Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Great Steak Wars: Really real in Playa de Muro

"Real steak." Not real as in a Spanish football club, but real as in "real" - genuine, authentic, English. When is real steak unreal, do you suppose? When it's not steak probably. The "real" moniker makes something of a change to those alternatives, especially authentic. Authentic (typical) Mallorcan cuisine, authentic Indian cuisine, authentic, authentic. I wish a restaurant would promote itself as being unauthentic. I might go then.

There is a real steak war emerging. A real steak war as in both the steak being real and there really being a steak war as opposed to a pretend one; well, sort of. The real steak war is also being fought out over real historical claims. Since 19--, apply your own numbers. The steak war is in Las Gaviotas, the area of Playa de Muro that no one really calls Las Gaviotas, if they happen to be a tourist, as equally no tourist really calls it Playa de Muro because they think, or are told, that it is Alcúdia, which it isn't.

The restaurant S'Albufera has a chalkboard sign outside, declaring the reality of its steak and the years of really having been a steak house. 30 years, it would seem. Why has the restaurant made this move? It is, it would appear, an escalation of the war against a newcomer to the steak battlefield. Where would we be without them? The Dakota restaurants.

Almost next door to S'Albufera and its thirty years of steaking claims is a new Dakota, but not only a tex-mex Dakota. This is a steak house Dakota. A large sign says so. Steak House in big letters with some steak, some flames and a grill just to make sure everyone gets the message. Everywhere a steak house and everywhere a picture of some flaming grill. Flaming on fire and not flaming as a euphemism for "damn". The flames of the damned though, as the great steak war hots up.

Steak houses have taken over. They are the new, well, tex-mex, except they're not new, just that everyone seems to want to be a steak house and everyone is promoting steak credentials. It had never really occurred to me that S'Albufera was a real steak house, as it's always been plain S'Albufera. But when the war is joined, so some realism is chalked onto a blackboard. And when it comes to the Dakotas, the longevity is, how can one put it, rather open to interpretation. Unlike S'Albufera which had also not previously boasted about its generation-plus existence. Or maybe it had; just that no one had noticed.

Do people really want all this steak? Real or not. Maybe they do. There are steak houses, kids newly on blocks, that are doing a roaring and flaming steak trade, albeit mingled in with kebabs and whatever else fills out the menu. Steak house, like pizzeria, has become something of a catch-all. Restaurant We Do Everything. And it's real.

We should really have a competition. Where is the most real steak? Which is the most real steak house? I can't honestly help as I rarely eat steak - rare or well done. A friend once said that Los Tamarindos in Puerto Alcúdia did the best steak he had ever eaten. I confess it wasn't bad. The solomillo at Satyricon in Alcúdia was magnificent, but that's hardly somewhere you might classify as a steak house. Boy in Playa de Muro's steak and meat come in the size of a cow, deliciously marinaded, but it calls itself a grill, as does Los Tamarindos. No steak house for either of these places, but they are, just as much as those which say they are real steak houses or steak houses with no statement as to being real or otherwise.

You cannot avoid steak. Whole herds of beef cow cut, sliced, flavoured, spitting, roasting, grilling. And all of it real. Unless it happens not to be.

Any comments to please.

Index for June 2010

Alcúdia, friendly - 16 June 2010
All-inclusive in Puerto Pollensa - 27 June 2010
All-inclusives and tour operators - 28 June 2010
Anxiety in Alcúdia - 19 June 2010
Balearic Government adjustment measures - 2 June 2010, 4 June 2010
Bellevue closure rumour - 9 June 2010, 10 June 2010
Cala San Vicente - 26 June 2010
Can Picafort: ducks and night party - 11 June 2010
Car rental - 23 June 2010
Council of Mallorca - 12 June 2010
Discounts - 18 June 2010
General public-sector strike - 6 June 2010
Grupo Marsans sold - 10 June 2010
Hotel occupancy - 8 June 2010, 10 June 2010
Miss Drag Mallorca - 13 June 2010
Noise, music and bars - 1 June 2010, 7 June 2010
Police, local government financing & - 15 June 2010
Prices in Mallorca - 6 June 2010
Puerto Pollensa protest - 2 June 2010, 3 June 2010
Russian tourism - 9 June 2010
Sant Pere fiesta Puerto Alcúdia 2010 brochure - 22 June 2010
Sis Pins ownership - 3 June 2010
Smoking ban law - 22 June 2010
Steak houses - 30 June 2010
Tourism Agency for the Balearic Islands - 8 June 2010
Tourist information offices: too helpful? - 25 June 2010
Tourist satisfaction - 21 June 2010
Towers of Alcúdia Bay - 5 June 2010
Well-being promotion, active - 20 June 2010
World Cup - 17 June 2010, 24 June 2010, 28 June 2010, 29 June 2010
Youth drinking - 14 June 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Somewhere That Is Forever England: And rather better than the football

The St George flags have been taken down. Like a period of official mourning, the flags have not just been lowered, they have been interred, along with the dead body of English football.

Everyone and his dog and mistress has had his or her say. So why shouldn't I be any different? England's misfortune may not directly have anything to do with the little part of Mallorca that is forever Albion, but it is still England, our England - transplanted in the Mediterranean, where the arrests mounted and the odd pisshead went on the prowl for some retribution. How little one has to be proud of.

Everyone and his dog and mistress has his or her theory as to the reasons for England going belly-up - on a grand scale, the size of many a belly wobbling with many a Saint Mick in the sun of Mallorca. Perhaps we should toss in the alignment of the planets, as Ted Dexter once madly referred to when a different England team was succumbing horribly.

After England were dumped out of the last World Cup, Graham Taylor, not someone necessarily associated with Pele's "beautiful game", said that England would never win a tournament while the players lacked the technique and nous to compete with others - Portugal then, Germany now. He was merely echoing what has been said for some 50 or more years. If you go back to the 1950s, England were soundly thrashed not once but twice by the Hungarians. Players who participated in those drubbings included famous names of English football - Matthews, Mortensen, Finney, Wright. The team was still wedded to the WM system, one invented by Arsenal in the 1920s. The navel-gazing that followed the conceding of 13 goals in two matches focused on the system and on technique. Both were badly lacking. There is nothing new under a Mallorcan or a South African sun, and as we have come to appreciate over the years, 1966 was an aberration, an apparent injustice, for which the Germans now have goal-line redemption.

During that last World Cup, I happened to stumble across a soccer game on Spanish television that wasn't from the World Cup. It was a tournament being played in Mallorca. The play was vibrant, with movement, pace and passing. Everything was pretty much to feet; it was a joy to watch. The players were 12 years old. It was a tournament featuring junior German and Spanish teams, playing on a scaled-down pitch, not a full-size one.

Germany, for years a dominant force in world football, had slumped so much that at the 2000 European championship they were even worse than Keegan's England. They had a re-think, a proper re-think. The structure of the game in Germany is such that most Bundesliga sides play in a similar fashion, and the reason lies in the co-ordinated efforts of the Bundesliga and the German football association, together with a programme that has provided thousands more coaches than exist in England. It has also provided Joachim Löw who was the coaching brains behind Jürgen Klinsmann before he got the top job himself.

That class of 2006 and its Spanish counterpart was representative of a coaching style that is only now starting to be realised in England. The FA reckons its under-17s are outstanding. Perhaps so, but unlike with the Bundesliga, how many will get the opportunity to shine in the Premier League? Again, it all has to do with the structure of the sport.

To hear Chris Waddle on Five Live after the match was to listen to someone who was angry beyond anything one has ever heard from a "pundit". Waddle may not have been much of a manager, but he was a hell of a player. He was widely attributed as having been the driving force behind getting Bobby Robson to change England's style in 1990, one that perhaps should have won the tournament with a side blessed with greater talent (Lineker, Beardsley, Gascoigne, Shilton) than the so-called golden generation. Waddle was apoplectic, laying into the FA, into technique, into coaching and systems.

Waddle also played abroad, thus broadening his mind. And broad minds are not what one thinks of with the likes of Potato Head. Waddle's fellow mullet wearer and partner in Diamond Lights crime, Glenn Hoddle, was another expat in France. Hoddle, had he not been as batty as Ted Dexter (battier in fact), might just have proven to be the England manager who changed things for the better. He was an advocate of the joined-up system that the Germans now have and which is a contemporary version of what propelled the Dutch national side (and Ajax) from international obscurity in the 1970s.

Instead of Hoddle, we got Keegan. Passion, which we are now said to lack. But also clueless, as he pretty much confessed to. And then Eriksson and Capello, mercenaries with short-horizon missions. Neither should be blamed for trying to turn apparently golden dross into real gold. If the FA (or the Premier League if, God forbid, it took over the national side) wants another foreign coach, it should open its coffers to Wenger, one who might have the gumption and organisational ability to create a "project", alongside visionaries such as Trevor Brooking, that goes beyond just the next qualifying rounds. But then Howard Wilkinson, despite his reputation one of the very few other visionaries, tried something along these lines in the late '90s, partly to counteract what he saw as the potential drawbacks of the Premier League. It came to nothing.

The what-ifs, the Terry incidents, Capello and his various failings, player tiredness, Rio Ferdinand's injury; the list of reasons is endless. Some of them may well have played a part, but the fault lies at a much more basic level, and it is a fault that has been known about for years. Yet little has been done to address it. From Italy, also humiliated in this World Cup, there is talk of a need to examine the structure of the game there. You wouldn't bet against the Italians doing something about the failure in 2010. Whether England do, who knows.

Any comments to please.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Smoke And Mirrors: Why friendliness is spurious

Alcúdia friendly, so it was said on 16 June. It's not the only resort in Mallorca that is friendly and not the only resort where tourists can expect excellent hospitality. "The Diario", as it did when interviewing tourists in Alcúdia, following tour operators' arguments that greater friendliness needed to be shown to visitors, has gone on another walkabout - to different places across the island. Again the impetus was what tour operators were saying about service and that all-important friendliness, or the lack of them. And what they have again discovered is a situation quite removed from what the tour operators have been alleging.

While one has to get into perspective a few sources being cited in a couple of articles, the paper's findings - including the fact that tourists come back year after year - does make one wonder quite what has been behind the tour operators' suggestions as to a lack of friendliness or poor service. Maybe, just maybe, they're using them as a smoke-screen.

There was an interesting letter in "The Bulletin" yesterday. The points it raised were well-made, and it came from someone who was behind a movement in Calvia to correct the problems faced by bars and others. Among the points was the fact that tour operators are saying that were bars and restaurants to stay open - in winter - and support hotels that get their prices right, then they would arrange packages. Yet they also say that Mallorca needs more all-inclusive, as the market wants it.

Forget the winter tourism element, the point about all-inclusive says it all. Bars and restaurants staying open while all-inclusive gets cranked up are mutually exclusive. The tour operators' line of thinking is thoroughly illogical - and they surely know it to be so. Which is why they may be raising that smoke-screen of friendliness and service; it's a red herring.

It is the tour operators that have caused the problems with Mallorca's tourism, just as - for the most part - they also brought about the success. True though it may be that bars and restaurants had it easy, thanks to the benevolence of hotels and yes the tour operators, but as the letter-writer points out these bars and restaurants were needed, encouraged. Not now they aren't. Saying that bars and restaurants should stay open, while simultaneously taking away their business because of a growth in all-inclusive is a fatuous and idiotic argument.

England's humiliation
It was embarrassing. It was quieter than Slovenia. Of course it was. And now the bars will be lamenting the defeat. No great troupes of Rooneys and Gerrards. No great sales of foamy. Sadly I feel I may have been prescient when I said on 17 June that "England will prove to be rubbish, and Germany will win it."

Any comments to please.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Did It Moll Way: All-inclusive in Puerto Pollensa

Now here, you might think, would be something that would send tremors coursing through the shaky old bones of the Puerto Pollensa indignant. Tagged on to the end of reports about Mayor Cerdà forming a "table", around which other indignants and he can sit and talk about dog shit, is this little old mention, as in the one from "Ultima Hora" - "the possible repercussions of all-inclusive in the Moll (port)". Has there not yet been a call for a great protest to storm the fortresses of hotel chains? People should be careful what they wish for. When the revolutionaries took to the streets on 2 June, one complaint was that no new hotels had been built down Moll way. Maybe there will be. Club Mac comes to Puerto Pollensa. God forbid. Tattoos and karaoke follow. Even more than now in the already dumbed-down PP. The perverse streak in me says "bring it on", but that is utterly ludicrous, as is the entire discussion as to hotel development - Moll way.

They don't need to sit around a table and discuss the repercussions. They can stand up, anywhere they like, and shout them out loud. Any fool could tell them.

Puerto Pollensa has been spared the ravages of the all-inclusive war that have razed much of Alcúdia, Playa de Muro and Can Picafort. But it is probably only a question of time. What tour operators want, they normally get, and they are doubtless eyeing up Moll way as the next big all the Saint Mick and pizza you can get through location. Or there might, instead, be the superior class style AI, the one with real drinks and without Johnny Vegas. But AI's AI, however you want to spin it. Don't think, by the way, that the town hall can do anything to stop the march of AI. It can't. Tour operators. Tourism ministry. Hoteliers. These are what you need to be aware of; forget the town hall, except when they're taking in the taxes.

All-inclusive in Puerto Pollensa, from what one can make out, is currently confined to Club Sol. Partial AI, maybe. AI that falls short of the full-on AI. Maybe it is full-on. You have to actually be a guest to know for sure. And that is how it is with AI. You don't quite know. Many a hotel is engaging in some quasi-AI arrangement or other, designed to make the punter part with some in-hotel dosh. Yet it is absurd. The full-on all-inclusive not only doesn't want to be all-inclusive, it also doesn't want the punters anywhere near the free drink, or around the pool - if it can help it. Get 'em out; that's the motif. Unlike the half-board or other non-AI hotels. They do everything they can to keep the punter strapped to the poolside bar or watching the World Cup (and the chances to watch the footy are limited in AI's - why do you think that is).

All-inclusive in Puerto Pollensa? Repercussions of AI in Puerto Pollensa? It doesn't bear thinking about, but it is easy to think about. Rather than the revolutionaries taking to clean the beach - as they're meant to be in the next "protest", and which will do even more to alert the hadn't-ever-noticed-the-shit tourist than the march in early June - they should be shouting out loud about those repercussions. Trouble is that they may have brought them upon themselves. Go figure.

* Just in case you don't get the title - the pronunciation of "moll" is "moy"; think rural English.

Yesterday: The Kane Gang,

Any comments to please.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Closest Thing To Heaven: No more - Cala San Vicente

On 11 June last year (It Doesn't Add Up), I wrote a piece about Cala San Vicente. It started with a quote from someone who was staying at La Moraleja, the charming, high-class hotel as you come into the Cala. "It's paradise." "Well, there's nowhere quite like it." "Is there?"

Amidst all the pining for the close to the pinewalk Sis Pins in Puerto Pollensa before it reopened, it was easy to overlook the fact that there was another, grander hotel that was closed. Easy to overlook because it's in the Cala, as indeed it sometimes seems easy to overlook the Cala, full stop. La Moraleja. Paradise it may be. Nowhere else like it, very possibly. But it's not there, as in it's not open. The gates are firmly closed and locked. It's very sad. And it makes three, the number of hotels now not open in the Cala. The Mayol has been shut for ... for how long; can't remember. The Simar is into its second year of closure. And now the Moraleja.

It seems almost an annual thing for me to have to bemoan the fate that has befallen Cala San Vicente. It is such an awful shame. One restaurant owner said yesterday that there is "mucha cree-sis" in CSV. The truth is that there was mucha cree-sis before the cree-sis took hold. The place has been going down the pan for years. But why? Ok, apart from the fact that there's nothing much to do there, other than relax, lie on Molins cove beach, snorkel, have a drink or a meal, it is still, just about, a little piece of heaven. And it's not that no one's interested. Curiously, when I was in the Alcúdia tourist office the other day, not one but two sets of people went to the desk to ask for information as to how to get there. From Alcúdia. People want to go there, and so they should. But the bus schedule isn't great. You really need a car or take a taxi. The Cala is end-of-the-line Pollensa tourism, backwaters Pollensa.

Several years ago, a colossal error was made. It was when the Don Pedro went all-inclusive. It could be argued that a place out of the way, like the Cala, is more suited to all-inclusive than bustling resorts with everything immediately to hand. But it wasn't suited, because it changed the nature of the small resort and also began to undermine the businesses there. Elitist this may sound, but the appeal of the Cala was its very sleepiness and its quaint, quasi-colonial exclusivity, one that La Moraleja has, or had, in abundance. Its appeal was also to be found in the semi-mystical reverence in which the place is held by Mallorcans, the consequence of a reputation, part-Bohemian, part-intellectual as an oasis for artists and free thinkers.

It still has an air of exclusivity, granted, for example. by the eponymous Cala San Vicente hotel, and the refinement of the Molins hotel. But the fault, the fault-line if you like, in Cala San Vicente is that it wasn't somehow ring-fenced and preserved in its own time warp of days of the Raj in back-of-beyond Pollensa. And that it wasn't spared the development that has taken away some of its character.

The building of the apartments by Molins cove was the last straw for some and became the subject of a rallying cry from the environmentalists. The apartments, I think, look ok, so long as you approve of the trend towards somewhat anonymous and formulaic neutral-coloured blockettes of apartments. No, in themselves they are far from offensive; just that they really aren't in the right place.

The nostalgia of the Cala, for me, remains the vision looking down to Molins cove and to Bar Mallorca and to what was once a dustbowl behind it. When the resort still had a shambolic appearance, one of a grand old dame, shuffling around under a wide-brimmed straw hat, taking a gin on the verandah or a sangria and fish supper in one of the still unpretentious restaurants, it had its barmy exclusivity. It's gone I'm afraid, and it ain't coming back. But one might hope that the Moraleja will return. If anyone still cares.

Yep, it's back: "Closest Thing To Heaven". Who?

Any comments to please.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Too Much Information: Customer service at tourist offices

My original business mentor was my first boss, as in the owner of the first company I worked for after university. He was a hard task master, but he was one of a handful of exceptional people who I worked for or with. He wrote the definitive, early tome on the application of work study to office tasks.

One of the problems of applying an essentially scientific approach to office work (in its widest sense, to mean customer encounters as well) is how you factor in that service element. I'm not sure that anyone has ever really come up with a good solution.

Why do I mention this? Yesterday I was at the tourist information office in Alcúdia. I have long been impressed with the time, attention and care that are given by staff at information offices, but it is the first of these - time - that I wonder about. I was in the queue, sort of. Was I in a hurry? I was asked. No, no. I had only come to ask whether they wanted a further delivery of HOT! I could wait. And so I did.

The couple in front of me - Catalan speakers - asked for a guide to Alcúdia. This they were given. They didn't ask for anything else. But what they got was a lengthy explanation as to all manner of aspects of Alcúdia. You could see that they were wanting to edge away, but the information kept on coming. The queue was getting longer.

When they finally left, I was left wearing a perplexed expression. Why had this encounter taken so long? I'm sure they were grateful, or were they? Those behind in the queue might not have been so grateful.

This is far from a criticism. On the contrary, the attention was exemplary. When one hears criticisms of attitudes to tourists in Mallorca, you couldn't fault it, as rarely can you fault the attention of the tourist offices. But I couldn't help thinking of days going through the work study textbooks.

An answer, you might think, would be to automate some of the information giving. Or to simply have sheets of information, in different languages, that can be picked up. But both have drawbacks. Not everyone wants to use a terminal. Not everyone realises that there are sheets to pick up. Not everyone doesn't want direct personal service. Which is, I guess, the crux of the issue. Then there is also the tourist offices' own "scientific" need - that of registering the number of enquirers and from which country they come. What they ever do with this statistics gathering, I don't know. If not very much, then you wonder why. That old boss of mine once told me, in no uncertain terms, to stop wasting time on gathering information that was of no practical use. But maybe it is put to practical use.

There was, I felt, a sense of being too helpful. Again not a bad thing. Of course not. But being too helpful, in spending a significant amount of time in one encounter does, and you could see it, place the officer under certain stress. From being very or too helpful, it is not such a big step to becoming less helpful because you are under too much strain, caused by the degree of attention given.

The other factor though is the level of resourcing. Alcúdia is under-staffed. And they know it. There just isn't the budget. It's a similar story elsewhere. Playa de Muro for example. One officer, super helpful and super giving of information. Lots of it. But she needs the occasional day off. Result? Office closed. Only Pollensa seems to have sufficient numbers of staff, though you wonder for how much longer given the need to cut costs*.

Service is vital, and the tourist offices are in the front line. What they do is generally excellent, but maybe a rather more pragmatic approach is needed. The staff are placed under a good deal of pressure, and sometimes perhaps heap it upon themselves. Time and motion have long been dirty words in a service environment, but some sensitive application might not go amiss - for everyone's benefit.

* And talking of cutting costs in Pollensa, this year's admittedly always minor Sant Pere fiesta in Puerto Pollensa has been combined with the Fira de la Mar that had previously occurred in September and which was, in terms of timing, a pretty daft event as one could, with some degree of certainty, predict that there would be the mid-September deluge to rain on its parade - which is exactly what happened last year. Information on the WHAT'S ON BLOG - - but it's not in anything like the same league as the Puerto Alcúdia Sant Pere.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh What An Atmosphere: Football on holiday

Football on holiday. There is this thing that baffles me slightly. Chanting support for our boys. In bars. Outside bars. Does it somehow permeate the plasma and filter across global satellite communication systems to be relayed above the noise of the vuvuzelas in a South African stadium? Probably not.

"England till I die." At the clinic next to Foxes, the lady in charge was getting anxious. The noise was such that she couldn't hear someone on the phone. So she said. "England till I die," and someone on the end of the phone gagging his or her last. Maybe she should be grateful that the clinic is not next door to a Spanish bar, though possibly she was unnerved by the raucousness of those feared English footy fans - and their ancient reputation. A police car passed, just as a Rooney was launching himself into a one-man Peter Kay conga. "Are you on your way to Yellow, sir?" The police might have asked. "Yellow?" He was English, after all, and a Rooney, to boot. The clinic Oberführerfrau, arms sternly crossed, watched as the police car kept going and watched as it came back and kept going.

Rooneys, Gerrards, the odd (very odd) Crouch, the occasional, nostalgic Beckham, an absence of Heskeys. England versus Slovenia. I felt possibly under-dressed in a sky-blue Man City reminiscent Karl Hogan. Not a red or white for me. "I am the only Slovenian in Alcúdia," said I in my best Slovenian accent. I used the gag, if you could call it such, once. Unlike the gag from the Rooneys and Gerrards. "Well held," every time James caught the ball. Ho-de-ho-ho.

Then there are the pints. Hundreds, thousands. Has anyone ever measured the peaks of pint purchase as a game progresses? A graph with game time on one axis and pints on the other, superimposed by another - pints purchased in the immediate aftermath of an England goal. Someone should. I will, if I'm given the grant to do so.

Around The Mile. A party on the Goodfellas terrace, or what looked like a party. Some mascoty beings, wrapped in St George, a white with red cross sun shade over a baby buggy. The passage way by Linekers packed like Wembley Way. Wayne with a mini-Gazza blond look, lacking only a lob, a goal and a dentist's chair. And a multitude of Rooneys; a potato field of Rooneys.

Football on holiday. Football on holiday in the afternoon sun in Puerto Alcúdia. "Oh what an atmosphere."

And it was only Slovenia. And it was brilliant.

* Some photos on the HOT Alcudia Pollensa Facebook page.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conflicting Evidence: Car rental in Mallorca

The car-rental situation continues to cause the occasional apoplexy and disgusted of Tunbridge Wells letters to you know what. And if one is minded to be selective in terms of what one reads, then one can argue the case both ways - that there is a problem or there isn't. Take yesterday. In "Ultima Hora" there was a piece which quoted the views of one agency - Goldcar. This said that 30,000 tourists, mainly German, would not be coming to Mallorca because of a lack of supply of cars, and that they would be going elsewhere, where presumably they can get a car.

A point about this is that the circumstances which might be causing a shortage of cars in Mallorca are the same in other countries - recession and lack of credit. The apparent car scarcity is not unique to the island. But then there was another article, one from "The Diario", which painted a somewhat different picture. Far from there being a shortage of cars, the problem it was portraying was a shortage of customers. Perhaps those 30,000 Germans, or whoever they are, have indeed not chosen Mallorca. If so, they have left agencies with excess stock on their hands. According to this second article, some 40% of the total rent-a-car fleet in Mallorca is garaged up because of insufficient demand, and that only in the very high season (end July and August) is there likely to be anything approaching full supply.

So how does one reconcile these two conflicting points? The answer is that one doesn't. Or one probably plumps for the Ultima Hora version, if it lends support to one's claims of shortages and excessive prices. And on prices, the Diario goes on to say that, at present, typical daily rates are between 25 and 30 euros for a small car and between 40 and 45 for a medium-sized vehicle, and that these will rise to around 45-50 and 60, respectively, when demand really kicks in during high season. If so, then these prices are hardly in the category of some of the more outlandish claims that have been made about the cost of car hire, including of course the what one has to presume was a typo when "The Bulletin" quoted Harry Goodman as paying 7000 euros for a week's hire; even at 700 that would probably be for something pretty grand (7 April: She Bangs: Car-hire prices).

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Smoking Law Passed

The Spanish Congress has today passed unanimously the law that will ban smoking in public places, such as bars and restaurants. The ban is due to be introduced on 1 January 2011. Local pressure in Mallorca had attempted to get a re-think, arguing that there will be a 12% loss of customers in bars and restaurants and a 25% loss in night bars and also arguing that recession is not the time to be introducing such a ban.

Something's A Bit Fishy: Alcúdia and San Pedro

The San Pedro (Sant Pere / Saint Peter) fiestas kick off in Puerto Alcúdia tomorrow. The programme has a familiar feel to it - giants dancing, humans towering, demons running, San Pedro an-imaging and a-floating. The less familiar will be a "pirates" night party and Michael Jackson, or someone like him. It is, though, the very familiarity that makes one wonder as to the "brochure" that has been produced. Not for the first time, I have to question the expense of this promotion. I had questioned it B.C., but A.C. or D.C. if you prefer (after or during crisis), it should be questioned even more.

A fish. That's the brochure. Pages sprung together in the shape of a fish. Inevitably, it's only in Catalan. There may only be 15 pages of it, but the process of cutting it into the shape of a fish doesn't do a lot to limit costs. (I'm presuming it's been done with a custom die-cutter, and anything with the word "custom" when it comes to printing brings with it a premium.)

The result may well be different, but what's the point of it? If you are local, and especially local Mallorcan, who lives in Alcúdia or Puerto Alcúdia, you know full well when San Pedro occurs; you also know pretty much, with some exceptions, what the programme will comprise. Much of it is the same every year; same "events", same time, same day, same place. If you are local, but non-Catalan-speaking local, then the fish doesn't really address itself to you. If you are not local, but a visitor who hasn't a clue about Catalan, then you are deep-fried and battered into incomprehension. Always assuming you ever see a fish, which is unlikely.

At the tourist office in the port, they had a fish yesterday. One fish. Not several. Not a whole load. One. What they also had, and have had for about a week is a couple of A4 sheets in English, giving the programme. I should know because I did it for them. The tourist offices across Alcúdia and Pollensa and in Playa de Muro and Can Picafort also have these English sheets. The fish only appeared in the flesh, so to speak, yesterday.

I struggle to understand the impulse, especially during a period when belts are meant to be being tightened, to go to the trouble and expense of a fish. It's clever, of course it is. It's also well done. But this is not the point. And if you think that they haven't actually printed many, given that the tourist office had but one fish, then think again. A waiter at a nearby restaurant said there were a whole load of fish tossed into the entrance of his block of flats. Aimed at locals, but not visitors, one has to conclude. Perhaps if the tourist office had two fish, it could feed, via some miracle, the information appetite of a multitude of five thousand tourists. There again, I'm not sure if Saint Peter was involved in that particular gig.

Meanwhile in Muro, the bullfight on Sunday having been rained off, there is talk of hurriedly having to do a replacement poster for the re-arranged bull-off this coming Sunday. Bullfight posters, as much as the fight itself, have a symbolic power, but might they not just stick something over the existing one giving the new time. Not that they would need to, because anyone who plans on going will surely know anyway. Daft.

If you want to see the fish, you can download it here: The English version is available on

Any comments to please.

Monday, June 21, 2010

All A Bit Academic: Tourist satisfaction in Mallorca

Mallorca claims second spot in tourist satisfaction with sun and beach destinations. Only the Caribbean beats it. This is one of the findings from research by Jaume Garau at the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma. "The Diario" has gone quite big on reporting this research - both the things that satisfy tourists and those which dissatisfy.

On the face of it, coming second to the Caribbean and ahead of places like Turkey, Greece, France, the Canaries sounds like good news - and it probably is. But having come up with this finding, what will anyone do with the results?

The research itself is published in the "Annals of Tourism Research", though the comparative findings (between different destinations) are not included in the paper to be found there. They must be published separately. The comparison seems to have been made by asking interviewees at Palma airport to rate destinations they had been to in recent years (including Mallorca).

There are conclusions which might be thought to have practical consequences. While the island's sun and beach tourism gets approval from a German-British-Spanish research population, there is less satisfaction with other things, such as local cuisine, culture and historical places and nightlife. But a question that follows is to what extent does satisfaction imply interest. One could say that what Garau has revealed is precisely what many, including myself, have long argued, and that is that it is the core brand of the Balearics and Mallorca - sun and beach - which is of greater importance to the tourist than other aspects, like gastronomy or culture.

While the main findings have been reported in one article, another looks at what dissatisfies tourists. And this is potentially quite revealing, and especially for the distinction it draws between Mallorca tourism "veterans" and those new to the island or islands. Among the old-hands, it is the apparent deterioration in the physical landscape - too much construction, too much noise, too much traffic etc. - that is the cause of dissatisfaction. For the newbies, it is prices. The veterans, however, seem to have little problem with these. Significantly perhaps, the research was actually conducted in 2006, i.e. B.C. - before crisis. It would, in a hypothetical world, be interesting were the same population of tourism veterans to be asked their views now as to prices. But even without this, the research has at least applied some academic rigour to the contentious issue of prices, one that is normally only dealt with via anecdote.

What the researchers are at pains to point out is that unlike surveys which seek measures of satisfaction alone, theirs has included measures of dissatisfaction as well. It is these, they argue, that need to be taken into account in determining a tourist's intention to return. They also argue that dissatisfaction is not the opposite of satisfaction (bet you didn't know this) in referring to the fact that interviewees who express satisfaction can also express dissatisfaction about the same thing.

The problem with this research, as is typically the case with academia, is that its purpose is not necessarily meant to be practical. The overriding objective is to establish the excellence of the research, the methodology and the need to do more research. Extracting the practical is possible, but it isn't easy, and for this reason, though the research is probably quite important, one wonders if anyone much, outside of academia, will really take much notice.

* Joaquín Alegre and Jaume Garau, "Tourist Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction", Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 37 No. 1 2010, Elsevier.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All Being Well: Bienestar Activo on the bay of Alcúdia

The central and regional governments and the three combined municipalities of Alcúdia, Muro and Santa Margalida are due to chip in a third each of a 4.5 million euro budget over four years that will go towards making the northern tourism zone of Mallorca one of "bienestar activo" (active well-being). It is an "ambitious plan", says Alcúdia's mayor Llompart. Ambitious possibly, but what on earth is it?

This is a strategic plan conjured up by the three town halls and the local hotel associations to add some dynamism to tourism, especially that in the off-season. The budget is to be spent on planning, organisation and management; on resources and tourist services; on improving competitiveness and on marketing. Good. Still not clear what it is though.

The answer lies with trekking, Nordic walking and cycling. Stifle a yawn in the back row there. Not exactly anything new. Cycling we know all about; Alcúdia and Can Picafort have had their own Nordic walking "routes" for some while; trekking is an old past-time. To these can be added canoeing, which is meant to be taking place on the Lago Esperanza.

The hotel associations on the bay of Alcúdia have been keen to promote the sporting nature of the area and did so recently when the tourism minister was in town. But one had the impression that they were implying something rather more dynamic. Do existing tourist "attractions" fall into this category? It's hard to get excited.

There is, unfortunately, something rather lame about the spin behind this, for instance that devoted to the benefits to businesses other than hotels. Cyclists will go to bars or restaurants or have a massage, it is said. Well, yes, some will go to bars and restaurants; as they already do. Not that everyone locally would say that cyclists bring in much by way of income to bars (a sometimes false impression, it should be said). As for the odd massage, well that should really get the local economy buzzing.

The "bienestar activo" initiative may well be worthy, even if it is a repackaging of what already exists. But we have been here before with initiatives. Muro town hall made much of a revamping of its "promotion". Has it had much of an impact? Then there was that "estación naútica" concept that was meant to brand Alcúdia as a quality watersports centre. Never heard anything more about that.

Diversifying the tourism offer is laudable, but this is not new diversification. Relying on the natural environment or current infrastructure, which trekking, cycling, Nordic walking and canoeing all do, means that it is possible to try and make more out of very little investment. Seems fair enough. But maybe this is the problem. It is cheap to promote what is already there, even at 4.5 million, and is therefore easy to avoid attempting something rather more dramatic. What seems to be missing, in the reports at any rate, is any indication as to how many more tourists this will all bring in; how many more hotels might actually be open in the off-season.

And there is something else that seems to be missing. Among all this sporting "diversification" there is no mention of one particular sport. Golf. Why not? Maybe it's not considered to be part of well-being.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Case Of The Jitters

Sunwing, the all-Scandinavian hotel and apartment complex, is not far off being full. So I was told yesterday. With its location, right on the beach and an easy walk to both the port of Alcúdia and The Mile, you would hope that it - of all places - would be doing well. But the all-Scandinavian element probably tells more of a story.

Despite those comments a while ago about the Swedish finding the price of a beer in beach bars somewhat excessive and also about them defecting to other destinations, such as Thailand, the reality seems rather different, as it has been for perhaps three or four years. It has been the Scandinavians that have been keeping Alcúdia going. Hug a blond or a blonde. Even non-euro nations, like Norway and Sweden, and unlike the UK, don't seem to have turned their backs on Mallorca and Alcúdia. The less good news might be if Sunwing goes down the all-inclusive track.

Contrast the apparent tranquility by the beach with events elsewhere - in more Brit-market land. There was a bit of an incident yesterday, one involving a leaflet, and one I'm not about to go into. Suffice it to say, it also involved a hotel with a British market. The hotel didn't like a leaflet for a British bar. Its prerogative. But there are ways of doing things, other than getting in a bit of a tiz.

It was only when one heard of other apparent developments that one could possibly put this into a wider context of anxiety. Another hotel is, so it is being said, to not be graced by a leading UK tour operator next year; this may be destined to be another part of Alcúdia that is forever Scandinavian. And then there is Bellevue. The word is that it will close early and undergo some redevelopment for next year. As ever, I would like to see some hard evidence, but that is the word.

On top of this, there was confirmation of something that has been doing the rounds on's forum (and Trip Advisor) regarding a website known as The confirmation came not from a holidaymaker but an operator locally. People are being royally scammed.

This was of a totally different order to the jitters that seemed to be around, but it just added to a sense of anxiety. Yesterday was not a great day, because there was a strain, a feeling of all not being right with the world. But there was always meeting up with Sheila and Alan again, who were partaking of some liberal measures at Gavins. Which was far more like it. Perhaps we should all just relax a bit more.

Cheers, meanwhile, seem to have found some proper flags - fat lot of good it has done though. Oh woe is England. Told you it was not a great day.

Any comments to please.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ten Per Cent: The role of discounts

Money off, money off!

The question is, is price the most important thing? To read all the gripes and anecdotes, you would think that it is. There is no doubting the fact that the holidaymaker is a whole load more price-sensitive than may have once been the case, but is price the most important thing?

There are certain alleged truisms from the management/business world that not everyone is inclined to believe. One is that workers are not motivated by money; another is that businesses should never "sell" on price. Depending on your point of view, you will think these to indeed be true or bollocks. The real answers are, as always, far from black and white.

Which leads us to money off. To discounts.

Via Facebook, one of the local tourist office people asked me if I had thought about discount coupons in HOT!, and then went on to mention the bag of popcorn that's doing the rounds, together with some cards for discounts at some restaurants. The answer to the question was, well, no. If a business wants to offer a discount, it's up to them. The wider question is how effective is the discount approach?

On the face of it, you would think it was a no-brainer. 10% off, in flood the tourists. But it's not as simple as that. If, for example, you get a whole load of places in an area making the same or similar offers, then where's the difference? A business feels almost compelled to match the offer, even reluctantly. If the result is a load of repeat business, then ok, but that's really the issue. It may be attractive to the holidaymaker, but how good is it for the business?

The argument against discounting is that it elevates price to the top of the marketing mix tree. Price becomes the selling point, and this runs counter to pretty much all marketing theory. But what you are unlikely to find in all that theory is any study of discounts in a temporary market - which is what a tourism market is. Unless you take into account those visitors who return year on year. You don't build a business, long term, on discounts. You may do so through price, as part of the overall package, but this assumes that the prices are right in the first place. A customer doesn't become loyal on the basis of a discount; he is loyal only to the discount, not to the bar or restaurant.

A Mallorcan restaurant owner was umming and ahh-ing about a discount. In the end, he decided against because he was worried that other Mallorcans would come in and take advantage - never underestimate the Mallorcan desire to pay as little as possible. Even without some local free-ish-loading, the point is that he would stand to lose 10% that he might have got anyway. Which does also assume his package is right - in terms of the food, service and the price.

I'm not convinced about the discount as an incentive, partly because the tourism market is too diverse to be sure. At the low end, a restaurant with relatively high prices is unlikely to attract business even with a discount. At the high end, why would you offer a discount? At the low end, a place with lowish prices might get additional trade and experience an erosion in margin, with no guarantee that the customer would spend more than they might otherwise have done, or will come back, especially if the place next door is doing likewise.

It's an interesting subject though, and one - where the temporary market is concerned - that is deserving of investigation. Sounds like something else I'm going have to do. But if anyone has any thoughts on the effectiveness, or otherwise, of discounting in tourist resorts, it would be good to hear from you.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kicking Off (Or Not): Why World Cups are dull

Oh dear. How the mighty fall. There will doubtless be some (expats) who have delighted in Spain's defeat. I have never felt badly towards the Spanish team, though even I found myself willing the clock down against the Alpine dullards. Why is that, do you suppose? During the Euros, in the absence of England, it was easy to get behind the Spanish team, but then they went and blew it - blew the fact that they have been as useless, more useless, than England over the years. Winning something changed everything. But Spain will progress, despite a thought that has been nagging me that, like France in 2002, the team will just blow up. It might be remembered, though, that El Diego and Argentina lost their opening game in 1990, but still made the final.

Ah yes, 1990. In the days when World Cups still meant something. In that game, against Cameroon, you still had all what used to make World Cups great. Genuine, on-field violence. Why is this World Cup dull? Why have all World Cups since 1990 been dull? Because in 1994, FIFA decreed that the Americans had to have a tournament without physical contact, save for Leonardo's elbow. What you got was Bebeto's infuriating baby-rocking. Cutesy celebrations for an Americanised and sanitised era of football. Oh for the days of Argentina in 1978 and a Peruvian goalkeeper who just so happened to be Argentinian and who just so happened to let in six goals - against Argentina. Oh for the days of 1986 and a Uruguayan kicking my some time döppelganger Gordon Strachan up in the air after two minutes - and getting sent off. Oh for the days of 1962 and David Coleman's self-righteous indignation at the "disgrace" of Italy and Chile. The days of 1966 and Nobby Stiles attempting to put an end to detente by mugging France's midfield, and the Argentinians - always the Argentinians - provoking Alf to his "animals". One looked down the list of the first-round matches in the hope of some which years ago would have sparked a world war, but which have passed with nary an ankle tap. "After you, Luigi. No, after you, Roque." Italy versus Paraguay. Thirty years ago or so, and it would have been mayhem. Not now. More's the pity. That's why World Cups are dull.

Among the locals of course, there is World Cup "fever", as the press like to refer to it. This mainly manifests itself in terms of noise pollution via car horns, and then the sound of whole cars being written off as Switzerland spoil the party. But there are not so many Spanish flags attached to a Seat aerial or trailing behind a moto, spluttering and farting along the main roads. There are more German flags to be seen. And of course English. St George's cross and Union flags. Then there are some strange flags. Like the ones that Cheers have put on the Cheers buggy and outside the bar. It's red with a white cross. Not white with a red cross, but red with a white cross. The vertical line is straight down the middle. Where does this flag come from? The closest, with any World Cup connotation, seems to be the Danish flag, but its vertical line is offset to the left. Danes there are, but they are not around in the same numbers as the English. And Cheers is, after all, meant to be a British (English) bar. I reckon that someone ordered some St George's flags and got the colours round the wrong way.

Unlike the local Spanish I can't really get worked up about it all. World Cups are no longer what they were and what they should be - utterly unjust and a thigh-high tackle away from actual bodily harm. Mind you, this one might be like others - England will prove to be rubbish, and Germany will win it.

David Coleman. Fabulous. The Battle of Santiago, 1962:

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Accentuating The Positive: Friendly Alcúdia

Once more "The Diario" has gone out talking to tourists where other papers sit in the air-conditioning and pen pieces about the cost of a coffee. Tourists the paper spoke to were in Alcúdia. The impetus for doing this was the visit of the representatives of 25 tour operators who came to Alcúdia (and Can Picafort) on Friday and an observation that was being made during that visit that greater friendliness needs to be shown to tourists.

A lot is said about friendliness (or lack of it). But it is not a factor that has ever struck me as being much of an issue; only if someone wants to make it so. As always one can pull out an example of poor service or surliness, but generally speaking ... ? I'm not convinced. Nor are the holidaymakers to whom "The Diario" spoke. Friendliness, helpfulness were the positive aspects of the paper's investigation. Less positive were prices (more expensive than Malaga or the USA, according to a family that was spoken to) and the absence of good transport, i.e. the absence of a train to Palma. Some American visitors had expected that there would be one. Many people in Alcúdia had expected that there would be one - before the politicians proved themselves incapable of arriving at a compromise. Another visitor said that she thought that taxis were expensive and not always easy to find. The paper does point out something which most visitors would be unaware of, and that is that taxis in the different municipalities along the bay of Alcúdia - Alcúdia itself, Muro and Santa Margalida - cannot pick up outside of their municipalities. One can understand that this might cause some frustration. An empty cab goes past and keeps going past. Maybe the issue needs to be addressed, and not set aside only when Muro taxi drivers are called in as reinforcements by an Alcúdia taxi brigade which gets overwhelmed by demand on market days.

But overall the paper was pretty positive, albeit that it spoke to less than a handful of visitors. So, proves little, but at least it was trying.

Also positive is the word that business appears to be on the increase in bar world. The past week seems to have witnessed a significantly higher level of trade, and not just because of the football, although this has had an impact, an impact that does make one wonder. One bar, Mile-based, reports that Saturday last week was the second best day in ten years. Ok, England were playing (after a fashion), but so they have also played over the past ten years (when not failing to qualify). So, what of those fears that the hotels would gobble up the Sky footy trade? And moreover, what of all-inclusives and their effects down The Mile? The protests against all-inclusives seem to have been forgotten amidst a burst of recent good business.

* The Diario article is here:

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dead Again: The Marquet case

Following on from yesterday and a reference to deaths in Alcúdia last year, the result of street violence, the accused in the case of Gabriel Marquet, who died after eighteen days in a coma, are to finally come to trial. The prosecution is seeking a sentence of twelve years for the main accused said to have delivered the blow that proved to be fatal; the charge is one of murder and not manslaughter.

The Marquet case aroused considerable passion. There were two demonstrations against violence that resulted from the attack on him in April last year. Whether much has really changed is questionable. As evidenced by the mass botellón at the weekend, the town hall's attempt to outlaw street drinking has not worked. One reason is probably a lack of police.

Into this equation comes the whole issue of local financing. The town halls pay for the local police forces; the Guardia (and national police) is a separate, state-funded organisation. Right now though, there is the drive to cut costs in public administration. The central government has decreed that town halls cannot get themselves into further debt. The regional government of President Antich is challenging this, and he has support on the left of Mallorcan politics. The Mallorcan Socialists (PSM) held a conference at the weekend at which they called for increased financing of all levels of island government - the regional government itself, the Mallorca Council and of course the town halls.

The problem is that there isn't any money sloshing around. The left's calls are unrealistic, but they are not wrong when one considers the responsibilities of the town halls, such as police. In some municipalities and their more peripheral "villages", e.g. Santa Margalida, even before cash got strapped the level of policing was a serious bone of contention among the residents of Son Serra de Marina.

Shifting demographics, the summer influx (for which there are normally additional police), recession and its societal impact, and a cultural change in terms of attitudes towards drink. These all place a strain on the local police. Now is probably not the time to be cutting their resources.

On a brighter note, it has been extremely heartening to get the feedback for HOT! It is having the impact I had hoped for. There are of course questions as to when the next one is coming out. This was never intended. Not this year anyway. But it is inevitable that a "newspaper" gives rise to an anticipation of something to follow. Oh that it could be done, but I don't want to go there again - the issues of cost of printing, levels of advertising, free versus paid etc. etc. Just to say, thanks to those who have been complimentary, and to remind you that there is a specific Facebook page which will have regular updates throughout the summer.

Any comments to please.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eyesight To The Blind: Youth drinking culture

On the same night as Alcúdia was celebrating the harmless Miss Drag parade, something else was being celebrated - something rather less harmless.

For some years, Puerto Alcúdia has been the location for a vast gathering of island youth, coming together at the end of the school year. In itself this may seem harmless enough, but the event has got completely out of control. It has become a massive botellón (street drinking party), accompanied by fights, vandalism, robberies; one played out on the beach and around what is the main "local" night area, that of the Magic Centre.

Organised with the aid of Facebook and other social networking sites, the "party" is not all bad news. It does, after all, bring to Alcúdia a fair amount of business. But it degenerates as the night goes on. Arrests and injuries follow.

With ages ranging from 14 to 18, the Alcúdia school-end bash gives lie, once more, to the absurd argument that Mallorcan and Spanish youth have a respect for alcohol and do not engage in the level of anti-social behaviour that their British counterparts do. This is a view perpetrated by some visitors but also by some Brits who live locally and who either haven't a clue what life is really like outside their make-believe, expattery "paradise" worlds or who would rather not know, preferring to justify their existences in the "paradise" worlds by ignoring what goes on or by pulling the ah, but it's all so much better here, it's just a small minority and the UK is so much worse line. Sorry, but it's only partially true. One reason why things seem much worse in the UK is that there are an awful lot more people to make them worse.

Perhaps the main difference, though, is that - for the holidaymaker or resident - trouble from events like the botellón is easily enough avoided. They tend to be confined to certain areas, while rarely do they give rise to the more British desire to have a go at anyone who might be in the vicinity. Random attacks on people in the streets are not unknown (a gay couple were attacked in Alcúdia recently, for example), but to over-emphasise them would be quite wrong; the streets are generally safe, so long as certain places are avoided at certain times.

Violence there is, and there were of course two deaths early in the season last year, but it isn't extreme and is just as likely, more likely perhaps, to occur within the confines of certain hotels and to be solely the action of holidaymakers (and not just the British). However, the drink (and drugs) element, among local youth, cannot be brushed aside as though it were not an issue, as it most certainly is. One wishes, once and for all, that some would remove their tinted-the-turquoise-of-sea Raybans and see local society for what it really is. But they won't, because they need justification and also a need to lambast a home country for societal ills that they pretend do not exist in Mallorca. They are blind. Deliberately and delusionally.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Camping It Up: Alcúdia's Mile

The Mile has always been camp. Camp in the widest sense of the word. It has an an addictive aura of the naff; Eurovision with karaoke, giggles, lager and shots. Appropriate, therefore, that drag queens came to "Bells Street" on Friday night, and were introduced by a couple who could have passed for Eurovision presenters. Ángel in black suit and Emma in full-length, body-hugging glittery white. She looked a million dollars; Ángel more than just a few bob, too. Ángel did the Spanish intro, Emma the English; also in good Eurovision style, even if Emma's attempts at whipping up some whooping, everyone-alright reaction did rather fall on not deaf but typically restrained British ears.

There is something gloriously tacky about drag acts. They are an expression of the absurd grotesque, rather like The Mile itself, off which the lights of Bells Street (the Calle Astoria) blazed out in the night-time blackness, and they looked magnificent, the lights, that is, if not necessarily the drags. But the whole event was magnificently silly; just as The Mile should be.

There is an appalling snobbery shown towards The Mile. In some quarters anyway. It is shown by those for whom "Alcúdia" is synonymous with holiday devil's work and of course with the ridiculously simplistic and unthinking "Blackpool" metaphor. Shown by those who have forgotten that holiday is meant, above all else, to be fun.

There have been calls for years for Bells Street to be closed to traffic and to be pedestrianised. It was closed on Friday night, except for the stage where the entrants in Miss Drag Mallorca 2010 paraded, pouted and posed. They should repeat the exercise at least once a week. Put on an event. Music, laughter, drink, volume and fun.

Everything was there. Groups of Spaniards; legions of tourists, some looking baffled by the whole thing, others clicking away with their digitals and mobiles, having their own photos taken with a drag or several; footy on big screens; the smell of grilling meat and curry; music over a system; gangs of reps out on the lash.

Naff and utterly wonderful.

And after the parade of contestants, came the chance to club the rest of the night away. Club music. Amazing to think that it is twenty years since music was changed for ever. And this was one of the things that did it -
The Future Sound Of London, "Papua New Guinea" feat. Lisa Gerrard (and not the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser as is often mistaken; she appeared on other FSOL stuff):

Any comments to please.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cutting Down To Size: The Council of Mallorca

A few days ago I mentioned the fact that the left-wing Bloc group had suggested that responsibilities for certain ministries at regional government level should be transferred to the island councils, such as the Mallorca Council. It didn't seem much of an idea, and ran counter to my own view that it is the council which needs trimming. Well, what do you know?

The Bloc's idea has not been taken up, but there is talk flying around as to the future of the council. Not before time. The Partido Popular has been making overtures to the president of the council, Francina Armengol (PSOE), in terms of creating a "pact" in seeking significant cost reductions at the council. It reckons that some 60 million euros could be saved annually by avoiding "duplications" within government - the whole of government. Note the word "duplications". I have been saying this for ages. Even before the "crisis" brought on the demand for austerity measures and for rationalisation, the existence of the council seemed questionable. It is now being questioned. Seriously.

The PP may be talking about rationalisation, but other politicans are openly talking about doing away with the council. To this end, Armengol has offered her own "pact", one that would cut costs and "defend" the council from "opinions that this administration (the council) should be scrapped". Well, she would look to defend it; she is, after all, the president.

It is still most unlikely that something as radical as the elimination of the council would ever happen, but the fact that the notion is being given an airing is indicative of the urgency with which local politicians are having to confront cost-cutting measures and of a realisation that there is something wrong with the structure of government in Mallorca and the islands.

At regional government level, there has already been a rationalisation, one that has included the combining of tourism with employment under one minister, Joana Barceló, an ally in the PSOE of President Antich. This wasn't the move I have argued for several times, that tourism should be part of the office of the presidency, but other responsibilities (notably agriculture) now are. The closeness of Antich and Barceló is the next best thing; the two were together in Moscow, attempting to charm Russian tour operators and their clients.

Some realism in the structure of the island's government does seem to be emerging. It shouldn't have taken the crisis to bring it about, but better late than never. The obstacle to real change is likely, though, to be political. Not that restructuring should necessarily be a party matter. But the calls for moves such as scrapping or slimming the council are coming from the right. As someone more inclined to the left, this may not sit easily with me, but a beef I have long had with the left, here and in the UK, is the tendency to over-government. It shouldn't be a political issue; it should be common sense.

* Quotes above in translation from reports in "The Diario".

Any comments to please.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Load Of Bull (Ducks And Parties): Fiesta peculiarities

The power of Facebook. Possibly.

Some weeks after one Facebook group in Can Picafort emerged, comes another. The first was concerned with what used to be the "Auba" party that took place on the beach, but which was moved to the sports centre three years ago. The second has to do with another tradition that used to occur during the Can Picafort summer fiesta - the tossing of live ducks into the sea. Both groups want a return to the traditions.

In the case of the second Facebook group, anyone joining it should be slightly wary. The miscreants who have released live ducks, in defiance of the ban these past three years, have never been identified. The police are likely to be taking an interest in this group. As for the first group, this might also attract some attention from the forces of the law; an unofficial party in the dunes is being talked about.

While the aims of the two groups are different, there might well be common cause: the night party and the live ducks were the soul of the fiestas in Can Picafort. The move to the sports centre has done much to strip the party of its atmosphere, while the rubber duck substitutes are just plain daft. There is another aspect to be taken account of where the party is concerned, and that is money. It is doubtful that the organisers could stretch to a Carl Cox again in the current circumstances. But this shouldn't necessarily be an obstacle to what once was the biggest and most anticipated of the fiesta parties. If Puerto Pollensa - Puerto Pollensa, for God's sake - can have a party on the beach, why shouldn't Can Picafort?

The Facebook group promoting the return of the live ducks makes precisely the point that I have - here and in HOT! - that by comparison with genuine acts of cruelty to animals, the release of ducks is not in the same league. It isn't really in a league at all. The ducks were a soft target; unlike bulls and all the passion that they arouse on both sides of the argument. Bull traditions, in particular the bullfight, are far more deep-rooted in Mallorcan and Spanish society than those involving ducks, and one might also argue that they are not without Francoist connotations. El Caudillo was greatly in favour of the bullfight, given its "Spanishness" and suggestions of nobility.

The annual bullfight during Muro's Sant Joan fiestas, due to be staged on 20 June, had looked as though it might not go ahead, owing to the need for certain improvements to be made to the bullring and its facilities. These have been made. The town hall, in addition to the nearly half a million euros it paid to acquire the bullring, has forked out a further 30 grand to effect the improvements, using, it says, money that was held over from last year. The equivalent of the RSPCA is none too impressed with the town hall. It has been denounced to the ministry of the interior on the grounds that it has, in effect, financially supported the bullfight, which seemingly is in contravention of a law that disbars it from doing so. The society has also made reference to the demonstration against the bullfight that occurred last year.

The bullfight will go ahead. Even before final sign-off, due to be given today by technicians, doctors and vets, the programme for the fiestas had been published, with the bullfight and the matadors listed. Meanwhile fiesta organisers in Can Picafort will be arranging the acquisition of rubber ducks.

Something isn't quite right.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Marsans Sold For Six Hundred Million Euros

The troubled travel concern, Grupo Marsans, has been sold to a company called Posibilitum Business. This is controlled by a Valencian businessman Ángel de Cabo who is involved with the real estate market in the Valencia area and has a reputation for taking on companies in difficulty.

Included in the sale is, of course, Hotetur, the hotel chain of which Bellevue (and Lagomonte) are a part. With the sale, one would imagine that rumours as to Bellevue's future should subside. Nevertheless, it will take a while to see how the new owners tackle the problems that surround Marsans. Typically, businesses that specialise in taking over companies in distress look to reduce costs as a means of extracting profit, slimming them down with the possible intention of selling them on at a later date. The exact strategy for Marsans, and therefore for Hotetur, is not known as yet.

Happy Together? Hotel occupancy Alcúdia and Can Picafort

Following on from the mention of low occupancy in Puerto Alcudia on 8 June, some firmer figures, not just those for one establishment. The combined Alcúdia and Can Picafort hotel association reports (from "The Diario") rates similar to last year. Currently, occupancy stands at 57% in Alcúdia and 58% in Can Picafort. Not very high in other words. The forecast for July puts the numbers at 78% in Alcúdia and 72% in Can Picafort. For July, these aren't particularly impressive; indeed, they are distinctly unimpressive.

Leading lights in the association gathered for a chinwag a couple of days ago. The report from "The Diario" included a photo, featuring, among others, Juan from the Sol Alcúdia Center and Ricardo from the Siesta 1 Apartments. They looked happy enough for the camera. Not so sure that they really are.

The association approves of the regional government's attempts to attract new markets, but reckons that the push on the Russian front is unlikely to bear much fruit in either of the resorts, as the Russian market, mainly high worth, prefers four or five-star accommodation. Which does, I suppose, beg a question as to the standard, overall, of hotels in the resorts. Not, however, that there aren't four-star hotels. Relatively greater numbers of four stars and indeed two five stars are, however, in Playa de Muro. Not for the first time, I wonder why Playa de Muro hasn't combined with the associations in Alcúdia and Can Picafort, especially as Playa de Muro sits between the two other resorts. Or maybe this Russian thing gives the game away. Muro wants Russian. It already has it, and yes, they, the Russians, do go to five-star hotels.

In an attempt to drum up more business, the association has invited representatives of 25 tour operators to come along for some gentle persuasion on Friday. It will, apparently, be highlighting such wonders as the improvements to the beach in Alcúdia and the restoration of dunes, and then following it all up with a meal at Son Real, just outside Can Picafort. God, they know how to win and influence tour operators. Here are some new showers on the beach, here are some dunes with some walkways, here is a nature area where no one much goes to. I don't think we should be holding our breath. But hats off, nonetheless; at least the association is trying. Or is it desperate?

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Rumour Mill: Bellevue

Rumours. It was the regularity with which rumours surrounding Bellevue in Alcúdia surface that was one of the reasons why I spoke with the assistant director last year. Rumours are always circulating about Bellevue. Unfortunately, the contact is no longer there, but even were he it is doubtful that I would get far in asking a question about the current rumour that's doing the rounds - that Bellevue will not be open next year.

There have been previous rumours along these lines, and they have all proven to be false. What is fuelling the current one is nothing directly to do with Bellevue or indeed Hotetur, the chain which operates the hotel. It has to do with the financial problems at Grupo Marsans, the ultimate owner of both Hotetur and the hotel complex. I have referred to these problems before, both here and in "Talk Of The North". Marsans faces demands from creditors, one of which is the travel group Orizonia. A guarantee against a debt of some 40 million euros is Bellevue. Orizonia is demanding payment of this debt and the execution of its mortgage on Bellevue.

It is from this, one assumes, that the rumours are stemming. In the reports of the court hearings into Marsans and its difficulties, there has been nothing about Bellevue closing. The rumours would appear, as so often, to be the result of taking facts (and one can't even be sure that facts are being taken) and moulding them into something without any basis in truth. I have asked people about the sources from which they have heard about Bellevue's alleged closure. They go along the lines of someone who spoke to someone in a bar near to the hotel.

Bellevue stands on some 200,000 square metres of prime real estate in Alcúdia. It can, at a stretch, accommodate 6,000 guests. Orizonia, as with many a hotel or travel group, would love to get their hands on it. It has a hotel division that was created in 2008, into which Bellevue might well fit, though if you go to the website - - and read the over-the-top narrative about how they will "seduce" you, you might be forgiven for thinking that Bellevue might not fit after all.

Of course, there is also a question as to quite how well Bellevue (as with many other hotels) is shaping up under the current difficult circumstances. But this is a separate issue. One finds it hard to believe that there is substance to the rumours.

And who knows, maybe a "new" Bellevue might become the destination for the much-longed-for Russian tourist market. President Antich has been in Moscow, wooing tour operators and predicting that Russia will become the third most important foreign market for Mallorca and the Balearics after Germany and the UK. Germans do not go to Bellevue in huge numbers, which is probably as well. You think there might be a bit of British-German antagonism, well according to some of my German sources this is nothing compared to that which exists between the Germans and the Russians. Hey ho, perhaps it's as well that Russia aren't in the World Cup.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

25 Per Cent: Crazy tourism

Further to the piece of 2 June (Window-Dressing), in which I mentioned a contact I had made with Inestur, the since-defunct government tourism "company", I got a phone call. It came not from Inestur, because it doesn't exist any longer, but from what is now the Tourism Agency for the Balearic Islands, a combination of Inestur and IBATUR (the former tourism agency). The gentleman who rang was extremely helpful and extremely chatty.

As my enquiry had to do with Mallorca alone, he explained, I would have to get in touch with the Mallorca Tourism Foundation (Fundación Mallorca Turismo), a body, I confess, I had completely forgotten existed. The gentleman said, at one point, that the system for promotion was a bit "crazy". He isn't kidding. Let's just try and clarify, shall we. The new agency, the one the chap was calling from, has overall co-ordination for tourism across the islands, but each island has its own "foundation", dedicated to promoting that island. Mallorca's foundation falls within the control of the Council of Mallorca, as opposed to the regional government. The Fomento del Turismo, the private-sector "tourism board", which has existed since 1905, doesn't do any tourism promotion, despite its confusing pretensions to being a tourism board.

So, I hope that's cleared up how tourism administration works now, as I'm sure you would have been wondering.

When the gentleman came on the phone, one of the first things he said, thinking - as I had suspected - that I was looking for money, was that there is no money. A state of affairs I had also suspected. He was quite surprised when I said I wasn't looking for money. Normally that's why people get in touch with him. That there isn't any money, much of what there had been having ended up where it shouldn't have, is slightly worrying. It is a regular enough theme of course that more and more money should be thrown at tourism promotion in its different guises. One wonders quite how tourism promotion is going to be both funded and organised over the next few months or years. The austerity measures are one thing. Who controls the purse strings, were there a purse to be strung, is another. The upheaval in the "crazy" system of tourism administration does invite questions.

This might not be so bad were it not for some alarming figures that one hears. Yesterday I was told about the situation at one establishment in Alcúdia. Last year (not a great year of course), the bookings at the start of June were around 75%. What do you think they are at present? 50 per cent? Go lower. 25 per cent. 25 per cent!! Even more alarming is the fact that July is not exactly full to overflowing.

As always one has to balance this with reports elsewhere, and there are certainly examples of hotels with good occupancy rates, but a quarter full in early June is quite shocking a statistic. Workers would normally be paid off at the end of the season with money in lieu of their holiday entitlement. Not this year they won't. They'll be taking holidays, a situation that is all but unheard of.

Any comments to please.

Monday, June 07, 2010

All Night Long: Bar noise and music

Various municipalities across Mallorca share a similar problem, a similar "dilemma", that of balancing night-time bars and entertainment with the need for some peace and quiet. "The Diario" yesterday looked at the situation in places such as Manacor and Andratx. It could as easily have gone to other towns and resorts.

The dilemma has existed for as long as there have been night-time bars. It is not just the bars and clubs, it is also hotels, though in the case of the latter the issue is straightforward enough. Noise ceases by midnight and is often self-regulating, as it is in Playa de Muro where there are not the same impositions in terms of limiters as there are elsewhere; the hotels act with responsibility without being dictated to. Playa de Muro is also, when it comes to other forms of evening or late-night music, a rather different case to many other resorts; there just simply aren't the establishments.

The noise issue is at its most extreme in Magaluf where residents have been complaining for years and where the complaints have been getting louder. Nearby, in Son Caliu, there is an almighty row regarding the Pacha disco in what is essentially a residential zone, where the club would be open to early morning. On the other hand, the Mallorca Rocks hotel venue, which kicked off last night, keeps to the midnight curfew; The Kooks were due to have finished by 11.30, giving half an hour for those leaving to hopefully disperse.

It is the noise of people leaving (or arriving at) bars that is generally the issue. In Puerto Alcúdia, in the main tourist centre, one hears little by way of complaint, except about the shouting and whatever at three, four in the morning or later from those making their way from the likes of Cheers or Bells. Otherwise, the noise inside the establishments is contained; the midnight closure of terraces and doors is complied with.

The problem is far greater in the towns. Resort Puerto Pollensa may be, as indeed the port area of Puerto Alcúdia is also a "resort", but both are also towns. Complaints about noise are more likely to come from residents than from tourists; residents who live in the towns. But again, it is not the music from inside that creates the problem, which is why it is so difficult to understand Pollensa town hall's absurd stance on live music in bars in Puerto Pollensa, especially if this finishes by midnight.

There is no real solution, short of prohibiting anything beyond midnight, which would be a mistake and would be contrary to a culture of tourism (for some) and to a local culture which treats midnight as a starting-point not an ending-point for a night's entertainment. It is unfair, though, to say to people living by bars that they have to just lump it. Unfortunately, however, this is probably what they have to do.

Noise is a facet of holiday life and of Mallorcan life. The best thing is to go and live in the country. Or at least choose streets in towns where there are no bars. Problem is, someone has to live in the streets that do have them. Not easy.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Public Sector General Strike In Mallorca (8 June)

In line with strikes in other regions of Spain, there is to be a public sector general strike across the Balearics in protest at measures adopted by the Zapatero administration to tackle Spain's parlous economic situation.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, 8 June. All the main unions are supporting the strike and have the additional support of the unions for the police and the Guardia Civil. To what extent the police will be affected by the strike is unclear, but areas of the public sector which will most certainly be affected are - among others - health services, schools, colleges and the university, train services and the town halls. There will be minimal services at hospitals, similar to those on Sundays, and the regional government has said that there will be services for other areas affected by the strike. It has advised, for example, that children be taken to schools as usual, though the indications are that most teachers will be on strike. At present, it is unclear whether the transport sector, other than trains, will be affected. Were it to be, then there could be an impact on airports, ports and buses.

Yet Another Cup Of Coffee: The déjà vu of price

Go back a couple of months to the second of April and I said sorry. Said that I was going to stop. That there would be no more. Until the next time.

This is the next time.

In "The Last Supper" (2 April) I referred to "anecdotal simplism". It was in respect of prices, specifically the price of a coffee. "The Bulletin" had commented on a small coffee costing one euro, ninety. So it did again. Yesterday. There was an admission that the point had been made before, and so there should have been. The example was the same, the line of argument the same; that there should be price controls, mainly it would appear (this time round), for coffees in Palma. You can, if you want, go further back, to 30 August last year. Same price control argument. You can go back much further than August last year; it's a line that has been trotted out for some years. Editorial déjà vu.

I just don't get it. I don't get the argument for the simple reason that there is no chance of a price control being implemented (and the tourism minister in April said that there was nothing she could do about the prices). It is an issue for individual businesses. I don't get it for the additional reason that I don't get why it has been dragged out once more.

There are all sorts of examples one can pull out regarding inflated prices, just as there are all sorts of examples of the opposite, of prices being kept low or simply being low. A while back I mentioned a conversation during which I was told how the Swedish are finding beer prices higher than once was the case. But this was specific to beach bars. You simply cannot just cite examples here and there and claim that you have proven a case.

It is this, especially this, that I don't get: "The Bulletin", any paper, should strive for some balance. Quoting the example of an expensive cortado in Palma is far from this. All it does is to inspire the moans of others who will cite their own selected examples. And all this does is to create an uneven impression. Last year, another paper - "The Diario" - spoke to tourists and came up with a rather different conclusion: that prices weren't all that bad. What it did was to go and talk to people; it was acting with a degree of balance. I'm afraid that "The Bulletin" doesn't do this; just hauls out the odd example and calls for what is not feasible - price controls.

I said that I would stop it. I wish others would.

An event for your diary. If, that is, you like your club music in the sun - all day long. On June 27 there will be an "Ibiza Summer Festival" at Hidropark in Puerto Alcúdia. Sounds pretty good, kicking off at 10:30 in the morning. Information posted on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Any comments to please.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Old Curiosity Tower: The towers of Alcúdia Bay

The towers of Alcúdia Bay, those which stretch from Playa de Muro to Colonia Sant Pere, are undergoing a process of restoration, courtesy of the regional government's environment ministry. Though the towers are said to have "limited heritage value", the ministry believes that they are "curious constructions"; it is their curiosity that demands their being maintained. One can argue, and I would, that their heritage value is rather greater than the government says; they are notable, weird landmarks that don't exist anywhere else on the island. The very brooding nature of these obelisks, standing as pairs amidst the dunes, lends them a mystery. The curious thing about these curiosities is quite why so little is known about them.

By the dunes along the coastline of the bay, there are signs which explain aspects of the natural environment, but none which give any information about the most obvious sights in the dunes. The failure to impart information is a failure in terms of not only overlooking what is under the tourist's nose but also what might (and does) inspire the tourist's curiosity - the curious.

In HOT!, the tourism newspaper that is out and about in the area, there is a short feature about the towers, as there is also a feature about the roundabout sculptures. The towers and the sculptures are not what is normally spoken about in the tourism literature, yet they inspire visitor (and resident) questions, for which there are few answers. It is for this reason that I sought to give some answers. Someone should.

The towers, and anyone who has read HOT! will now know, were built primarily as target practice for dummy torpedoes being fired from submarines that used to be based in Alcúdia. But very few people locally know this to be the case. That they were also navigational aids is true, but this was not why they were built. They were definitely not anything to do with the Civil War, but the other day, when I was showing a copy of HOT! to a lady who runs businesses based out of Can Picafort (and who is Mallorcan), she said something to the effect that they were to do with the war. Even locals who have lived their lives by the towers don't know the real story.

Perhaps it all has to do with that feeling that the towers are of limited heritage value that so little appreciation exists as to their real purpose. But it astounds me just how little is made of the curious, the needing-to-be-explained, like the sculptures, like also the kiwi-fruit-shaped balls that accumulate on the beaches. I only found out what they were thanks to Klaus's Photo Blog (they are formed from sea grass).

The towers might be said to be part of a "hidden" Mallorca. Hidden in the sense that information is hidden. But they are staring everyone in the face. They are hardly hidden. And there are numerous other examples, including the curiosity of some villages. It's another book coming on - the curios of Mallorca. I look forward to its being written, and maybe I will.

Any comments to please.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The 169 Position: Rationalisation of government companies

Call me clairvoyant, but the Balearic Government's rationalisation of its so-called "companies" is to bring about a merger between Inestur and IBATUR, two tourism agencies which have, since the former was established seven years ago, duplicated much effort. It is hardly public administration rocket science to appreciate that there is no point in having two agencies. A question should be, though, why there ever were two; why Inestur was ever formed. Its main purpose seems to have been as a conduit for siphoning off public funds into the coffers of the Unió Mallorquina party - allegedly.

The rationalisation affects at least a half of these companies, of which there are - get this - 169. What on earth are they all and what on earth do they all do? Add them into the various levels of government in Mallorca, and you complete the picture of the insanity of the public sector for an island with under a million people (or a couple of hundred thousand over a million, if you lump in the whole of the Balearics). But in announcing the rationalisation, President Antich has said that jobs are not to be affected. Why ever not? Simple. It would be politically unacceptable and would merely add to the unemployment burden. Were these "real" companies, however, with "real" shareholders, mergers would lead to job losses. What savings are truly going to be achieved by maintaining jobs that will still duplicate effort? The turf wars that will result from these mergers would be the stuff of dreams for a management researcher studying cultures in combined businesses; they are a recipe for unproductive behaviour and organisation.

There are all manner of suggestions and observations flying around as to this rationalisation process. "The Bulletin", commenting on the fact that the agriculture and fisheries ministry is to be swallowed up by the office of the presidency, asks why such a ministry is needed. Agriculture is far less important than it once was, but it still is important to Mallorca. Potato exports, almonds, wine, the traditional subsistence crops such as cabbage; they are hardly unimportant. And if one takes the words of those "gurus" from a few days back, agriculture should be something of the back to the future for the Mallorcan economy. No, there probably is a need for such a ministry, if, that is, one believes agriculture to be of strategic significance, like tourism.

Strategic. That is something missing in all this. A suggestion from the left-wing Bloc is that the tourism and transport ministries at government level should be scrapped and responsibilities handed over to the island councils, such as the Council of Mallorca. Why stop at these? Why not hand all ministries over to the councils and get rid of the regional government? It's the reverse take on my belief that it is the councils which should go, a move that would make a genuine saving in public spending.

It is the lack of strategic thinking that is worrying. The government is casting around, looking for anything it can to be the target of a short-term fix. Which is not to say that there isn't some sense to merging pointless agencies ("companies"). But the pressing need is for a thorough strategic review - from top to bottom - of the whole system of public administration, which is probably why it won't happen.

Any comments to please.