Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pouring Cold Water on Mallorca's Tourism Growth

A recent report of the signing of long-term contracts between Mallorcan hoteliers and tour operators suggested that Mallorca's tourism future as far as 2020 was secured, rosy and on the up. The report was, on first glance, misleading. It hinted that Mallorca would, by 2020, be receiving 100 million tourists per annum. On closer look, what it was saying was that in the seven years from 2014 up to and including 2020, the total number of tourists would increase to 100 million.

Currently, Mallorca receives in the region of nine million tourists a year, over half of them pressed into a period of around fourteen weeks in summer. Such a concentration of humanity leads to the August peaks of total population of the island (residents, tourists and transient workers) when there are, not untypically, 60% more people than in December. In 2012, for instance, on 4 August there were 1,350,000 people as opposed to 843,000 on 23 December. Were the island to in fact receive 100 million tourists over this seven-year period, this would correspond to an increase of just under 60% of what it would receive based on current figures. It would be an enormous increase - 5.3 million more tourists per annum.

On the face of it, if this 100 million were to in fact be a realistic and achievable number, then the island's tourism future would indeed be very rosy. But how achievable would it be? Allowing for the taking-up of hotel occupancy slack, especially in the lower months of the summer, the capacity wouldn't be there. Even if there were the capacity, it doesn't follow that tourists would come in the great numbers that would be needed to make up for what, based on current levels, would be a missing 37 million tourists over seven years.

What might make a difference would be a relaxation of rules on private holiday accommodation (something that would be most unlikely) and something of a construction boom (also unlikely). While there are new hotel projects in the offing, these would not amount to anything like the number of places that would be required.

One has to conclude, therefore, that the report was, at best, an exaggeration. At worst, it was just plain wrong and complete rubbish. Moreover, behind the glowing headline of 100 million tourists was the absence of some pretty obvious questions. Would Mallorca actually want so many tourists and would there be the infrastructure, not just in terms of accommodation, to allow for so many tourists?

Santa Margalida is a town with one of Mallorca's leading tourist resorts, Can Picafort. At present, the town's regular population is no more than 12,000 people. In summer, this can double, thanks to tourists who are primarily accommodated in Can Picafort. There is a limit at the moment on tourist places in the municipality. The maximum is 13,000.

Under an old urban ordinance, the total number of people that Santa Margalida could ultimately accommodate was set at 50,000. This was a figure arrived at years ago and one that did of course envisage significantly more development than has actually occurred. The town hall has now revised this number down to 34,000, but this 34,000 is a limit which does not foresee any meaningful expansion of regulated tourist accommodation, i.e. hotels. It is a theoretical figure which sets a limit on urban development of a residential nature, one that would see the resident population almost doubling but one that is not about to be attained in the foreseeable future.

Town halls do, in theory and usually in practice, have the final say on urban planning matters. The Balearic Government attempted to shift the goalposts on this where tourism accommodation was concerned but was forced to back down in the face of opposition from the town halls and the Council of Mallorca. The town halls do also have responsibility for certain vital services, such as water supplies. And it is these services, as much as anything else, which have to make projections of such a massive increase in tourism numbers highly questionable. If Santa Margalida is indicative of other towns, then it will not be attained.

Such an increase does, though, raise a question which is difficult to answer. Difficult but not impossible. And that is what might be the maximum number of people that Mallorca could support at any one moment in time? Water supplies are one part of the equation. There are others - airport capacity, roads, medical services, emergency and security services, power as well environmental impact. It would not be impossible to create computer models which might give an indication, but, and setting aside possible impacts of climate change, water supplies would be the most important factor.

In this regard, German research published in the journal "Land Use Policy"** highlights the harmful nature of a Mallorcan drive towards ever more "quality" tourism and so the use of water for domestic consumption, pools, golf courses etc. in what are often non-tourism areas of the island. This research echoes the so-called "Benidorm effect", the one by which high concentrations of tourists in limited areas are vastly more efficient in terms of managing resources than a sprawl of tourism. But as can be seen from what Santa Margalida are doing, there is no desire or intention to make its tourism denser.

100 million tourists might sound like good news, but could such a level of tourism be sustained? Where water is concerned, almost certainly not.

** Hof and Schmitt, "Urban and tourist land use patterns and water consumption: Evidence from Mallorca, Balearic Islands", "Land Use Policy", 2011.

Index for November 2013

Aznar's memoirs and the Madrid bombs - 3 November 2013
Balearics regional election and party leadership - 16 November 2013
Bank financing of tourist resort renewal - 4 November 2013
Catalan or Mallorquín - 18 November 2013
Doctor Who in Spain - 20 November 2013
Golf tourism - 14 November 2013
I Need Spain slogan - 19 November 2013
IB3 and its costs - 12 November 2013
Illegal rural property - 10 November 2013 - 21 November 2013
Innovation and Mallorcan culture - 27 November 2013
Mallorcan place names' ancient origins - 29 November 2013
Millennials and tourism - 15 November 2013
Muro pumpkin autumn fair - 1 November 2013
Olive oil dispensers - 24 November 2013
Palacio de Congresos - 13 November 2013
Poster designs: Pollensa and Muro fairs - 9 November 2013
President Bauzá interview on La Sexta - 26 November 2013
PSOE and national leadership - 11 November 2013
Sa Pobla Japanese tourism - 23 November 2013
Second casino and PP fallout - 25 November 2013
Smart all-inclusive resorts of the future - 2 November 2013
Solar energy law - 8 November 2013
Tourism growth in Mallorca and water resources - 30 November 2013
Tubular Bells, The Exorcist and Mallorca - 28 November 2013
Turespaña director-general - 5 November 2013
Unsold properties - 6 November 2013
Weather in November in Mallorca - 17 November 2013
Winter tourism products - 7 November 2013

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