Friday, April 30, 2010

Copy Cats: Internet and other rip-offs

Es Turó. It's a restaurant near Santa Margalida. It is part of a famous old building - S'Alqueria. I like the place immensely. And I must declare an interest - the restaurant is a client.

I googled Es Turó and S'Alqueria yesterday because I wanted some background information on a feature about the old building. I stumbled across an entry for the restaurant. Clicked. Seemed familiar. Very familiar. I recognised the words. I had written them. I went further. Very, very familiar. Restaurants, bars, other places. Alcúdia, Pollensa. Very familiar. My words, my photos. Many of them were mine, except for the logos or photos that clients had provided.

I'm not naming the website for the simple reason that I have no desire to publicise it or to give it houseroom. Am I bothered? Up to a point, but more than anything I just felt it was pathetic.

It's easy enough to lift from other websites. Often it goes unnoticed because the sites are unnoticed. I only found this particular one by chance and because Es Turó is rarely mentioned; it stuck out like a sore and copied thumb. I shall send the site an email, if I can be bothered. Depending on the response, I might let you know how I get on.

Lifting stuff from other sites, stuff that is proprietary in that it has been originated, is hardly unusual. It happens all the time. There isn't a lot you can do about it, unless you're a big or litigious organisation, of which there are some. But there is copying onto another site, and then there are other types of copying.

A while ago, I held back on doing a blog item, but I'm resurrecting the theme now, as it seems apposite to do so. It had to do with the excellent The owner of the site, on its forum, mentioned an article from "The Sun", which - in part - bore similarity to the blurb on the home page of the site. Not intimate with this blurb, I had a look, and I had a look at the article. The two were indeed similar. Too similar for the article's reference to Puerto Pollensa not to have been based on it. In mitigation, it is just possible that this reference was found on another site, or indeed on more than one. So it may have seemed to have been somehow without origin. But this would not negate the similarity.

Plagiarism is something no journalist or writer ever wants to be accused of. It is also something that makes no sense. If you are a writer, you write - your own words. That's why you are a writer, or a journalist. You want to use your words, paint your own pictures. Yet the journalist in this instance was well-known, well-respected. I could hardly believe what I was reading when comparing the article and the site's home page.

I emailed the owner, Zelda, and told her that I was staggered by it. I can understand websites taking stuff (though I don't approve of it, anything but), but I can't understand a journalist doing the same. My impression was, and I apologise in advance if this was not the case, that the journalist had not even been to Puerto Pollensa. Had she, she surely would have penned her own words. Because Puerto Pollensa demands one's own impressions, and because this is what writers do.

Or so I thought.

Any comments to please.

Index for April 2010

Allergies, pollen and - 6 April 2010
April fool - 1 April 2010
Beach bars, Alcúdia - 5 April 2010
British election - 24 April 2010
Buses, fumes from - 21 April 2010
Car-hire prices and fleets - 7 April 2010
Corruption: Operación Bomsai and caso Plan Territorial de Mallorca - 15 April 2010
Corruption: Operación Voltor and Pollensa's mayor - 29 April 2010
Golf development, petition against - 21 April 2010
Holiday lets, Joana Barceló and - 18 April 2010
Internet advertising - 23 April 2010
Internet, copying material from the - 30 April 2010
Jaume Matas - 10 April 2010
Judge Baltasar Garzón - 16 April 2010
La Gola, Puerto Pollensa - 3 April 2010
Mobile information - 14 April 2010
Motor bike "volta" of Mallorca - 20 April 2010
Opening hours - 13 April 2010
Picnics and fairs - 11 April 2010
Pine trees - 8 April 2010
Playback - 4 April 2010
Pollentia, ancient port of Alcúdia and - 9 April 2010
Prices in Mallorca - 2 April 2010, 28 April 2010
Restaurant closure - 25 April 2010
Roundabout sculptures - 27 April 2010
Smoking ban - 17 April 2010
Swedish tourists - 28 April 2010
The Hustlers - 26 April 2010
Tourism minister (Joana Barceló) interviewed - 12 April 2010
Tourist publications/information - 26 April 2010, 27 April 2010
Volcano, impact of the Icelandic - 17 April 2010, 19 April 2010, 20 April 2010, 22 April 2010, 25 April 2010
Watchtowers - 27 April 2010
Zumba in Alcúdia - 29 April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dance Till You Drop: Pollensa mayor's problems and Zumba

The corruption cases - one in particular - are moving a little closer to home. At today's plenary session at Pollensa town hall, much other business is being withdrawn by the opposition parties, in order to focus on asking questions of and seeking explanations from the mayor in respect of what may or may not be his links to the Operación Voltor. This is the one to do with the goings-on at Inestur, the strategy institute within the tourism ministry. Its former director, the Pollensa politician Antoni Oliver, a member of the Unió Mallorquina like the mayor Joan Cerdà, has been implicated in the case, and what interests the opposition are telephone conversations between Oliver and the mayor. These conversations have been mentioned in the case summary. There is also the matter of the accounts for the Pollensa music festival, for which Oliver was responsible. In February, a call was made to conduct an audit of these accounts. The mayor stood up for Oliver when this call was made, implying that any accusations regarding irregularities were a slur.

Zumba in Alcúdia
At the same time as the mayor is being grilled, there will also be something demanding taking place in Puerto Alcúdia; demanding in a rather different way. We're talking serious fitness stuff. Pant, pant. However, Zumba, so we are told, feels less like the onerous pursuit of an earnest fitness session, more like just getting down and partying. The Zumba slogan is, after all, "ditch the workout, join the party!"

Zumba is basically Latin dance adapted to a fitness environment. And why not. Dance is every bit as beneficial to health as many other forms of exercise, and it is also often more fun. And that is part of the deal with Zumba. It puts the fun back into getting fit. On the Zumba website - - there is a video by a reporter from "The Wall Street Journal", eulogising the benefits of Zumba and concluding that, at the end of an hour's session, she has "a feeling of deep joy and happiness"

If you can get over the trademark obsessions with Zumba, and there seem to be a number (though I guess this is fair enough), the site will tell you all about it, and then the question may be - where can I do it? And that's where the Puerto Alcúdia angle comes in.

There are two Zumba instructors in Puerto Alcúdia, and Alcúdia is the only location in the Balearics which offers official Zumba instruction. Emma, who many might know from Sea Club, and Angel, who others might recognise from the drag troupe at the old La Belle and elsewhere. The sessions take place at Sea Club and at the Calypso fitness centre, and I shall be going along this evening. To take a look. You think I'm doing it, then think again. For now!

Zumba has gone massive in a very short period of time. And to have it right in the heart of Alcúdia. Well, this seems like quite a coup.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thai (Price) Massage: The Swedish and beer prices

The Scandinavians, and the Swedish in particular, are generally looked upon as being a good-spending tourist market; indeed they have seemed to have kept the more diverse resorts, such as Alcúdia, buoyant while the Germans and the British have been floundering. However, a rather alternative take came from someone who, while not Swedish, is all but Swedish - by marriage and business. What he was saying to me the other day was quite surprising.

The assumption that the Swedes, and other Scandinavians, still find the resorts cheap by comparison with their own countries is no longer necessarily valid. Alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and the Mediterranean, not just Mallorca, has been highly attractive to the Swede who fancies getting off his or her face for a fraction of what it costs in Stockholm or Malmo. But now the Swedes are, so I was told, starting to turn their back on resorts like Alcúdia because prices, for example of a "pint", are comparable to those "back home". Typically, a pint will cost around the equivalent of five euros in a Swedish bar (and the Swedes, like the British, are subject to exchange fluctuations as Sweden is not in Euroland; and it might be noted that the krona has shown a downward tendency, just like the pound). When this sort of price can be demanded by, for instance, an Alcúdia beach bar, the attractions of getting bevvied on holiday diminish, especially when there are destinations which are far cheaper. And here, we are not only talking other Mediterranean countries, but also the likes of Thailand.

The argument has long been that, despite apparently increased prices, Mallorca still holds an advantage because of its relative proximity. Thailand is a further seven or eight hours by plane from Sweden, and the Swedes seem to be willing to put up with this if they can be assured of lower prices and also service with a smile. And Thailand, notwithstanding the current unrest, can offer both. Closer to home, a flight to Croatia takes the same sort of time as one to Mallorca. The Swedish tour operators have, it would appear, been adjusting their supply to take account of the greater value for money that competing destinations have, confirming what should already be known, namely that the tour operators hold the aces when it comes to deciding where people go on holiday.

But as ever, citing isolated examples of high prices in Mallorca don't really make the whole case; they may make a case, but it isn't the complete picture, be it one being viewed by a Swede, a Brit or a German. There's a website - - which gives examples of pint prices, as you might expect, in resorts and town and cities in a whole host of countries. The examples are hardly scientific, but for the most part they bear out the fact that the Swedish is around five euros or pounds, the Thai pint is very cheap and the Spanish/Mallorcan pint is ... well, quite a bit less than most of the Swedish towns (except for eight quid in Ibiza, which is clearly exceptional). What has happened on this particular site is that visitors have cited their individual experiences, of individual establishments in most cases. And that's the problem with all of this price talk. The Swedes are right to find that Mallorca's prices have gone up from the days of a handful of pesetas, but a beach bar in Alcúdia does not prove the case one way or the other. Nevertheless, perceptions are all important, even if they may be wrong.

What I'm going to have to do, I can see, is schlep around a whole load of bars, note the prices for the same "pint" in all of them and then post them here. Then we'll see what pint prices really are.

And apropos prices, my thanks to Geoff who, only delayed for three days because of volcanic ash in Lanzarote (Icelandic ash and not any from a Lanzarote volcano), has reported on the situation there. Roughly the same sort of prices as the UK, but they seem higher because of the pound, for which you can say ditto for Mallorca. But an English breakfast can cost as little as two quid.

Rikki Lash
No, not that one. There is another one, with two k's. She's American, she's young, and she's really quite good:

And further to the very strange thing by the Lash with one k about Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five, a comment has pointed out that: "Mike Smith has been dead now for 2 years. Sax player Denis Payton is also no longer on this mortal coil. There is less than no chance of any kind of DC5 re-union."

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All Along The Watchtower: And roundabout sculptures

I was out on the hunt for information again yesterday. What I wanted to know about had to do with the watchtowers that are dotted along the coastline and the background to sculptures on roundabouts. Why would I want to know this? Because the information could form further articles for this newspaper thing. And because no information seems to exist, well not in any detailed form.

First stop, the Playa de Muro tourist office and the ever-helpful Cati. The towers, she thought, stemmed from the Civil War, which sounds right but I had an idea that they were older. There's a historian chappy at Muro town hall apparently. So she phoned him up. I'm waiting to collect the info he's going to provide. He said that the towers do indeed pre-date the war, but that was about as far as I got for the time being. What I was also told was that questions about the watchtowers are not uncommon, as in tourists ask about them, which did rather make me wonder why there isn't anything that gives their history. The towers seem, to me, and have long seemed like an obvious subject of interest, and yet they have been ignored where it comes to information provision. In Playa de Muro, other than Albufera, there isn't exactly much by way of "attractions". Except for the towers.

As for the roundabout sculptures, there was an explanation as to their "symbolism", which will be largely obvious, assuming you know what they represent, such as the tangle of eels by Albufera. But there was also some confusion as to sculptures outside of Muro, such as the one in Puerto Alcúdia. What is it? A horse, I said. Even other tourist offices don't know what it's supposed to be.

Second stop, the tourist office in the port of Alcúdia and the ever-helpful Cristina. These roundabout sculptures, I asked. The two famous ones are in fact included in a leaflet produced by the town hall, though the information is only very brief. The linkin' donuts one, that on the Magic roundabout; when was it put there for example? She wasn't sure. Why did I want to know? Well because people like to know this sort of thing, don't they?

Coming back to the watchtowers, I was told that they were "faros" (lighthouses). "Faros?" No. Surely not. During wars, you wouldn't light up beacons to guide ships in or away, unless, I suppose, you did want to guide them in and then take a pop at them. I would be most surprised if they were ever lighthouses, except possibly that they, at some point, doubled up as such during peaceful times.

How do you find out more information? That's when you run up against uncertainty. Do you talk to the heritage departments at the town halls? Or to the Council of Mallorca, given that the sculptures appear on main-road roundabouts? And if the latter, then who do you contact? There is nothing on the Council's website, for example, which leads you to information about roundabout sculptures.

I don't want to be critical, especially as the tourist offices are always helpful, but it seems a little odd that they are not themselves better informed. However, maybe this is understandable, because the tourist offices, like the whole tourism authority set-up on the island, are geared to a kind-of top-down information provision, that of what it has been determined that tourists should be told about - food, produce, historic buildings, walks and so on. But no one, it seems to me, has stopped to think about the curios - the watchtowers, the sculptures; the very things that can startle a visitor because they are a bit weird. The tall Dalek-pronged towers, the incomprehensible horse, if it is indeed a horse. Why are they there? How did they get there? When did they get there? Who put them there? The questions are very simple. But the answers are far from being so.

The season about to kick in, let's re-introduce a previous theme but with the emphasis on "holiday" in music, in whatever form. An irregular item no doubt, but here is the brilliant Chambao, "Ahí Estás Tú" (otherwise known as the Andalucia advert song). Not Mallorca, but who cares:

Any comments to please.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Do The Hustle: Tourist publications and dead pop stars

I went to see The Hustlers the other evening. When I say "see", I actually went to talk to them. If you don't know, The Hustlers are one of the very few jobbing live bands that play locally. There is plenty of live music and live entertainment during the summer, but very little by way of what you might think of as pub bands and hardly any who ply their trade by playing rock-to-Latin-to-pop classics - in English. A question I asked was why did they think that their style of music, i.e. one that is authentic in the sense of playing instruments - and in not being a tribute act - was so rare. They weren't sure, but suggested that it might be because it's easier to just plug in a machine and play backing tracks, which can often be the case.

The reason for talking to them was that the interview, if one can call a fairly casual chat over a pizza and a beer just prior to their performing an interview, will form the basis for an article about the band that is set to appear in what will be a new publication this season. This "newspaper" is intended to be quite different to much of what goes around as tourist literature. But it still hasn't got a title. Well, it has had several - as working titles.

Coming up with a name is not straightforward. You might think it is, but it isn't. You want impact, but you also want sense or context. You might also want something that is understandable to or pronounceable by the natives. You might also, despite the tourist focus, want to avoid the words "tourist" or "holiday". Someone said to me that tourists don't like to be identified as tourists, and he's one who is working with them every day. I know what he means. If I'm in a foreign place, in a foreign land, I'll usually write down what I need to know and leave the publication behind, or if I have it with me, I'll go and hide somewhere and consult it. You won't find me on a busy street corner, a map unfolded and a baffled expression as I try and make out the road signs, with an even bigger sign above me and pointing down at me saying "clock the tourist". Nope, I'll be in a darkened doorway somewhere.

Everyone has an opinion as to the title. It's good in one way. They are interested. But everyone tends to be an expert when it comes to publications. Why not call it this, or that? Why not do this, or that? I may occasionally volunteer some comment about a bar name or what a bar or restaurant or attraction is doing, but what the hell do I really know? It's not my business after all.

And also on newspapers ...

It may not have escaped your attention that I do occasionally refer to some of the stranger things that emanate from "The Bulletin" and from Riki Lash. There was a piece yesterday that left me wondering if I had imagined that someone had died, namely Mike Smith, once of the Dave Clark Five. In the Lash column, it was going on about Smith having recovered from the accident which had left him paralysed, to the extent that he would be taking part "in a 40th anniversary tour next year with the original Dave Clark Five", a tour which apparently includes a date in Palma.

It will take some doing, I would suggest. Smith's wikipedia page; the websites of the "Daily Telegraph", the "Daily Mail", "Rolling Stone"; the Dave Clark Five website: maybe they're all wrong, but they all say the same thing. Smith died at the end of February 2008. Yet in Lash land, Smith has not only miraculously recovered from being a tetraplegic, he has also miraculously risen from the dead. And another thing ... were Mike Smith to in fact be taking part in an anniversary tour, why would it be the 40th? When, for example, was "Glad All Over" a hit? 2011 minus 40 = 1971, i.e. eight years after "Glad All Over" was released.


Any comments to please.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Don't Live Here Anymore: Tourists returning and businesses closing

Activity in the hotels, as in how many guests there are, where they're from and so on, is a familiar enough "game" that many a bar, restaurant or whatever owner plays, especially during the phoney season (i.e. now) and then in the first days of the real season, from 1 May. Much time is devoted to quizzing receptionists and other hotel staff as to occupancy levels in the anticipation that these levels will mean, or may mean, folding notes being handed over in the bar or restaurant or whatever.

The wrath of Iceland, and therefore the absence of guests, has introduced new games. One is spot the tourist coach and spot how many are on it. A couple of days ago hardly any. But now, hmm, starting to look good again. Or so it can be hoped. A second game is check the arrivals at the airport. Flights from here or there. How many flights. Looking good again now. Just depends how many are on the flights and where they're going to.

Over the past few days you couldn't go anywhere without questions being asked as to what is happening with flights from the UK or from Germany. All sorts of half bits of information, misinformation, pessimism, optimism have resulted from the constant quest for some reassurance that there are indeed people coming to Mallorca again.

If you've ever wondered as to the sheer dependence on tourism, the reliance on it, then these questions will have convinced you. It's all that business owners have been able to think about, and any source of information has been clutched at: bodies on a bus, flight boards, rumours as to Thomas Cook this or EasyJet that. Total dependence.

One of the inevitabilities, like night following day, is that a place will suddenly go out of business. Sometimes you wonder why. Other times you can nod wisely and say that it was bound to have happened. This inevitability tends to occur, however, later in the season or once the season has finished. Usually it doesn't occur before the season has even got under way. However.

Let's try this little game. You have, from the following information, to identify somewhere that has closed. Suddenly. All locked up. Chef arriving for work and finding there's no one around. One day there, next day not there. Gone. Finished. Through. Finito.

It's a sort of no-tourist land, as in there are no hotels nearby. Not that sort of area. Not in one of the resorts. Not even in a town. But by an urbanisation that forms part of a town that isn't a tourist town, even if it, the town, is near to local tourist towns. Big. Very big. Lots of bits to it. Lots of land being covered by the lots of bits. Needed a lot of work doing to it as well. All the bits, and not just the restaurant. Well known, they who were running it and who had planned this and that. Gone. Not there. Locked up. Finito.


Yesterday: Well, you've already got a quiz, but yesterday's reference was to "The Cloggies", Bill Tidy's cartoon.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Cleggies: The British election from Mallorca

If you live in Mallorca, do you care about the British election? You might be interested, but do you really care? You might actually exercise your vote, but why, If you don't live there, or go there only now and then? Do you care more about Zapatero and Rajoy? Because perhaps you should.

Nevertheless, it is entirely understandable that the election should generate interest and column inches in the local English media. Of course it is. It is something of the old country, something actually quite important of the old country. But, to varying degrees for individuals living in Mallorca, it is the old country, as in the former country. Not the current. Moreover, at a distance - of the miles (or kilometres) that divide Mallorca and the UK - can one really appreciate the issues of the election? Many will say they can, but many may be deluding themselves. Many will be acting on received wisdom, or lack of wisdom.

It is a curious phenomenon, that of commenting on an event that is intrinsically important - as a Briton - and yet one that one is not a part of. The heritage, the past, the growing-up; these all qualify such commenting. But somehow there is a disbarring through voluntary exile. Pity the political commentator who is an outside observer of his own country and its politics.

"The Bulletin" has been going fairly big on Nick Clegg. Many have been going big on Cleggy. The power of previously having been anonymous. There was a yes-no in the paper. Clegg as Prime Minister? As meaningful as an argument over a Saint Mick in an expat bar. And ... And oh dear. Let's get things right shall we. It was implied in this exchange that Clegg is following in a line of great Liberals, well one. Winston Churchill. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.

Churchill was a member of the Liberal Party for twenty years. He was a political opportunist who left the Conservatives and then rejoined them. What he was never was a Liberal Prime Minister. He was also described in the paper as Britain's greatest Prime Minister. Oh dear, oh dear. This was meant to further big up Cleggy. But it was plain wrong, and one might recall Churchill's own argument about being over 30 and having no brains if one is not a Conservative (not one, I should add, that I agree with).

Churchill's reputation is founded on his role as a war-time leader, but he was a poor Prime Minister in his peace-time government after 1951. He treated Eden as an idiot and thus undermined him (though he may have been right to have done so). He was ill for much of this time. He was too old. He was antagonistic towards the creation of nascent European integration.

Churchill rejoined the Conservatives in the mid-1920s, following his sojourn with the Liberals. Only in his advocacy of free trade could Churchill truly be said to have been a liberal in terms of political philosophy as it is broadly now understood. Otherwise ... . He loathed Gandhi. In this regard, he proved to be as antediluvian as Thatcher was in her disrespect of Mandela. He was highly pro-American, he would never - had he been alive today - have opposed Trident. In all these things, he was the antithesis of what we imagine Clegg to be. The comparison is absurd.

Why not go back further? Clegg is the new Gladstone. It might actually make greater sense, though Gladstone would probably in fact have been an old Labour politician today (as with his support of the dockers' strike). But any comparison with the past is a nonsense. If there is to be some exiled comment on the election, it might at least be accurate. Or maybe, if you do care, leave it to the likes of "The Sun", "The Mirror" or "The Guardian". They may all talk bollocks, but it will be bollocks in which you can trust. Sort of.

Yesterday: Tears For Fears, "Head Over Heels", Today: not the "cleggies", but who - as in they who appeared in "Private Eye"?

Any comments to please.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Is My Four-Leaf Clover: Internet advertising

I find myself increasingly and variously intrigued and infuriated by internet advertising.

Let’s take the infuriation first, if we may: the invasive pop-ups or the things that somehow float across the screen or some video demanding to take me away from what it is I actually want to look at. I’ll give you a good example. The "Diario de Mallorca". Good paper and pretty good website. Better than its main Mallorca-based competitor, "Ultima Hora". It’s easier to navigate and is better laid-out. However, it has this regular tendency, once you’ve clicked on whatever it is you want to read, to take you to an advert - often for some Seat or Peugeot you have absolutely no interest in. This obliges you to either unclick it or wait till it goes away.

There does of course have to be advertising, which opens up the whole discussion about newspapers, their ad revenues from the web and whether they should be free online or not. But this is not something for here. There is advertising, which is a business necessity for a website to function, and there is advertising - of the intrusive variety. To what extent is this intrusive advertising counter-productive? Out of principle, I refuse to click on it, and only have done so by mistake. Out of principle, I would never buy a Seat, if it’s being forced onto me when I have something better to do, like reading about what shenanigans such-and-such a local politician has been up to. And when it takes an age to load a page because of the damn floating ads, or whatever they are, there is further counter-productivity. I go somewhere else. I may not like "Ultima Hora" as much, but it doesn’t hack me off.

You have to presume that this intrusion doesn’t come cheap and also to presume that it works, even if referrals may be a low percentage and actual conversion (assuming this can in fact be measured) far less. But the potential to alienate readers cannot be underestimated, and then there are those, like myself, who form a negative image of a brand because it’s getting my back up.

Web advertising is a curiosity because it is an experimental work-in-progress. Unlike TV advertising, the model of which has remained pretty much unaltered since the first days of commercial television (in the UK at any rate) in the mid-1950s, advertising on the net has been in a constant state of flux since it was first realised that here was the brave new world of promotional opportunity. The cost can be high, but it all depends what is being advertised and how. The "how" is arguably the most interesting aspect, especially since the inception of social networking. Facebook and the rest may not be for everyone, but its potential - cheap promotional potential - is significant.

In Alcudia there is a bar, Shamrock. Facebook has transformed not only the bar in terms of its income and profitability, it has transformed the bar completely - in terms of its market and product. Yes, there have been, and are, other promotional tactics, but it is Facebook that has driven the change. I’m not going into detail, this may be for another time or place, but if there is such a thing at Harvard Business School as case studies on the role of social networking in marketing, then Shamrock might well form one of them. To emphasise - not just greater success but also a change in the business itself, all stemming from Facebook. It’s fascinating stuff.

The essential ingredient with the Facebook approach is that it is a form of push marketing - or poke marketing if you prefer. It is proactive and can create a rapid response. But this proactivity isn’t aggressive, as with so much unwished-for promotion, because of the very nature of social networks and their built-in likemindedness. Moreover, Facebook is without pretension in its marketing style. Some advertisers, or so it has appeared to me, have a kudos mentality that demands they pay fairly substantial amounts to appear on a particularly grand site. This may be beneficial to them, or it may not be, but for many, a complementary approach using social networks would almost certainly be beneficial, if not more beneficial. It does rather depend on how broad the marketing scope needs to be and therefore how much the initial contact or interest via the internet needs to be made, which is where paid-for representation can be, and often is, important.

What we’re moving towards is businesses adopting a bundling approach, of different types of site, with different styles. The only fear with the likes of Facebook is that its success, and that of those who use it creatively, will result in the sort of intrusive advertising that can deter. I, for one, hope not.

It doesn't have to have four leaves, but what the ... "This is my four-leaf clover." Where's it from? Great song. Great band - IMO.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Nuclear Option: What if ... the volcano?

Something approximating normality is beginning to return, though normality will only resume when tourists start coming in and are not departing - finally.

These have been extraordinary days. And their impact will slowly diminish, as the ash starts to fade or heads off in the direction of Canada. Sorry, Canada, but you shouldn't feel that you can escape the problems. The good news is that tourists tend to have short memories and to not be deterred by extraordinary events. Except. Whereas an extraordinary happening, such as 9/11, brought chaos, such an occurrence is somehow manageable. There is a degree of control that can be brought to bear. It's not the same with nature. It is the sheer unpredictability, with no hope of control, that heightens a sense of uncertainty.

April is going to be a wash-out, despite the good weather. May? The hotels, we understand, will be making "super" offers, largely because the tour operators are forcing them to. To get confidence back, there has been a grand meeting involving the tourism minister, hoteliers, tour operators, travel agencies, airlines and other transport operators, from which will come a concerted spate of PR to get the British and the Germans to travel. Let's just hope those memories are indeed short.

Someone said yesterday that it's like last year. The volcano is this year's swine flu. By implication, the effects of the ash - on jet engines - have been exaggerated, just as the flu's impact and diffusion was. Maybe it has been, and I guess we can be assured that any way in which planes can be kept in the air will be being looked at, in the event that there is another eruption, but you wouldn't count on there being a solution. The comparison with swine flu isn't valid. That didn't stop people flying. And the effect was minimal.

The good news is that volcano Katla shows no sign of doing a copycat eruption. We can but hope that it doesn't. While the airline engineers study the data and ways to mitigate the effects of volcanic ash, we have to suppose that there is some serious consideration being given, in governmental circles, to what would happen if the worst case did happen. Now that the effects of one, not-that-massive eruption are being digested, the scenario planning for something altogether more cataclysmic has to be undertaken. Gloomy would be an understatement as a prediction.

Were the worst case to occur, God forbid, and were it prove impossible to fly, except perhaps intermittently, for months, then the prognosis would be dire. The tourism market would collapse, along with what currently remains of the property market and much of the island's economy. Unemployment would be unprecedented. It might be possible to enjoy the sun - and the roads - untrammelled by hordes of tourists, tourists buses, rented cars, but the reality, for all but those with plenty stashed away, would be horrendous. Businesses failing. People on the streets. Soup kitchens. Riots. Curfews. Initially, people would doubtless help each other, but a time would come when they wouldn't; when survival takes over. Society would, if not collapse, then be deeply and angrily polarised. The centre would be unable to hold.

It would be the nuclear option, or rather the nuclear possibility. It might not be nuclear winter, because the sun would still shine, but then when winter returned, it would be colder and wetter because of temperature cooling caused by the ash clouds, and there would be even less work and even more on the streets or leaving to head back to what would be uncertainty elsewhere.

One can over-exaggerate, but foolish would be the Mallorcan politician who isn't having sleepless nights as to what might happen and who isn't establishing contingencies. Of course nothing might happen. Or not for many, many years. But the fact is that it has happened; just that we may have got away with it.

There would be one solution. Oh, that there were. "Beam me over to Mallorca, Scotty." Or there's another one - that all the panic over the ash was just that, panic, and that there was not the need to be as cautious, as the British Government now seems to be admitting.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sign Here: Petition against the golf course

I'll forgive you for switching off now. It's the golf course - again.

Still with me? Ok, here goes. All manner of political wrangling has occurred since the subject last appeared on the blog. The might of the centre-right (the Partido Popular and Unió Mallorquina) has combined to pass a motion in parliament to the effect that the Muro course should go ahead, as it is in the interest of the island for it do so. The left has retaliated by attempting to get the Son Bosc finca brought under the auspices of the Costas' authority, that which "protects" the coastal areas. This despite the fact that the finca isn't actually by the coast. There is also the matter of the bee-eater bird that breeds on the finca during the summer. This, in itself, is enough to bring any work to a halt.

More than the political to-ing and fro-ing, the environmental group GOB has been soliciting tourist support for the finca to be included as part of the protected area of the Albufera nature park. At the weekend it got tourists coming into Albufera - some 400 or so - to sign a petition against the course. These tourists were then also told about the hotels who were behind the development and given a card to deliver to their hotels (assuming, presumably, they were ones involved in the project) in support of the anti-course position.

What good, frankly, does this do? For one thing, it has the effect of driving a wedge (sand or otherwise) between guests and their hotels. Maybe GOB hopes that the petitioning tourists will go to a different hotel in future. Or a different resort, thanks a lot. Or that the hotels suddenly think: "oh my God, 400 tourists, we must abandon all thought of a golf course". One imagines not.

Getting some nature-admiring tourists to put their mark on a petition would hardly have been difficult. Visitors to Albufera are, pretty much, a captive market for an environmental campaign. Easy-peasy. One doubts that the tourists were given a balanced argument to consider. Of the 400, nine, apparently, admitted to being golfers, and only one of the nine, a Mallorcan, declined to sign the petition. GOB, as stated in the report from "The Diario", reckoned this was "curious". It might also be that the Mallorcan knew a bit more about the story - from both sides.

What was curious about the report was that there was reference to there being hotel companies behind the golf development, but it did not identify them. Why is there such a reluctance to name them? GOB does. Go to its website, and you can discover, under Golf Playa de Muro S.A., the names of hotels associated with Grupotel, Garden and Iberostar. It's common knowledge in the public domain.

Right, finished that bit, you can switch back on again now.

Still with an environmental theme, let us turn, shall we, to pollution from vehicles, in particular that from buses. And one bus in particular.

Driving along the main road through Puerto Alcúdia yesterday, I was forced to slow down and drop back, for in front was a bus belching out rather unpleasant fumes. You'll know the one I mean. Blue, tourist, sight-seeing. What a splendid advertisement this is, and how splendid for those that advertise on the bus. Come take a trip around the sights of Alcúdia and hopefully the fumes will blow - volcano like, one might also hope - in the opposite direction; otherwise a no-drive zone should be declared.

To be fair, this is not the only bus that offends in this way. When the older buses get pressed into public service during the season, there are some frightful old boneshakers billowing bluey stuff in their wake. So if you happen to see drivers putting many a metre between themselves and a bus, you will know why. Perhaps pedestrians should be issued with face masks.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Motor Bikin'

"At the speed of lightning". Thus sang Chris Spedding. He sped.

In Mallorca, not really the speed of lightning, well not at all. The speed of speed limits, just about. At the speed of sound? No, wrong again. The sound of sedate speed. Loud nevertheless. Over and over. Again and again they come. More and ever more pass. Rumble, rev and growl.

This was Sunday. Not the ghostly Mile but the main road through Alcúdia and Playa de Muro. Each year, the motor biking "volta", a tour of Mallorca, a round trip of some 300 kilometres. Didn't think you could go that far in Mallorca? You can, and on a motor bike is probably the best way. From Palma by the big El Corte Inglés department store, to Andratx, into the mountains, across the top of the island, down to Llucmajor and back again. Hundreds of them.

The volta has been taking place since the mid-1970s. Sunday's was the 34th. It has become an international event, bikers from here, there and wherever roaring along the roads of the island. It is a spectacle. It is also very loud. So much for noise abatement or pollution. But it doesn't matter. The sight of Harleys, Yamahas, Suzukis is remarkable, and so is the sound. Doing Mallorca on a motor bike cannot be beaten. The mountain roads, for example, are much easier on two, motored wheels than four. It is easier, even as the easy rider, to take in the views than as a car driver. And though noisy, the sheer volume is reassuring. It is the sound of something happening, of something moving.

It is a fine event.

The volcano - more fallout
Along the Mile yesterday, there was more sign of life, but much of this life is of those who have been forced into spending what they can to stay in accommodation. The package holiday-ists have less of a problem. The booking-direct-ists have a big one. They have to keep on paying for somewhere to stay, such as Bellevue. There may be people, but they have barely anything left over once the apartment has been paid for. It's a lousy situation.

Businesses are jittery. You can understand why. One owner along the Mile - and I won't identify him - was saying he was keen to press ahead with publicising a restaurant in the interior, but he can't get his head around what is happening at the moment. You can understand it. The uncertainty is certain.

Meanwhile though, thanks to Steve at Little Britain for this observation from the Glasgow Herald re the volcano, the name of which is of course unpronounceable:

"Eyjafjallajökull? The last time I saw that typed was when I came back to the office drunk and fell asleep on the keyboard."

Yesterday: REM,

Any comments to please.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The End Of The World As We Know It: The volcano and Mallorca

Sunday. Two in the afternoon. The Mile in Alcúdia.

Competing attractions there may be - the fairs in the port and the wine do in Pollensa - but this seems unusual. It is two o'clock. There is barely a soul to be seen. Barely anything is open. The Chinese, ever the Chinese, wave their leaflets around. Well they would, were anyone passing. The fairs aren't really competition to the Mile. Mile-ists tend not to do fairs.

Sunday at two o'clock in the afternoon. The airport in Palma has been closed for two hours. It is the latest one to suspend operations. Barcelona did likewise on Saturday. Nothing is coming in. The Mile might not be expected to be busy in April, but there is not busy and there is nothing, or barely anything.

A reps evening was due to take place later. It still will have done, but with vastly reduced numbers. The rest are stuck in England. No one is coming in.

This is serious. Not because some reps can't make it, but because it has the feel of the last straw. The saving grace is that this is April, when there are only limited numbers. But April isn't the point. What is, is if the volcano keeps on erupting. It almost doesn't bear thinking about. All those last-minutes that are meant to be booking. They won't be if flights keep being suspended. Or if travellers reckon that there might be a risk of Iceland wreaking its vengeance again. Last-minute, booked well in advance; neither here nor there if flight paranoia invades the traveller's psychology. The bombs didn't stop the visitors and nor were they going to, but an exploding volcano, miles and miles away ... ? It doesn't bear thinking about.

Just imagine it for one moment. A terrible act of God puts paid to flights. No one coming in. For weeks or months. Who can be sure this won't happen? This is not serious, it is tourism apocalypse. The end of the world as we know it. On the mainland of Europe it would be bad enough, but on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, it would be even worse. Ferry connections there are, but disruptions to flights on anything like a prolonged basis would be nothing short of disastrous. Even if there were periods of clear skies, the uncertainty, the possibility of the skies darkening again with ash could create mayhem.

We've become used to the idea of, the possibility of man-made interventions, such as terrorism, but we've forgotten about the capability of nature. Worry there may be about climate change and the havoc this might cause on a tourism future, but volcanoes? Who would ever have thought about volcanoes?

When the strategists do their plans, create their scenarios, they should always take into account "threats". Natural events are threats, as much as sudden economic shocks. But which of the strategists would have written on their brainstorming-session flip-charts the word volcano? Perhaps they will in future. For now though, the biggest question is what might happen next. According to a scientist writing in "The Sunday Times", there "remains a very real possibility that the volcano will continue to erupt on-and-off for months to come". Weather will play a part if there are indeed further eruptions - as in wind directions would influence the ability to fly - but there is also the possibility that a bigger volcano in Iceland will go off. It did so on both the previous occasions that Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 1612 and then in 1821-1823. Just look at those dates, and then add 2010. The strategists might, actually, have been wise to have referred to patterns of volcano eruptions. This bigger volcano, Katla, also once erupted in a truly catastrophic fashion, on a worse scale than yet another volcano in the late eighteenth century which caused a three degree reduction in temperatures, bringing extreme cold and record rainfalls as far south as northern Africa.


"I feel fine." That was the corollary to "the end of the world as we know it", but who was it?

Any comments to please.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Open House: The holiday-lets nonsense

There was an open letter the other day to "The Bulletin" from the boss of a UK holiday-let company. It was addressed to the tourism minister, was not without merit and has, seemingly, attracted support, to the extent that the same writer is now wanting to form some sort of pressure group. It was, as you would realise from the nature of the company, about the lunatic situation regarding holiday lets. Fair enough, and a fair way of generating publicity, you might imagine, but let's not be cynical.

The open letter is a familiar enough technique. One of the most famous was Zola's "J'accuse". It acquired fame not only because of the accusations made but also because of Zola's standing and influence in France. And it is this, standing and influence, that makes the open letter powerful. Moreover, the fact that it might actually be read by those for whom it is intended, makes it doubly powerful, which was the case with "J'accuse". Zola had to flee to England.

I had heard of neither the author of the letter nor of his company until the letter appeared. No Zola, in other words. It might have been considered rather self-serving. Yet, it was a reasonable letter, one that expressed well the frustrations surrounding the confused holiday-let situation and the antagonism shown towards a sector of the tourism industry in Mallorca that has enormous potential for good. I might not go along with the technique of the open letter - and don't - but the sentiments cannot really be faulted.

The problem is though, has the intended recipient - the tourism minister - read it. Will she read it? If the answer is no, then what was the point of it? Even if she has, or does, would she be likely to respond? Doubtful. But were she to respond, what would she say? Thanks, but no thanks, or something along those lines.

You have to go back to June last year to get a real handle on this. On 19 June ("But You Can't Come In"), I reported on the agreement between the Balearic Government, business (hoteliers) and unions to tackle the principal problems with tourism, one of which was - so they reckoned - illegal holiday lets. And many holiday lets are illegal, because there is no mechanism to make them legal, which is how the government seems to want it. It is government strategy to outlaw as much of the holiday-let business as it can. It is also government wish to pursue ever greater standards in hotel stock. It should not be forgotten that, of the leading Mallorcan companies, several are hotel chains; they are extremely powerful. They are also highly organised and represented on all manner of tourism bodies. The holiday-let sector, on the other hand, is not organised, lacks representation, has no lobbying power, is fragmented. When the press come calling to ask for reactions to the appointment of the latest tourism minister (and they've had to do this a few times over not so many months), to whom do they talk? The holiday-let business? Of course not. It is to the hotel associations, those who always seem to express their full confidence in a new minister. They express confidence, not because they necessarily have any, but because they want they want to establish who wears the tourism trousers, and to let ministers know who not to antagonise. Get a campaign going for holiday lets, get a tourism minister listening, sympathetic even, and what do you reckon would happen? "Now then, Sra. Barceló, a little word in your shell-like over this holiday-let nonsense ..."

Try starting a campaign if you are some small holiday-let business from the UK or another foreign country, and where do you reckon this will get you? Foreign companies can exert pressure, if they are powerful, the tour operators most obviously. And maybe it is these, the likes of TUI and Thomas Cook, who should be the real recipients of the open letter, for they want a flourishing holiday-let market as much as they want to be able to extract every last concession from the hoteliers. They also want to sell flights.

Joana Barceló will take precisely no notice of this "campaign", because it would be politically unwise for her to do so. But if there is to be an open letter to her, then rather than "The Bulletin", try the Spanish press. She might then read it.

I am, however, not unsupportive of the letter and of the writer, because he has done what the paper singularly failed to do when the tourism minister was interviewed, namely ask what the hell she's going to do about holiday lets, other than place them outside the law. It is an issue that affects many and is important in the context of the total tourism scene; one also that is regularly aired in the paper - by letter-writers. But why does it fall to a letter-writer to raise the subject or to start a campaign?

Any comments to please.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday: Volcanoes and smoking

"Here come further hurricanes."

When I said this a couple of days ago, in the context of the new corruption cases, little did I know that a major natural event had occurred - on the Wednesday. Hurricanes, well very strong winds and storms, have been known to hit Mallorca, but the fallout - if not literally, then metaphorically - from a volcano blowing its top is the last thing you expect. As though things couldn't get worse - cree-sis, cree-sis still persisting - along comes an event on a biblical scale. Act of God, as the insurance companies will be insisting. One should appeal to a Higher authority. Please, God, don't give the locals any more excuse to reach for the blades. "Un desastre." When isn't it "un desastre"? Actually it isn't un desastre - in Mallorca. What would be, would be a volcano suddenly erupting in the centre of Palma. That would be a disaster. But un desastre it is, because flights have been grounded across northern Europe. And this means that tourists have been grounded - in other countries. For one car-hire agency at least, the volcano has been un desastre. That was how the boss described it to me, at any rate. No tourists arriving, no vastly inflated hire-car charges to be made - allegedly. Un desastre.

What could though be a greater desastre would be if this damned volcano decides to carry on exploding. Iceland has form in this regard. Long it may have been since the last great outpouring of ash, but it continued to do so for a couple of years. The Mr. Spocks, the vulcanologists, cannot be sure if the pattern will be the same this time around, but if it were to be and were those shards to be knocking around in airspace, then regular "desastres" might just be on the cards.

Poor old Iceland. Cod war. Lousy weather. Bloody big blokes who haul cars. Bank failures. Frozen foods. Not a lot going for it, other than Björk. So they take it out on everyone else.

Volcano - all that's needed.

Meanwhile ... more ash. The Spanish health minister has said that a total ban on smoking in public places will be implemented "from June". No precise date, just from June (so maybe, say maybe, that 22 June date was right after all). This, at any rate, was how "The Diario" had it, referring to the fact that the ban would come in prior to the completion of other "sessions", meaning ... who knows. Elsewhere though, it is said that there will be a period prior before the full introduction of the ban, i.e. after June. Yet again, smoke rings of confusion waft into the air. The reporting is contradictory, but this is probably because the messages coming out of government are. There needs to be a clear announcement about this, but you wouldn't bank on there being one. I'm sorry to have to say this, but this confusion is typical of Spanish legislation. Badly communicated, unclear, added on to something previous that may or may not still apply. Poor. Very, very poor.

Any comments to please.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Here Come Da Judge: The Garzón affair

In a café - Spanish - the other afternoon, the television was on. Nothing unusual in this. What was, was what was on. There was a platform of serious-looking speakers. Sounds dull? A party conference maybe? No. It transfixed me. This was an event in support of a judge. It is difficult to imagine a conference either taking place, let alone being televised, in support of "m'lud" in England. But this is Spain.

The event was organised by two of the main unions. Those from the world of the arts and culture were on hand as well to show support for Baltasar Garzón, the most celebrated of Spain's investigating judges.

Back in October 2008, Garzón announced that he was ordering an investigation into crimes committed by the Franco regime. As part of this investigation, graves were due to be dug up. The Spanish attorney-general opposed the investigation, and ultimately Garzón was ordered to call it off. But it didn't stop there. He is now being investigated by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (supreme court) in Madrid, accused of "prevaricación" (that word again), manipulating the course of justice and even of some financial wrongdoing. Under the terms of the amnesty of 1977, it is argued (with justification), that Garzón had no right to go around digging up the past.

That he may have exceeded his powers, for which a formal slap on the wrist might have been thought sufficient, has not stopped a process of bringing him to book, one inspired mainly by the far-right in Spain, including the Falange. Didn't know that the Falange still existed? Well they do. The leader of the centre-right Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, called the conference in support of Garzón "anti-democratic". The actions of the supreme court have been described, by the left, as "fascist". Forces across the political spectrum are adopting their positions in respect of a judge who, in theory at any rate, acts independently of politics.

For some, Garzón is getting his rightful comeuppance. Others will be revelling in the schadenfreude of a judge with such international celebrity being investigated. Yet more will see the case as an attack on judges' independence. Garzón has not exactly been reticent in courting his celebrity, which, in itself, may be a problem with the system of investigating judges. His attempt to extradite Pinochet was, and remains, his best-known moment in the international spotlight, and international is apt as he seems wedded to the notion of international jurisdiction, something that the Spanish Government has acted to limit.

There is a line of argument that Garzón, in seeking to investigate Franco's crimes, was acting in accordance with law on human rights. The amnesty of 1977 not only heralded a period of collective national amnesia it also undermined any attempt at indicting those who had committed atrocities. This may have suited the immediate post-Franco Spain, but it can also be argued that it left a festering sore, one that has been opened - politically - by the current administration's law on historic memory. An amnesty, so one view has it, cannot rule out a requirement to investigate when the issue of human rights is at stake.

But more than anything, and notwithstanding the accusations against Garzón that he exceeds his powers and is over-zealous, the current case against him highlights the hold that the Franco period still has over Spain. Additionally, one can set the Garzón affair within the context of the spate of corruption allegations. Despite claims that these have been politically motivated, independent investigators are crucial to the exercise of Spanish democracy. If politicians, by their indiscretions, cannot adequately support that democracy, then the judges have to do it for them. A curb on their powers, and this is how one can assess the Garzón affair, might be welcomed in certain quarters, but those powers have never been more important than at present in rooting out the malaise that weakens democratic institutions.

Garzón did go too far. That is the problem. Perhaps he felt emboldened by a political atmosphere, one created by the law on historic memory and not averse to rummaging through the Francoist past. This would have been his first mistake, as it would have politicised, albeit indirectly, his investigation. It may sound unpalatable to those who seek to right the wrongs of the Franco period, but his second mistake was in choosing the wrong investigation and in lining himself up against some still powerful, one might even say dark, forces. And for this, he may end up stripped of his powers. A question will be, will others?

Any comments to please.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bung-Sai: What? More corruption

It's all kicking off. Again.

To add to the previous and various corruption "operations" and "cases" - vulture, make-up, Palma Arena - there are now two more, the "Caso Plan Territorial de Mallorca" and "Operación Bonsai", or "bomsai" if you prefer. You say bomsai, I say bonsai. Let's call the whole thing off. Fat chance, now that the anti-corruption boys have started digging around in the pot plant earth of paper trails. They're going to need more than the 55 additional investigators, the cavalry from the mainland, to pick over the rotting body politic of Mallorca - like vultures. All these operation and case names, it's like the monikering of hurricanes. And here come further hurricanes, we can but presume.

It's hard to keep track of what's going on, especially as some of the same names keep cropping up in dispatches. Whether the minutiae of the cases really matter - to anyone other than the legal eagles (and vultures) - is a moot point. You're probably not interested, and I'm not sure that I am either, other than in the fact that the same sort of charges are being levelled and that these charges involve, for the most part, politicians or those involved with government or quasi-governmental organisations and projects. These charges include bribery, false accounting, diversion of funds and something known as "prevaricación", which is only partially similar to the English meaning. Getting to a precise understanding in Spanish isn't easy, but various options are - the deliberate avoidance of telling the truth and a breach of duty.

Of the two latest cases, the Caso Plan Territorial de Mallorca (PTM) relates to developments in different parts of the island, including those of the apparent conversion of "virgin" land into developed land in Alcúdia and Pollensa. Caught up in this are some old friends. Naturally enough, the former tourism minister Miquel Nadal is one of them: no corruption case would be complete without him appearing on the cast list. Also starring are ex-Enviro Man, Grimalt, and the Partido Popular's former president in the Balearics, Rosa Estaràs.

The little ornamental tree case centres on a company within the Balearic Government, CAIB Patrimonio, the function of which is the acquisition and sale of land and properties. So nothing strange about this, as corruption cases usually have to do with land and properties and who has trousered a wedge of illicit moolah. One of the figures in the Bonsai case, and we haven't heard from him or about him for a while, is Vicente Grande. Yep, he who was the president of Real Mallorca football club and helped turn it into the basket-case it remains, and who is implicated in the PTM case. More significantly, of those detained, one is Jorge Sainz de Baranda who was the director-general of taxes (!) under the administration of ... Jaume Matas.

So here we go again. Another boring day in Mallorca. Nothing much happening, only a bunch of politicos and chums being hauled in to explain how a whole bunch of public money ended up somewhere it wasn't meant to. Oh, and just in case you are wondering how a case comes to be called Bomsai, this is because it relates to the building of the "parque de bomberos" (fire-fighters) and the headquarters of the ministry of health in the islands ("salud-islas") in Palma. Bom. Sa. I. Geddit? Bomsai (aka Bonsai). Gosh, there are some clever folk in the police or judiciary who come up with these names. Maybe there's a department devoted to the naming of cases. There should be. There's enough work for there to be one.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Know-All: Mobile information

I know everything.

There is nowhere I don't know. I am walking, talking information, a mobile information office. My Mastermind subject is the location of this or that. I shouldn't have to be. There are other forms of mobile information: the mobile phone, the TomTom for example. Or they could be, should be even. When will mobile information really catch on, do you suppose? When will it be unnecessary for everyone to be walking, talking dispensers of information, or not?

There's a petrol station in Puerto Alcúdia. It's the one by the Platja d'Or and Ivory Playa hotels, opposite the Eroski. I can tell you, without the need to refer to anything, assuming you cared, which you almost certainly wouldn't, the names of the roads in the vicinity. See, I know everything. Roses, Roselles, Savines, Vidalba, Oms. Any other road you want to know? Any hotel you want to know? How do I know all this? Because I do, and because I draw maps. Or used to, before maps were googled. There's a good google map of hotels and petrol stations and other places in Alcúdia. One I know about. I need to mention it some time ... to the chico ...

The chico didn't come out to fill the tank. I say fill the tank, no one fills a tank full now because petrol has become so expensive, not even the chico who's meant to fill the tank; the chico who normally comes out, but he didn't. So now I'm in the "shop", I suppose you call it that now. Now that it is a shop. I've partially filled the tank myself. The chico is glaring at a laptop. This is why he has not attended to being the pump-attendant. A red-faced German is by the counter. Red-faced, you guess, because of the sun. The chico recognises me. "Do I know ...?" Stupid question. The Marítimo. The hotel. He, the chico, is looking on the web. He has a piece of paper in front of him. It's the German's. Marítimo.

"Yes, I know where the Marítimo is. A couple of hundred metres. On the right side of the carretera." I felt embarrassed. The Marítimo's a whacking great edifice, just down the road. The chico didn't know. Why should he? He's only the chico at the petrol station. Maybe he lives in the opposite direction. Never goes that way. Two hundred metres towards Playa de Muro. He can't do them in Spanish, give directions, even were he to know. I can. I can do them in German as well. For the red-faced German. But I do them in English, because I'm being lazy. And it's not my job. He understands well enough. The chico seems relieved and serves someone else. And then she, German, starts to wave her arms around. Broken Spanish. Incomprehensible Spanish. She's red-faced. Maybe all Germans are red-faced. Something about "mercados" and a whole load of stuff that sounds like not markets in houses, whatever this is supposed to mean. Or not, because I, and the chico, haven't a clue what she's going on about. There's a supermarket opposite, says I, in Spanish. The chico nods. No, no, not a supermarket. Would she prefer to do this in English or German? Ah yes. She wants the market. Gotcha. In Alcúdia. I have a map. I am walking information, with my own printed cartographic information. The chico seems relieved. He might have said thank you, I think. I only went in to pay for the petrol.

It shouldn't be necessary. It's all there. Easy. On a mobile. But not yet. Some time. Some time in the future, there will be no difficult questions in petrol stations about hotels and markets. We've seen the future, but it's not here - yet. One day, all this will be different. And what I know will be irrelevant. No one will probably know anything in future. Because they won't need to.

After The Event - World Cup Song
Not quite after the event, because the event hasn't taken place, but long after the event of the whole gig about getting an England World Cup song going because the Fab-ster had pooh-poohed the notion of Rooney doing a Barnesy-style rap (about three months after the event), comes ... . Sorry, Nobby, it's crap. Linekers Bars' World Cup song.

The blog is still fully behind Jess Conrad and "Soccer Superstar" and I feel bound to mention - again - George and the Dragons' "Green Fields Of England", which is only marginally better than -

"Express yourselves." - "We want goals." We want Jess.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open All Hours

A familiar - very familiar - gripe about Palma is that it is normally shut. Great hordes of tourists would otherwise descend on the Mallorcan capital, handing over large amounts of folding notes in a binge of around-the-clock eating, drinking and shopping. Well, that's the rather hopeful theory. The practice is quite different. Especially at weekends.

Whether a less rigid application of opening hours, or more aptly closing hours, would make much difference to tourism is something of a moot point. Nevertheless, the intrusion of siesta shutting and non-opening after Saturday lunchtime do both seem somewhat anachronistic to visitors, in particular those now conditioned to liberal opening hours, e.g. the British.

One thing that the tourism minister mentioned in the interview I referred to yesterday was that there needs to be a change in terms of attitudes towards working hours and practices. There does, she argues, need to be greater flexibility, and she is absolutely right. And Palma needs such a change more than anywhere, but one could also lump in the major resorts as well.

With this in mind, there was a not uninteresting piece in "The Diario" yesterday which looked at the development of 24-hour Palma. It may have gone unnoticed by many, but the capital is shifting towards the type of model familiar to those who visit or live in capitals and major cities elsewhere. Over the past ten years, so the article explains, there has been a growth in the number of establishments which are open all hours or nearly all hours (closing only for a couple of hours to clean up). These include restaurants, pharmacies and bakeries. They may not include shops, but something has been stirring, and it might also be illuminating to note that one of the more popular places is one serving burgers and tex-mex (they'd love that news in certain parts of the island, e.g. Puerto Pollensa - or possibly not).

The obstacles to more liberal hours of working and opening are obvious enough, and they come from the unions, church, some political parties as well as from entrenched attitudes that place service fairly well down the list of reasons to actually be in business. It is curious that when fiesta comes to town, along with the hordes, some places will choose to close. But more than this, is the attitude towards time. If a shop or bar announces that it will open at a certain time, then that is precisely what it should do. If an appointment is made, it should be for a particular time and not some vague "mediodía" or whenever, which often means that it is not met. The minister also referred to productivity. I'm not sure this word was being used correctly, but it was still appropriate to mention it; the loss of productivity because of the time malaise is incalculable.

An argument that has been trotted out over the past couple of years of "crisis" is that businesses should be prepared to be open much longer. It is an argument that I have sympathy with. The counter-view is that it costs too much, in terms of staff and energy, to do so, expenses that businesses can ill afford. It is also an argument one can sympathise with. But fundamentally, it boils down to attitude and to a greater focus on the customer and on service. It may be taking time for the message to get across, but in parts of Palma at least, it is.

Any comments to please.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Billboard Buggins: Tourism minister interviewed

There was an interview with the Balearic Government's tourism minister in "The Bulletin" yesterday. Had you trawled through a few articles on the state of the islands' tourism over the past few months (years even), you could have supplied the answers. It's a miracle of space-filling that two whole pages can say precisely nothing that hasn't been said before, many times over in certain cases. The last person you probably want to be talking to about local tourism is the tourism minister, unless, that is, you want to hear the same old platitudes, side-stepping and pie-in-the-sky that form the ministerial guide to Mallorcan tourism. It's not really her fault. Joana Barceló got the gig under the principle of Buggins's turn and thanks to the permanently revolving door at the tourism ministry. All she has to go by is the manual. An opening question might have been - what qualifies her to be minister?

I'm not going to outline what she said, for the simple reason that you have heard it all before. Politicians are interesting only if you look to interview them into a corner, not to let them merely engage in repetition: tourism ministers would never survive a round on "Just A Minute". As such, therefore, the interview was revealing for what was not asked and answered. One question that seemed to have been missed was a direct one about what she was going to do about prices. It had after all been previously flagged up (2 April: The Last Supper). Maybe it was left out as we already knew the answer. Nothing. Because there is nothing she can do.

There were other questions that were missed. What incentives, or additional incentives, are to be offered to hotels to stay open in the off-season? Why would tour operators or airlines want to offer holidays or flights in the off-season? What evidence is there that cultural, historical etc. etc. tourism is anything other than a small holiday niche? Is it not all a bit of a myth? Why are there not major tourism attractions all year round? What will be the impact of Gran Scala near Zaragoza (the first phase of which will open on 23 April)?

She was asked about all-inclusives, but she was let off the hook. Minimum standards will be adhered to, she said, and then wandered off into gastronomy in the heartlands of the islands for some unknown reason. Where was the question about the impact of all-inclusives?

Where was the question about the constant attack on the holiday-let sector? Where was the question about the fact that the government, along with the unions and the hoteliers, had decided that the principal problems facing tourism were the lack of winter tourism and that holiday-let sector, when the principal problem is clearly the bread and butter of summer? Where was the question about spending money on a dubious celebrity campaign (Nadal) and for adverts to appear on obscure television channels at strange times? Where was the question about regulations facing bars and restaurants - terrace times, keeping doors closed, smoking? Where was the question about the impact of the IVA rise? Where was the question as to whether she has a clue what goes on at the tourism coalface?

Where, oh where? The problem is that a nice little chat ends up with nice little answers about not a lot and with what is a mix of vague statements about "re-thinking" tourism (as if this hasn't been spoken about previously) and sounding like a promotional brochure. The interview as billboard.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Something Happened: Picnics, fiestas and fairs

You can never be entirely sure when "fiestas" end. Easter has come and gone, or has it? Today they're having a picnic at the cave of Sant Marti in Alcúdia. They have had picnics elsewhere this past week. One of the most important was that at the hermitage in Crestatx between Sa Pobla and Pollensa. Five thousand took part in the procession from Sa Pobla to Crestatx with the image of Santa Margalida. Campanet also had its picnic, the local "arroz brut" (rice dish) was served up and there was dancing and there were games, as well as the climbing of a soapy pine. Ever the tradition. It gets repeated year round.

These are the "pancaritats", the post-Easter celebrations. Fiestas just go on and on. At Sant Marti, there will be, in addition to the mass picnic, a mass and a choral concert. One trusts that the cave has been scrubbed of the offending graffiti that had been daubed inside.

While the "alcudiencs" walk to the cave, the people of Pollensa will be engaged in a different sort of celebration - the half marathon. Roads will be closed, as roads are often closed. On Thursday, the carretera (main road) in Playa de Muro was shut for several hours to accommodate a cycling event. Even someone from a cycling shop reckoned that this was an inconvenience. There is road closing and then there is main road closing.

Everything comes around. Each year. Much the same as last year and the years before. The continuity of fiestas and picnics have been joined by the current-day continuity of "events" - races, cycling. Whoever said that there are times when things don't happen in Mallorca? It's hard to know when something isn't happening.

But everything merges into one. Same as last year. In a week's time there will be the boat and sepia (cuttlefish) fairs in Puerto Alcúdia. There was a media event to announce the fairs last week. One didn't even need to attend to know what it would be like. Same as last year. The same dignitaries, only the Miquel had changed; mayor Llompart rather than Ferrer. The same presentations. What can you say that is fundamentally different to before? A boat fair and a cuttlefish fair. They don't differ greatly year to year. The minister for agriculture and fisheries put in an appearance - as she did last year. She probably gets a better reception among the fishermen of Alcúdia than the agriculturalists of Sa Pobla - the potato-growers who have accused her department of breaking promises regarding financial help.

And then you do have to wonder why they devote so much energy in announcing these annual events; the events which are much the same each year. In Alcúdia, the press, the telly and the radio were there to hear the same sort of words. They could have used last year's footage. Why is it necessary to have these "launches", to pay for the large banner behind the dignitaries, to provide the free nosebag? It's all very nice, all very pleasant, but it's another aspect of that continuity - of something always happening but nothing's happening. And nothing's happening because everyone is perpetually engaged in that something happening. You wonder, you do wonder, how anything ever gets done here, or how anything happens.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bailed Out: Jaume and the architects

If you needed to find three million euros pretty sharpish, where would you look?

Short of suddenly striking lucky on the Euromillions, chances are that you wouldn't find it, and that if your necessity for the three million had been to avoid being banged up, then you would now be languishing in a cell. Duly incarcerated, you would also be unable to participate in an hour-long television interview in which you attack an investigating judge, prosecutors and the police. But then you are not Jaume Matas.

The Matas case is extraordinary in many respects, but the very public nature of the accusations and charges and rebuttals and denials makes it not just extraordinary but unreal. And then there is the small matter of that three million wedge which was handed over in the nick of time and thus spared Matas from prison. Where did it come from? That was what the judge wanted to know; you would think that he'd be grateful. There are plenty who will argue, with some justification, that the bail was excessive (and political). Matas found the money, despite the slight inconvenience of the Easter holidays getting in the way. Maybe this has piqued the judge.

The money, it would appear, came via two sources - Banco de Valencia and Arquía-Caja de Arquitectos, a credit co-operative formed in 1983 for the express purpose of providing savings and loans to architects. As such, you can probably understand that questions are being raised as to why it has been caught up in the provision of bail to keep the former Balearics president out of the slammer, even if it did not directly stump up the moolah as there was a transfer to it from the Banco de Valencia. And as for this bank ... It is part of Bancaja, an employee of which is Matas's brother-in-law, himself implicated in the Palma Arena case. The president of Bancaja also happens to be a former president of the Valencia "generalitat" and a friend of Matas.

Despite the not unusual connections and the unease at Arquía, Matas, one would think, had every right to find whatever means he could to raise what was a huge amount. The size of the bond, while indicating the seriousness of the charges, has added to the sense in which a presumption of guilt has been made. To this end, and bringing us to the unreality of the whole episode, Matas went onto local television this week to express his innocence and to have a go at the prosecuting ranks. Fair though it may be for Matas to give his public version of events, in countering that emanating from the judge and prosecutors, one does have to wonder - again - as to the judicial process. Moreover, the television channel he chose for his interview, IB3, is not entirely without some political colour - that of the Unió Mallorquina party which has been and remains closely associated with the management of the station. The UM is the most natural ally of the Partido Popular, Matas's party, on the centre-right of Mallorcan politics. IB3 was also the channel on which former UM leader Maria Antònia Munar gave an interview in which she explained her side of corruption charges that she faces.

Other than the kerfuffle surrounding the bail, it has emerged that Matas has challenged the judge to investigate who - Matas argues - falsified documents related to meetings and the ordering of payments. Not only is this crucial, it also serves as a reminder that there may well be two sides to the whole story. Some, such as elements of the local press, seem to have ignored this possibility, preferring to see Matas as having been bang to rights. Possibly so, but possibly not. Let's not forget this. Matas could have been remanded, but he has not been.

Any comments to please.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Going Underground: The ancient Roman port of Pollentia

It is now two and a half years since work on building houses in the centre of Puerto Alcúdia was suspended after remains were found which suggested that a site of archaeological importance had been accidentally unearthed (27 October, 2007: Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect).

The site, on the corner of Coral and Mar i Estany (opposite the Coral de Mar hotel), is believed to be evidence of the spread of the Roman inhabitation of what was then Pollentia. Of greatest significance is the fact that it may well be in the area where once was located the "great gate" of the Roman port. So much interest has been raised by this site, and by other discoveries and theories, that - as reported in "The Diario" yesterday - a survey from the air using sonar-detection equipment is to be commissioned by the heritage department of the Council of Mallorca. This will aim to reveal the nature of the ancient port's structure, beneath both the sea and land.

The main line of thinking appears to be that there was a marine connection that crossed or went to the side of what were then the Albufera wetlands. The old coastline went as far as a kilometre or so inland from where it is today; the Roman theatre was, if you like, an ancient attraction by the sea, as it - more or less - marks the spot where the sea encroached. The name of one of those streets - Mar i Estany - has its own significance. This is still sometimes used as the name for the port area of Alcúdia: sea and lake.

The extent of the Roman city is really only now beginning to be appreciated. While the Roman ruins and excavations in the old town of Alcúdia have been worked on for over half a century and are the most obvious manifestation of the Roman settlement, Pollentia was far bigger than just the site of the ruins. It stretched from the current port area, across the old town and to the bay of Pollensa. There is meant, somewhere, to be a "small gate" which looked across at what is now Puerto Pollensa.

Historical documents reveal that the great gate was referred to in mediaeval times, while other documents delve further back in time to indicate that not only was Pollentia an important maritime stopping-off port between Italy and Spain but also that there was - in all likelihood - a lighthouse during Roman times. The excavations in the old town have now also uncovered the outline of various streets and of an urbanisation that itself had been originally - and unknowingly - opened up as long ago as the 1930s when a trench was dug which had been intended to allow the building of a railway line - yes, the train was meant to have come to Alcúdia that long ago.

The ongoing discoveries, the air survey and the occasionally fortuitous side-effects of construction all do, however, lead to a question as to how much more by way of development Alcúdia can have, if some of the archaeology of Roman times is not to be lost completely. There seems little doubt that underneath the current port area there are all sorts of historical treasures. They're not about to knock anything down, or you would think not, but whether they can risk putting anything up is another matter.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Lonesome Pine: Hug a tree today

It might be difficult - you would think - to take a dislike to a tree. It might also be difficult to think that university researchers would spend their time (and presumably someone's money) in studying such a dislike. But if you happen to be Mallorcan or happen to be part of the education and citizenship department at the university in Palma, then it is less difficult to understand.

The poor old pine tree. It has lent its name to hotels - Sis Pins in Puerto Pollensa, Alcúdia Pins in not-Alcúdia, i.e. Playa de Muro; it gets chopped down, stripped, covered in soap, topped with a cock and climbed up during Pollensa's Sant Antoni fiesta; it was the subject of one of Mallorca's best-known poems - "El Pi de Formentor" (Costa i Llobera): sorry, Mallorca's only well-known poem.

You'd think, therefore, it was owed a bit more respect. Not so. It is "hated", suggests a piece from "The Diario", for being harmful to health, for causing (?) forest fires, for preventing anything else growing, for the processionary caterpillar and for being ... foreign. Ah yes, where were we on that Mallorcan xenophobia? It even extends to trees, though where this leaves attitudes towards palm trees (which with one minor exception are all non-native), one isn't quite sure. And they, palm trees, are similarly susceptible to destructive forces, as we now know with the palm beetle.

To what extent the pine is a true native of Mallorca is probably irrelevant. It has been around for that long that it has gone native. Two species - the aleppo and the stone - are certainly of Mediterranean origin; the stone from the mainland of Spain. This latter tree is the one which gives the edible pine nuts, popular both in local cuisine and as a "nibble".

The tree's function as a resource is only grudgingly acknowledged, despite the fact that it has been - and is - a prime source of wood. It proliferates to such an extent that it constitutes around 80% of mountainous forest. Yet some would like to see it eliminated, something which must cause conservationists and eco-warrior groups such as GOB to have fits and get out of their trees. Perhaps more than anything though, the pine is seen as being "dirty", a view with which one can have some sympathy. Get some strong winds and rain, and down come the needles in great abundance. They cover the streets and gardens and gather on top of drains to the extent that they prevent water flushing away, thus causing flooding; the town halls, in that they do spend taxpayers' money wisely on street-cleaning, are mainly engaged in being needled by pines and clearing the gutters.

The negative attitudes towards the pine are such that the university researchers are calling for an educative process to correct erroneous views and misapprehensions. We will all need to learn to love the pine, to hug** one daily. Until, that is, caterpillars fall onto our necks and sting us or the drains get blocked.

This is "El Pi de Formentor" set to music and sung by the Mallorcan, Maria del Mar Bonet:

** And "The Diario" did indeed show us how to hug a tree in its article. Go here:

Yesterday - Ricky Martin,

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

She Bangs: Car-hire prices

They're still banging on about the price of car hire, as they'll no doubt bang on about it throughout the coming season. But some of the banging-on and some of the messages are curious. At the weekend, "The Bulletin" dragged out some website report advising early booking for the Whitsun period - to avoid "peak prices ... evolving from the high demand". This report then went on to say, as though it was stating something new, which it most certainly wasn't, that a reason for high prices is the reduction in car fleets. Yes, well I think we knew that, thank you very much, as in we knew this last year as well as this. Big deal. Elsewhere in the paper, a lady was doing some more banging-on: another cup of coffee and another expensive car for hire. Ho hum. Ever the anecdote, ever the inconsequential.

However, just read those quotes again. Something doesn't necessarily chime with all the banging-on that has brought forth dire warnings of visitors fleeing Mallorca and heading for havens of low-cost car hire (if any such place exists). That something is "high demand". Well, if there is high demand, then are people being deterred by prices? It would appear not. But what about these prices? The report is quoted as saying that one could expect to pay "even as much as 136 pounds for a car rental in the Mini-category" - for Whitsun week. Even as much as? The price doesn't sound that excessive, certainly not in the 7000 a week for a small car that Harry Goodman surely didn't pay but was said to have done, or the 700 a week that one presumes the paper actually meant to print. Hyping up "hikes" in prices when the prices do not appear to be unreasonable seems distinctly strange: me suspects the exaggeration of a so-called and self-congratulatory "campaign".

Then there was something even stranger in yesterday's "Diario", because it went against the whole justification for these alleged hikes - that reduction in car fleets. The headline said that there had been a rise of 214% in Balearic car registrations (during March), a record for Spain. The by-line added that the Balearics were leading the way in the increase in car sales thanks to - "the renewal of car-hire fleets". Record sales, renewal of fleets; strange and very interesting. It's very interesting because, assuming this to be correct, then the price-increase justification through limited supply is undermined, leaving one to conclude that, if there are indeed excessive prices being charged, then this may well be the result of agencies pursuing a bit of profiteering - as has been alleged by the banger-on-ers. Maybe. It might rather depend on how many and which agencies have been engaging in the purchase of new vehicles.

Unquestionably, there are now conflicting messages emerging. On 3 March (Keep The Car Running), I reported that the word was that there would be a fall of 5,000 hire vehicles this year. However, the total number of sales in March alone was not far short of that figure and this was made up, in large part, by those to agencies (albeit that no precise figure for agency sales has been given); total sales for the whole of the first quarter have risen by over 100%, equating to over 8,000 vehicles. There are factors driving, as it were, car sales, one of them being the rise in IVA (VAT), planned from 1 July.

The sales figures place a different complexion on the car-hire story. And if one takes that report, maybe what we have is evidence not of a market going belly-up but one that is actually rather buoyant, enjoying "high demand" and at prices, quite frankly, that are not excessive, because there is in fact more supply around than was being predicted. One waits, with interest, the further banging-on and criticisms regarding old bangers.

Yesterday - Brilliant (with video supplied by shum65).
The Cocteau Twins, "Five Ten Fiftyfold" from the "Head Over Heels" album:

Today - cracking Latino song, though I suppose it might seem a little ironic now.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Wheezing And Sneezing: Pollen allergies in Mallorca


Scratching, nose-running and blowing, eyes reddening; wheezing and sneezing. 'Tis the season to be allergic. If you are suffering from sore eyes, blocked or runny nose, cough or wheeze or itching, then you probably have an allergy. And you would not be alone. According to a report from "The Diario" yesterday, one in three people in the Balearics suffers from an allergy brought about by air-borne pollen. If you're having a few respiratory problems, take some solace in being re-assured that the Balearics fare rather better than the mainland of Spain; it's worse there.

This is indeed the season for pollen, and the season can be quite long in lasting until July. There is some worry that this will be a particularly bad year for pollen allergies, a consequence of the wet winter.

The evidence of pollen is not difficult to see. The yellow dust that covers cars and terraces is a familiar sight in spring. I've always presumed it to be pine pollen, and it may well be, but this is not the only pollen that drifts around in the Mallorcan breezes. The worst culprit is, apparently, the "parietaria", a plant or I suppose weed that includes nettles. Others are olive trees, cypress trees - of various sorts - and grasses of different types. Among the advice to combat the effects of pollen are recommendations to avoid going out between eleven and three, wearing sunglasses and not hanging out washing, as the pollen gets into clothes. This latter bit of advice is sound for another reason. Given the yellowy-green colour of the pollen, get a real strong blast of it and you'll end up looking as if you're playing for Norwich City (sorry, I think I may have used this "joke" before, but I like it anyway). I suppose Brazil might be more acceptable.

While hay fever and even asthma can be the consequence of pollen allergies, the effect of pollen on the skin cannot be underestimated. One such is what one might call "driver's itch". Car window down, arm resting on door, and later some damn annoying itch, followed by scratch, scratch and a scab. I know. I've had it. There is another downside to having the window down. The inside of the car gets smothered in the pollen. The advice being issued doesn't stretch to car windows, only to keeping those in houses closed, but it should do. Not that I'd take any notice. Itch, itch, scratch, scratch. At least I'm not wheezing and sneezing.

Yesterday - Gorillaz, Today - "wheezing and sneezing" when they, strange Scottish shoegazers as they were, were at their most terrifyingly weird and wonderful.

Any comments to please.