Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coffee Time (Again): Playa de Muro, prices and investment

Playa de Muro. I guess we've been here before. "Ugly." That's a quote from someone who has a business in Playa de Muro, with whom I took a coffee yesterday. Another businessman recently described part of Playa de Muro as "horrible".

What neither of them was referring to was the beach, the hotels or Albufera. It was specficially the monotonous row of shops and "locales", a number of them empty, which form much of the "strip". And strip is more appropriate when describing Playa de Muro than other "strips", such as that in Magaluf or The Mile in Alcúdia. It is a strip precisely because it is a strip, a strip of land between the sea and Albufera. And strip, save for the inland encroachment by the Las Gaviotas lake, is pretty much it where Playa de Muro is concerned. Always of course assuming that anyone knows that they are actually in Playa de Muro and not Alcúdia.

There has been virtually no investment in Playa de Muro, other than that made by the hoteliers and some other businesses. The main road may have been upgraded, but national funds went towards that. The town hall does almost nothing. It can see fit to fork out close to half a million euros on the "heritage" bull-ring site in the town in the misguided belief that it will form part of a "tourist route", but it cannot bring itself to fund developments in or changes to its resort. It, the town hall, places a lot of store in a golf course, which may or may not be built, but which won't, strictly speaking, even be in Playa de Muro. And it, the town hall, wouldn't pay for this either.

The chap with whom I was taking a coffee pointed to the pavement next to where we were drinking. It's narrow, he said. People have to walk in the road. Puerto Pollensa, he went on, Puerto Alcúdia, in the port, people love them, because they can walk along the promenades. Not in Playa de Muro they can't, because it doesn't have one. There's no centre, there's no anything.

This is a Mallorcan speaking. But he's not necessarily typical. He's not totally Mallorcan for one thing. Part northern European. Outward looking. And critical. "Why don't they make you tourism minister?" he ventures. I thank him for his support. "I don't care if someone doesn't speak Catalan." He goes on to attack the appointment of Ferrer as tourism minister: "it was his turn". We talk about investment, or lack of it, and about prices. There's this constant harping on about prices, about how expensive Mallorca is, much of it coming via the English press locally. "Yea, it has become expensive," he admits. But so much of the price criticism is bullshit, he says. It comes from those who don't understand how things have changed; from those living in a low-cost past. And it isn't just Mallorca.

"Ok, we have to say it's not cheap, but that's why we have to be better than the rest." Which means investment. It's not as though there isn't investment, just that it isn't always the right investment. He cites the money that gets pumped into promoting Catalan. And this is a Catalan (Mallorquín) speaker. He's having none of it, especially compared with miserly sums that might get pumped into tourism, often of the wrong sort. If investment at all, which brings us back to Playa de Muro. You can understand why the hoteliers, which have created some outstanding hotels in the resort, can get upset when they see the lack of attention being paid elsewhere.

Later, I see that hotels on the island are dropping their prices. The press makes out that this somehow vindicates what has been said by, among others, Harry Goodman. Possibly so, but who benefits? The tour operators are turning the screw, but does this mean they will lower their own prices or just make better margins? I said to someone else a few days ago that you would think that the press would be less simplistic than merely trot out the often banal prices mantra. Not so, he responded, and held up a paper in front of his face. What did he mean? The press hides away, it is too remote, too lacking in an appreciation. It's probably true and is the opposite of what you would hope the press would be. It takes a lot of coffees and a lot of time sitting in cafes, but if you want to know what is happening, really happening, this is what you have to do. Yes, there is moaning and groaning, but there is also much that is realistic and constructively critical, starting with understanding that prices are never going to be what they were and that investment, of the right type, needs to be made.

Alcúdia supermarkets at Easter
There was a question left as a comment to a piece a couple of days ago, which asked about supermarket opening hours over Easter. To answer the question, no, it isn't the thing I would normally do on the blog, but whatever ... . According to the Eroski near to the Playa de Muro boundary in Puerto Alcúdia, it will be closed on Sunday, but will be open till two on the Monday and this coming Thursday and Friday. They seemed to think that the Eroski in the old town and in Can Picafort would be open till two on Sunday (and possibly also the one going into the port in Alcúdia). Tourist supermarkets, which are of course quite a bit more expensive, will - in all likelihood - be open all hours. I hope this answers the question.

Yesterday: Stone Roses,

Any comments to please.

Index for March 2010

All-inclusives - 12 March 2010, 14 March 2010, 23 March 2010
Anti-corruption movement - 4 March 2010
Beaches - 17 March 2010
Cala San Vicente - 17 March 2010
Car-hire prices - 3 March 2010, 19 March 2010
Celebrities - 6 March 2010
Corruption in Mallorca - 2 March 2010, 21 March 2010, 25 March 2010, 28 March 2010
Crime and insecurity - 29 March 2010
Cultural tourism - 26 March 2010
Flights to Mallorca - 18 March 2010
Freemasonry - 15 March 2010
German tourists - 20 March 2010
Hairdressers (Styl Hair, Alcúdia) - 16 March 2010
I Need Spain - 8 March 2010
Jaume Matas - 25 March 2010, 28 March 2010
Looky-looky men - 20 March 2010
Mallorca International Film Festival - 10 March 2010
Mills, restoration of - 22 March 2010
Miquel Ferrer - 24 March 2010
Muro bull-ring - 1 March 2010
Muro golf course - 1 March 2010
Performing rights - 7 March 2010
Playa de Muro - 31 March 2010
Potholes - 11 March 2010
Prices - 31 March 2010
PSM-Entesa Nacionalista - 9 March 2010
Santa Margalida fair - 30 March 2010
Season 2010 - 30 March 2010
Smoking law - 4 March 2010
Snow - 11 March 2010
Tourism and business promotion - 8 March 2010, 13 March 2010, 14 March 2010, 18 March 2010
Tourism investment - 31 March 2010
Tourism problems - 27 March 2010
Tourism sustainability - 5 March 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fools Gold: New Alcúdia beginnings and Barça's cups

April the first fast approaches. Fools' day. The fool season will start. Easter and then back into hibernation. But so much activity, so many of the "faces" re-emerging. Have I gone back in time? It's the same. How's it going to be? Who's doing what? The same questions every year and the same cleaning up, painting, unwrapping, installing, frantic phoning, not enough-timing. Every year.

On The Mile. Wayne's putting packs of cardboard into the paper container. Nobby's shouting something. Linekers is back to just Linekers. No more disco. Twenty-two screens. Lunches at Foxes - Stuart from Goodfellows, Grizz from the hotel. Just how it was. Last year, say. For now. Until it gets really mental, everyone can but hope. Vamps have Finnish karaoke, in abundance, and Vamps TV. The Indian empire's expanding - another Indian, the same name as the one that opened and then closed and became a steakhouse (Dallas) and now another steakhouse (Texas) in what was Venue 21. On a corner of The Mile, there is a piece of Alcúdia that will always be Indian or Texan. From nothing, new places spring up. That old shop - three days time it will be serving tandoori. Away from Alcúdia, in Son Serra, the big ranch. One day nothing at all, not even a shell. By 1 April, a new shop, so it's hoped. There was a dirty great crane blocking the entrance, adding Restaurant Grill to the sign.

All of a sudden, things happen. Not enough-timing, but somehow it gets done - in no time. On fools' day, the fool season begins. Here's hoping.

Barça in Santa Margalida
It was the spring fair in Santa Margalida at the weekend. Food, feathers and farming. They held a procession - a job lot of a procession against corruption, for Haiti and Chile, and some old-time religion as well. Made them feel good, one supposes. There was an unusual exhibition at the fair - cups won by Barcelona football club in the past year. A show of the "blaugrana". Their cups runneth over. In the blue and red of the Catalan club. Note, though, that it was Barça. It wasn't Real Mallorca. Not that they've any cups to display. No, not the island's team, but Barcelona. They wonder why hardly anyone bothers watching Real Mallorca. In Santa Margalida, you got your answer. Poor old Real Mallorca - a club that doesn't deserve its own team. Fourth in La Liga and still a basket case. Heading for the Champions' League. Perhaps. Assuming the club manages to keep going, the club that doesn't deserve the team that has performed so admirably. The team that the island doesn't deserve, because they'd rather go and gawp at Barça's cups on the day that Barça were playing in Palma. Says it all.

Fools Gold. Which Madchesters?

Any comments to please.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fun Loving Criminals: Insecurity in Mallorca

How safe or secure do you feel or would you feel in Mallorca? According to a survey by the polling organisation Gadeso, reported in "The Diario", just over a third of those living in Mallorca have been in some way affected by various crimes related to cars, property or to the person. In Ibiza, the number rises to almost a half; Menorca has a better record, it would seem. In addition to actual incidents, the feeling of insecurity is increasing, and both real and imagined crimes are being blamed primarily on immigrants and the unemployed.

There is at least one factor that has to be taken into account when considering these figures, and that is the number of second homes that are left unattended. Many of these are only visited in the summer and belong to people from the hinterland. Their very proliferation does perhaps tend to make the statistics seem worse, as there is so much temptation to rob.

An impression that may exist, among some, is that Mallorca is full of fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, sunny-dispositioned people who would never dream of nicking your car or relieving you of your DVD player. It is, unfortunately, a false impression. Fun-loving criminals might be more appropriate, though one has to be careful in not overstating the situation. Crime, though, there most certainly is, and in Ibiza in particular there is another contributing factor - drugs.

At times of economic hardship, one has, I guess, to accept that crime will rise and that feelings of insecurity will go up as well. Much of it is petty, but one only has to look around to see that if it's not tied down, it's likely to be lifted. See those empty butane bottles outside a restaurant. Chained up. Those tables and chairs outside a restaurant. Similarly restrained. I once had a pair of old Reebok trainers that were falling to pieces nicked from a terrace. I have also been broken into.

Immigrants being put in the frame is, one also has to guess, to be expected. Another survey by Gadeso recently revealed that it was felt that there were too many immigrants in Mallorca. Again, not really a surprise. "The Diario" asked the question whether "we" (the Mallorcans) were racists. It suggested not, but did believe that there was xenophobia. It might be difficult to distinguish between the two.

A while ago, I was interviewed by a chap called Ben (not the Ben who often appears on this blog) as part of a university project. He asked about racism, explaining that he had encountered racist attitudes. These were, I had to surmise, directed towards certain nationalities. And in this respect, there is racism, but it is not something that comes to the surface. Or rarely seems to. In Palma there are different issues, those of gangs, but away from the capital, one would have to say that while racism does exist - and where doesn't it? - it is not a major issue. I did though have to check with Ben when he asked me the question. Was he referring to the Mallorcans or to the British?

One has to accept that Mallorca has undergone an enormous change in the past four decades, and immigration has contributed to this. Such a societal change is bound to create some tension. It's obvious, as it is obvious anywhere. But it might be remembered that the Mallorcans traditionally reserved most of their "xenophobia" not for those from other countries but for those from mainland Spain - the "forasters".

Any comments to please.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Matas Case - Week One

Welcome to the everyday, every week story of corrupt political folk in Mallorca. In this week's episodes, former Balearics president Jaume Matas came up before the examining magistrate José Castro. First they had to adjourn and then they had to move court room because they reckoned the original room was bugged. Meanwhile, Jaume got annoyed by the fact that he was being called "Jaime". "Soy Jaume," he insisted in the best Catalan tradition, albeit that to be strictly Catalan he should have said "sóc". "Put a sóc in it," the magistrate might have said, but didn't.

Jaime, Jaume, did though admit to having paid 400 grand - in black - for work on his house in Palma. But some thought that this might have been a bit of a damage limitation ruse. Demonstrators were in no doubt. "Thieves," they and their placards cried out when Jaime, Jaume and his (their) wife and lawyer came to court. "Hand the money back," they demanded. The guys from the press weren't having any of it either. "Matas wanted to cheat the citizens of the Balearics," said an editorial in the paper "Ultima Hora". The prosecutors were also unimpressed, or rather they were highly impressed - by the list of charges they had brought. 68 years they called for. And a 3 million euro bail. Do we hear any higher bids? Strange system that makes these sorts of demands and seems to also make celebrities of the prosecutors and magistrates. Even the left-wing is uneasy that the bail request is because Jaime, Jaume is a politician. The magistrate said he'd pronounce on the bail terms on Monday, when will start another day, another week in the story of corrupt political folk in Mallorca - allegedly and never forgetting that this isn't actually the full trial.

Undercover in Muro
On a sort of legally related matter and offering a twist to the idea of plain-clothed police, the local plod in Muro are having to go out on patrol in their own clothes because the town hall is apparently not providing uniforms. The mayor is suggesting that it's all a question of tightening belts, as in the town hall hasn't got any money (except to buy the bull-ring of course), and that the police will get the clothes if necessary. To which one might ask, what constitutes "necessary"? Bizarre situation.

Yesterday: Clannad,

Any comments to please.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Harry's Game - Mallorca's tourism problems

Harry Goodman may have experienced fluctuations in terms of his reputation down the years, but there is no doubting his standing in the travel industry. When he speaks, people should take note. And spoke is what he did. In "The Bulletin" yesterday. Unfortunately, he didn't really say anything. Anything more, that is, than has been said before. Only his name lends his words a certain power, but that's all.

His analysis goes thus: prices are too high, other places offer greater value for money, the weakness of the pound has made Mallorca more expensive for the Brits, you can eat out or stay in a hotel in London for less, and so on. No, none of it is hardly new. Nor is the assertion that Mallorca "has been resting on its laurels". Goodman continues by observing that the island "hasn't really woken up and smelt the coffee". No, it hasn't. The problem is that a lot of visitors have, and come to the conclusion that the coffee's too expensive.

Where does any of this get us though? Nowhere. The litany of woes has been recited many times over. The solution - that of lower prices - has been suggested as many times. Either no-one's listening (quite likely) or it's not as simple as it might sound (also quite likely).

Nowadays, Goodman focuses on the cruise market. It is quite a different one to that which first made his name - the mass-tourist package holiday to destinations such as Mallorca. Intasun started in 1970. The world was a very different place and so, most definitely, was Mallorca. The island was very, very cheap, and so were holidays. But how regulated was the wider local tourist industry then? Not very.

Though Mallorca's industrial revolution happened very late - in the form of mass tourism - it shares some similarities with Britain, where the first industrial revolution occurred. Mallorca, along with parts of the mainland, was at the vanguard of this new industrial revolution, and like Britain eventually came to suffer from being the first, so Mallorca has suffered similarly. The mistakes of being the first mover were one aspect; others have been obsolescence and competition. Which is not to say that efforts are not being made and have not been made to address these issues. Of course they have.

One of the points Goodman raises is that how well, or not, Mallorca is doing can be seen in the regularity, or not, of air services. These services have been cut back this winter, but - as a corollary to this point - the tourism minister has said she is negotiating with airlines and tour operators to guarantee a minimum number of flights and of tourists during the off-season.

Perhaps, as Goodman suggests, price structures can be adjusted to meet the challenge of the global tourism market, though you would have to wonder how or to what extent. He says he doesn't think the "problem can be solved by government alone", which is almost certainly true, but the mention of government is apposite. As I have said here, tourism should be the main strategic focus of the local government and given the right beef at the top of government, as it is elsewhere, e.g. Turkey and Egypt. However, Mallorca and Spain are not Turkey or Egypt. Politically they are different, and Turkey and Egypt are not part of the European Union - or Euroland.

The unpalatable truth is that there is no real solution. Mallorca will long continue to be a leading tourism destination, but it is going to have to get used to a diminished role, just as Britain did. The response should be for government on the one hand to be taking a stronger lead but on the other to be leading the drive towards alternative industries and not just the at-times pitiable attempts at alternative tourism. Economies change, as Britain's did. And so has to Mallorca's.

Or maybe there is a solution - that there is scope for a young Harry Goodman to come and wake up the moribund tourist industry.

** As a footnote. The other day (19 March: Wrote Me A Letter) I offered some "letters" complaining about car-hire prices, one of which reckoned that you would have to "part with upwards of eight grand for a week's hire of a Fiat Smallo". It was a joke, and I assume anyone would have realised it was. However, in the Harry Goodman article, it is said that he is being "charged something like 7,000 euros for a small car for a week". This is, at least I hope it is, a mistake. But someone should take a bit of care, as this sort of thing has a habit of being taken as the truth.

Yesterday: Marty Robbins, Today: Theme from - and they were?

Any comments to please.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mother Knows Best - The cultural tourism myth

Buried among the items in the "Balearic news round-up" in "The Bulletin" yesterday was something that deserved to be in front-page huge type and copied and sent to IBATUR, the Balearic Government's tourism department, the Mallorca Tourist Board, the "Mesa del Turismo" and to any of the other blinkered and deluded little islanders who regularly fail to see the point about the very industry that they are meant to be promoting.

A bus company in Menorca, which last year ran a tour service for visitors, is in two minds whether to bother with it this year. Over five months in 2009, a total of 2,000 people made use of this service which took in certain historic and cultural sites on the island. There were some logistical issues in respect of coinciding with some opening times, but chief among the reasons why the service was not a success (and 2,000 people is anything but) was that - as the head of the company says - people are mainly interested in "sun, sea and sand" and that there was not much demand for cultural tourism.

Praise the Lord. Someone gets it. Despite the best attempts of the various Mallorcan (and Balearic) tourism bodies to convince both themselves and others that there is a whole world of alternative, cultural tourism out there, waiting to be tapped into by hordes of summer tourists (and indeed those at other times) strapped into a bus with a set of earphones playing some audio guide, these attempts are wrong - plain wrong. There is of course a small minority of tourists that do enjoy such cultural experiences, but the overwhelming majority have little wish to move themselves from the nearest pool or beach. They come for the sun, sea and sand. Why does anyone try and pretend that they don't? For most tourists, a cultural experience is a day out at Marineland.

Though a Menorcan example, it is every bit as applicable to Mallorca. The tourism bodies should listen to people like the bus company's boss, but the problem is that they don't - or don't appear to. They don't listen to anyone much. The other day I was told about a meeting of "Europeos por España", one of the rather curious quasi-political organisations whose purpose it is difficult to understand. At this meeting, there was a discussion about tourism problems. Fine. Another talking shop, I suggested. Even if anything of merit came out of this meeting, who would listen to the results, especially if - God forbid - they were coming from "foreigners"?

The different tourism bodies act as some collective defender of what we might call Mother Mallorca, and the members of these bodies suckle at the breast of this abstract motherland, gurgling contentedly what has become a politically acceptable line that there is all this "other" alleged tourism. Mother often does know best, but not always. The kids don't want to be poring over their textbooks when they'd rather be out playing in the water and on the beach.

So much nonsense emanates from all manner of groups and organisations. You can add to the tourism bodies, the hoteliers' associations. Remember that garbage about all hotels being open for Easter? Try this. In the east of Mallorca there will be no more than some 55% of hotels operating. In Portocolom, for example, not a single hotel will be open.

So much delusion, so much wishful thinking and so little realism.

Today - For once some C&W. A great of the genre, to whom Garry Shandling bears something of a resemblance.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Murky Waters - Jaume Matas and Mallorcan society

The former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas, is finally up before the beak to answer allegations related to public money that seemingly went AWOL, or into someone's pockets, during the project to build the Palma Arena velodrome. The spend on the project, which was undertaken during Matas's second period as president, was some 100 million euros, 70 million more than was originally budgeted for. Matas is in court with his wife, his brother-in-law and the former head of the GESA-Endesa energy company; all of them facing charges.

While the Unió Mallorquina cases have tended to dominate the corruption column inches, the Matas case is arguably the most serious, given that it involves a former president. Matas was also a one-time member of the national government, that of José María Aznar. The charges against Matas are complex, and I have no intention of even beginning to relate them, but some of them have been delicious in their reporting, as with the inventory of luxury items in his so-called "palacete" in Palma (13 November, 2009: Finding Treasure In The Dark).

The proceedings got under way on Tuesday, only for there to be an immediate adjournment as the prosecution had introduced new evidence from phone taps, something which UK readers might find interesting; Matas's lawyer is arguing against its being submissible. But before appearing in court, Matas had to run the gauntlet of the media and demonstrators. One of the odder aspects of the court appearance is that it, together with others involving prominent politicians, has made a celebrity of a security guard who accompanies the accused. This is José Nieto, aka "Primo", a bull of a bloke who is a kick-boxing champion. Not only has he been interviewed by the press, he was also depicted - in cartoon format - on a demonstrator's placard with the words "give it to him, Primo". He has become the star of the show.

While much of the reporting will concentrate on the technicalities of the case and on the individuals, there is an altogether more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed - why does it happen? Corruption, that is, or the circumstances that give rise to alleged corruption. The facile answer is that all politicians are corrupt, or something like that. An "expert" reckoned the other day that corruption was some sort of psychiatric condition. Maybe it is. But why have the Balearics, and Mallorca most obviously, come to assume the position of title-holder in the Spanish corruption league? Other parts of the country are similarly blighted, Valencia for example, but it is important to go behind the cases and understand the dynamics that foment the island's corruption.

When Matas first came into the regional government as economics minister in 1993, he was asked about corruption. His response was to quote the Spanish philosopher José Luis Aranguren. "It is not politicians who are corrupt, but it is society that is sick." The words are highly relevant. Without knowing the quote (that appeared in "The Diario" on 21 March), I said as much myself some weeks ago - "All power may well indeed corrupt, and inappropriate behaviour by politicians may indeed be taken as a signal to others in local society to misbehave, but I would argue that it is this society that begets the politics of the island, not the other way round" (2 March: The Scream). I have also said that the obvious insularity of Mallorca and its networks and families can be highly influential in creating those circumstances in which corruption can occur.

The logic of this, and of Matas's quote, is troubling, as it can be interpreted as making politicians charged with corruption appear to be victims of society. This would be insulting to politicians who act honourably, but the logic does need to be taken account of as what it implies is that Mallorcan politics and democracy cannot be practised in a correct way. Ever. Without a change in the culture of society, products of which are the local politicians.

In the reporting that does go behind the case, the emphasis has tended to focus on the individuals. Character assassination has become flavour of the month. It is easy to do this, and while the corrupt cannot expect a sympathetic hearing, the concentration on people's flaws cannot be complete or entirely comprehensible without an analysis of the society that brings them about. To do so is to enter murky waters, but it is something that needs to be done.

Yesterday - Civil Twilight,

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quiet In My Town

Alcúdia old town. Towards the end of March. Not long before Easter. It is late afternoon, kids are kicking a ball near to the tourist information office, which is closed. A dog is on the terrace above El Limón. It barks at every passer-by and then scrapes the green shutter door, which is closed. There are people around, but not so many. Manuel at Sa Caseta says there's no-one, but he is at least open. And so he should be, the pizzas are to die for.

People stand out because there are not so many of them. This was once his town. What happens when you cease to - in effect - run the place? What happens when you head off to another post? Elsewhere. In Palma. And then suddenly you don't have that either. Not that it was your fault. You did it because it was a career move, I suppose.

He looks tanned. Maybe this is what you do. Go away on holiday. Get away to some warmer sun than Mallorca has to offer in February or March once you've lost your job. How does it feel though, do you suppose, knowing that this used to be your town? Someone stops him and has a brief chat. Everyone knows him of course. For many, he still does run the town. Or so they might think, but then remember that he doesn't. Perhaps they feel a bit sorry for him.

He's walking with his daughter, at least one presumes it's his daughter. There is a little dog, a puppy that races up and sniffs my shoes. I say hello. He knows he knows me, but can't quite place me. I want to stop and actually ask him how it feels, but somehow that seems tactless. I walk on. It's possible that it doesn't bother him, but you wonder what he's doing, other than strolling in the streets of Alcúdia on a late March afternoon.

I go into the Constitution Square. I'm waiting and just looking. Staring at the tops of the pink and orange buildings, at the brown shutters and at the coffee and cake board for the German late-afternoon in March tourists. I watch. He walks past the chemists, down what we would call the high street. The town hall, the Casa Consistorial. The doors are closed.

Who is he?

Miquel Ferrer, the former mayor, the former tourism minister, strolling past the shut-tight doors of the town hall building of the town that he used - in effect - to run.

Bit obscure maybe, but this is a US-based South African indie group.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All For One, One For All

What will be the theme of the coming season? Let's hazard a guess, shall we? How about all-inclusives? No prizes for guessing this. They have formed the theme for the past several seasons and they will be again - more so. And then again next year, and the year after.

There are two main hotel federations in Mallorca, one that is simply the federation of hotels and the other which is for the hotel chains. Not that the distinction really matters, certainly not when they are saying the same things: that the percentage of hotels offering all-inclusive is at a particular level and that the future growth is "unstoppable". Whatever one thinks of all-inclusive hotels, it is hard to disagree with the head of one of the federations when he says that the sale of beds is what the hotels are in business for; it's all a question of market demand and competition. This same hotels' boss admits that is not an ideal system for any hotel, but ideal or not, all-inclusive is going to continue and to continue to grow.

There is always some question as to the exact amount of all-inclusive on offer. Partly this is because of the amount of upgrading that occurs once holidaymakers are in situ; it is partly also because of definitions. When the federations speak of 15% of hotels in Mallorca that are all-inclusive, do they really mean the percentage of hotels or the percentage of places? It would seem to be the former. On the face of it, this doesn't sound that high, but it is misleading as well as being debatable. To restate - my estimation as to the total number of all-inclusive places available in Alcúdia, out of some 25,000 or so, is around 50%. The number of hotels is largely irrelevant; it is the figure for the number of places that is. And even then, one cannot be entirely sure because of those upgrades.

The situation with all-inclusive differs from resort to resort. Alcúdia, Playa de Muro and Can Picafort all have high levels; Puerto Pollensa has virtually no all-inclusive, and where it does exist - Club Sol** (and I don't think it exists anywhere else in Puerto Pollensa, though I might be wrong) - it is an option as opposed to being the regular or only offer, and at these apartments one can also go for an all-inclusive drinks arrangement on top of, say, self-catering. It's that definition issue.

Meanwhile, the federations have been having their say about the proposal that has come from the tour operators that there should be some sort of "mixed-offer" all-inclusive that involves outside bars and restaurants. What do they think about it? Not a lot. Indeed they consider that the suggestion is not viable on account of the complexity of administering such a system. And it isn't just the hotels who think this. So also do the association of small- to medium-sized businesses and even the restaurants' association.

Where such a system is already operating - apparently - is in Playa de Palma, but in this instance the outside establishments and hotels have the same owners. This is not unusual. In the resorts in the north there are examples of hotel groups which own restaurants: the Giardino restaurants in Puerto Alcúdia and Playa de Muro, for instance, are part of Garden Hotels and are located next to, respectively, the Alcúdia Garden and the Playa Garden. There are also examples of restaurants owned by hotels groups that are physically separated. Attached or separated, it makes no difference; if the hotel wishes to make an all-inclusive arrangement with restaurants it owns, that's the hotel's business. The system in Playa de Palma is not what the tour operators seemed to be on about, but unless they have got something else in mind, the idea would seem to be a dead duck; it is difficult to see how - in practice - such a system could function where different owners are involved. And no-one, apart from the tour operators, seems to think that it could.

** Putting this together, I did a little internet-looking, which is often quite illuminating in unearthing some peculiarities. For Club Sol, more than one site, including Holiday Watchdog, says that the apartments are a "few minutes' walk from many bars and cafes". I suppose it depends what you mean by "many bars and cafes" and by a "few minutes". Twenty, thirty?

Yesterday: "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", Procol Harum,

Any comments to please.

Monday, March 22, 2010

As The Miller Told His Tale: Restoration of mills in Mallorca

The transformation of Mallorca during Franco's time, and since, has been one of contradictions. The greatest change occurred in the '60s with the onset of mass tourism. It was one that set in motion a shift, a fundamental shift, away from what was almost exclusively an agrarian economy, one that had served Franco well; the farmers' co-operatives, such as those in Muro and Sa Pobla, formed part of the syndicates of self-sufficiency that was the economic model Franco preferred but which, by the mid to late-50s, was being shown to be unsustainable and unrealistic.

Tourism, and therefore increased urbanisation, meant a move away from the land. With this came the basis for the wealth that has made Mallorca what it is. At the same time as the foundations of tourism were being laid, the island was also subject to certain proscriptions, e.g. the practice of the Catalan language and culture and some fiestas.

Despite Franco's desire for self-sufficiency, it was he - and his regime - who altered Mallorca for good and pushed it towards a more outward-looking perspective. This was the greatest contradiction of them all. But the process of modernisation that continued after his death, the movement towards greater cosmopolitanism and internationalism, has brought with it a further contradiction in terms of retrenchment and a re-invigoration of what, prior to Franco, was the Mallorcan orthodoxy - of Catalan, fiestas and also agrarianism.

The latter of these might be the hardest to comprehend. The socio-political nature of the language and cultural as well as the fiestas are clear expressions of a rediscovery of what had been undermined for many years. A return to the traditions of the land are less easy to understand. Yet this does represent the latest of contradictions within Mallorcan society; a desire to have the wealth of tourism while also clinging to a nostalgic past. It is understandable in a way. Any society that undergoes an upheaval as great as Mallorca has over the past 40 years will find solace in some continuity with the past, especially a past that had been partially banned or, in the case of agrarianism, partially abandoned in the pursuit of economic growth and a wholly different economic model.

This isn't so much a return to farming - which has never gone away of course - but to traditional machinery and operations of a rural past. The restoration of a variety of mills - for flour, water, olives etc. - is advancing at a phenomenal pace. There are over 600 flour mills, over 400 olive mills and over 2,000 windmills for extracting water. Of these, the greatest number of olive mills are to be found in Pollensa.

Many of these mills had fallen into a bad state of disrepair, but rather than demolish them there has been an ongoing programme, under the auspices of the rural department of the environment ministry at the Council of Mallorca, to bring them back to life. The style of some of these mills reflect an island landscape of stonework akin to the dry-stone walls in the countryside, while they are indicative of a pre-industrial Mallorca, i.e. one before tourism. Certain mills even operate by means of horse power.

These mills do not necessarily offer anything highly productive. What they do offer are sympathetic adornments to the landscape and an educative element - how life once was and how rural machinery used to operate. They also offer an attraction; one to the tourist. Some Mallorcans might actually hanker after a return to the old ways. But in bringing back to life those old ways, they - the Mallorcans - are also in the process of looking to add greater sustainability to the industry that all but destroyed those ways - to mass tourism. Another contradiction.

Yesterday: Saint Etienne, Today: "as the miller told his tale" - hardly needs any clue, does it?

Any comments to please.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kiss And Make-Up: No chance - corruption cases continue

The corruption cases involving leading members of the Unió Mallorquina party continue to astound. There are now two former tourism ministers in the frame - Francesc Buils has been indicted, to add to Miquel Nadal. The former speaker of the parliament and former leader of the Council of Mallorca, Maria Antònia Munar, is now accused of diverting some five million euros of public funds between 2000 and 2007. There are also accusations of payments to party members from public money. The details no longer seem to matter. The scale is all that really counts. And the impression. One not of a party rotten to the core but one riddled with the maggots of decay at its very top: Buils and Nadal were very much Munar's men. They were. The canaries are singing, looking to pass the buck and deflect the accusations elsewhere.

There remains in all this sleaze and in all these allegations a suggestion that the cases are all political. Are they really? For them to be political would require some sort of set-up involving other political parties, the police and the judges. It's a nonsense. Nevertheless, there is an unease with the highly public nature of the way in which evidence is given out and in which the accused are paraded. Jason Moore, in an editorial in "The Bulletin", made a valid point the other day, one with which I agree; in essence, that the process should go ahead with greater dignity. The calls for sentences that come from the prosecutors before the full judicial procedure has been gone through are as unpleasant as they are presumptive of guilt.

This said, the magnitude of the charges, and also those levelled against the former president of the regional government, Jaume Matas (Partido Popular), are such that highly public displays might be said to be necessary. The corruption cases are that serious that they do threaten an undermining of the democratic system. One cannot overstate the significance of what is taking place in Mallorca at present. I have wondered if I have overplayed all this myself in invoking the past - the Franco past. I don't know that I have, but I wouldn't necessarily have expected support for this from ... Maria Antònia Munar. In an interview with the IB3 television station yesterday, she declared her complete innocence and went on to say that "democracy is based on the confidence that people have in the institutions and politicians, and when this confidence is lost a dictator can emerge". She is not wrong, but some might detect a touch of dissembling - allegedly.

So seriously are the cases being taken that the central government's justice ministry has authorised a reinforcement of the anti-corruption investigation unit in the Balearics. Fifty-five prosecutors are on their way to augment its numbers. 55! The Balearics delegate to the central government has had to ask for police reinforcements because so many officers are involved in examining the evidence associated with the different cases. It is a staggering situation.

Among the various accusations being made is one by the judge presiding over the so-called "caso Maquillaje" (the make-up case). He has accused Munar of alleged bribery. There was something rather poignant, if this is the right word, about this accusation. On the day that the judge was saying this, someone left prison. The poignancy was the photo of this person with a beret and sunglasses, travelling on what looked like a bus. Who was this? Luis Roldán. He was once the director-general of the Guardia Civil. He had served half a 31-year sentence for, among other things, bribery.

Yesterday there was another anti-corruption demonstration in Palma organised by the "Plataforma contra la Corrupción". It also had a certain poignancy. They demonstrated in the hope that the current spate of corruption cases might be the last. They can hope. They should remember Roldán. Maybe I - they - do make too much of all this. There's nothing new under a Spanish or Mallorcan sun. Not now and not, in all likelihood, in the future. But maybe the highly public parades of the accused might, just might, stop that future.

Yesterday: The Wonder Stuff, Today: make-up or make up, noun or phrasal verb; either way, which group kissed and made up?

Any comments to please.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Size Of A Cow: The early-season German tourist

Ah yes, spring. It seems so long. Warmth, that is. The snow and cold have been consigned to the dustbin of the wettest Mallorcan winter since the UK had one of its most severe winters - 1947. The birds are singing, all the other normal twaddle that gets waxed cliché-lyrically at this time of the year is twaddling, and the armies of the north are engaging in early-season Lebensraum. All of a sudden, great hordes have emerged, commandeering the space that is the local Eroski supermarket. These are not, or don't appear to be, the cycling Saxons; they're wearing normal clothes and when they walk they don't make a noise like comedy horses with coconut shells. But they are noisy, gutturally so, and vast. At what point in recent history did the Germans transmogrify into human high-rises? (And the same might be asked of the Dutch of whom there are also any number.)

Concentrate an invasion force into a confined area, e.g. a supermarket, and one is all but overwhelmed not just by its unexpected appearance but also by its sheer size, or rather their size - individually. The Germans, and the Dutch, are bipedal skyscrapers. Even the pre-secondary school ones could pass as England fast bowlers - of the Finn and Harmison variety, as opposed to rotund shortasses like Gough. Hovering high above the typically diminutive Mallorcans, they hoover up a month's shelf-life of sausage stock in a matter of minutes. Well they'd need to in order to fuel such giantism: the German economy runs not on engineering but on meat consumption. Which is all rather good news, so one would think, for the hard-pressed Mallorcan restaurant sector. Unhindered by the negative impact of a depressed currency rate, the Germans can seamlessly swap a ton of schnitzel in Stuttgart for the size of a cow in an Alcúdia or Muro eating-house.

Well you might think this would be the case, but there are those who would beg to differ. Tourists, or tourist nationalities to be more precise, are often defined according to how extravagantly or not they hand over hard cash in exchange for some marinaded and charcoal-grilled Porky or Ermentrude. For reasons that have long escaped me, the Germans are often viewed as bad spenders. It does, however, depend on what is being sold.

Which brings me to another tribe that has suddenly become quite evident. It would be falling into the stereotyping trap to assume that all the newly arrived Africans are "lookies" (aka "luckies"), but this might not be an unfair assumption. Like tour reps gather pre-season for what is comically referred to as "training" in venues such as Alcúdia's auditorium, so the lookies convene for their own learning experience - motivational speeches, sales techniques demonstrated with the aid of some ancient John Cleese Video Arts training videos (pirated of course), and so on. Or maybe they are programmed with some bird-like homing instinct to simply flock in a week or so prior to Easter. But some training aid might not go amiss. Approach a German woman at a café table and wave in front of her a CD compilation from the Spanish "X-Factor" equivalent is only likely to result in reinforcing the notion that Germans are not big spenders. It should all be about target marketing. The lookies should invest - or rather not invest, as I'm sure you see what I mean - in some Roger Whittaker downloads and they would be euros-in with a German market that has an unfathomable penchant for the weird-bearded-one's warbles. Possibly.

Ah yes, warbles. Warblers. Birds singing. Spring is here. And so are the first German tourists and illegal street-sellers of the phoney season. It's starting again.

Yesterday: The Box Tops, "The Letter". The singer with the group, Alex Chilton, died three days ago. Today: which group sized up a cow?

Alex Chilton - RIP:

Any comments to please.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wrote Me A Letter: Car-hire prices

"Dear Sir,
My wife and I have been coming to Majorca since Nelson was a lad; from a time when you could hire a 2CV for the price of a cup of coffee and take to the roads of this beautiful island and drive carefree, admiring the sights of this paradise island and shunting into a passing mountain goat or some dear peasant of a Majorcan farmer on his horse and cart who was only too delighted to then offer to pay for the damage. But now we are expected to part with upwards of eight grand for a week's hire of a Fiat Smallo without a handbrake. The authorities must do something about this, and about the price of a cup of coffee, or we will choose not to come again. Ever. So there.

Yours, D. Gruntled, Epsom"

"Dear Sir,
I read with horror that the price of car hire in Majorca is to rise by one hundred per cent this year. The authorities must do something about this, or this beautiful island will lose all its tourists. What do the car-hire agencies think they're playing at? Running a business? And may I also express my dismay at having had to pay one euro, fifty centimos for a coffee in Puerto Pollensa the other day. The authorities must do something about this. There is, after all, an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.

Yours, B. Onkers, Eastbourne"

"Dear Sir,
I wish to protest in the strongest tones that my husband Giles nearly choked on his over-priced cup of coffee in Puerto Pollensa when he read of the latest increase in car-hire prices. Are these car-hire johnnies insane? A VW Touareg automatic should be no more than a hundred or so euros for a fortnight - AT MOST! The authorities must do something about this. I would suggest that they begin by horse-whipping the lot of them.

Yours, Eleanora Madd, Little Gaddesden (and sometimes Crestatx)"

As you might have guessed, more news about the the price of car hire going up. Again. Ho hum.

Andy Murray
There are those among the ranks of the expatriate brigades who are either tennis fans or are Scottish, or are both. There are even those who support Andy Murray. An extraordinary thing in the Lash column in "The Bulletin" yesterday. It would seem, and admittedly it isn't always clear what he's talking about, that there is to be a Hollywood film about the only tennis player in Britain or, as Riki has it: "the glorified Scots life story". Does this mean that Murray pretends to be Scottish, as in he's really English, or is not as glorious as some might think him to be? Whatever. It goes on: "What is not amazing, is Andy Murray is still one of the world's great tennis players where movie producers want Andy in the film itself as with training he could be a natural actor." Right, I think we understand.

Have we had this - "wrote me a letter" - before? Probably. Who? And this would be by way of a tribute. Why?

Any comments to please.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Come Fly With Me - Or Not

Come fly with me. Just as I get an email about the Sinatra show and its lift-off for the coming season, so I also hear about flights grounded. Or rather, flights not flying. Don't fly with me.

The availability of flights has been an issue throughout the winter. There have been fewer flights and what there have been have not always been as convenient as previously. Stansted with Ryanair. I'd rather not have, but that was how it was. "The problem's the lack of flights. Look, there's hardly anyone walking past." I did look. The street outside the estate agency in Pollensa. No, I suppose there weren't that many people walking past. And the problem is, even at the luxury end of the property market (which is the end occupied by this particular estate agency), that the lack of flights means less potential for sales. The luxury end, which is meant to have remained buoyant. "Mike Oldfield has dropped the price of his place by a million," I say. Might not be representative of the market, they say. The celebs whack on a premium in the belief that someone will pay it in order to wallow in the reflected kudos. Casa Tubular Bells. Getting an extra million for your gaff. Like chasing moonlight shadows. At another agency at the luxury, luxury end of the market, there are a number of showings. I guess a number of showings is a euphemism.

Having been told about the sorry state of the airline industry, I find further support in "The Bulletin". "Majorca pays the price for a lack of flights," it front pages. Easter may not be that good if there aren't the flights. The paper's got its tourism insider at it again. The chap from Cosmos etc. etc. Talk about downbeat. Talk also about what we knew wouldn't be the case and the bleeding obvious. What did we know wouldn't be the case? That all the hotels in Mallorca would be open on 1 April. Thus reckoned the head of the hotel federation some while back. It was a daft statement, an April Fool. It was never going to happen. And isn't.

What do we know that is the bleeding obvious? That there will be a hiatus between Easter and when the season really kicks in some time in May. Hence, hotels - and airlines - schedule accordingly. We know all this. Why should it even be worthy of comment? Because someone - the hoteliers' boss - made the statement. And it seemed to be taken as fact. By some. Not by me. You just had to ask one or two hotels to get the answer and paint a more accurate picture. The press though. Ah yes, the press, as in The Bulletin. Never seems to question the statements. Taken as fact. And then there's the promotion. The tourism promotion for the islands. The Rafael Nadal adverts. They have not been screened in the UK and Germany. We know all this. And we know why the ads haven't been screened. Because of the upheavals at the tourism ministry and because one of the various tourism ministers, Ferrer, seemed to want to cut costs.

Just like Sky can put up some dolt of a footballer to say nothing or to say the bleeding obvious with no insight or no originality - and presumably pay handsomely - so the default position of the press is to front up with a so-called "name", be it the head of a tourism organisation or company, who offers a similar lack of originality or lack of anything challenging or controversial. It's mediocre. At best.

Tourism insiding. Same old, same old. The press's treatment is as depressingly familiar, repetitious, undemanding as the messages themselves can be depressing. But wait. This does not accord with other messages. That some hotels are reporting almost solid bookings through the season - already; that some businesses are feeling very optimistic and are going for new approaches and new ideas. I feel that old song by Allan Sherman coming on. "Camp Granada." The depressing refrain of "take me home, oh muddah, fadduh". Then suddenly, guys are swimming, guys are sailing. It's never as bad as you think, everyone, or as the press might portray it, or as depressingly familiar, repetitious and undemanding as the treatment.

Kindly disregard this letter.

Captain Chris Mackintosh
I'm extremely grateful to John Maclean for sending an obituary for a friend, someone who was well-known to many in Alcúdia. Captain Chris has died suddenly. I'm holding the obit back as it will go into "Talk Of The North" next week. But thanks, John, and for the lovely touch at the end:

"Farewell, my friend and fair winds. Fair winds."

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Hills Are Alive: The beach alternative

Matt Rudd is a humorous geezer. Pity, therefore, the unfortunate resort in Mallorca that might take his acerbic fancy. Take Cala San Vicente. Poor old CSV; it can't seem to get anything right. If it's not Poles on the rampage, then it's Rudd slagging it off for having a "seaweedy" beach or one made of concrete. Or having an "enormous coach park, some high-rise apartments (and) a big hotel."

I confess to not being intimate with all the coves in the Cala. Molins is the one I know best; it's ok. Not great but ok. As for the rest. An enormous coach park? Is there? High-rise apartments? Apartments, yes, but high-rise? A big hotel? Well, I suppose the Don Pedro is fairly big, though it won't be if they ever finally get round to demolishing it. But one might also add Niu or La Moraleja, which are not big but are very clever in being utterly charming.

Rudd was writing in "The Sunday Times" at the weekend. The Mallorcan tourism worthies would be apoplectic if they read his piece, or could understand it. The beaches of Mallorca, and not just those of CSV, are not "half as fabulous as everyone says they are"; indeed they're not much cop, according to Rudd. Keep the "Med in the distance"; take to the hills and a villa in the interior is his advice. The worthies may wish alternatives to "sun and beach" holidays, but they don't want "The Sunday Times" telling holidaymakers to give the resorts a wide berth. At least, one assumes not.

The northerly route to CSV had been indicated by means of a "gnarly finger" pointed by a local in an unnamed resort. To the Mallorcans, well some, the Cala is treated with a certain reverence. Or put it this way, a restaurant owner in the Cala once told me that this was the case. A gnarly finger might well indeed be waggled with a recommendation to go north, young man, even if the owner of the digit had not been near the place for years, if he had been there at all. It is a Pollensa backwater that some love and some find hard to comprehend; I myself have vacillated between these two positions.

The criticism of the island's beaches started, however, with a questionable premise - that somehow the beaches have all been cleared of any offending concrete in their vicinity. Rudd says that this "this isn't entirely true". And it isn't, because it hasn't happened. I don't quite know where the idea comes from that it might have. Take a trip to Can Picafort, for example, and you have a perfectly unlovely line of buildings just a short walk from the water's edge. Even the cherished, by some, smaller beach in Puerto Pollensa, the one that peters out at the pinewalk, is backed not just by concrete but also by innumerable passers-by. It is far too small and far too claustrophobic for my liking.

Go to a resort and there are buildings close to the beaches. Inevitably there are. It's why they are resorts. In Puerto Alcúdia, a resort which has a beach once voted the best in the Med, some of the concrete is shielded by trees; little of it feels as if it is on top of you. But if one wants to escape the hotels and apartments, there are always close-by alternatives, such as the coves in Mal Pas. Mallorca is a mix of beaches, just as it is a mix of holidaymakers.

Rudd is a "holiday snob" and admits to being so, belittling the "flabby pink people" of the resorts (oh, my stupid fat white men of this blog years ago). Non-resort is his preference, and away from the coast, he says that the island has been transformed, that it is "gorgeous". But has it really been transformed? The interior is not fundamentally different now to what it has ever been. What is different, what has been transformed, is that there are properties for the type of holidaymaker who reads "The Sunday Times"; the type of holidaymaker who eschews Coronation Street and "pubs serving roast beef" in favour of some octopus on the poolside barbecue of a villa that is out of the reach of the holidaymaker hoi polloi.

Nevertheless, Rudd makes an argument for a type of holiday and indeed holiday accommodation which encapsulates a dichotomy that the tourism worthies cannot reconcile. They want nice middle-class families with spending power to enjoy the "other" island, and not just the sun and beach, but they also devote time and energy in seeking to deny to this tourist the accommodation he or she desires; not the hotels of the resorts, but the private villas or apartments. And they do this by being beholden to the hotel lobby and doing whatever they can to disrupt the holiday-let market. This is not what Rudd intended to write about or indeed has, but inadvertently he has done so. The tourism authorities should read and digest, but they probably wouldn't understand.

** For the full article, go to:

And here is Julie Andrews, alive on some hills far, far away ...

The Sound of Music - Julie Andrews
Cargado por Shotgun-Pete. - Explorar otros videos musicales.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Steel Town: Hairdressers in Alcúdia

When did hairdressers become like clubs or discos? I am personally not averse to dance music. But everything in its place. Discos - dance music. Hairdressers - erm? Once upon a time one could listen to Steve Wright and his characters, whilst being engaged in meaningful conversation as to the relative merits of Benidorm or Magaluf for the annual holiday. Now though, one is in the mix, bass pulsing through the clippers. The advantage, I guess, is that, like discos, it is impossible to indulge in any discussion, other than to shout requests for a little bit more off here or there. It is perhaps unsurprising that the Spanish performing rights people might want a touch of royalty from the hairdressers.

Though estate agents may have been decimated by the "crisis", they are still to be found in great abundance, as are hairdressers. So many, it is a wonder that anyone has any hair left. But the "crisis" has also presumably cut into the takings of the "peluquerias", except where there is a scissor-hands bargain to be had. Styl Hair. It is a curiosity of some Mallorcan businesses that they adopt an anglicised name, or part of a name. Not Styl Pelo, but Styl Hair. One wonders how the locals get on with the pronunciation, given that "h" is Spanish-silent and that "air" comes out as "ire". Whatever. Disco and eight euros a pop for a cut and wash. Around a half what you normally might pay. Low-cost hairdressing. But like No Frills Excursions is something of a misnomer as it suggests that you don't get much (which is far from the case), so Styl Hair is hardly no frills. The attention is really very good.

Black and white. The mourning-coloured drape is the black to the white of a hospital gown, with which it bears more than a passing resemblance of non-backness. Even the broom and brushpan are black - and white - a Dalmatian of sweeping up, collecting the jet black of the previous occupant of the Mastermind chair. The "chicas" are topped with blonde, one of them quite pale-skinned and very un-Spanish-looking, like a Sally Webster of circa mid-1980s. One waits, not too long, flicking through a recent "Hola", an "extraordinary photographic session" involving Guillermo, more commonly known as William, he of the prince variety.

A woman appears to have been electrocuted. One expects to see straps round her wrists, her hair having expanded into a set of public execution. I think of Germaine Greer and her description of Suzanne Moore - hair birds-nested and "fuck-me shoes". I can't see the shoes. She is from the short and compact Spanish-female species, a mini-Arantxa Sánchez Vicario without the energy. The mourning gown is too long and covers her feet.

On the shelf below the mirror is the water bottle, used to moisten the hair. It could as easily be a soda syphon. Maybe it is, and I'm about to have a dash of brandy with a lemon slice applied to the barnet. The electrocuted woman worries me. What devilment might have previously been inflicted on her? There is something that appears to be a device of torture, a twist and twirl of thick metal screwed into the wall. It goes nowhere, like the road in Formentor, just turning with no obvious purpose. Or maybe it is a system for tonging, the hair twined and pulled and then permed into a series of bed springs. And then I realise. How do the Spanish pronounce "styl"? Steel. Steel hair. Scissor hands and steel hair. Techno, garage industrial dance music. The Sally Webster's probably from Sheffield. Or is she in fact Susan from The Human League, circa early-1980s? It all begins to make sense. The bass thumps. Of course. Bassline. Where did this come from?

** Styl Hair. Very good value and service. Back of Mercadona in Alcúdia old town.

Any comments to please.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Handshakes All Round: Masons in Mallorca

It is doubtful that many of you will have been aware of a meeting that has just taken place in Palma - it was the 29th annual assembly of the Gran Logia de España. The grand lodge. Freemasons. A new grand master has been elected. Despite the secrecy that surrounds masonry, both the assembly and the election have been given some prominence in the Spanish press, and "brothers" have been quite willing to talk.

This has been the first occasion that the lodge has gathered in Palma, which probably explains the publicity that the assembly has attracted. But there are other reasons for the column inches, most notably the history of masonry in Spain during much of the last century. At a time when symbols of Franco's era are being dismantled - under terms of the law of historic memory - the masons are also symbolic of that era, in that they were persecuted and murdered. Franco had any number of elements of society in his sights, but none more so than masons. The generalísimo may not have shared Hitler's extreme anti-Semitism, but this didn't stop him perceiving a Jewish-masonic conspiracy alongside the communism of Republicanism. In the same way as Jews were once offered the chance to convert to Catholicism as a way of avoiding the Inquisition, so masons among Franco's supporters at the time of the Civil War were given the option to renounce the brotherhood. Some chose not to and went into exile; others were not so fortunate.

The relative openness of current-day masonry in Spain and Mallorca is indicative of societal changes since Franco's time. Yet it is questionable as to how well it sits with this "new" Spain. The exclusion of women is one aspect of this. Elements within the arch-conservative Catholic right have portrayed the country as now being under the control of socialists, communists and masons. From both ends of the spectrum - liberal and reactionary - the masons continue to be controversial. Masonic influence, real or imagined, is not difficult to understand. Secret societies in Spain have wielded influence. One other, Opus Dei, was virtually a Francoist think-tank of technocrats that moulded economic transformation. The Spanish grand lodge, on its website, does though insist that it is not a secret society.

In the Balearics, there are eleven masonic lodges, five of which use English as their language. One other uses German. Roughly a half of Balearic masons are in fact British or German. This does rather hint at an essentially social-club style of island masonry. In one of the press articles about the grand lodge - from "The Diario" - it has been revealed that there are some 400 members of these eleven lodges and that the average age of a "brother" is between 35 and 40. The age may suggest that masonry is in relatively good health in the Balearics, but 400 members hardly represent a mass movement, so the chances of encountering a funny handshake are probably remote.

As I know you do of course like all this stuff, you will want to know about the Spanish entry for this year's Eurovision. And continuing to bring you some musical item, here it is. Inspiring. Nul points beckon - if there's any justice. (And what is that girl doing with the rocking horse at 1.28?) Daniel Diges, "Algo Pequeñito":

Yesterday - Pat Benatar,

Any comments to please.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Battlefield: Hotels go on the all-inclusive offensive

There we were thinking that some new model of all-inclusive might be on the horizon, one that embraces bars and restaurants into the system. We might have been thinking this; the tour operators might have been suggesting it. The hotels don't seem in any mood to go along with it. This is the impression formed by statements from heads of hotel associations in Menorca and Ibiza; there has not been a similar statement from Mallorca, only ones that are more veiled in their sympathy with views in other Balearic islands.

The other impression is that the hotels are going on the offensive in defending the all-inclusive offer. Or perhaps this does all tie in with the tour operators' mixed-offer all-inclusive (discussed on 12 March) in that positions are being adopted, with the hotels taking an assertive high ground from which they might be seen as the good guys in admitting outside bars and restaurants into their all-inclusive "club". The tour operators are demanding an increase in all-inclusive while at the same time wanting the so-called "complementary offer" to be a part of it. The hotels, seen as the villain in the all-inclusive piece, seem to want to play hardball.

The picture of bars and restaurants being painted by the hotels is one of complaining and of a failure to do anything to attract tourists. It is the hotels, so the argument goes, that assume all the risk and that make the effort; the complementary offer is being challenged to step up to the plate in attracting tourists. Moreover, the hotels' line is that they have every right to challenge incentives such as happy hours and "menus" (presumably they mean menus del día) offered by bars and restaurants. This challenge comes and has come in the form of all-inclusive.

We seem to be heading to a state of all-out war between the hotels and the complementary sector. The hotels, in addition to all-inclusive, have been moving ever more into the territory once secured by the outside businesses - more entertainment, TV (Sky and football), even Sunday roasts. Entertainment may actually be cut back this summer as a way of reducing costs, but in mostly all other ways the hotels are attacking the complementary offer. This war could be a precursor to some truce or negotiated settlement, e.g. the mixed-offer all-inclusive, but what the hotels are angling at is that it should not be they alone who assume the costs and risks of marketing to get tourists to come in the first place.

The hotels are overstating the case; they are but one aspect of promotion. Nevertheless, they have a point when accusing bars and restaurants of only complaining and apparent inaction. And ever more, the complementary sector is seen as leeching off of the efforts made by the hotels. But this growing antagonism can also be seen as the result of shifting circumstances: economic conditions, stronger competition from other destinations and so on. For years, there was a symbiotic relationship between the two. This has gone or is going. It might only return if the tour operators are genuine in wishing to establish the mixed-offer.

One could accuse the hotels of being disingenuous. They are, together with government, town halls and tour operators, the frontline assault forces in tourism promotion. Clearly they are, and they know it, hence the possible disingenuousness. They are also, generally speaking, far better resourced than businesses in the complementary sector. (It might also be noted that some hotel groups run their own outside restaurants.) Their self-interests are served by co-operation, such as in being parts of local hotel associations which conduct their own marketing, but at least they do engage in co-operation. Does the complementary sector act in a similar way? Self-interest is even more extreme here. Do bars and restaurants band together to push a resort? Well, do they? I'm unaware of this happening. Where co-operation does exist, it tends to be as a means to kick against something - all-inclusives, the latest regulation. Negative rather than positive. And when something comes along which might require some co-operation, such as with the estación náutica concept in Alcúdia, self-interest comes to the fore; what has ever happened to this idea?

The hotels have thrown down the gauntlet. To quote, in translation, from yesterday's "Diario", the president of the Menorcan hoteliers says: "we do not see any effort at any time by the restaurant sector to bring tourists to the Balearics." There is, in all of this, a horrible sense of bitching and bickering as the great edifice of tourism threatens to collapse around the hotels and as all the supply that has risen around them also tumbles and falls. Yet for the hotels to attack the complementary sector is - though they wouldn't admit this - the consequence of their being beholden to the muscle of the tour operators; the reverse of the situation that once used to exist, a situation that used to allow for mutually beneficial co-existence with the complementary sector. The hotels are, therefore, going on a bullying offensive while simultaneously they are being rendered less potent by the masters of the industry - the tour operators. They are hitting out at the weakest link in the whole tourism supply chain, because it suits them to be able to try and cling to a power that is diminishing in a market that has changed fundamentally; they are less the victims of the all-inclusive war initiated by the tour operators than the complementary sector, but they are victims nonetheless, clutching at the spoils of war and abandoning their one-time compatriots in the bars and restaurants. Lines drawn for the battlefield.

Battlefield. Love is a ... . Great, great song from the 80s. Video that goes from the naff ("you leave this house now...") to the also great.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Make A Difference: Tourism and business promotion

The Balearic Government is to spend 12 million euros on a new "digital platform" which, so it says, will be a pioneering approach to internet tourism marketing. It is not entirely clear what this will entail, but President Antich was going large on this announcement at the Berlin ITB travel fair a couple of days ago. Whatever it is, the message is certainly getting through, that it is the internet which holds much of the key to tourism promotion and selling.

At the same time as the president was basking in the glory of this mooted, new technological shiny beast and was also saying that agreements with Air Berlin will see an increase in flights to the islands, a professor of marketing from ESADE was talking to "The Diario" about the advantages of "low-cost" businesses and also of the internet. (ESADE is not only one of Spain's most prestigious business and law schools, it is also one of the world's leading institutions.)

In this interview, Josep Valls said that there needs to be an almost wholesale shift in the direction of online activity and an end to investment in promoting the likes of fairs (and he probably means fiestas as well) and in massive publicity. There is something of an irony in this. The new tourism minister Barceló has been spending the past few days apologising for the fact that the Rafael Nadal ads had not been scheduled, shifting the blame onto her predecessor Miquel Ferrer, who seemingly wanted to cut costs at the ministry, and saying that there were negotiations with the Spanish tourism promotion unit, Turespaña, to actually pay for the adverts to be aired. Perhaps Ferrer took the view that celebrity advertising was of questionable benefit. Whatever his motivation, the point made by the good professor chimes well with what you will have read on this blog - that the internet can be both cheaper and more effective than older media, especially when it comes to tourism promotion. It just depends on how well it's done.

You can sum this up in terms of innovation, professionalism and in doing things differently. Much of what goes on in Mallorca's tourism industry adheres to these principles, but there is much which does not. While some of the island's hotel groups are paragons of professional virtue, the supply to the industry from elsewhere can leave something to be desired. There is much of the "old school" about great chunks of this supply (be it in the form of bars, restaurants, entertainment, whatever), mired in the past and forgetful of what actually constitutes holiday.

In the past couple of days, I have spoken to the heads of the main franchise operation for Burger King in the north of the island and of Grupo Boulevard (the dreaded Dakotas etc.). These are both hard-nosed businesses, varying in terms of innovation but with strong streaks of professionalism. They are not to everyone's taste, but it was illuminating to hear the Boulevard response to the impact of all-inclusives in Playa de Muro where it is headquartered and is expanding further this season. There has not been an effect. Talk to the old school and you will get a totally different answer. People dislike Boulevard because it's brash and because it's successful, and because it conforms to notions of being a business rather than the cottage industry of so many establishments. But in its product development Boulevard is representative of what the director at the Bellevue hotel in Puerto Alcúdia had to say about how businesses need to respond to market changes; it does things differently.

There is a bar in Puerto Alcúdia which this summer will be doing things very differently. Different types of event, parties. Anything to get people talking and coming. There are bars which are successfully using Facebook as a complement to, almost a replacement for, the more traditional PR in-front-of-bar approach. Rather than blame all-inclusives or the "crisis", here are examples of confronting the problems, changing how things are done and therefore winning business. In the case of the first bar, there is also a recognition that there needs to be a return to the idea that holiday is an event, or it should be. Regulatory forces, combined with complacency and a lack of vision, have taken away much of the "event" nature of holiday. There is no going back to days of parties and barbecues on beaches - the regulations have seen to this - but this does not mean formulaic, uninspiring and largely unthinking offers.

Holiday means different things to different people. Of course it does. And of course there is and always will be a call for and provision of the traditional; of the quaint family restaurant or the generally unsophisticated bar. But perhaps more than anything, there has to be a collective generation of a certain buzz, the notion of something happening. In Alcúdia at any rate, there are people and businesses looking to do just this; create a buzz. Doing things differently, use of technology, innovation; these can all lead in the right direction, and it should all be aimed at the tourist, of whatever style, and at giving the tourist an experience; an experience of something different. This is what holiday is, or should be, about. And not just the same old, same old.

Some of you have asked what's happened to it. Well, it's not gone, but will only be more occasional. To be honest, it often took me longer to figure out a song title - or some such - than to write the entries. But the musical theme will continue anyway, even if it is by way of a now-and-then day's song. Here's one such - Monsters Of Folk:

Any comments to please.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In The Mix: The new all-inclusive concept

Word coming from the tour operators gathered at the ITB travel fair in Berlin is that there is a noticeable recovery in terms of bookings to the Balearics. Another word is that Turkey, as has been previously noted here, has limited capacity and will also see prices rising this year. All of which seems like good news, to which can be added word locally from some hotels, to the effect that bookings are indeed buoyant. This summer may witness healthy occupancy numbers and plenty of tourists passing through the airport, but the key issue is whether these tourists will be spending.

There is a further word emanating from Berlin. And that word (or words if you prefer) is all-inclusive. The level of all-inclusive bookings is set, according to one source, to rise to around 50 per cent, something that is likely to send tremors of fear coursing through the nervous systems of bar and restaurant owners. It's that spending thing. However, there are yet more words. "Nuevo concepto." New concept. The nuevo concepto is a concept that is referred to often. Even I use it when referring to things I do. Nuevo concepto is part of the everyday Spanish lexicon of business. There is now a move towards creating a new concept of all-inclusive. The idea isn't really new as it has been one that I, and others, have wondered about for several years. What this new concept would mean would be the inclusion of bars and restaurants within the all-inclusive system. While I may have wondered about such inclusion, I have never explored it as a serious option. In theory it sounds good, but in practice?

The tour operators do at least seem to get the idea that tourists, despite their opting for all-inclusive, do not necessarily want to stay within the confines of their hotel. That they do is the result of the fact that they have already paid. It is this that has created the all-inclusive ghettoes and a ghettoised, bunker mentality among tourists who have little incentive to leave the hotel. It's perfectly understandable. But these same tourists do not want their resorts stripped of the atmosphere generated by bars and the rest, which is the long-term, logical conclusion of all-inclusive that forces exclusion of these businesses and ultimately closure.

The new concept would, therefore, be a mixed offer. One such basis would be that the hotels continue to provide half board whilst embracing the guest in a system of all-inclusive which would enable the guest to enjoy the convenience of all-inclusive outside the hotel, thus bringing a benefit to the guest and to bars and restaurants. It all sounds very sensible. But.

Why are the tour operators coming up with this now? And indeed why is it that it seems to have fallen to the tour operators to raise it? Are the tour operators demonstrating hitherto unseen altruism towards bars and restaurants affected by all-inclusive? Possibly. There may be another reason. Depending on the hotel, the standard of what is on offer via all-inclusive can vary. Some of it is poor. Service can be slow, the food is not necessarily great, the drinks are local and not international brands. None of this is really the hotels' fault. In the Bellevue interview last summer, I got an insight into this. The hotel would like to do more, but physically it is difficult. Physically and financially.

Opening up the all-inclusive offer to outside concerns may address the standard issue, but it raises all manner of questions. Could these bars and restaurants actually cope? Might their standards suffer? How would they be recompensed, when and by whom? Would all bars and restaurants be involved or might it be only a select few? This latter question could be a minefield. Let's say restaurants "tender" for a contract with a hotel. What might this tender actually involve? "Incentives" maybe? Might it be the bigger, long-established restaurants that get the business, or those which already have aggressive marketing procedures linked to individual hotels? If only certain establishments were to benefit, the minefield would explode with the fury of those excluded.

Why would the hotels do any of this? Only if the tour operators tell them to. They, the tour operators, do not want low standards. But, and again it depends on the hotel, the whole point of some all-inclusive is that it is cheap. Restaurants would need to be paid. The consequence might well be an increase in price, though not in all instances. The hotel might be able to reduce some overheads directed at what is currently less-than-brilliant service or quality. It would also not be forced into making the sort of investment required to convert to full-on, higher-grade all-inclusive.

Ultimately, such a mixed all-inclusive offer would demand a collective responsibility on behalf of different parties, especially the hotels. I would take some convincing. In that interview with Bellevue, the notion of responsibility to local businesses, grown fat on the back of the hotel in the good old days before all-inclusive, was dismissed. Only if the hotel (and I'm talking of any hotel, not just singling out Bellevue) can see a business case in terms of lower costs but similar or increased profit levels, despite the transfer of some income to outside bars and restaurants, would the mixed offer work. Even then, there would be questions. If the hotels retained half board, which traditionally many have offered anyway (so this should not be contentious), what about things like all those free "Cokes" for the kids. One of the strongest arguments in favour of all-inclusive is the convenience factor. Would guests then be forced to leave the hotel grounds in order to water the children?

The mixed all-inclusive is an idea well worthy of exploring, and it would need a great deal of exploring. But it could, say could, be a remedy. And could, say could, be the salvation for not just bars and restaurants but also whole resorts. This has a long way to run though.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hole In My Snow Shoe: Snowy weather and potholes

Winter tourism in Mallorca. Come to Mallorca, land of snow and cold. For the second time this winter, it snowed at sea level yesterday, rather heavier than the first time, though it did seem to vary as to how much. Moving between Playa de Muro and parts of Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa, it was evident that there was a great deal more snow that had actually settled in the former two than the latter, so much so that, for instance, there was even a slush trail on the road by the foot of the Sant Marti mountain (at the back of Bellevue). A bit further on, heading towards the town of Alcúdia and then off to Puerto Pollensa, there wasn't any snow covering the grass or trees, as there most certainly was - and a fair bit of it - near to the Muro hospital.

All very exciting of course and all very tempting for the weather exaggerators to get into full out-of-proportion mode. "Five inches in Sa Pobla." Probably not, one feels. Rather like heat in summer brings forth claims of 48 degrees, as was the case last summer but was clearly rubbish, so the oddity of snow inspires drifts, blizzards, entire towns cut off, etc, etc. But snow there was, and our man with a camera, Ben, was out and about photographing it and helpfully Picasa-ing the evidence -

The rotten and cold weather just adds to the ever-present problem of the state of some local roads. Pothole City, i.e. Puerto Pollensa, doesn't really need much assistance from the weather, but some roads do, and tend to get it from heavy rain which has the habit of flaking surfaces and revealing holes, always assuming that the rain is not so heavy that the holes have not been revealed and therefore are not avoided. Thud. There goes another tyre. One does have to have some sympathy with our cyclist friends, confronted not only by barely more than freezing temperatures but also by dirty great trenches in their way, to say nothing of the bay of Pollensa that had been left scattered across the cycle lane on the road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa, following the howlin' wolf of a wind three nights ago. Ah yes, winter tourism. What a splendid idea.

But to return to potholes, you may have heard of the town in Germany which is selling pothole sponsorship. What a ripping idea this is. Who says the Germans have no sense of humour? Fifty euros and you get your name badged onto the fixed hole. "We Need Tar" says the website from the town of Niederzimmern - Usefully, they've done an English version of their "Kaufen Sie Ihr Schlagloch" campaign and there is a daily tally of Schlaglöcher that have been sponsored - 111 as of yesterday. How many are there, for God's sake? Rather fewer than on the fine Calle Pere Melià in Puerto Pollensa alone, I'd venture, the road that has assumed the mantle of pothole king from the sadly-now-smoothed Calle Arse, aka Bot. Pollensa town hall, and indeed others, could take a leaf out of the Niederzimmern book and raise badly needed funds by having their own hole sponsorships, though there is one slight drawback. To be able to see the sponsor's name would require a close examination of the road surface, which may not be such a wise thing to do as some local chico-racer comes haring around the corner. But they could always issue a map showing newly filled-in potholes with the names of local sponsoring bars arrowed to the relevant hole. Definite winner I'd say, but being Pollensa, rather than getting some international support, they'd do it all in Catalan, so no-one would have a clue what was going on.

* The photo shows Hole number 7 available to purchase in Niederzimmern. They might possibly consider using a rather larger truck, though for 50 euros what can you expect? The photo comes from the site named above. You might also be interested to know that the same site promotes a song dedicated to the holes in the ground by one Michael Altmann. Click on where it says "Ur-Version" and you can hear some of it. Truly dreadful it is as well and therefore highly recommended.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Director's Cut: Film festival and Nadal ads

How ironic. While photos of ecstatic Oscar winners are being splashed buoyantly across the pages of websites and newspapers, elsewhere the film industry is floundering and possibly also drowning - the Mallorcan film industry, that is, and specifically the Mallorca International Film Festival.

Go back a few months, to the World Travel Market in London for example. A stand, a logo, a microphone. A laughing actor, Colin Meaney; a glamorous Italian actress, Maria Grazia Cucinotta; a beaming director, David Carreras. The film festival was in the spotlight. One of the partners in the film festival, and the reason for the promotion at the travel market, was the tourism ministry. Go back a few months, and in the photo album from London there was someone else. Stage left of Carreras. Smiling. Miquel Nadal, the then tourism minister. Many takes have been made since that photo, and Nadal, together with his reputation, has been left in tatters on the cutting-room floor.

It wasn't just the local press that joined in the celebrations and the announcements. "The Daily Mail" got in on the act, quoting Carreras in his best brochure talk: "the island is stunning, we have beautiful scenery and it would be perfect to hold an international event like this." The prospect of ever more celebrities, the prospect of some A-list promotion for Mallorca and the prospect of a film festival that might even compete with Cannes. It had it all. A showcase for the island, the lovely people of an up-market image Mallorca so craves, the diversification of the tourism industry in a different cultural direction - the cinema. It had it all. So where did it go wrong?

Carreras got the first inkling of trouble when he presented initial invoices to the tourism ministry, which was in for some 650 grand's worth of the lights, camera and action, around a third of the financing. Nadal's replacement, Miquel Ferrer, said that there was a problem with the agreement and that there was something to do with a grant. Something to do with a grant. Hmm.

The tourism ministry, and therefore the Balearic Government, has stated that the agreement is in the process of being annulled. The legal chaps have been giving it the once over, but there has been no clear statement as to precisely what the issue is with the agreement. Carreras, along with other private investors, has pumped money into the project and is, you might guess, incandescent. He has every right to be.

This may not be the end for the film festival. A resolution with the government may be sought and even found. More private investment might be forthcoming. But were it to be and the government got away without handing over a centimo and yet could wallow in the publicity of the festival, a rotten stench would be left. And unfortunately, in the absence of a clear statement, one is left to imagine another odour. I leave that to you to figure out.

The shambles that has been the tourism ministry has also left Rafael Nadal tied up at the moorings of television advertising. Rather than bouncing over the waves and sailing into the living-rooms of mainland Spain, Germany and the UK, the promotional adverts with the Manacor Muscle have been becalmed by a paralysis of inactivity at tourism, the consequence of all the comings and goings. New minister Barceló recognises the problem and has said that the promotional campaign will be reactivated as swiftly as possible. She seems to be saying that a lot of things will be done swiftly, such as seeking a resolution as to another paralysis - that of the golf course in Muro. The Nadal adverts are due to be shown for periods of two months in the three main tourism markets. Eventually.

Any comments to please.