A local potter offers modern fashion pieces as well as the traditional stuff. Some restaurants are offering excellent and different foods and wines and outstanding service.
So as our own economy shifts into modest sustainable growth, what basics can we learn from the Portuguese experience?
Firstly we can’t be all things to all people so must target those consumers we want to attract. Second, differentiation is key. If you offer the same as everyone else you will be commoditised and price will be your only lever. Quality and service are key variables.
We must speak the language of our desired consumer and see the world through their eyes, not our own biases. Don’t overstretch yourself and don’t just jump on a trend. Research your market. In other words do your marketing well.