Friday, April 19, 2013

The Resilience Of Tourists

Do you remember three years ago? If not, then let me remind you of the title of what appeared on the blog on 19 April 2010. "The End Of The World As We Know It." Do you remember now?

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull brought forward its gags. One of them came from the "Glasgow Herald". "Eyjafjallajökull? The last time I saw that typed was when I came back to the office drunk and fell asleep on the keyboard." Because it was unpronounceable, in order to take it seriously,it had to be referred to simply as the Icelandic volcano. And things were serious. That's why I entitled an article the way that I did.

18 April three years ago was a Sunday. There were, as is the case this year, two fairs in town. Or rather, in towns. The wine fair in Pollensa, the sepia fair in Puerto Alcúdia. There were plenty of people around. Local people. Those who hadn't needed to get on a plane. Along The Mile in Alcúdia, the main tourist centre and main tourist street in the resort, there was a hardly a soul to be seen at two o'clock in the afternoon. They hadn't all headed into the port for the fair (tourists along The Mile tend not to eat cuttlefish served with rice prepared with black ink). They just weren't there. Palma airport was shut. Barcelona airport had closed the day before. Disruption was such that a special reps evening on that day (this was just before the start of the main season, don't forget) took place with barely any reps attending; they were all stuck in Britain.

The seriousness was made ever more serious by the pronouncements of various experts. One in "The Sunday Times" suggested that there was a real possibility that the Great Unpronounceable would carry on erupting for months to come. There was a further possibility of an even greater explosion. When the Great Unpronounceable had last gone off, in 1612 and then 1821, another unpronounceable had followed suit and with greater force. The tourism world as we knew it really did look as though it was coming to an end. If only temporarily.

Of course, there was no greater explosion. The Great Unpronounceable didn't carry on erupting or carry on as it had been. The wind direction changed. Other experts started to question the harm that might be caused to aircraft. Life returned to normal very quickly.

There was some damage caused to tourism. Loss of revenue because of the ash cloud was one reason cited by Thomas Cook when it started applying "discounts" to invoices from hotels. Further damage was expected because tourists, alarmed at the prospect of flights being cancelled by further volcanic action, wouldn't book. This didn't materialise. Indeed, the whole episode was soon forgotten. The damage, Thomas Cook and its invoices notwithstanding, was to prove to be minimal.

The ash cloud was an example of the unexpected event that can suddenly shock the normally smooth routine of tourism. Mallorca has had the occasional ones, such as the bombs of 2009. But they had little impact either. This despite the best efforts of the travel editor of "The Sun" who, in an irresponsible and totally unjustified article, suggested that the small bombs in Palma which went off a week or so after the Palmanova bomb could spell the end of tourism in Spain and that tourists would avoid Mallorca. I reckoned at the time that she had been disturbed from a good Sunday lunch; there had to have been a reason for coming out with such nonsense. A travel editor should know that tourism and tourists are remarkably resilient.

Ongoing troubles and breakdowns in social order, as occurred during the Arab Spring, were different in that they did cause a significant loss of tourism to Egypt and Tunisia, one from which Mallorca benefited. But the unexpected or shortlived shock causes only a temporary blip. Mallorca has only suffered a period of anything like sustained tourism decline on one occasion. This was as a consequence of the seventies oil crisis. It was not a shortlived phenomenon; more one of economic change in circumstance that endured for around three years and that was of a different nature to the crisis that reared up in 2008 and which caused a greater slump in tourism numbers.

All sorts of things can be chucked at tourism - wars, planes crashing into towers, bird flu - but it has a remarkable capacity to bounce back. And very quickly. You can never be certain that there isn't something unexpected lurking round the corner or in Iceland, but for the tourism world as we know it to end would require something very much more powerful than an unpronounceable volcano.

Any comments to please.

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