Not enough people are witnessing the rain in Spain. Or the sun. So reported the New York Times last week, in a story about Spain's tourist woes: hotels are struggling, with as much as 40 percent of their rooms going unoccupied. "The model of beaches and sun has been exhausted...we need to look at alternatives" said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce."
The stakes are high. Spain draws more tourists than any other country except France, and it represents 12 percent of Spain's GNP.
If the Minister e-mailed me, here is what I would tell him:
The model of beaches and sun hasn't been exhausted. What's tired is the way that it's being offered. Spain needs more spa, more zen -- and yes, I've got to say it -- a trendier take. It's still perceived as an old-school vacation destination, where discount-seekers flock. Give tax breaks to hotels who upgrade their amenities; after two years of declining occupancy it's unlikely that they have the dollars to improve their physical plants.
Spain needs a handle and a headline. France has romance, style and food. England has history and culture. What should you be? I would argue that Spain is imagination and creativity. It's been true historically and it's true today.
Be competitive. Particularly against France, your number one competitor. Spain has better food (the hottest chefs are in Barcelona and now Madrid) and nicer people. Why spend your vacation getting insulted? You can have that experience at work.
Make Spain a lifestyle brand. Upscale travelers -- the kind you need -- make their vacation choices based on brands they want to be associated with. Invest in making hot young Spanish designers and artists visible in the right global circles.
Use online marketing more aggressively. Your website is an embarrassment. Wouldn't make we want to go. Make it a place where Spain as a lifestyle brand can be built. It should capture the contemporary Spanish culture, its heat and vibrancy, in all dimensions.
Open "Spain" stores in the hottest urban neighborhoods in New York, Paris, London, Toyko, Berlin and Moscow. They will be designed by the hottest Spanish architects and feature merchandise for sale by the most important designers you've got - plus a restaurant featuring your best chefs. Even if they lose money -- which they shouldn't -- they are the best brand advertising (and sampling) you can have.
Invest in Iberia Airlines. A national airlines is a mobile branding experience, as British Airlines and Air France have demonstrated. It wouldn't take much to make Iberia the leader in luxury air travel.
(NOTE: Adam Hanft writes "No One Asked Me, But" as often as a corrective idea strikes him, roughly once a week, and he will be responding to bloggers as soon as humanly possible.)