Sun, sea and sex - but no sangria

Tour operators are having to tread carefully to avoid charges that they encourage binge-drinking, writes Robert Gray

It's the height of the holiday season, and more than 1m youngsters from the UK have descended on Europe's resorts for fun in the sun.

They are under close scrutiny. Last summer, such frolics were perceived as crossing the line into anti-social behaviour. Faliraki, a resort on the Greek island of Rhodes, gained particular notoriety following stories of drunken violence, public nudity, sexual assaults and the fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Paddy Doran from Peterborough in one of its nightclubs. Opinion research commissioned earlier this year by alcohol industry watchdog The Portman Group found that 62% of Britons had been embarrassed by the overseas antics of their fellow nationals.

It emerged recently that The Portman Group had linked up with Thomas Cook-owned holiday brand Club 18-30 to distribute a safe drinking guide to young British holidaymakers (Marketing, 28 July). The Lethal Summer Cocktails booklet is designed like a cocktail mixing guide, but is intended to address the problem of binge-drinking in Mediterranean resorts.

It is the result of growing pressure on tour operators - particularly those specialising in youth holidays - to do more to discourage alcohol abuse and reduce intimidating yobbishness. But is it really their responsibility?

'Some people seem to perceive that we will act like a parent,' observes Andy Cooper, director-general of the Association of Tour Operators. 'That's not our role.'

Taking the right line

Jim Minton, The Portman Group's director of campaigns and communications, understands why tour operators aren't falling over themselves to promote angelic behaviour. 'It's a fine line for them,' he says. 'They don't want to say to their customers "Come away with us and you'll be told what to do all the time." They don't want people to think they will be lectured.'

Minton does feel, however, that the operators need to think long and hard about the promotions and activities they undertake for their customers.

Many of the problems in the past have occurred on organised pub crawls.

Marc Jones, Club 18-30's regional manager for UK promotions, insists his company is moving away from such activities. 'We recognised that bar crawls and tacky games were old hat,' he explains. 'Our clients are more sophisticated. They are into music and film.'

Operators are more likely to act because media scandals about anti-social behaviour actually hit their bookings. TUI UK's youth brand Club Freestyle and First Choice's 2wentys both pulled out of Faliraki this year.

Club 18-30, which has organised holidays in the resort for the past 25 years, admits that its bookings there this year are 60% down on 2003.

This is in stark contrast to its packages to destinations such as Malia in Crete and Laganas in Zante, which have gained strongly in popularity.

Marie Wilson, product group manager for sun brands at First Choice, believes it is important for tour operators to highlight responsible drinking practices to their youth market, but argues it is essential to set the correct tone.

In her view, what 2wentys is doing with its Little Book of Sure Things, circulated to all its passengers with their tickets before departure, is likely to be more effective than The Portman Group's initiative.

'We've adopted a straightforward approach in our safety communications and feel that the gimmicky and humorous approach, as adopted by The Portman Group, can be seen to make light of the issues,' she says. 'It acts to dilute the very important message.'

Rep support

Wilson adds that communicating through leaflets works best when it is backed up by face-to-face contact with a representative in the resort.

This is the approach adopted by TUI UK. Product development manager Claire Saxel says reps receive training on alcohol consumption issues and insists there is a policy to avoid drinking games on excursions and in resorts.

'We take care to ensure that we do not promote excessive drinking or feature alcohol in our marketing campaigns,' she says. 'We believe that as a respectable tour operator, aware of the temptations open to our target market, promoting moderation when drinking is the responsible thing to do.'

Not everyone is convinced that the tour operators are behaving responsibly enough. Alcohol Concern believes that some of the marketing material produced by the tour operators targeting the 18-30 market is not conducive to fostering responsible behaviour. In particular, a lot of the material is sexually suggestive in nature.

None of today's ads, however, is as provocative as Club 18-30's infamous 1995 poster campaign featuring the immortal strapline 'Beaver Espana' and the plainly irresponsible headline 'You get two weeks for being drunk and disorderly'. The Advertising Standards Authority received 490 complaints about the campaign.

The tour operator would not dream of attempting such a blatant strategy today. But it is interesting to note that as well as co-operating with the NHS safe-sex initiative 'The sex lottery', Club 18-30 has also partnered with drinks brand WKD, with which it is working on promotions featuring holiday prizes.

'We are not moral guardians. We are not their parents,' insists Jones. 'They are young adults'.


- About 250,000 people a year go on holidays provided by specialist companies targeting the 18-30 market, according to the Federation of Tour Operators. A further 1m 18- to 30-year-olds go on packages offered by mainstream tour operators.

- Club 18-30 is the market-leading youth specialist, with roughly 100,000 customers a year. Escapades (part of MyTravel), 2wentys (First Choice) and Club Freestyle (TUI UK) are the other major players.

- This year's hot destinations for young sun-seekers are Laganas in Zante, Kardamena in Kos, Kavos in Corfu and Malia in Crete.

- The resorts of San Antonio in Ibiza and Ayia Napa in Cyprus remain firm favourites among keen clubbers.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message