Monday, August 31, 2009

Blinded Me With Science

It has indeed been museum month on the blog. To bring August to a close, there is more. This time it concerns the projected science and technology museum that is due to rise from if not the ashes then the ashen soil of what was the old power station by the port in Alcúdia. This is the science and technology museum about which there was all manner of hullabaloo some two years ago: went out to tender, the likes of Lord Rogers pitched for the gig as architect, a firm in Barcelona got it, the museum was going to be a great advance for tourism in the north, all the usual spin. When the actual project was presented and heralded as a "great icon in the north of the island" (reported on 23 October 2008, (Car) Parklife), it was observed that the funding was not actually in place. By coincidence, on 23 October I pointed out that 23 million euros were needed. They still are. And these still missing millions are but part of the problem. Various interested parties, not least Gesa, which still owns the installations, and the ports authority, have raised objections to aspects of the project. They have arisen only some ten months after the project was presented; only ten months. It may have taken this time but perhaps they needed it in order to realise that there are aspects of the project that no-one had recognised, such as what to do with deposits of gas that Gesa, quite rightly, would not like to be seen "given off". There is also the not small matter of an electrical substation on the site which would need to be re-sited.

The good news is that all parties are wanting to work to find an agreement and solution. The less good news is quite why some of this was not taken into account in the first place. Putting the project back on the drawing-board will probably mean more money for the architects to re-draw it and of course more time; more money for the architects from what pot exactly? There is no obvious time frame for the project to start or indeed to finish; you wouldn't expect there to be so given that there is no money for it, which there isn't. The bigger question, therefore, surrounds whether it will ever start, owing to that funding requirement. While the museum may indeed become "iconic", assuming there is ever something physical that could be seen as an icon, quite what would make it so is also not clear. And one returns, inevitably, to the key question. What is the point of it? It may indeed yet be something rather grand and splendid that will attract extra tourists, but the key surely lies in that word "extra".

Major tourist attractions on Mallorca are mostly to be found in the south. It is to the south that many excursions, from the north, go. Would there be excursions in reverse, i.e. from south to north? It is this sort of question that needs to be asked of the project, and an answer offered, and one can only begin to arrive at such an answer if one knows exactly what is intended. Museums are all well and good, but it would have to be something special to shake tourists from their southern sloth (and from that in other parts of the island as well as locally) to make the Alcúdia project truly worthwhile and truly iconic. Perhaps it will be. But the portents are not necessarily favourable, and nor is the fact that some fairly basic oversights appear to have been made.

When this project was first announced in May 2007 (23 May in fact; always 23), I made the rather obviously flippant reference to the Millennium Dome, given Lord Rogers' appearance on the list of those up for it. But the experience of that building may not be wholly without parallel. One feels that the "iconic" aspect of this new museum would lie in its appearance, i.e. its architectural magnificence - maybe. One would feel rather more comfortable if the project was more bottom-up, as in what it will be and what it will include. The building itself seems to take precedence. That is not unimportant. Most certainly it is not, nor would be its visual harmony on the bay of Alcúdia nor its potentially emblematic statement. But as important, if not more so, is what they would actually do with it.

Yesterday's title - The Whispers, Today's title - who was this and which scientist appeared on the record?


Index for August 2009
All-inclusives - 28 August 2009, 29 August 2009
August, lazy in - 8 August 2009, 24 August 2009
Beata 2009 - 30 August 2009
Bellevue hotel, Alcúdia - 16 August 2009, 28 August 2009, 29 August 2009
Calle Bot, Puerto Pollensa - 15 August 2009
Can Picafort live ducks - 17 August 2009
Car-hire shortage - 17 August 2009, 20 August 2009
Catalan radical groups - 3 August 2009
Cooperativa Agricola Murense, Muro - 18 August 2009
Disco excursion, Can Picafort - 12 August 2009
Ethnology museum, Muro - 14 August 2009
Excursions, reduction in bookings - 4 August 2009
Fiestas - 30 August 2009
Fires - 26 August 2009
Glosada - 30 August 2009
Golf tourism - 13 August 2009
History in Muro, farming - 18 August 2009
Hotels closing in September? - 21 August 2009
Inca footwear museum - 7 August 2009, 9 August 2009
Internet review sites - 16 August 2009, 28 August 2009
Jellyfish and weever fish - 19 August 2009
Kroxan café, Puerto Alcúdia - 13 August 2009
La Gola park, Puerto Pollensa - 9 August 2009
La Residencia, Deía - 11 August 2009
La Villa restaurant - 6 August 2009
Mallorca expensive? - 5 August 2009, 17 August 2009, 19 August 2009, 20 August 2009, 21 August 2009, 22 August 2009
Palma bombs - 9 August 2009, 11 August 2009, 12 August 2009
Palmanova bombing - 1 August 2009, 2 August 2009, 3 August 2009, 4 August 2009, 5 August 2009, 6 August 2009
Pickpocketing - 13 August 2009
Pollentia museum, Alcúdia - 9 August 2009
Prices - 5 August 2009, 17 August 2009, 19 August 2009, 20 August 2009, 21 August 2009, 22 August 2009, 30 August 2009
Puerto Pollensa marina security - 10 August 2009
Rafael Nadal tourism promotion - 15 August 2009
Real Mallorca under new ownership - 10 August 2009
Road humps, Puerto Pollensa - 7 August 2009
Sa Pobla-Alcúdia railway - 27 August 2009
Science and technology museum, Alcúdia - 31 August 2009
Temperatures and weather - 26 August 2009
Tourist complaints - 21 August 2009
Tourist satisfaction and expectations - 16 August 2009
Violence, tourist - 25 August 2009
Windsurfing - 9 August 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And The Beata Goes On

The last great local fiesta of the summer is now underway in Santa Margalida. It is the one that always announces itself as the "most typical" of the fiestas and one, therefore, to which one supposes only a smattering of tourists dare venture. Santa Margalida occupies something of a never land, some eight kilometres inland from its resort of Can Picafort; it is somewhere to which people never go, except the worthies who want their photos taken at this most typical of fiestas. The fiesta, known as La Beata in honour of the saintly Catalina Thomás who resisted the temptation of the devil, does a good job of getting itself hidden from anyone other than hardcore Mallorcans. You should try reading this year's publicity. Catalan with local idioms and with a font style that makes some letters rather questionable. Obscure it all is if you happen not to be Mallorcan. Maybe this is how they prefer it. The most typical and the most unintelligible.

Previously I have explained how a local "girl" comes to receive modern-day beatification by being elected for the Beata gig. You have to have paid your dues in order to qualify for the final knockout rounds, i.e. taken on some of the supporting roles in past Beata events. The publicity features photos of the various Beata fellow travellers - 12 of them in all - from which, one imagines, next year's Beata may come. Do you suppose they run a book?

Buried within the schedule of the fiesta's seemingly interminable sports contests, the obligatory DJs and pipers and whistlers, and of course Beata and the demons is something called a "glosada". It is, I confess, something new to me and therefore took a bit of hunting to try and make sense of what it actually is. Help was at hand from our trusty youtube. On there are some examples of "glosadors". And who they, you ask? They are, it would appear, sort of open-mike folk singers, unaccompanied, who stand on a stage, three or four of them, and take turns to sing (I use the word loosely) when not taking on board whatever it is in the paper cups in front of them. It is the most God awful caterwauling. If you must, try this for size - If you decide to go to La Beata, you might want to give the evening of 2 September a miss: gloss over the glosada, so to speak. Or you may decide that it is the highlight of the whole fiesta week, assuming that you find bad to be good. On the principle that the vast majority of those who take to a karaoke mike are no good, then one might argue that this is similar (just without the music and in an impenetrable language). Except some of the "glosadors" are meant to be vaguely good. I've got news for them ...

Info on the Beata is, as always, on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -, and for the original publicity, go to the town hall's website -

Control freaks
And of course it carries on. The price is not right debate. The editor of "The Bulletin" had been on hols. One found the lack of a comment in the leader about the prices rather conspicuous by its absence until two days ago. While yet more letters were saying much the same as all the other ones that had gone before, we were - yet again - told that something had to be done in the form of price control. There are times when I have the desire to hurl myself at high speed head first against a very solid wall. Can someone please tell me - how do you exert price controls on the likes of bar or restaurant menus? Perhaps "The Bulletin" knows but isn't saying. It would certainly be beneficial were it to say as we might then be a little wiser as to how price controls, even if they were a good idea, might actually be implemented. And what this might mean in terms of bars and restaurants' supply costs and their profit and loss accounts and in terms of how it all might be policed, and and and ...

Yesterday's title - U2, Today's title - it was beat of course, so who was it? '80s disco.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

With Or Without You

So after the marathon of yesterday, a bit of a follow-up.

First thing to say is that the Bellevue article was subject to approval. There was a lot that could have been and could be said, but a lot that is better unsaid. But from what was published, perhaps the most revealing aspects are those to do with going all-inclusive (AI) and the impact that this has and has had.

When the interview was conducted and the question was put as to the possibility of going totally AI, the response was a firm "maybe". Equivocal perhaps, but the intent exists. It is clear that this is what the market is demanding, whether local businesses or indeed hotels like it. The further growth of AI seems almost inevitable and not only at Bellevue. And it isn't only the "crisis" that is driving it. If businesses had preferred, hitherto, to hope that it might all just go away, they had better start re-thinking. Alcúdia is not unique either.

I had long considered the notion of responsibility, especially of such a large complex as Bellevue, to what surrounds it. I had once couched this in terms analogous to the mine, the steelworks, the factory towns of Bournville and the like. The hotel was akin to some benevolent employer around which businesses and dwellings grew. I was clearly wrong. Unlike the factory towns that needed the houses and the businesses to support the factories, somewhere like Bellevue never needed them as such, or never asked for them to emerge. It is, as the interview pointed out, a question of it (the hotel) doing what it has to do. The responsibility is not there. However, one can look at this rather differently. A hotel, any hotel, does actually need what the resort can offer, and this includes local bars and restaurants. For without them, there is no resort. It is, if you like, the apocalyptic vision of where AI might ultimately lead. Unlikely though it may be, the logic is of hotels standing isolated among closed-down businesses which then convey a poor image of the resort. Would the tourist still come? He, the tourist, may be quite happy to spend his money solely on his AI package, but he still wants the sight of bars and the rest, even if he has no intention of visiting them. The bars become almost like museum pieces. It is perhaps also pertinent to observe that Bellevue, and other hotels, themselves grew wealthy because of the emergence of local businesses which, as much as the hotels, were what attracted the tourists. There has always been a symbiotic relationship; one that has now been undermined.

Yet you can understand the hotel's attitude, at least I can. Their business is the hotel, nothing else. Do local businesses feel responsibilities to each other? Doubtful. It is also true to say that businesses grew up and owners grew wealthy merely by dint of being there. They didn't always have to work that hard for custom. And this is the crux of where we now are; whether people like it or not. It may seem harsh but the hotels do not owe the local businesses. Those businesses had it great for years. And then the market changed, as markets always change, ultimately. In this market, the hotels are no longer as strong as they once were. Witness, for instance, the tour operators insistence on price reductions in 2010. It is the tour operators and tourist demand that are advancing the cause of AI, and the hotels have to adapt and are. This represents the power in the tourist market; the local bars and the rest are subservient and have to themselves adapt, assuming they can.

Today's title - not so much "can't live" as "can live"; who is it?


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Bellevue Interview

As trailed on here, below is the result of the interview with the assistant director of Bellevue. This has now been published in "Talk Of The North", so as an additional archive, here it is. The first part is the feature itself and this is followed by some history and facts.

Realism At Bellevue
"Every day we think of how we can improve our product." To read some of the criticisms levelled at the Bellevue hotel complex, one might find that hard to believe, but listening to assistant director Syb Sijbertsma one does believe it. "Ridiculous," is his assessment of some of the things that are trotted out on the internet.

The web consumes much of our discussion time. "There is a danger with the internet. It creates too high a level of expectation." This is expectation not just of what Bellevue might have to offer but of what any hotel or destination can provide. "It used to be an adventure," the holiday that is. "But not now." Accordingly, hotels are compared with others, and in the case of Bellevue a false impression can be created through inaccuracies or through unreal expectations.

At Bellevue they are clear as to what their product is, but often it becomes distorted, not least by some tour operators who do not inform their customers correctly. The holidaymaker needs to "experience things for himself" and be realistic. As an example, we touch on a familiar criticism as to length of queues. The main restaurant can cater for 1000 at a sitting. If everyone comes at the same time, then there are bound to be queues. At Bellevue they know this, but the message does not always get across.

We have to take a step back. Back to why I felt it important to hear the Bellevue story. There were a number of factors, not least the criticisms that one read on the internet, the rumours that one constantly heard and the apparent lack of communication by the hotel in addressing these. Then there was the sheer scale of Bellevue - it is the largest holiday complex in Spain - its importance to the economy of Alcúdia and its almost iconic status. Moreover, what occurs at Bellevue is not wholly unique as it is indicative of what is occurring in the mass tourism holiday market across Mallorca and not just in the north of the island.

But let's get back to that apparent lack of communication. On Syb's computer screen are comments from the review site "Trip Advisor". Contrary to what I had believed, these are taken very seriously. However, there is frustration. While he can respond with information, that is all he can do: no opinion, no sense of criticising a poster. "If you sit with people who have a problem, you can explain and then they are normally happy. The internet is not the same." "There is always something to pick on at Bellevue," be it cleanliness, the queues, safety or even mosquitoes.

We take a walk around the complex. Five thousand people and you have to expect some litter. Yet the impression is far from unfavourable despite the lack of consideration that leads to Syb picking up discarded plastic cups or wrappers. He is, as he puts it, "manic" about collecting litter. In the middle of the afternoon, pool sides are full of guests with cups and plates. It is not just the assistant director who cleans up, there are staff everywhere in a constant battle with abandoned containers. Behaviour is an issue. He admits that it has got worse. And not just where litter is concerned. He relates stories, none of them repeatable, but they all add up to making his job far broader than just that of a manager or a strategist. He is also social worker, family counsellor, mediator. A background as a physical education instructor is perhaps useful in being able to deal with certain situations.

The fires
We take a look at the burnt-out lift in Minerva 2. The health and safety criticism is one that annoys him. It was one bandied about after the two fires. I study the specification for the hotel, note the ticks for items such as smoke detectors and alarms. "The tour operators come every year and see for themselves. They are always happy." Were they not, they wouldn't send their clients to Bellevue. He doesn't wish to go into the issue, but the TUI decision to pull out of Bellevue was not related to health and safety. "There weren't any fires for years, then two. Similar circumstances surrounding both." He cites theories as to possible origins of the fires, but they are a police matter so I am not about to repeat them.

The fires, however, were indicative of how the internet can inflame, as it were, the situation. He is critical of those whose first impulse is to go onto a review site and disseminate what is not wholly accurate. "The fires were dealt with in a perfect way," he says. The first fire, in Minerva 1, attracted more attention than the second, partly because the alarms did not sound. He explains that if there is a fire or smoke - and there was a lot of smoke and very little by way of flames with the first fire - an alarm goes off at reception. There is a five-minute delay before the alarms go off, enabling staff to investigate the nature of the fire. In the case of Minerva 1, it was under control. To have sounded the alarms would have made the situation worse by causing more panic. The Minerva 2 fire involved more flames, and the alarms were set off in this instance. One has to understand, Syb explains, that there are over 15 false alarms every week, which is why they have the system they do.

To see what was said on the internet, it was easy to form an impression as to a lack of information, but an office was set aside for four days after the fires to handle guests' queries or concerns, while there was also a press relations facility established. In terms of both safety and communications, he is satisfied that the incidents were handled well.

Responsibilities and all-inclusive
Back in Minerva 2, from a room on the eighth floor you get an impression not just of the size of the complex but also the setting. It is extraordinary. One can see the length of the Lago Esperanza and appreciate just how big that is. Across the sea and bay of Alcúdia are the mountains of Artà. I wanted to talk about responsibility, the responsibility that Bellevue has to the local community. It is the physical splendour of the immediate surroundings that informs this responsibility, the hotel's part in maintaining the beauty of the environment and in the plans to upgrade the lake area. There are other responsibilities, I suggest, and so we come to the local community and businesses.

What of all the rumours that fly around? Bellevue is being sold, Bellevue is closing, Bellevue this and Bellevue that. Is there a responsibility to respond to them? Not really, he says. Alcúdia is a small town, one in which all sorts of rumour spread quickly. To make statements might simply make matters worse, as though they would imply that there was some truth to the rumours when there never is.

And what of the impact of changes at Bellevue, most obviously all-inclusive (AI) packages? It is Syb's turn to want to take a step back. From the time Bellevue really took off as a holiday complex in the early '80s, its clientele would leave the site and patronise the bars, restaurants and shops that grew up along and off The Mile. Syb is unequivocal. "Some people got really rich on it." But things have changed. He sees no responsibility for this change. "A hotel is a hotel. We do what we do."

The AI side of the Bellevue product has grown significantly. From trialling it in 2005, it has grown to the extent that it now comprises over half the number of guests. Of a maximum occupancy this year just shy of 5100 guests, around 2800 are staying on an AI basis. "We're being pushed into it," he concedes. The crisis, as much as anything, has contributed to a rise this year from a maximum of 2000 AI guests in 2008. Despite this, he is not particularly in favour of AI, and the reasoning for this is based on the service that can be offered. "AI is like a basic family car, when you would really like to be offering a Mercedes. It's impossible on a 3-star basis." He draws a comparison with the Caribbean where costs are that much lower, allowing branded products to form part of the AI offer and far greater levels of staffing. Spain is that much more expensive. You come back to that level of expectation. Bellevue is at the limits as to what it can achieve in terms of providing AI in its restaurants, and there is an acknowledgement that some re-organisation and development will need to occur in order to comply with the diktats of the tourism ministry in terms of the space per guest. So, AI could grow more, I ask. Yes. Might Bellevue become totally AI? Maybe, he replies, but counters this by suggesting that AI could be cyclical and that it could fade away as tourist needs and demands change.

I return to the local businesses. "It was all so easy in the past," he explains. Syb constantly refers to product, and he is critical of some who have paid too little attention to their product or quality. "Other businesses will still come in," he believes in answer to the question about the impact along The Mile. "They will offer products that people want." The hotel itself has had to adapt to a changing market; this is all a part of that thinking every day as to how they can improve. He sees some evidence of businesses doing this as well. It is necessary that they do. Despite the possibility that AI is indeed cyclical, Syb says starkly that "it is AI or nothing".

Bellevue history and facts
The Bellevue complex was built between 1972 and 1974 by the same German developer behind what are now the Club Mac hotels. The Siesta apartments were sold off separately in 1974 and the Bellevue apartments were put on the market as a form of time-share option. That was the plan, but it didn't work. Between 1974 and 1983 there was little activity at Bellevue, the complex being in the hands of the bank Banesto. In 1983 the first hotel company was formed, effectively creating the complex as it now is. But there were several years of changes in the actual running of the complex until 2000 when Hotetur in partnership with My Travel took over and Banesto finally left the scene. For five years the arrangement with My Travel gave the hotel guaranteed places, but in 2005 Hotetur bought out My Travel's stake which had amounted to a minority holding of 49%.

Bellevue comprises 17 separate accommodation blocks which stand on an area of 200,000 square metres. There is facility to house over 6000 guests, but the maximum occupation in 2009 is around 5100, down on the 5500 of 2007. This can be explained partially by economic conditions but also by smaller family units. There are five different types of board category, the most popular being self-catering and all-inclusive. Around 400 staff are employed at the complex.

While the buildings are now quite old, the apartments themselves are maintained to good standards. I saw an example of each category. While they might be cramped for larger groups, they generally have ample space with kitchen units, bathrooms and toilets; the actual sizes are, respectively, 25, 35 and 45 square metres for studios and one and two-bedroomed apartments. In total there are 1468 apartments. The impression is that they are clean, functional and safe.

The breakdown of nationalities has changed this year. The main market is British at around 65 to 70%, down around 20%, but compensated for by an increase in other groups - Scandinavian, German, French and Dutch. Internet bookings are a vital part of the hotel's operations, and these can rise as high as 80%.

Yesterday's title - Razorlight,


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Somewhere Else

There are certain stories that, amidst an outpouring of outrage, blaze brightly for a while - like the price of a coffee. And then there are those that just refuse to go away because there is a refusal to reach any sort of closure or agreement - like the bloody rail extension to Alcúdia. It may now not be an extension to Alcúdia, if the regional government's transport minister can be believed.

The impasse between the ministry and Alcúdia town hall as to the siting of the railway line and terminus threatens the Madrid funding that is in place. The minister is not about to see that taken back. It may sound a bit childish, but he has said that if there cannot be an agreement, the railway will go somewhere else. Up to a point, you can understand this stance. The town hall simply refuses to budge on its preference for the so-called southern route. This despite the fact, and irrespective of which route were to be adopted, that the train would benefit Alcúdia and would not require the town hall to put its hands into its pockets. In a way this all highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a political system that involves different tiers of government - Madrid, the regional government and the local government. The latter cannot be ridden roughshod over by a train it does not wish to be sited in a particular place - a strength - but the latter two together cannot see eye to eye - a weakness, and one not completely without political machinations. The town hall mayor makes references to the Bloc in the regional government, which effectively controls the transport ministry, and it is opposed by the Unió Mallorquina-dominated town hall.

Should one take the minister's threat seriously? Consider the alternatives. The railway could, in theory, go to Pollensa, Playa de Muro or Can Picafort. In theory. But in practice? One of the key arguments in favour of the northern route within Alcúdia, that which the minister wants, is that it would serve the highest density of immediate population. Alcúdia has a greater population than any of the neighbouring municipalities in any event. Pollensa is close behind, but unlike Alcúdia it is split up - there are several kilometres between the town and the port, which is not the case in Alcúdia. The population-density argument would not hold.

Then there would be the not insignificant matters of feasibility studies, environmental knickers twisted, public debates, political wranglings that would occur were a different location to be chosen or recommended. There is also the fact that the planned route to Alcúdia is years old. It was first thought of back in the 1930s. This is only a guess, but it could well be that there exists a legal basis for the Alcúdia route that goes back all those years. You may recall that the bypass in Puerto Pollensa was something agreed to in the 1960s and backed by a central government plan from the time. It is quite possible that the Alcúdia train is similarly covered. Were this to be the case, then it might require Madrid to legislate on any other route, which would almost certainly not be a good idea if Madrid is getting twitchy about its 400 million euros of funding. As an adjunct to this, another rail extension, that from Manacor to Artà, is due to see work starting this winter. This despite much opposition. But in this particular case, there used to be a railway line to Artá. The new one is essentially a reactivation of an old land plan.

But let us assume they said no to Alcúdia and yes to somewhere else. Put a terminus in Playa de Muro and you would have the same arguments as Alcúdia. Greater ones probably as the most direct route would go along the side of Albufera. Put a terminus in Can Picafort and then why bother running the line from Sa Pobla. There is already a station in Muro town (part of the line from Inca to Sa Pobla), which would be closer. In either instance, however, one comes back to the population-density issue. How many people live all year in Playa de Muro or Can Picafort? Far, far fewer than in Alcúdia. Put a terminus in Pollensa or even Puerto Pollensa and the route may seem straightforward - alongside the road past Crestatx and the golf course. Yep, and see what sort of opposition that causes. And then there is that idea of a tram line, either one between Alcúdia and Can Picafort or one between Puerto Pollensa and Alcúdia, or both maybe, connecting with the train station. These seem to have been completely forgotten in all this debate, assuming there was ever any serious plan for them.

Unless the ministry decides on some completely different train project, away from the north, the only really sensible option is Alcúdia, which is probably why it has been mooted for over 70 years. Alcúdia town hall really needs to swallow its pride, hurt by what was seen as a fait accompli when the northern route was announced by the ministry, and accept the plan. Or else the railway may never be built. The only problem then would be that it, the town hall, would need to be involved in the process of project management and expropriation - against its wishes. Without a change in political hue in Alcúdia, that would be difficult, and is very unlikely to happen. More likely would be a political change at the ministry. And when the mayor talks about hoping for a future change of heart at regional government level, this may well be what he has in mind. Always assuming Madrid doesn't pull the funding in the meantime. Otherwise it will be another 70 years.

Stormy weather
And apropos yesterday. There was in fact a storm, it did not hit Alcúdia but Pollensa. Back to sun.

Yesterday's title - Carole King,
Today's title - a hit from a Brit indie bunch.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rain Until September

Are we seeing a change? The weather, that is. The stifling humidity of yesterday suggested that the almost unbroken sun and fine weather could come to a crashing halt; crashing as in the crash, bang and wallop of storms. Since early May there has been barely any appreciable rain. There have been some spots and some cloudy spells, but apart from a cloudburst that deluged Puerto Pollensa some weeks ago, there has been nothing ... no rain, only heat upon unrelenting heat, dry upon unrelenting scorched earth.

This has been a summer similar in some ways to the fierce one of 2003, the one that claimed lives across western Europe. In that year interior temperatures nudged the 40 mark in June and hardly fell below 30 for the next two months. And then right on cue, almost at the stroke of midnight on 1 September, came the storms. And they lasted for several days. The end of August and into September is the stormy season. Indeed it is far from unusual for there to be fierce storms and heavy rains in August. It was one such August storm that led to the closure of the farcically ill-prepared new metro system in Palma that was flooded. When was that? Three years ago?

This year has seen some record temperatures. The 42 of July in Sa Pobla was the highest for some fifteen years. The heat of this summer, say some, was nature's correction following what had been a generally wet winter. Nature's correction could be about to be experienced in a different way - deluges. It would not be altogether surprising. The heat and the dry weather may have turned some gardens shades of brown or even grey, but the landscape is resilient. It is a remarkable feature of Mallorca that so much retains a greenness despite the lack of rain. The dryness has its dangers. There have been large billboards - in Catalan of course - warning against fires in the forests. Make that also fires on mountains. A Briton has been detained following the fire on the Puig Sant Martí in Puerto Alcúdia on Sunday. The helicopter with its demolition-ball-style water bombs was scooping from the Lago Menor and the Canadair firefighting planes from the sea. On Monday there were other fires in the interior.

Mallorca, though it has its forests, is not as densely wooded as other places. Fires do not tend to take on the levels of seriousness that were the case in southern Spain earlier this summer and have been the case just recently in Greece. Unlike another Mediterranean island, Corsica, it is not the site of devastating fires, usually deliberately started. Having experienced the proximity of a major fire in Corsica and witnessed the environmental disasters visited on that island, it is something to be grateful for that Mallorca is spared such natural violence, albeit artificially created.

The most powerful remedy to fires, however, is natural, and that means rain. And rain, lots of it, is not, one fancies, that far away. Some will be saying thank goodness.

And as the seasons being to change, possibly, so the football season arrives together with the No Frills bus to take those of a footballing Darren bent off to the ONO stadium (Oh, no, it's ONO; oh, no, it's Real Mallorca). The first game of the new season is against Xerez, which presumably means a lot of sherry - or maybe not. Anyway, info on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Yesterday's title - David Bowie,
Today's title - and into September, it might be argued. It might as well ... Who?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ashes To Ashes

It should probably come as no real surprise that young (and not so young) tourists rock up in Mallorca for a bit of a bundle, or at least find themselves involved in bundling. "The Diario" reports on a study by the "European Journal of Public Health" which, taking data from summer 2007, finds that one out of ten young tourists (defined as those between 16 and 35) ends up in a fight or is attacked. Perhaps the surprise is that the number is not higher.

The study compared the situations in Ibiza and Mallorca and found that violence is twice as likely to occur in Mallorca. Maybe that's because more tourists are stoned in Ibiza, where the consumption of drugs is higher. Despite the British origins of the study, it does not confine itself to British tourists; three groups were considered - Brits, Germans and Spanish. No conclusions seem to be drawn in respect of different nationalities; they are equally capable of getting paralytic and out of their heads. Indeed, this is a major reason for the holiday, during which the levels of alcohol and drugs imbibed and taken are higher than they would be "at home". In something of the bleeding obvious but with a rather bizarre description of differences, fights are more likely to occur in places with cheap booze, easy pick-ups and loud music as opposed to those with an "agreeable" atmosphere and "clean toilets".

What may be interesting about all this is the fact that violence, heavy drinking and drug abuse is not the preserve just of the Brits but also of the Spanish. One comes back to this rather misguided impression that many have of the civility and respect among Spanish youth when compared to their British counterparts. It is a bit of a myth, and this study seems to confirm this. Recently, there was another study, one of Spanish university students, conducted by the Galician university of Santiago de Compostela. It was interested in discovering the impact of alcohol and substance abuse on memory and attention, but it also found a significant number of students to be pretty much chronic alcoholics or those who would take on-board copious amounts at the weekends. Sounds rather familiar in terms of binge drinking, does it not? Furthermore, it should also come as no surprise to anyone familiar with student campuses in the UK to realise that Spanish students are as capable of getting tanked up as those in the UK.

But just to come back to the drinking and fighting clans of youth tourists, last year there was another study, one from the European Commission. It found that 12 per cent of Brits got into a scrap, mainly in "places of night entertainment" (with or without clean toilets, it wasn't made clear), and that the Brits were indeed league leaders in the bundling stakes. So the Spanish still have a way to go, it would seem.

Meanwhile over in Sa Pobla ...

Los Ashes
On Saturday evening there was the now traditional annual open-air supper in numerous streets of the town, but there were greater festivities on Sunday evening when the "Palmy Army" at the SPCC (Sa Pobla Cricket Club) celebrated England's famous Ashes victory with the now equally traditional burning of a potato, the remnants of which are deposited in a small terracotta urn (available from all good souvenir shops) on which is scratched "los Ashes" (there is some discussion as to whether the Mallorquín usage "els" should be used instead of "los"). The association between the SPCC and The Oval, scene of England's victory, is short but memorable, marked by one member of the SPCC who made a pilgrimage to the ground, couldn't find it and asked, with poor pronunciation, for directions to "The Offal". The president of the SPCC has sent his warm wishes to England's captain who can be assured both of a cheery welcome when he is next in Sa Pobla and of a bowl of eels. We understand that he is yet to take up the offer. Well done and play up, England, say the gentlemen of the SPCC.

Yesterday's title - "Groovin' ", The Young Rascals:
"Summertime", Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and DJ Jazzy Jeff:
Today's title - easy, and brilliant.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Life Would Be Ecstasy

On a Sunday afternoon. The temperature's about 88. On a Sunday afternoon. Escape the interior furnace. Couldn't get away too soon. The cars pull up. Out tumble children, out stumble old folk, out pops a lilo. There's a sort of a buzz. A constant hum. A constant contentment against the wash of waves. Picnics and umbrellas. Chatter, shouts, yelps, splashes, laughs. The back-and-forth pit and pat of paddles tennis-ing. The bounce of a football, a Barnes Wallis catching the wave together with a mini boogie board. Lying and sleeping. Strolling and distant, mind emptied of anything but that hum and the sound and vision of a beach Sunday in August. Floating and rolling. Even the gulls are languid, hanging on thermals, all but motionless. Heat and breeze, and everything stops for one of the last Sundays of summer, of real summer. Yellow alerts of temperatures, as they are greater than 88 by mid-afternoon, slowing everyone down but not the kids who race everywhere, constant blurs in motion, to the water, into the water, then back, grab a mask, back to the water, cajoling, arguing, shouting; little Bobby builders constructing castles along the coast. 60s latin soul congas on an I-Pod and sunny 90s Philly rap twists and winds from a system. The beach bars packed, bowls of mussels, the coals of a barbecue, how the smell from a grill can spark off nostalgia, chunks of ice clunking into glass, excited babble and bursts of laughter. The guys drumming their washboards, checking out the honeys from the back, the summer's a natural aphrodisiac. Summer time. On a Sunday afternoon. August high summer and holiday, but summer's coming to an end but it isn't. The long hours of a Sunday afternoon, the endless sun and the endless hum, the constancy of every year and every Sunday the same. Think of the summers of the past. Nothing else seems to matter in this endless summer and on this endless Sunday in August. We'll keep on spending sunny days this way.

Yesterday's title - Oasis, Today's title - from which all-time great summer record does this, and other references, come, and what is the other summer song referred to in the above?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Falling Down

Falling, falling, everything falling. All sorts of things falling. Where to start? Shall we begin with next year? Maybe we should, and just forget about this one. Only problem is it is still falling - it being the demands from the tour operators to the local hoteliers to drop their prices for next summer by 20%. There is the sound of contract papers being shuffled and also of negotiations across the meeting table. Who holds the whip hand? The tour operators. How things have changed. Once was the time when the hotels could more or less name their price. Not now they can't. The hotels may have to bring their prices down, but how much will the tour operators drop theirs?

Let's keep to this year then, shall we? Try this one. The number of foreign tourists to the Balearics between January and July has fallen by 420,000, or 7.3% if you prefer. The Brits are down by 16.2%, a figure that does rather concur with one reported in Alcúdia of around 20%.

Then there is one of the tourism service sectors - coaches. That 20% figure is in play again. This is the decline in the number of passengers being ferried around the island. The operators have reduced their fleets accordingly, the fall in demand caused by fewer arrivals at the airport needing transfers but also by a tumble in those going on excursions - the actual figure for that is down by 30%, which is higher than that which was being reported earlier this month (20%, always 20% it seems - 4 August: Big Night Out). And this despite the problems of supply in the car-hire sector.

And then there is the export of footwear. Not a tourist industry of course, but one of the few other meaningful industries on the island. The fall here is 11%, or was during the first four months of the year. To give an impression of the value of this industry, here is the actual value of that export (for these four months) - a bit over 44 and a half million euros. Oh well, never mind, when they eventually, if they eventually finish that footwear museum in Inca, that will give the industry a shot in the arm, or is that a shot in the foot, shooting itself in the foot - whatever.

Still on the prices issue. There was yet another damn letter in "The Bulletin" about the cost of car hire. Now clearly this is an issue that troubles a number of people - about half a dozen at any rate who have written to the paper - and if it is such an issue, why is there no investigation as to what is going on? By which I mean, might the paper not wish to go and talk to the people who matter, the agencies themselves and their association, in order to give a picture as to what really is the situation, rather than leaving it to letter-writers with their bits of half-information, opinion and disgruntlement? Maybe it will, but it would be surprising. It doesn't do investigation, and yet here is a subject that is causing much discussion and which is deserving of a proper piece of journalism.

Yesterday's title - The Smiths, "Hand In Glove", (And Sandie Shaw covered it with The Smiths minus Stephen Patrick.) Special word to Bruce who got both parts. Today's title - who?


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everything Depends

And ever more on the theme of the month ... Mallorca expensive or not. One of our own, as it were, Glen, acquired stardom yesterday by having a letter to "The Bulletin" published in pride of place on page 2. Clearly, it was a bit of a thin news day, as there were several more letters on prices etc. on another page. Another 3 euro coffee, someone bemoaning the cost of a sandwich and a menu that was only in Spanish and German (that should be added to the list of yesterday), and another who has got a bee in his bonnet about alleged cartels operating in the car-hire business and on golf courses. Ho hum. And then the other side of the coin; examples of where one can eat out reasonably. As for that further 3 euro a coffee, it refers to a beach café in Porto Colom - four years ago. QED, Mallorca has long been overcharging. Maybe. Some friends went to Porto Colom, it would be three years ago now, and were distinctly miffed at what they had to pay for a meal at a particular restaurant. So maybe one could draw a conclusion about Porto Colom being particularly expensive, which, I imagine, would be completely erroneous. But some might do just that. One pricey meal, one pricey coffee, and Bob's your wide-boy, ripping-off uncle - Porto Colom is overpriced and over there - on the east side of the island.

Mallorca is not cheap, let's just nail the canard once and for all that it is. Last year Thomas Cook provided a survey of ten holiday destinations. This found that Mallorca was the third most expensive, only Florida and, surprisingly, Croatia being more so. Less expensive were, for example, Turkey and Bulgaria, with Goa the cheapest of the lot. The calculation in that survey was that Mallorca was cheaper than the UK by a factor of nearly fifteen pounds (daily spend) (22 June 2008: One On One). It all depends what you use as your measures of course. On 30 July I offered a number of items that made up a daily spend some way short of Thomas Cook's and which included significantly greater amounts of the boys' bevvy as well.

Depends. Depends. That should be the word of this debate. For every tale of expensiveness, there is another of cheapness. Back and forth we go. But it is the use of these single examples, these cups of coffee, these bottles of suntan lotion, these boxes of paracetamol, which is so galling. Galling because they prove precisely nothing. And the expectation that Mallorca should be cheap is something else that is galling. Have those who complain ever stopped and taken a look at prices of property in Mallorca? All that expensive, yes expensive, real estate, and they expect a coffee or a beer to cost a handful of centimos. Get real. That said, it still comes down to "depends" - where you go, what you buy, blah, blah.

Might the authorities, as suggested a couple of days ago, be minded to "do something"? You know what, I don't think they would be. And why not? Because they want so-called quality tourism. And that means tourists of money. And that does not mean pints for a euro, even if these were attainable, which they are not, or not sustainably attainable at any rate. Yet the authorities are misguided. The fact that hotel occupancies might be "catastrophic" this season are not as a result of prices, they are the result of a fall in the bread-and-butter regular mass tourism, that upon which the island is built. The authorities should take note of complaints of high prices, but only in the sense of analysing why they might be high. And they still wouldn't do anything, because they are bound by the rules of engagement that are market forces, economic circumstances, and the European Union. Want cheap? Ok, go to Bulgaria, but its prices will catch up.

Everything depends. Mallorca may not be cheap, but it doesn't have to be expensive, only if you want to make it so. In the UK, and in Holland, people have been telling me that everything seems so much more expensive now. And there is some truth in that, despite low inflation. But that also depends. Depends what you are referring to. I come back again to the assistant director at Bellevue. He reckons that there is a lot more budgeting occurring now. It wasn't always the case. People would go out to bars and the like and spend money and not really know what they were spending. This has changed, and has been highlighted by the crisis. People are far more aware, and it is this awareness, as much as anything else, which leads to the "expensive" claim. I am repeating myself I know, but I am convinced that in many instances prices have not gone up significantly, if at all, just that people seem to believe so because previously they hadn't taken much notice. But there again, maybe it all depends.

Yesterday's title - John Lennon, Today's title - line from what was the first single by? There was a cover by one without shoes.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Nobody Told Us

August is of course the month when the hotels can pretty much all expect to be full. It is 100% month. Not this year. "Catastrophic," is the word, the prediction being that there will be a decline of 10%. And then there is September. Up to 20% down at present. There are likely to be hotels closing in September. From a report in "The Diario", the president of JS Hotels - that runs, for instance, the Sol Alcúdia Hotel - says that September closure is a prospect. JS also has four hotels in Can Picafort, one in Playa de Muro and a nice new office building at the Eroski roundabout in Can Pic - that might not have been the greatest bit of timing. The report does actually refer specifically to Alcúdia, so the Sol, given that it is the only JS hotel in Alcúdia, would presumably be the one that is being alluded to.

I am grateful to Ben for sending a selection of tourist complaints received by ABTA and Thomas Cook. They are truly priceless, and so here are some of them (I'm assuming they are for real; even if not, they are unfortunately extremely plausible):

"It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time - siesta should be banned."
"We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."
"We bought 'Ray-Ban' sunglasses for five euros from a street trader, only to find out they were fake."
"No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."
"I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."
"I was bitten by a mosquito - no-one said they could bite."
"I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts."
"There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners."

And as a footnote to the prices and everything expensive carry-on, thanks to Sheila for pointing out that "the sun is free and so is the general friendliness and laidback way of life in Spain. As for money, well you cut your cloth ... as the old saying goes". Amen to that.

Yesterday's title - Roxette, "Sleeping In My Car", Today's title - well, the song was "me" and not "us", but who was it?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Back Seat Of My Car

We are in a period not of price inflation but of outrage inflation. It continues. It was the cost of car hire (again) yesterday. At least someone had the good sense to right the gross coffee distortion by penning a note to "The Bulletin". But elsewhere we were told that the "alleged" shortage of cars to hire and their inflated prices is a situation the industry has created. Well yes, that's true but only in the sense that lack of access to finance has been the primary cause of fleet reductions. If people want to beat up on anyone, then let it be the banks. I say once more, however, this is a situation that has been known about for months; it should come as no surprise. Moreover, it is not a situation unique to Mallorca nor indeed Spain. Similar gripes are to be heard from tourist armies in the likes of Tuscany, wishing to motor around the green lands of northern Italy in a formerly less expensive Alfa Romeo cabriolet.

The regular calls for "government" or "authorities" to "do something" are laughable if they come from those who, under different circumstances, are only too happy to be the beneficiaries of a market relatively free and unhindered by central intervention. Perhaps they might wish to call on governments to prevent the making of profits on the sale of property (not great at the moment admittedly, but that, strange to report, is because of the workings of the market). There is a sense of having cake and eating it as well about all this. Or anywhere but the back seat of my hire car.

One writer called on the paper to pass on letters to the "authorities". Were it to, the "authorities" would no doubt say gravely that they will look at the matter, pose for a photo and do precisely nothing. Or, they will have a word, to which the reply will be - you lower our rents and our taxes and then we'll talk about prices.

The government could, one supposes, "do something" were it minded to. The tourism industry in Mallorca is a strategic industry. One element of that industry, the hotels, is to benefit from low or zero finance, courtesy of the Balearic Government, in order to undertake certain redevelopments. This, so the theory goes, will help to kick-start the other strategic industry - construction - while bringing about upgrades in hotel stock that are deemed necessary in the face of competition from other destinations. But the hotel sector is fundamental. I'm not sure the same can be said about hire cars or indeed bars and restaurants. The government would only "do something" if it somehow had hold of the purse strings. The hotels have been told they can create spas and the like within existing complexes but they can't actually build out - these are the terms on which that finance is available. Were there to be a central fund for other sectors that serve the tourism industry to avail themselves of, then the government would be able to "do something", such as, perhaps, impose certain constraints on prices charged. But why would they? To do so would require an accord with the banks, who would otherwise see a source of their business taken away, even if they might be currently disinclined to lend finance. And you would end up with a quasi-nationalised bank to fund aspects of the tourism industry, with strings attached. It wouldn't happen. Even were such a system of finance to be created, it would have to be applied across the board. The car-hire sector is not a special case.

Yes, there are examples of higher prices this year, but there are also examples of small companies benefiting. They are taking up the slack from the larger agencies unable to meet demand for cars. They may well be charging higher prices, but they are also being given a shot in the arm.

One should not underplay the potentially bad PR that high prices create, but one needs to be aware of the short-term circumstances that have brought about these prices; circumstances not of the car-hire agencies' making. These are circumstances being repeated in other countries as well. Were the current charges being quoted by some agencies to persist, once normal circumstances are re-applied, then there would be cause not just for concern but also for genuine accusations of profiteering. But these are unlikely to arise. There are also suggestions as to the operation of some sort of cartel. I would like to know what evidence there is for these allegations. Despite what some might argue, rules of competition do actually apply in Mallorca, both in the legal and the market sense of the words.

And those rules of competition bring one back to what goes on in the bars and restaurants. It is they, above all else, that go to shape prices and products. If a café does indeed charge 3.50 euros for a coffee, well that is its affair. If the one next door is charging the normal 1.50, then the 3.50 café may not be in business that long, but it depends what sort of a place it is. One of my email correspondents, Lynne, points out that bars etc. are supposed to display their officially stamped price list. The point being that you can check the price before ordering. Don't like the price, go somewhere else. But maybe that 3.50 café has an ambience or style that you do like. More expensive, but you pay a different price for different products. That's the market for you.

Wrapped up in all these complaints about prices is an unrealistic notion that somehow bars and the rest have an obligation, a responsibility to the resorts and the island as tourist destinations. They do not. Their responsibility is to themselves. And it is their responsibility to price and to provide product that the market demands and that has an edge over the competition. Let me tell you about external responsibility, or how it was summed up by the assistant director of Bellevue. There is none, except for the environment. In Bellevue's case, they do what they do - his words. And so it is for any business, be it bar, restaurant, or whatever.

Glen, another correspondent, in the context of the gripes about bar prices, wonders whether the only reasons that some people go on holiday are to eat and drink. It's a fair point, and the impression some of these letters gives is that these are the reasons. Oh, and hiring a car as well. Someone else made the point to me the other day that the Brits seem to believe that wherever they go on holiday it should always be cheaper than at home. The car-hire issue is one thing, but as for the rest ... you make it as cheap or as expensive as you want, but please spare us these spurious conclusions based on specific and arguably isolated examples. And I maintain that the crisis and the exchange rate have heightened awareness as to actual spend, causing a perception of higher prices even where these do not exist. To repeat from yesterday - just give it a rest, please.

Yesterday's title - Steve Miller Band, "Midnight Tango", Today's title - line from a car song. Swedish.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Have A Cup Of Coffee

Oh no, here we go again. Hot on the heels of the piece of two days, another letter complaining about prices. One grows tired of this litany of expensive woe, especially when it's so skewed. Up pops someone else in "The Bulletin", this time using the price of a coffee as the stick with which to beat the cost of Mallorca. How much? 3.50 euros. 3.50 euros? Where the hell have they been taking a coffee? It can be the case that some restaurants will charge excessive amounts for the likes of a coffee, but they are usually expensive restaurants anyway. The solution is to go somewhere else, or take a post-prandial stroll to a café or bar where the coffee will be, typically, 1.50 (you can indeed pay less). Or maybe this was a special type of coffee, who knows? And that's just the problem, you never know. You never know which restaurant or bar, you don't necessarily know where it is. I daresay that in the high- and well-heeled boutique bars of Deía or Portals you can cop a big'n for one with milk. Doesn't mean to say that you pay it everywhere, and you don't. Of course you don't. So why say it? You know, I might write a letter, say I was charged five euros for a coffee. No, make that a tenner. And then I'll demand that the authorities do something about it all before the tourism apocalypse occurs. And of course I won't say where this tenner was charged, because it was all a fabrication. Can we please just give this all a rest, as it is, yes really is, rather tiresome.

Not the year of the jellyfish
Been stung by a jellyfish this year? Chances are you haven't been. According to the "Cruz Roja", its lifeguards and staff have had to attend to a mere 3,221 bathers in the Balearics who have been on the wrong end of a jellyfish tentacle. Sounds a lot? Not really. In 2008 the number was 13,767, while in 2006 - the year of the plague - it was almost double that figure at over 26 thousand. Ibiza is the place you need to go to be more likely to be stung; the number of victims there is not far off a half of that 3000 plus total for this year. Given that more people go to Mallorca than to Ibiza or Menorca, it is perhaps surprising that the fewest numbers of stings are recorded on the biggest of the islands. Or maybe the Cruz Roja doesn't patrol that many beaches in Mallorca. Anyway, it's all rather encouraging. Perhaps the winds have just been in the wrong direction and have blown the sea and the devils away. But don't get too complacent, there have, in Mallorca, been nearly 270 people stung by fishes, most obviously the weever fish. My neighbour for example. "Merde", said he when his foot expanded and he had to head off to Muro General. Well, he is French, so he would say that.

Yesterday's title - "Farmer's Song", Neil Young, Today's title - the first line of a song by one of the best of the West Coast rock bands emanating from the '60s. Abracadabra.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Farmer Was The Last Of His Kind

The former mayor of Muro, Jaume Perelló, explained in a valedictory interview that the golf course in Muro represented a further diversification of the local economy away from just farming. The other day I mentioned the renovations that are due to occur at the ethnology museum in the town, the one devoted to life as it was before tourism. As if to emphasise the one-time overriding significance of agriculture to the town, reinforcing Perelló's point, a local archivist, Sebastià Riutort, has conducted a major project to collect, clean and restore, and classify documents related to the farming co-operative of Muro. In total, the documents occupy 19 metres of shelf space. It is an extraordinary example of diligent historical record-keeping and an important collection of primary source material for study by historians and others with an interest in not only Muro's but the island's past.

"The Diario" reports on this archive, one that charts the founding and history of the "Cooperativa Agricola Murense". In historical terms, the co-operative is of relatively recent origin, but this makes it even more powerful a subject for historical record and scrutiny as, until the 1970s, Muro, a town with no port or seafront as such up to that time, was wholly an agrarian economy and as the actual year of the founding was 1937. The co-operative was a thing, therefore, of the Civil War and of the Franco era and administrative philosophy; in the same year a similar co-operative was established in neighbouring Sa Pobla. Neither event was insignificant in terms of the post-Civil War economy of Spain and in terms of how work was organised under Franco. To appreciate this significance, it is necessary to understand that the Spanish economy for 20 years after the end of the Civil War was an autarky, in other words a self-sufficient economy that substituted imports with everything produced internally, regardless of cost or productivity. It was not until the Stabilisation Plan of 1959, largely crafted by technocrats from Opus Dei, that Spain moved towards something of a functioning capitalist economy. The Muro co-operative was but one element of that autarky, and the archive contains records of the relationship with organisations such as that which centrally regulated the potato and sweet potato business in the Balearics. Just how closely the co-operative was associated with Franco can be recognised in one of its statutes, which refers to farmers making Spain "one, great and free", and in the documentation of a meeting in 1940 when the assembly rose and offered cries of "Franco, Franco, Franco".

Together with the ethnology museum development, this archive suggests that, in Muro at any rate, history is, if not alive exactly then very real and well. Thoroughly laudable and outstanding examples of preserving local culture and history.

Yesterday's title - The connection was The Marx Brothers and so - "Animal Crackers", Today's title - this comes from something of a protest song by someone rocking in the free world.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Animal Quackers

And so they came again, they saw and they let loose some live ducks - more than on other occasions during this time of prohibition. Therein lies a story. If you know not of what I speak, get yourselves down to Can Picafort next year for the traditional duck liberation farce. Where there should be only rubber ducks are a few real ones - a dozen in all this year. The problem is you can't get a good view. So many people came this year, perhaps because it was a holiday and a Saturday, but also because they want to see live ducks being let go in contravention of this mad denial of an old ritual; they want people to be naughty. Whether the masked men who were responsible for the live fowl came on jet-ski or boat is immaterial, the fact is they came, and no-one in Can Picafort is inclined to let on who they might be; they still like their traditions live and with breathing animals in Can Picafort. Plod were apparently unable to use launches because they were all being used to protect the royals down in the south. It would be same next year as well. Unless they form some sort of exclusion zone with helicopters, launches, submarines, the masked miscreants will prevail. But to create an overwhelming police presence would be insane. We are talking about ducks here. This is of course now all a cause célèbre, and there will be a desire for more audacious cocking-a-snook at authority; expect whole flocks of ducks in 2010. And even more people willing them on.

Oh so expensive - or not?
Yet another letter to "The Bulletin" about over-pricing and low standards. Yet another letter choosing Puerto Pollensa, or one restaurant (unnamed) in Puerto Pollensa, to justify the argument. To be fair, the letter-writer(s) praised restaurants in the resort but picked on one where the menu of the day was less than good. So what? We can all point to bad experiences wherever we go. One example does not make a case for anything, other than not returning to a particular restaurant. 'Twas ever thus. Yet the conclusion, in the letter, is that tourists will not come back if they are expected to pay the prices that are being asked. Something isn't quite right - yesterday I cited that research which made price a key issue for coming to Mallorca. Maybe it is just coincidence, maybe it is just a case of letter-writers following a leader, but the paper seems intent on ramming this theme down everyone's throats and using it as a means of beating the tourism industry in general and bars and restaurants specifically, but with little balance or explanation as to why prices may be as they are or as to how one can actually holiday in Mallorca pretty cheaply. The letters are generally left unchallenged, creating a false impression; it's the same principle as that to which I referred yesterday.

You have to, or should always strive for some perspective and some balance, and these one-off letters simply don't do that. In "The Diario" they have been talking to tourists and finding that they are looking for ways to spend less, but they quote one British holidaymaker who says that everything is much cheaper than in the UK. So make of that what you will.

Car-hire shortage - old news
Still with "The Bulletin", on Saturday it front-paged about the lack of hire cars on the island and their price. It was basically a thing doing the rounds of other media - the BBC's website had something very similar. It's fair enough and at least it does point out that the situation has been caused in large part by a lack of financing that saw hire-car fleets reduced. But why now? On 14 April (You Got A Fast Car), there was a piece on just this subject. The shortage was heralded before the main season started, but only now is it being given much attention. It's actually old news, old news that should have been given more prominent treatment as car hire is a not unimportant aspect of the island's tourism. Don't understand.

Yesterday's title - Rolling Stones, Today's title - as last year's blogging on the Can Picafort ducks was entitled "Duck Soup", what is the connection with today's title, albeit that one word has been changed a bit?


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Can't Get No

There was a survey of tourist satisfaction recently, or perhaps one should make that dissatisfaction. You may recall my mentioning the questionnaire that does the rounds in Puerto Pollensa (29 June: Lemon Tree). That survey seems to tie in; the categories appear to be similar if not indeed the same. You may also recall in that previous piece my suggesting that much which occurs by way of market surveys gives results that are "lemons"; in other words, they prove nothing.

For what it's worth, there is a general decline in levels of satisfaction in Mallorca. Some of the lowest ratings are for public services - health being something of an exception. For all the banging on about the environment, the actual environmental settings experienced by tourists rate less than five (on a scale of one to ten). The number of people saying that they will return has fallen, yet it seems that price is not the issue some might claim it to be. The main reason for actually travelling to the island is price - which I find hard to believe - followed by the beaches and weather. Nowhere is there any mention of the likes of culture or other elements of "alternative" tourism. This is not surprising; I have said it often enough here that the Mallorca brand is all about sun and sea.

But what do we make of all of this? What do the users of the research make of all of this? The first point to make is that it is hard to know what the results actually mean. Ask people to put a quantity onto something essentially qualitative, and you immediately have a problem. What criteria does the respondent apply in making what can be a fairly arbitrary judgement? The researcher doesn't know. Unless he does, the answer is meaningless, except as an indicator, and then only a very general one.

Nevertheless, falls in satisfaction in many categories would seem to suggest that there should be concerns, but one needs to go behind such falls and appreciate the dynamics that may be affecting respondents' judgements.

Last week I spent a few hours with the assistant director at Bellevue in Alcúdia. The result of this time will be an article due to be published in "Talk Of The North". He explained to me that questionnaires Bellevue use reveal an 80% level of satisfaction with the hotel. I don't know if 20% being dissatisfied is bad or good. It depends what you are asking. Be that as it may, he had some quite revealing things to say about tourist expectations and also about the role of the internet. The crux of this was that many tourists' expectations are too high and are unrealistic. The internet, through review sites predominantly, has fuelled this. The sheer volume of information and opinion has stripped away what was once the sense of adventure in making a holiday. (When he was saying this, I could have almost heard myself speaking; precisely the same point has been made on this blog before.) Rather than experiencing holidays and hotels and so on for what they are and making a judgement as to the various aspects of those holidays with an independent mind, the judgement is prejudiced before the holiday even starts. Comparisons with other hotels, with other resorts, with other countries; all of them based on personal opinion and very often incomplete or biased information, and some of that personal opinion already informed by someone else's views. And so it goes on. But the result of all this is that the holidaymaker comes expecting either something unrealistic or expecting to find something to complain about.

Bellevue is just one example, and I should point out that from what I saw - of the apartments, the grounds, the pools etc. - there was little that one could gripe at, so long as one was being realistic. A solution to all this false expectation is to try and manage expectations - in advance. But how? The internet will always find a way of undermining this in any event: all that information, all that opinion, all those comparisons. And the tour operators don't always help either.

To discover, as the survey has, that dissatisfaction is rising may not be anything at all to do with falling standards. These may be just as good (or as bad) as they ever were; they may even actually have improved. But I come back to the point about the criteria that those interviewed adopt in conjuring up a number to put against intangible concepts of service or whatever, and those criteria are as likely to have been influenced or established by what he or she has been told on the internet as by his or her own experiences - more so in fact. We're still sitting under that lemon tree.

Yesterday's title - Kraftwerk, Today's title - what?


Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Are The Robots

The Calle Bot in Puerto Pollensa. So bad they named it after someone's arse. But that was then. Back then when a local road was still an ankle- and axel-breaking adventure, when it was pitted and potted, cratered and crumbling, not so much a road as the aftermath of a cluster-bomb attack, a lunar landscape to be tackled preferably by amphibious landing craft, especially when it had rained and the craters would become sealets of untranquillity dived into by several tons of truck and engulfing the unwary passer-by in a tsunami of water, sand and shit. Oh my Bot of long ago.

Here was the finest example of non-road, a thorough thoroughfare misrepresentation, a whole collection of holes. Magnificently decrepit, it was perfect in its symbolism of an imperfectly functioning system that was once what we knew to be Mallorca. Not anymore. Firstly they tarmacked it over, took away the traps, the obstacles, made it smooth, a soulless short cut-through past the Pollensa Park where previously had been the joy ride of joyous swerving past collapsed whatever passed for the surface. Yet they still maintained a two-way street where barely one street could be accommodated. All those failed manoeuvres past the parked delivery lorries in the hope of a pull-in point, only to find none and to be confronted by the leviathan of a coach and a terminally impatient driver waving with the back of his hand as though he was swatting away a fly. And to your rear an hombre de furgoneta blanca, himself backed up by a growing jam of vehicles. Oh my Bot of less long ago, a van driver hooting up the backside.

But now they have made it one way. The bottom has fallen out of Calle Bot. When two-way at least it was still a case of number two's. Now but one in Bot. They should re-name it.

Nadal's chest
The muscle is back, and is displaying more muscle than normal. Rafael Nadal is to appear in a new promotional campaign aboard a yacht, the wind blowing his hair and his "torso desnudo", it says provocatively in a "Diario" report. That doesn't mean he's got his kit off, but has forgotten to button up his shirt. To coincide with the World Travel Market in November, the new, windswept Rafa will further be the face and now also the chest of Balearics promotion. By the time they get to the third promotional campaign (this new one will be the second), perhaps he'll be in speedos. Something for somebody to enjoy no doubt. What effect all this Nadal-ing has on the masses coming to the islands one doesn't really know. It would still surely make more sense to have promotions for the individual islands. The Balearics just do not hack it as a "brand". Any brand should be supported by the right advertising. Get him to advertise Mallorca and leave it at that, kit diminuto or otherwise.

Yesterday's title - Barbra Streisand, Today's title - well a bot is also of course short for robot, and as I couldn't think of something to do with ...


Friday, August 14, 2009

The Way We Were

And yet more museum news. Museums have suddenly become the flavour of the month. Maybe it's the silly season. And it all rather depends upon your view of museums as to whether you believe the 1.5 million euros that the culture ministry is setting aside to upgrade the ethnology museum in Muro is silly or sensible. I'll go with the latter, if that's alright by you. The only problem is knowing who actually ever goes to the museum. Tourists? Hmm, not in great numbers one would imagine.

What is the ethnology museum? It is, as the director says in "The Diario", a museum devoted to pre-tourist Mallorca, one that shows the life of people of the island in their domestic and working environments. Essentially, it is a memorial to a rural way of life that may not have totally died out but which has been forgotten by many Mallorcans and foreigners alike. The director says that, after the museum opened in 1964, everyone would have known what a plough was, for instance. But not now. The displays at the museum are to include rooms that show how things were for the pre-tourist Mallorcan. It is a splendid and laudable project, to be supported with audio-visual that one hopes will be correctly multi-lingual. Museums that deal with real lives are more vital, literally, than those which merely display pieces of ancient artefact with a sterility and lack of engagement of the visitor. They should consider special shows with music, dance and activities representative of different epochs before tourism.

This celebration of life as it once was has become a feature of local fiestas. Both Pollensa (during Patrona) and Binissalem have staged reconstructions or musical events indicative of a bygone era. It may not be every tourist's cup of tea, but it is a favoured brew for many who have formed an intimate attachment with the island and for whom the history, the real history, goes beyond the fleshpotism of sun and beach. Critical I may have been of attempts at developing an alternative tourism, but not of this, so long as it is done well and so long as people go. And that's the real problem.

Muro town has been the beneficiary of separate upgrade financing - two million euros worth of it (as reported on 10 June: Money For Nothing?). The tourism minister presided over the celebration of the completion of the redevelopment project, stating that it was an example of creating tourism de-seasonalisation in this interior town. But who ever goes to Muro? I've said it before, but it bears repetition: there is no bus route between the town and Playa de Muro. Thousands of tourists not exactly on the town's doorstep but on what would be a fifteen minute bus ride. The tourism office in Playa de Muro has material about the town, but how do you get to it?

Diosdado Carbonell is a Cuban street musician. He plays on the Calvari steps in Pollensa. When he dies, he would like to be buried in Pollensa. That is the headline of a short piece about Dio in "The Diario". Go here:

Yesterday's title - The Police, "Roxanne", Today's title - probably had this before, but it'll do for me.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

You Don't Have To Wear That Dress Tonight

How many golfing tourists come to Mallorca do you reckon? The tourism ministry has kindly presented the answer. 112,752 - in 2008. No round figures here. Quite how they arrive at the figure who can say, but as it is so exact one has to suppose it's right. The 2008 number was up by just under two per cent on 2007. The ministry also reveals that the golfer stays on average for just under ten days and spends per day 211 euros. Given that the average spend per person per stay is 993 euros (the figure for June this year anyway), that 211 per day is quite a lot of spend, though what it entails is not clear - perhaps it includes green fees and so on. Nevertheless, it is a tourism market that is worth cultivating, and so the ministry has come to an agreement with the association of golf courses to spend 180,000 euros promoting golf tourism in the Balearics, presumably in addition to that which is currently spent in attempting to attract this sector of "alternative" tourism.

I was told something quite startling yesterday. Had it come from bloke in bar as opposed to a hotel director (which was the source), I would have been inclined to have dismissed it. It was in the context of pickpockets, but it could apply in other situations. If the pickpocket pockets less than four hundred euros, there is nothing the police can or maybe will do. You get your wallet liberated with a mere 399 euros in it, and go and make a "denuncia", and it won't get you very far. It's as though there is a sort of threshold, like with insurance policies: you accept liability for the first 400 in this instance. If you are, therefore, the unlucky victim, might be as well you make it a round 500, just to be on the safe side.

Kroxan - you don't have to wear that dress tonight. Sorry, I've never been able to hear the name of this café without thinking of ... (as you see, it's today's title quiz). The only thing is that it has a name change, a slight name change - to Croasan. Why? Asked I of Pedro. A new company. Kroxan is a franchise, but the café is no longer a franchise. Pedro is now the proud owner in his own right. Hence the slight name change. For those who don't know, Kroxan or Croasan is by the Magic roundabout on the Tucan road going towards Hidropark in Puerto Alcúdia. It's one of those fine meeting-places, patronised by Mallorcans and expats alike, whatever the name.

Bulletin Watch - one of my correspondents sends me this observation: "The Bulletin's beach of the day today is Cala Mitjana which is a rather remote cala I know from my Cala d'Or days. Very interesting except that the accompanying map locates it on the bay of Palma even though the text describes it as just 2km from Cala d'Or. Even better ... on closer inspection the map shows Artà just south east of Palma airport on the way to Llucmajor." Oh dear. At least one trusts that the text and the photos are correct. Not having checked this particular one, I can't be sure but put it this way, when these beaches of the day first started appearing I thought there was something a bit odd about them. They come from the illesbalears tourism website.

Yesterday's title - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Today's title - well, who is it then?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Going To A Go-Go

Any scam will do. Any way of extracting some moolah. The Unió Mallorquina in Santa Margalida, reports "The Diario", has denounced what it says is an illegal excursion that takes tourists in Can Picafort to two discos in Cala Rajada for the princely sum of 50 euros a pop. Those who are mad enough to fork this out (there are, after all, perfectly decent discos in Can Picafort and Puerto Alcúdia) get no receipts or guarantees from an operation that changes its departure point and coach company, meaning that it is difficult to track down. The whole thing smacks of a scam. There has been something similar cracking off in Puerto Alcúdia, involving transport to Magalluf, which may be legit but seems to rely on "ticketeros" doing the beaches and selling the trips, which almost certainly isn't.

Meantime, the Palma bombs continue to be a talking-point and a fantasy-point. There was meant to have been a bomb in Puerto Alcúdia the day before yesterday, but of course there wasn't. Understandable though it is that people start seeing bombs where none exist, there is also a fantasy element on behalf of those who want there to be bombs. It's a curious psychology, but one predicated on the fact that some see themselves somehow as police or potential heroes, imagining the reports in the press of how they saved etc, etc. It is a psychology also that actually wants the unusual. Any bag has a bomb, anyone getting up from a table, even for a moment, and leaving a carrier-bag is a bomber. Of course they are. Bombers do usually just walk in to a bar, order a beer and then ask if they can leave a bomb behind. And here it is: a black ball with two wires sticking out and bomb written on it in big white letters.

"The Bulletin", bless 'em, had its four or five pages of reporting and tourist vox-pop. The bombs are a godsend, at least it's news for once rather than front pages devoted to Top Gear or to Michael Douglas. You would hardly expect them to not devote a fair amount of space to them. But this just adds a certain tension and a sense of unreality and of disproportion. No-one was hurt, the devices themselves were not powerful, warnings were issued, even if one relating to the Italian restaurant in Portixol was misinterpreted as the voice was disguised. The bomb there did go off with people still in the restaurant. That wasn't the intention. Reporting may just fuel the publicity that it is the intention, but to be fair the media would be damned if it didn't as much as it is damned for doing so.

The police seem nowhere nearer to having a definitive idea as to time frames. The bomb in the Plaça Major in Palma may have been planted on the Saturday or even the Sunday morning; the security cameras seem not to have been working. But there is a counter-theory that all four bombs, and the fourth has now been confirmed, were left some time in advance before perhaps the Palmanova ones. Though given that there is no definitive statement as to when they (the Palmanova ones) were planted, one doesn't really know.

A poll conducted by Euronews reveals that 32% would change their plans to visit Mallorca following the bombs. No they won't.

Shaggy, Today's title - who was this originally?


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mr. Boombastic

How do you suppose you get the gig as the travel editor of "The Sun"? Rock up at the interview with a CV that says you once went on an away-day from London to Brighton or a hen weekend to Riga? "You'll do."

I suspect there's more to it than that, but you do wonder. Perhaps the travel editor was disturbed from a long Sunday lunch with a desperate demand for a hundred words about the Palma bombs. "Anything'll do."

What we got was that the bombs could spell the end of tourism in Spain and that tourists will avoid Mallorca. Just read that again - the end of tourism in Spain. And this comes from the travel editor? Had it been some dolt on a forum somewhere, you might have understood it (well even then you wouldn't have), but a travel editor? The press may be taken to task for being irresponsible, not least in its reporting of the bomb incidents in Mallorca, but there is a big difference between irresponsibility and complete, undiluted garbage. There will be no end of tourism in Spain, tourists will not avoid Mallorca. The incidents have been small beer set against the bottles of 70 plus per cent proof spirits that went up in the likes of Egypt and Turkey. Has tourism in these places come to an end? I ask again, this comes from the travel editor?

One has also to consider that the bombs were in Palma, two in the Portixol area. Had they been in, say, Magalluf or Alcúdia, one could understand a greater level of hysteria. But they weren't. Portixol is something of a place of new chic; it was being bigged up in "The Sunday Times" (travel section) a couple of weeks ago, but it is not a significant tourist destination in the same way as Magalluf is.

Still on the press and indeed the News International stable, I have had occasion to mention Michael Winner in the past. He is an absolute favourite, a deliciously acerbic, bombastic and cantankerous critic who really doesn't give a damn. He should be a national treasure. Maybe he is. Well, he's been back in Mallorca, spurning the offer of being a house guest at Andrew Lloyd-Webber's pile in Deià in favour of a stint at La Residencia, the hotel that used to be owned by Richard Branson. (Incidentally, I had a dream the other night in which Virgin, in Spain, had been re-branded as "Branson"; curious what one dreams about, but I digress.) Winner was in full vitriolic-pen mode. "Most sloppy management ever." A bellboy who doubled as a chauffeur who was "incompetent". A broken sun lounger. A water menu that was not shown to guests and which failed to feature Evian. Anyway, I daresay you can read all this on the "Times" website. Not for much longer for nothing though, if the Murdochs go down the subscription route. Fair enough, and given that five euros a pop for a slimmed-down edition of "The Sunday Times" in Spain is exorbitant, it may well work out advantageously, albeit that it will not be as advantageous as free.

Shalamar, "Take That To The Bank", Today's title - had it before but not as a title as such.


Monday, August 10, 2009

I'll Give You Security

How things can get distorted. The title of 5 August was "only to distort". It happens. In Puerto Pollensa a new system of security has been introduced in the Club Náutico: security cameras and access barriers to the jetties; cards are due to be introduced at some time in the future. This is all part of a system of security that the Balearics ports authority, responding to improvement demands from the association concerned with moorings, is implementing not only in Puerto Pollensa but elsewhere.

In light of Palmanova (and now Palma), this development is being interpreted through speculation as some sort of response to the terrorist attack. It may be opportune that the system has been implemented now, but it is not and was not a system with terrorism in mind. There is an issue with general security in the ports and marinas; of course there is. This is why Puerto Alcúdia has, for some time now, had a barrier control for vehicles at the entrance and swipe-card entrance to the jetties. There is, at the nautical clubs, a great deal of floating expensiveness that might be tempting to some. Security is necessary and frankly overdue.

Real Mallorca under new ownership
It has been a while now. About a year ago, everywhere you read (including this blog) was full of the story of the Real Mallorca football club takeover. The eventual collapse of that takeover by Paul Davidson left many not with just egg on their faces but a full English breakfast with double helpings of toast. Initially Davidson was meant to have offered just short of 50 million euros for the club. It always seemed way too much for a club that doesn't even own the ground and cannot be guaranteed to fill a 25,000 capacity stadium. Now there is a new owner - Javier Martí Mingarro, a Madrid businessman. He has paid four and a quarter million euros in return for the same 93 odd per cent of shares that Davidson was due to purchase - less than 10 per cent of what was on offer when Davidson first approached the club's then owner. The payment now may not exactly be nominal - four and a quarter million can hardly be described as that - but it is paltry by comparison and will strike many as being so for a club in La Liga. But is almost certainly more realistic than Davidson's absurdly grandiose offer and pronouncements. When Freddy Shepherd, following the collapse of the Davidson deal (the amount for which had by then fallen by some ten million euros), came and had a look, he said that the club was "unviable". Certainly for the amount he was contemplating, which was reported variously as between ten and twenty million euros.

As with pretty much everything else, Spanish football has not been left unaffected by the economic climate, unless the club happens to be Real Madrid. But it was in a mess before the crisis. Real Mallorca was and is heavily in debt, and unlike counterparts in the Premier League, clubs in La Liga, such as Real Mallorca, do not benefit in quite the same way from television money. They do benefit, but there is not the same collective bargaining that the Premier League undertakes; individual clubs, for which read Real Madrid, Barça and one or two others, get the cream of the TV money through their own separate negotiations. Four million or so euros for Real Mallorca? It may not sound much in football terms, but it is probably realistic.

Palma bombs
Little bombs, little bits of very little, save for the odd bits of hysteria. Nothing. Forget it.

Yesterday's title - The Beach Boys, Today's title - from a cheesy disco song from the late '70s.