There has been a flurry of golf tourism promotional effort just recently. The tourism agency took itself off to Vienna at the end of September to attend a golf forum and immediately afterwards, tour operators and others from Ireland were in Mallorca for their annual get-together at which the agency regaled them with golfing information. Included among the Irish contingent was the European Director of Aer Lingus.
Spain as a whole is the most popular golfing destination in Europe, and of the regions of Spain, the Costa del Sol attracts, by some distance, the most golf tourists. The Costa Brava is in second place, the Canary Islands are in third, leaving the Balearics ...?
Golf has enjoyed a generally upward curve in demand. In Palma, specifically, there has been an annual increase of around 4% in golf tourism. Through the first decade of this century, the number of golf tourists to the Balearics rose steadily if not dramatically; from slightly fewer than 100,000 in 2002 to almost 115,000 by 2008. While recognised as one of the principal golf destinations in Spain, the Balearics golf tourism market is relatively small, which isn't all that surprising when one considers that Andalusia, and so the Costa del Sol, has approximately four times as many courses.
Despite the market's size, the value of golf tourism has been understood as long as there have been plans for its exploitation. The golf tourist does typically spend more than the regular tourist, around 171 euros per day, which is not far off twice the amount which is typically attributed to the regular tourist. And this spend, when compared with the national golfing leader, Andalusia, is really quite revealing. There, the daily spend is more in line with that of the regular tourist, less than one hundred euros per day. But by contrast with the Balearics, where the average length of stay by a golf tourist is five days, in Andalusia it is almost a fortnight.
A simple explanation of these comparative numbers is that the golf tourist in Andalusia spreads his or her spend out, but is this too simplistic? Do the comparative numbers not suggest that the Balearics, rather than just looking to increase the overall number of golf tourists, need to try and get them to stay longer? With a spend of almost double the norm, then a doubling in the average length of stay would have a far from insignificant benefit.
Ah but, is this spend not mainly made on green fees and is it not the case that these fees are regularly criticised for being too high in the Balearics? There is some truth to the argument that fees are high by comparison with other destinations, but there is less truth about where the golf tourist's money is spent.
The Chamber of Commerce, in an outstanding piece of research into emerging tourism trends in the Balearics, showed that only 18% of average daily spend went on golf courses. More was in fact spent on restaurants and bars, while between them, shopping and excursions amounted to a spend of 23.5%. What this suggests is that the golf tourist doesn't just come for the golf. This might sound obvious but one wonders if it is well understood and so translates into how Mallorca is marketed as a golfing destination with way more to offer than golf alone. And there is much to be said for such a more rounded approach to golf tourism marketing. One disadvantage Mallorca has, and there's no getting away from it, is the weather. In golfing circles, and one only needs look at forums to understand this, Mallorca and the Balearics are known for not offering weather as good as that to be had in, for example, the Costa del Sol.
The European market for golf tourism is growing. Russia, as with other forms of tourism, is an example of a new market. But the established markets are sizable. The UK, in terms of registered golfers, is by far the biggest, but which country has the sixth highest number of registered golfers? Ireland. The presence of the chap from Aer Lingus in Mallorca recently might have been useful. How many flights to Palma are there from Ireland in winter? Any?
The International Golf Travel Market, with its 500 exhibitors, showed the extent of competition in the golf tourism market. The Balearics have to work damn hard against this competition, but, and it's a familiar enough story, if the flights aren't there, then it's difficult.
Photo of Alcanada Golf, taken from the club's website: http://www.golf-alcanada.com/