Friday, May 20, 2011

Market Forces: Inca and other markets

An item of news that probably slipped under your radar a few weeks ago was the seemingly non-earthshattering report that leading tour operators, e.g. TUI, were planning to put Inca market back on their excursions' itineraries.

The market, for all that it boasts being one of the island's most important, if not the most important, and for all that its best-known event is November's "Dijous Bo", has not been as good as the "bo" in "Dijous" might have us believe. Or indeed, have the tour operators believe.

Excursions to the market were dropped last year; some operators had done so before this. The reason was that the market, though huge, had lost much of its attraction. There was in fact too much of it, and much of this too much wasn't much good.

Inca town hall, recognising full well that coach loads of tourists not turning up every week means less money in everyone's pot, set about remedying the situation, and agreement with the tour operators was forged in early April. More local craft stuff, a bit of the old ball de bot traditional dancing and, perhaps most importantly, getting rid of some of the stallholders. A total of 49 have been told they will not be pitching up at their pitches any longer, and some of them have come onto others' radars - those of the tax man and social security.

Seeking to maintain the standards of the market was fair enough. Complaints about its overall quality and ambience increased last year. The town hall was forced to act. But it had taken the tour operators to really shake up the market's supervisors.

This goes to prove what should be a principle accepted by many involved in the island's tourism business: that the tour operators can make or break an attraction, a hotel, or even a market.

Those in the front line of encounters with the tour operators do of course know this well enough. Recently, I happened to be at some apartments when the new owner was showing Thomas Cook's representative around. Once Mr T.C. had gone, the owner, beaming and rubbing his fingers, said that they would be signing a contract for a third of the apartments.

Back at Inca market, the tour operators had a legitimate point about its standards. But the fact that they acted and thus threatened the enduring success of the market demonstrated that even Mallorca's traditions can be influenced by companies from Germany or wherever. You do begin to wonder if there isn't more of this influence around. The fiestas, for example.

Inca market is not, though, an isolated case. Friends of mine who had not been to Sineu's market for many years went a couple of weeks ago. This market is one which also enjoys the reputation of "traditional" and of being one of the markets that should be on every good market-goer's schedule. They were disappointed. It wasn't as it once was. It could be just like any other market.

The importance of the markets, not just for tourism but also as aspects of the fabric of local communities, has been highlighted by the temporary relocation of the market in Puerto Pollensa. Though not a traditional market in the same way as Inca or Sineu or even Pollensa town, the Wednesday market in the church square is popular.

While the square was being dug up, the market was shifted to a car park. For reasons known only to themselves, the town hall suggested that this move might become permanent. A survey of stallholders was meant to have taken place, but they probably gave up after the first few replies.

Besides the fact that the new site meant an obvious loss of car-parking spaces in a town not blessed with easy parking, the notion of it becoming the permanent site was absurd. Puerto Pollensa's market may not be traditional, but it is also not a car-boot sale.

The markets have become more ragtag affairs, and I think we all know why. It is important that they don't end up becoming like car-boot sales or flea markets for the lookies clan to ply their trade. The tour operators' influence may be vast, but where the markets are concerned, and for Inca market in particular, the influence is not unwelcome.

Any comments to please.

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