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Rosé Cava Revolution?

8 September 2023
bottle of rose cava in a bucket on the beach

I’ve just got back from a lovely week away with my husband and daughter and, for the first time, I went ‘all inclusive’.  Before I decided to add on this additional sum of money to my ‘last minute’ package holiday deal (I kept delaying booking something because everywhere in Europe seemed to be either on fire or under 10 feet of water … unfortunately it would seem that we are succeeding in destroying the world) I went through a typical Sarah Lethbridge decision-making process in my mind. Should I go ‘all inclusive’ or not?

*middle class privilege alert*

  1. It was quite a lot extra. I tried to remember how much I usually spend when I’m away on holiday – would this be more value for money than what I usually spent? I wasn’t so sure.
  2. I knew that paying a lot extra would make me duty bound to make full use of the ‘inclusivity’ I had purchased, binding myself to the “free” hotel restaurants and bars for the duration. I usually like going to local restaurants and bars to sample an, albeit touristy, taste of local life and undoubtedly this wouldn’t happen when I ‘had to get my money’s worth.
  3. But then I remembered how worried I used to be going down to the foyer to check out on the last day – how was I going to remember which room charges were mine? Dealing with this issue involves collecting lots of receipts throughout the holiday and being prepared to potentially be somewhat of an annoyance as I set up a makeshift dodgy accountancy practice (green visor, old desk piled high with papers, office lamp to my left with the evocative curls of smoke licking around the spotlight) working out whether my hotel bill was accurate or not.

Exasperated at the state of the world and desperate to bury my head in the sand for a week (whilst of course, adding to the climate crisis ourselves) I plumped for ‘All Inclusive’ in an attempt to see what the fuss was all about whilst being desperate to be free of ‘the mental load’. Surely ‘all inclusive’ removes layer upon layer of tedious domestic decision making from my holiday experience?

I’m tired of thinking. Sign me up.

Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted with Cava (major result) and told to sit down whilst we are taken through the check in process. A nice lady came to sit down with us and talk to us about the hotel amenities. Surrounded by lilies and velvet furnishings, it felt odd as she reached over to each of us to ‘brand us’ with the ‘all inclusive’ wristbands that would entitle the relentless food and drink for the entirety of our stay. Erm, can we pretend we are in some exotic roofbar terrace with champagne and a complementary fruit platter for slightly longer before you send me crashing back down to earth with memories of festival toilets please?

Therein began my tense ‘all inclusive’ service experience.

Things I don’t like about “All Inclusive”

  1. Wearing a wristband all the time like you’re at a festival. Usually, I covet music wristbands and, desperate to prolong the amazing musical experience for longer, attempt to keep the wristband on for as long as hygienically possible. When you are a seasoned festival goer, you quickly learn that it is essential to put the wristband ON THE OPPOSITE wrist of your dominant hand. I’m not going to elaborate. On holiday for a week, I have to confess, having the wristband on (my left hand) all the time was kind of irritating. I guess this was complete snobbishness on my part.  Festival and gig ‘hey I went to Beyonce!’ wristbands are cool. ‘Hey I have eaten half my own bodyweight today in personally customised omelette’ are not.
  2. An ‘All Inclusive’ resort provides the perfect microcosm to examine the human condition. I’ve basically contrived this whole blog around something that I observed that I found both immensely interesting and deeply depressing. You pay a lot of money to go ‘all inclusive’ right? As I mention, you are conscious of this, you want your money’s worth. At lunch white, red and rosé wine bottles are placed in iced buckets in the restaurant and you can help yourself, but hang on, what is that? Some people have… what look like … champagne flutes? What am I missing out on?! Can the festival wristband entitle you to champagne? Surely not.. it’ll be Cava.. like when we checked in… but Cava isn’t in the buckets though? Hang on, you.. CAN have Cava? YES PLEASE! Can I have a Cava please! But what is that? That isn’t the colour of Cava? That drink looks …. pink? And is in a champagne flute? WHAT IS THAT? I WANT SOME OF THAT! Glancing around the tables.. I see one pink… the next sitting… two … lunch the next day… hmm quite a few people seem to have pink bubbles… cut to the last day of the trip EVERYONE IS DRINKING ROSE CAVA (not real men obvs cos *girls drink alert*). I saw a rosé cava revolution happen in front of my eyes in real time. If only I had filmed a timelapse of the phenomenon I could have made a Ted Talk about it and clocked up 10.5 million views.
  3. Never before have I been tired of eating. On the last 2 days I approached the restaurant with a deep sense of foreboding. There are only so many weird risotto combinations of yesterday’s uneaten vegetables I can stomach. “WHO IS ANTIBACTERIALISING THE SPOONS BETWEEN GUESTS?” (no-one). How many festival wristbands have accidentally dunked into (the only implement that has its own cleaning system’s) icecream scoop bath?
  4. The WASTE. Everywhere you looked tables were littered with half full glasses of coke, fanta lemon, lemonade concoctions that the kids had experimented with, plates of ‘hmm is that nice?’ food which had quickly been demoted to ‘hmm no it’s not.. no worry, I’ll get something else’. The waste of it all made me feel ill. To think of the waste in that resort alone, multiplied by the number of resorts in the town, by the number of towns on the island, by the number of every tourist destination across the world …. ARRGHHH.

Yes, I’m afraid, it would seem I am too snooty, germophobic and have just enough of a social conscience to become an ‘all inclusive’ convert.

It wasn’t all bad though obviously:

  1. It was lovely for my daughter to be able to get a drink, an ice cream, a hot dog when she wanted. I’m afraid she is a member of the ‘only eats a couple of bland things’ crew and this set up was absolutely perfect for her. Plain pasta, chips, plain rice, were all part of the mega buffet. She could help herself and was in complete control. No awkward conversations from me with the waiter to explain that no parsley must be present on her plate under any circumstances.
  2. Check out is usually sad (HOW MUCH?!) and stressful but for the first time ever, it was a breeze. I hadn’t eaten any of the nibbles in the mini bar, there was nothing extra to pay.
  3. I DEFINITELY drank more than I would have usually (not ultimately a great thing obviously) but there was an air of luxury about the evening’s entertainment sipping a Baileys and Tia Maria (who knew this was so divine! (yes I did spot someone else having it and copied it straight away… plus you know, you’ve got to get your money’s worth)

As ever, I write these blogs to attempt to ruminate on some element of the business world and this experience has really made me think about pricing, particularly pricing relating to short and flexible courses offered at Cardiff. Some of you might remember that I have a new role as the Academic Partner for Flexible Learning where we’re working together to enable little and often, whenever you want it, stackable learning. The last few weeks have mainly been focusing on how we can enable automated modular billing so that a student can pick a module of study in Clinical Optometry and the student information management system generate a bill just for the module that they studied.  Thank GOD for Chris Taylor and his IT team because achieving this is A LOT more difficult than it sounds because payments in University are organised at the programme level. Annual instalments are paid by the cost of the programme divided by 3 as an individual, by 1 if you are a company sponsoring a student.  Payments are made ‘down’ as a divisible number of a total programme cost. What we are seeking to do is to organise payments ‘up’ to enable the ability to stack different nuggets of learning and to hopefully, one day, enable students to pick a suite of different modules from different parts of the University. Critically of course, all of this needs to happen automatically when students enrol.

Universities are a bit ‘all inclusive’ if you think about it.  You pay at the beginning and for that price you have access to all of the services that the University offers (and there are A LOT – our amazing library resources, counselling services, sports facilities etc – yet we know that domestic student fees don’t cover the cost of this provision and that’s why Higher Education is in a funding crisis). So it’s proving to be quite a change in approach to think about funding the study of University credits in this ‘pay as you go’ type way. We’re trying to offer incremental choice as opposed to an annual ‘all inclusive’ payment strategy.

I suppose the ‘all inclusive’ analogy for Universities doesn’t work really as you can eat whatever you want from the Global All You Can Eat Buffet (chicken nuggets, avocado sushi, Spanish paella and onion rings for tea, why not?) but If you sign up to study Sustainable Supply Chain management, you can’t suddenly start studying Physics with Astronomy because you fancy it. Could you? 🤔

It’s clear that some online learning platform providers are moving to this model however – offering a monthly Netflix style subscription to enable learners to pick whatever they want from their learning catalogue.  We haven’t got that far at Cardiff yet but I could see how it could work and why it is attractive. I can see how the pay as you go, module by module will work too. I’m keen to try some courses out, see what I like and pay for just what I want, without becoming trapped in the hotel’s restaurant for the next 7 days.

For me, the important thing for Universities to think about, to make themselves as accessible as possible, is choice and customer value. And pricing is a very important part of the customer value choice proposition. I don’t think that my University at least, have thought about offering different pricing strategies and methodologies extensively before, but, as I’ve said before, I see no reason why Higher Education is immune from the demands of the 21st century customer.  Why can’t we make ‘all inclusive’ higher education truly all inclusive and enable students to study whatever they like when they join?  Could we offer a monthly subscription model for people to try things out? Could we offer pay as you go learning?

I’m not sure what the answers are to all of these questions. I’m just keen to experiment and learn.