Friday, May 09, 2014
The Need For Ironman
You will know why you can't get around. At eight o'clock, a mass of athletic humanity will take to the waters off the Xara beach by the marina in order to splash its way along a 1.9 kilometre swimming course. The fourth edition of the Thomas Cook Ironman 70.3 triathlon will be underway.
To say that the triathlon divides opinion is putting it mildly. Indeed, to hear most opinion, you would form the impression that a majority of people are dead against it. Not because they have anything against triathlons, just that they can't stand the inconvenience that the event causes. NIMBY. Or should it be NIMTR? Not in my tourist resort.
The closures of roads mean, for instance, that the carretera from Playa de Muro to the Magic Roundabout is shut until 3pm. But the closures aren't confined to tomorrow. The carretera from the roundabout into the port has been closed since Tuesday, handily right on time for the traffic coming into Alcúdia for the market. As usual, it was bedlam.
Inconvenience is not confined to residents and motorists. There is that which tourists have to endure as well. Arguably, the greatest negative of Ironman can be seen in the sight of tourists being dropped off well away from their hotels and having to schlep considerable distances with their luggage. They aren't just crossing a road, they are, in some instances, embarking on a major trek. It is not a satisfactory state of affairs and nor is it satisfactory that tourists who are going to the airport need to be picked up several hours before they would normally be, if it so happens that road closures mean that coaches can't get to their hotels. And this inconvenience doesn't only affect Alcúdia; Puerto Pollensa is also affected.
While information about closures, parking restrictions and what have you is extremely good, it doesn't mollify those who are put out. But are the complaints (apart from those which affect regular tourists, which really need to be addressed) justified? It is only one day, except for the several days that the port road is closed.
What Ironman highlights is the very real difficulty in reconciling residential and tourist co-existence. Or the very real difficulty that this has become. Alcúdia is one of Mallorca's more striking examples of how a tourist resort was developed. The project to reclaim a vast area of wetland and build the main tourism centre was every bit as ambitious, in a different way, to the project which realised Playa de Palma. But it was one that combined residential and tourist accommodation. It was perfectly suitable for the days when tourism meant comparatively little. It required hotels, bars and beach, and that was pretty much it. The two - residents and tourists - could co-exist in perfect harmony.
But tourism has come to mean very much more. Ironman is tourism in the sense that it is sports tourism, a whole niche of diversification that is designed to add kudos and to be a positive additional contribution to the local economy. Not everyone sees this positive, but it exists, of course it does. The thousands of athletes, trainers, families, personnel from the organisers all have to stay somewhere. They all have to buy stuff (and let's not hear that because they are athletes, they don't frequent bars; that's simply not the case). There is the intangible benefit as well, one by which the profile of Alcúdia (and Mallorca) is raised internationally. Ironman is a good thing.
Tourism diversification has disrupted the one-time harmony, but it has been diversification brought about by necessity. I'm not for one moment suggesting that I don't share the frustration caused by inconvenience, but there is a great deal of merit to Ironman. It is an event which might also be seen in the context of the growth of urban sporting occasions, such as city marathons. These all cause inconvenience, but they are part of a well-established trend that brings economic benefits.
There is, nevertheless, a legitimate question as to how much inconvenience should be suffered. The May Ironman is now no longer the only international triathlon event. There will be another triathlon in Alcúdia at the end of September. A full one. But it is not a question with an easy answer, unless one believes these events should not be staged. I believe they should be, and I welcome them. My greatest concern is for the regular tourists who are put out. Tourism diversification is fine, but the bread-and-butter, ordinary tourists should not be forgotten or be left to lug cases some great distance.