Skewed Market Sunbed Selection
Long time readers may remember I posted a piece about how the sunbed selection on last year’s Turkish holiday was pretty close to being a perfect example of a free market.
This year’s Tunisian vacation has given me the opportunity to update that a little, since the Sahara Beach Hotel practices a slightly different system which is a pretty good example of its own.
So the rules of the Market in Tunisia were broadly similar to those in Turkey, as were the times people were prepared to go hunting. 10.00 and you were stuck in some terrible location or on the beach. 8.00 and you’d get a bed, but not in a popular location. 7.00 You were going to have a choice of about half the sunbeds, but none of the really good locations. 6.30 and you were in a small but dedicated number and would get beds in a good location. 5.45 and you were one of the elite dozen or so who would get the absolutely prime spots.
But regular complaints from holidays makers about the need to get up early to reserve sunbeds had pushed the hotel into implementing a regulation on what would otherwise be a free market. We were warned about this on the first day by staff who told us that it was “forbidden to reserve sunbeds before 7AM” and that staff would remove towels and other items left on sunbeds before that time and they would be taken to lost property.”
I found this fascinating, in the way that only a political and economics nerd could. There are so many parallels. Without any interruption we had here a perfect and utterly fair mechanism for allowing the distribution of sunbeds and “good” locations. Those prepared to go to the most effort would get the best beds in the best spots. Those who valued their sleep more than a sunbed could choose not to bother. It was an utterly balanced competition where nobody had an unfair advantage in any serious way.
But those who couldn’t be bothered to participate and felt they “deserved” some portion of use of a limited resource demanded that rules be put in place to skew the market and favour their position. This is what always happens, in one way or another. And again, as always happens, the rules didn’t do what they set out to do. Instead, they made the situation worse. For everybody.
So this is what happened. Traditionally you’d get up at the crack of dawn, dump your towers to save your place, then stumble back to bed with the grin of a modern day hunter-gatherer as you drifted back to sleep for another hour or two. But now, those elite hunters couldn’t do this as they’d lose their towels. Instead, they had to sit there, from whatever unearthly time they had gotten up until 7.00AM passed, guarding their towels from the unwelcome attentions of staff. You see, a staff member cannot come and remove stuff from where you are sitting.
So what had been achieved? The really determined sunbed hunters now had an even more irritating task on their hands. It didn’t stop them, it just made them really grumpy and put a damper on their vacation. It also made them surly and irritated with everybody else throughout the day. Everybody else, on the other hand, were in exactly the same boat as they had been before the new regulation. Nothing changed for them at all, despite promises that this new rule would free them from their sunbed woes. In fact, some who foolishly believed the lies they were spun completely failed to get any decent bed for the first couple of days because they took the hotel at its word. The regulation itself became something of a laughing stock because it was so ineffectual.
The situation was summed up by a French gentleman I was speaking to one morning who said, in perfect English: “We wanted to avoid this brief but tiresome task, but instead we must now sit here for hours. Thank you Sahara Beach.”
Another lady said to me: “I don’t know why they just don’t ban entry to the sunbed areas completely until 7AM – that would solve all of this.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that three years ago, in Benidorm, I stayed in a hotel called Magic Rock Gardens which practised exactly this system. My wife still tells tales about what she calls “The Great Running Of The Bulls.” Crowds of people, armed with towels and foul tempers, crammed into a tiny corridor waiting for the lock to be undone at the “opening time” so they could kick, punch, trample and race each other to the beds of their choice. Not ideal at all.