Thursday, May 04, 2017

A Million Places Can't Be Wrong

A few years ago, there was a report in a newspaper, the name of which I shall not mention (and it wasn't the Bulletin), which said that the number of hotel places in the Balearics would rise to one million. I don't recall when this magic number was supposedly going to be reached (perhaps it should have been by now) nor indeed the basis for it being reached, but it was, to put it mildly, an ambitious suggestion.

It was wrong because of the constraints on hotel building. Yes, there are new hotels, but to achieve one million places would require a doubling of the current stock. It isn't going to happen and it never will. The official number of places - some 420,000 - has been queried by the alarmists Terraferida (who do otherwise have some justification in their alarmism). They maintain there are 700,000. Sorry, that can't be. Not even the hoteliers can somehow hide almost 300,000 places.

The notion that there might be one million places was, at the time of that report, taken to be a "good thing". The more tourists the merrier was the general thrust of the thinking. Today, the more the merrier are among us, and they owe very little to an increase in hotel places, give or take, in Terraferida's estimation, the odd 300k.

There is a current attitude which concurs with the "good thing". More tourists, more people: bring 'em on. Mallorca lives from tourism and cannot, should not, do anything to deter growth. Quite the contrary, ever greater numbers mean ever more jobs and ever more tills tinkling with the sound of coinage. There is a further attitude. If there is deterrence, then Mallorca will slip back to times of yore, and the island will be riding its collective horse and cart, digging from the same potato patch and throwing its artisanal pots. Nothing more.

The colonialist view that Mallorca should be grateful for every last tourist who arrives at its points of entry either wilfully or ignorantly neglects basic theories of tourism development and society's attitudes. What starts out as a form of gratitude passes through various stages until it reaches antagonism and hostility. It is colonialism on a grand scale. It can be observed in the ever more aircraft lumbering across the tarmac, in the gloriously repugnant apartment blocks on water with their pile 'em high, pack 'em in communist designs that creep into the bay of Palma, in the velodromes of the island's roads. The territory is invaded by sea and by land. And no greater sense of irrational territorialism is there than that of road users. Hostility morphs into hate.

I am aware that this is a familiar theme, but its familiarity is what makes it crucial. There is a sense now of the theme having adopted the manifestation of crisis. Is this the consequence of the alarmism of Terraferida and others? To an extent perhaps it is. Those who shout loudest appeal to the instincts implicit in that ultimate stage of tourism development theory. They stir the pot. The brew becomes noxious.

Day after day we are fed a stream of information that merely increases the feeling of crisis. The accommodation crisis, the crisis of overwhelming numbers of vehicles and people. Into the latter bracket, the Llevant park has now been added to the endangered coves. Betlem and the like are being overrun. And it is hire cars which are running over these tiny places, entrance points to a natural world. Tourism authorities love to point to the natural wonders of the island, to their contribution to a sun-and-beach alternative. They extol the virtues of nature, of the natural heritage and landscape, and then suddenly find to their dismay that nature is falling victim to humanity. The colonialists will doubtless argue the more, the merrier, while small, one-time colonies such as Betlem and Colonia Sant Pere are colonised by fleets provided by Ford or Renault. Betlem becomes Bedlam.

These places can't cope. They start to tear their hair out. The noxious brew of Palma and its collapse by cruise leviathan and cloudy-day congestion spills out and spreads across the wounded land - the terra ferida. It forms small torrents in streaming towards sleepy enclaves unused to and ill-prepared for invasion. The gentle torrents become mighty ones. The torrents eventually break their banks. They flood like January floods. Except it isn't water. It's that brew.

As for the accommodation crisis, one manipulated by the hoteliers and the PP into a carefully crafted political lament for doctors and police, seasonal workers now have to resort to living in hotels. And paying the tourist tax (plus IVA). What's the point of their working if they hand everything back to a representative of the business collective many of them work for?

One million places. Why not?

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