Crisis Spawns Co-operation and Co-opetition
Travelmole.com reports today (7th July ’09) that a company called ‘The Holiday Team’ is calling for far more co-operation in the teeth of this crisis in which company budgets are under such pressure (because, as we all know, the fastest way to produce a profit is to cut costs):
“At a time when agents are reviewing costs on every level suppliers to the travel trade need to be innovative and offer something extra to help agents increase their profit in difficult times. Now is the time for businesses with shared commercial interests to work together to develop plans which will help to boost sales. This week we launched a commitment to our travel agency partners to assist them with marketing advice and support. And on a selective basis we’ll even offer a financial package to help with marketing.”
Although glad that this sort of approach is finding greater favour nowadays, it is somewhat galling that it hadn’t ‘caught on’ in the industry far earlier as there have been no end of good examples and templates.
For donkeys’ years we have been stuck on a roundabout (or ‘in a rut’, as you prefer) of cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competition where the thought of co-operation or ‘co-opetition’ is anathema. We are belatedly realising in this crisis that there are other avenues open to us, largely because we are discovering how wasteful all-out competition can be and that we have little alternative but to cooperate at some level because the budgets are no longer there at the level of the individual business.
Good to see this cooperative approach stimulated, in this example, by the private sector, because, in fact, (and perhaps somewhat surprisingly), the public sector has, for some considerable time, been leading the way in developing Tourism partnerships and cooperative ventures and offering opportunity for the private sector tourism industry to get involved. Take the Dorset and New Forest Tourism Partnership, for example: a visionary partnership initiated by all the local authorities of the region with the intermediary assistance of Bournemouth University and other NGO partners providing considerable ‘seedcorn’ monies up front over a period of years now, then securing EU matched funding to generate a considerable range of opportunities for the Tourism industry to engage in projects such as: skills audits and improvement / training, benchmarking, co-operative marketing and market research, ICT innovations etc.
The regional Tourism industry has more than begun to realise that working together, sharing data, pooling budgets etc the area can compete more effectively as a macro-destination. In-region competition is then, of course, ‘fair game’, but there should be a bigger slice of the ‘cake’ to compete for courtesy of the preceding degree of cooperation.
It is even catching on in France. That is not strictly true, actually, it has always been here. Here the local government unit is the ‘commune’ and can be (and more than often actually is) comprised of little more than a thousand or few thousand inhabitants. This makes the ‘base’ for Tourism development very small indeed and would clearly prevent the development of marketable tourism destinations, websites and other resources were it not for the work of ‘co-operative overlays’. The French are used to this in the sharing of all sorts of services banding together in ‘communities of communes’ or CoCos (just to go ‘one-up’, ours is called CoCoCo – the third ‘Co’ referring to ‘collines’ [hills] as we are in the foothills of the Vosges and the Jura). They ‘lend’ and ‘share’ everything here from snow-ploughs and rubbish collection vans to expertise concerning the water table and recycling (which we are very ‘hot’ on here). It operates in agriculture too. The British tend to take the view that the French agricultural system hasn’t moved with the times and is small scale and therefore inefficient…. but watch it … the wheel turns full circle…. the British ‘Big is Beautiful’ mantra seems set to give way to the French ‘Smaller is faster / Smaller is more sustainable / Smaller keeps people in touch with the land and their roots / smaller means greater labour-intensity & local jobs retained / smaller means the maintenance of the viability of local communities and their structures’ . And how are they doing it? Not by bulldozing hedges and amassing small farms into gargantuan prairies farmed by corporations, but by sharing resources: combine harvesters, tractor time, labour, expertise. It’s in the blood here… and you can actually hear it at 0530 in the morning with the sounding of the Angelus (3 minutes of ultra-loud bell-pealing) to call the farmers to the fields. And sure enough, half an hour later you can hear the tractors leaving the village en masse (here we have 1000 inhabitants, about 300 houses – if that- and still 28 working farms with all the old farm buildings intact: farmhouse, grange and stables). Lest you doubt it, the other day the village’s multi-purpose ‘Bobcat’ vehicle broke down and was being attended by the commune’s two retained workmen, and I couldn’t park my car for the queue of tractors whose owners were all clustering around the broken down vehicle, some offering advice and others up to their elbows in oil and grease fixing it. How many times have you seen busy farmers on their way home for lunch stopping to help the occupant of a council vehicle? The Bobcat was running later that day. In Britain I suspect it would have happened as follows:
- driver reports breakdown (I’m not a mechanic – I’m a driver / operator) to the council
- council contacts garage or the AA for a low-loader pick up to garage
- garage diagnoses fault and sends estimate for repair
- repair estimate processed via local government structure for approval
- approval communicated to garage
- garage does the job
- machine is collected after perhaps a week of ‘downtime’
- garage is paid perhaps 90 days later
And here, none of that: no invoices for tow-in and repair labour costs and the vehicle back operating in no time at all perhaps for the ‘cost’ of a ‘thanks’ from the mayor and a couple of bottles of beer.
It is more than in the blood – it’s in the history too. Here in the wide plain of the Rhine there has not been much to stop invaders, so the thought of having isolated farms as in Britain where farmers actually live on their own land was pretty much a non-starter. Hence the French (and historically the Germans before them) drew themselves together into tight little villages for mutual support and protection. In some cases this has resulted in interesting designs like Eguisheim near Colmar, built in the 16th and 17th century in three concentric circles or Neuf Breisach fortified almost in the same way as were Palmerston’s forts surrounding Portsmouth (to keep out Napoleon). Inter-dependance for survival, practical living and profit is ingrained here and the 20th and 21st centuries thus far has not managed to oust this way of life, this culture.
The French are damn good at this…. I think they don’t quite realise just how good or they would utilise this capacity even more effectively across non-traditional industries like Tourism.
High time for more of this. If not now, then when, exactly?