Saturday, October 05, 2013

Into The Biosphere: Menorca

Mallorca has its areas which are protected in different ways. Wetlands such as Albufera are protected and so are parts of old towns. Menorca, on other hand, does not have specific parts which are protected; the whole island is. In 1993 it was declared a "biosphere reserve" by UNESCO. It is one of over 400 such "reserves" across the planet, all of them working within a framework of sustainable development. In accordance with its status, anything which gets done on Menorca has to be done in such a way as to preserve the quality of life and the environment. There are various initiatives which pursue these goals, such as Agenda Local 21, which is a plan for environmental activity drawn up by municipalities, of which there are eight in Menorca.

The UNESCO declaration was made on 8 October 1993, so the island is now celebrating twenty years of having become a biosphere. It is something which the Council of Menorca is shouting about, and there is any amount of self-congratulation going around, stating how well things have all gone.

But not everyone agrees that the biosphere has been the great success the Council would like everyone to believe. Indeed the Council has been identified as having always lacked both the skills and the money to make anything of Menorca's biosphere status in terms of attracting more tourism.

Esther Mascaró, writing in "Hosteltur", has laid into the Council and the Balearic Government. It is she who says that the Council has been found wanting. She adds that there is mistrust in the Council and in its ability to make anything worthwhile come of the biosphere status and that the government has never had the will to create a viable tourism product that exploits the island's natural attributes.

One of the reasons for apparent inaction lies with the fact that businesspeople, who might wish to establish businesses which are in line with the status and which would also help to attract more visitors to Menorca, especially out of the summer season, are hamstrung by the levels of bureaucracy and government. It is a familiar tale of woe that sees applications pass through municipality to provincial administration (the Council) to regional government and possibly also on to Madrid and Brussels and which means that it can take anything up to three years for decisions to be made, approvals to be given and permissions issued.

There was a recent forum on tourism and nature in Menorca. The tourism minister, Carlos Delgado, was there. But not for very long. Many were the complaints that he appeared less than interested or committed enough to have devoted more time to hear from local businesspeople and others. 

The forum highlighted examples in Spain where biospheres have been made very much more valuable in tourism terms than Menorca's has. A case in point is La Palma in the Canaries where, despite a similarly heavy reliance on tourism, there is a limit placed on tourist accommodation and a greater emphasis placed on maintaining the island's traditional agriculture and products. La Palma, similar in many ways to Menorca, sounds idyllic insofar as its biosphere status has been applied effectively, but it does benefit from being in the Canaries. Menorca is the wettest of the Balearic Islands and, as with the others, doesn't have the same winter sun and so therefore the same potential for winter-sun tourists.

But Menorca has suffered in other ways. Though a biosphere, it is not part of Turespaña's "ecotourism" product. Which begs a pretty big question why not. Again, the Council and regional government are accused of allowing this to be so. But while the Council of Menorca is criticised, there does seem, and this is not an isolated example, to have been a neglect of Menorca by the government in Palma. The experience with the biosphere does raise a question about how much the islands other than Mallorca are paid a proper amount of attention to. And it raises a further question, that to do with the Tramuntana mountains. These were awarded a different UNESCO status two years ago. What has happened since? Where is the plan for tourism, especially winter tourism, that its heritage status is meant to produce? Are the mountains, like Menorca, being either neglected or exposed to that much bureaucracy and to so many layers of administration that nothing is being done? 

* Esther Mascaró's article:

No comments: