Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clutching At Straws: Concerts and tourism responsibilities

Straw, clutch. Clutch, straw. Elton, Andrea. Andrea, Elton.

On 4 September, Elton John and Andrea Bocelli will be playing Real Mallorca's stadium. Not at football, but at their day jobs - in the evening. At the risk of offending fans, excuse me if I stifle an unenthusiastic yawn. I may well be out of tune with my audience, some of whom - you, in other words - may be in the audience. At up to a mere 169 euros a pop. Pop music meets the classics at classic prices - they've got to be kidding.

Whenever, which isn't very often, a major name in the music world - or two, as the case may be - pitches up in Mallorca, excitement goes into overdrive, among some. And where Reg and Bocelli are concerned, the government's tourism ministry is getting excited. Together with the concert's promoters, it is eyeing the gig up as a means of attracting tourists. Straw, clutch.

The stadium will be able to hold 34,000 for the concert. Not exactly Wembley, but still a fair number of people, but not so many for an island with an 800,000 or so population plus all the others who are knocking about. Two major artists. The tickets went on sale on 21 June. It is now the end of July. Hmm.

The ministry reckons that tour operators will be able to offer packages to come to Mallorca and take in the event. It will "prove a vital adjunct to the success of marketing the Balearic Islands this season" (quote from "The Bulletin").

Let's just consider this. Tour operators may indeed be able to offer packages, but isn't this all a little late? How many tourists would actually come? However many might will make barely a dent in the overall tourism intake over a whole season. A season that, by implication from that quote, has already been something of a success. Has it really? The belated marketing of Reg sounds less like an enhancement of the tourist season and more one of desperation to sell tickets.

Elsewhere in tourism ministry-land, a previous bonkers suggestion that its responsibilities should be handed to the Council of Mallorca has not been taken up fully, but it has been taken up in part. Some of the ministry's duties, those related to the regulation and administration of tourism businesses, are to go to the council, which presumably will allow the ministry to concentrate on more glamorous tasks, such as trying like hell to fill Mallorca's stadium when Elton comes to town. It doesn't really matter where the responsibilities reside, except for the fact that it will have the effect of beefing up the council when the reverse should be happening. If they want to save money, then they should slim it down not fatten it.

The ministry is also to create yet another damn body, this one a "mesa" (table) around which will sit government institutions and the private sector and have a chinwag about boosting some "alternative" tourism, such as trekking and bird-watching. Fair enough perhaps, but not if it merely creates a further link in the not always joined up chain of tourism promotion and not if, as one fears, this "alternative" tourism is largely illusory. Straw, clutch.

Any comments to please.

Index for July 2010

Air-conditioning - 8 July 2010
Alejandro de Abarca: murder of Ana Niculai - 26 July 2010
Beach life - 2 July 2010
Bullfighting ban in Catalonia - 29 July 2010, 30 July 2010
Butane gas - 19 July 2010
Catalonian self-government - 11 July 2010
Coast road, Alcúdia-Puerto Pollensa - 13 July 2010
Elton John and Andrea Bocelli - 31 July 2010
Fiesta elections - 20 July 2010
Garden rubbish - 6 July 2010
High temperatures - 6 July 2010
Hotels: receptions and smells - 9 July 2010
IBATUR corruption case (Operación Pasarela) - 1 July 2010, 7 July 2010
Lobsters - 5 July 2010
Looky-looky men - 15 July 2010
Muro golf course - 10 July 2010, 22 July 2010
Nightlife, tourists and - 17 July 2010
Pedestrianisation in Puerto Pollensa - 25 July 2010
Playa de Muro, all-inclusives and - 23 July 2010
Price rip-offs - 14 July 2010
Puerto Alcúdia v. Puerto Pollensa: British - 3 July 2010
Puerto Pollensa: tourism study - 24 July 2010
Sant Crist, Alcúdia - 27 July 2010
Sex advertising - 18 July 2010
Sources, newspaper - 21 July 2010
Tourism responsibilities - 31 July 2010
Tourism secretary of state and ministry: changes - 28 July 2010
Tourist destinations, most popular - 21 July 2010
Tribute acts - 16 July 2010
Walk On Water Balls - 16 July 2010
World Cup - 4 July 2010, 12 July 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Bit More Bull: The bullfighting ban

"A sad day." One of the reactions to the news of the Catalonian ban on bullfighting. The local press in Mallorca sought opinions and found them, "The Diario" even asking Joaquín Sabina, a well-known Spanish singer and someone from the left, who believes that the ban is a "tremendous mistake", one made by ignorant politicians. A one-time matador believes that other regions will not follow the Catalonian lead in instituting a ban. The Catalonians have never wanted bulls, he believes; they just want to demonstrate that they are somehow "special".

The anti-bullfight brigade takes quite a different view, as you might expect. Rather than a sad day, it was one to celebrate. The bullfight, as with other social, cultural and political issues in Spain, has the power to divide opinion, and to divide it markedly.

To read what Sabina had to say was surprising. Here is someone who was in exile for some years. He was an opponent of the Franco regime, which was fully supportive of the traditional "Spanishness" of the bullfight. Yet he considers that the ban does away with centuries of cultural heritage. Or perhaps it is not surprising. The bullfight is not a political issue per se, even if politicians have decided its fate in Catalonia; right and left are equally as likely to support it or reject it, and the vote in Catalonia was one of conscience - a free vote in other words.

To brand the politicians who backed the ban as "ignorant" is a peculiar charge. Whereas some observers from outside Spain might be considered thus when it comes to all the arguments for and against, it seems implausible to believe that Spanish (Catalonian) politicians would not know them. Much as though there is a political dimension (Catalan-Spanish relations) to the decision, it is also implausible to suggest that the ban is purely a political snub to Spain.

The cultural aspect is fundamental to the debate as to the future of the bullfight; Sabina is not wrong in this regard. Spanish culture is spectacularly at variance with others in its disregard for what might be considered the norm. As there is only a nodding acquaintance with health and safety when it comes to certain traditions, so there is often a thumbing of the nose to animal welfare. But local culture can appear to practise double standards. Compared with the harmless duck tossing of Can Picafort (banned), the bullfight is, in the view of many, cruel and obscene. The ducks are a soft target though and do not have a cultural symbolism or power.

Yet to what extent should this culture be neutered? Do we wish to see Spain go further in becoming somehow homogenized within a set of standards which, while not determined by a European authority, smack of pandering to sensibilities in other European countries? The ban was of course inspired not by outside opinion or law but by Spanish (Catalonian) citizens, and many of the changes that Spain has undergone over the past decade and especially just recently are in line with a liberal morality in most of Europe - gay marriage, easier divorce and abortion; all of them arrived at by shifting mores in the country. The Spanish have become "good" Europeans in this respect, and should be applauded for having done so. The Catalonians, who crave independence within the European Union, have, through the ban, made a political statement in proclaiming their greater "European-ness", even if they demonstrate hypocrisy by allowing other bull "traditions" to persist. For the rest of Spain, the question it has to address is how it can reconcile increased social liberalism with seemingly archaic manifestations of culture, of which the bullfight is the most obvious.

I have no wish to see the culture neutered. Nor do many Spaniards. And nor do many from other countries. But this is precisely what has been happening, and, for the most part, we have been happy to stand and clap. The bullfight remains a vestige of an old Spain. The argument as to its continuance is one about the heart and soul of the country. The bullfight is repugnant. But ban it and what would Spain lose?

Any comments to please.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Load More Bull: Catalonia votes to ban bullfighting

The Catalonian parliament voted yesterday to ban bullfighting. There were 68 votes in favour of a ban, 55 against with nine abstentions. The ban will take effect as from 2012. It is not the first time that a region of Spain has imposed a ban, but one in a region as important - for various reasons - as Catalonia is significant.

Though politicians are seeking to deny it, there is more than just a hint of the anti-Spain about the ban. Bullfighting, with all its ceremony and overtones of nobility, is representative of an old Spanish order that persists - one at variance with Catalonian nationalism. One can nuance the ban as a slap in the face for Castile and history, as a political statement as much as one founded on animal rights. It might also have ramifications in other regions of Spain.

"The Diario" has polled members of the Balearic parliament as to their views of a potential ban. Ten were in favour of a ban, ten were against with four abstaining. It is just possible that the islands would follow Catalonia were a motion to be brought before parliament.

The annual bullfight as part of the Sant Jaume fiestas was staged in Alcúdia last Sunday. As with the bullfight in Muro in June, there was a demonstration against it. The numbers were not great, and those participating were generally youthful. This might be taken as a protest of idealistic young people, but there are many local Mallorcans who do not like the bullfight. They would not protest though. To do so would be to make themselves known. It isn't necessarily a good career move to be seen to be allying oneself with the anti-bullfight brigade.

Rather like the fox-hunting debate in Britain introduced all manner of pros and cons, so the bullfight-ban debate has its. One of them is economic. In Catalonia, it is being said that a ban will result in a cost to each family of 250 euros. How on earth such a figure is arrived at, heaven only knows, but there is an economic downside to the prohibition of bullfighting. Also like fox-hunting, the debate is essentially emotional - you either like the bullfight or you don't. The president of Catalonia, José Montilla, radical in his calls for Catalonian self-government, voted against the ban as he doesn't approve of a legal imposition that would deny the bullfight to those who enjoy it, though how his position stacks up against other legislation "imposed" in Catalonia, I'm not quite sure.

However, in Catalonia the impulse for a ban came not from parliament or political parties; it came from the views of Catalonian people. There is a system known as the "iniciativa legislativa popular" which under the constitution allows for mass petitions to be presented as the basis for potential reform of laws. It was such a petition that brought the Catalonian parliament to debate and now outlaw bullfighting. In this respect, therefore, the ban might be said to reflect the will of the people and not be an imposition. In Catalonia, the popular will has worked, and while Catalonia is not like the rest of Spain, alarm bells are ringing that similar petitions might force votes in other regions.

The 180,000 signatories to the petition represent a massive expression of popular will, and President Montilla has said that it is correct to respect this will. The popular will was activist-driven, though it does appear to reflect majority opinion. But to believe that it did not have at least an element of nationalist politics about it would be wrong. Montilla, not exactly temperate in his views after the constitutional tribunal dismissed Catalonian self-government aspirations, has been quick to downplay the vote as an indication of the state of Catalan-Spanish relations. Others will see it as a deliberate waving of a red rag in front of a Spanish bull.

At a more general level, the vote, together with the growing opposition to bullfighting throughout Spain, indicates - once again - the degree to which the country has changed. The apathy and conservatism of a predominantly rural population pre-tourism boom and pre-restoration has given way to an urban awareness, activism and liberalism. The vote may have been about Catalonia versus Spain, but it was also about new versus old Spain.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pedestrianisation plan and the Don Pedro

As flagged up on 25 July, Pollensa town hall yesterday approved the plan for a development in the Ullal area of Puerto Pollensa which would also involve the developers undertaking the pedestrianisation of the resort's "front line". The town hall has also approved the demolition of the Don Pedro hotel in Cala San Vicente.

Men From The Ministry: Downgrading Spanish tourism

In an attempt to reduce costs, the Spanish Government has been cutting back on posts and ministries. In what might seem like a bizarre, almost perverse move, the tourism secretary of state has been, in effect, demoted, and the ministry itself merged.

There is particular anger at the move in Mallorca, whence came the secretary of state, Joan Mesquida. But setting aside any possible feelings of a Mallorcan politician having been slighted, the greater upset is reserved for the fact that tourism as a whole appears to have been downgraded in terms of importance. Now is not the time to be ... you can fill in the rest, it all has to do with crisis, recession and competition from other destinations.

While the move does seem strange, to Mallorcan hoteliers and politicians, is it really that important? The percentage of GDP created by tourism in Spain as a whole amounts to around 5%, not that much higher than in the UK. Is there a tourism minister at cabinet in the British Government? Take a look at the list of cabinet members and their jobs, and nowhere does the word tourism appear. I may be wrong but I don't think tourism has ever commanded a cabinet post, per se, in Britain.

Spain is different though. Take away a tourism secretary of state, and it's as if national pride and the national psyche have been attacked; it was tourism, as much as anything else, that was the foundation of contemporary Spain and of the economic boom that propelled the country from its position as a basket case. Moreover, Spain is reckoned to have the second largest tourism economy in the world. It is a not insignificant industry.

Though the GDP percentage may appear relatively low in national terms, at local levels it is far, far higher. Some latitude may be applied as to how the figures are arrived at, but in Mallorca, tourism is said to amount to 80% of the island's GDP, almost certainly an exaggeration, but maybe not when one takes into consideration related industries.

One of the arguments in favour of maintaining the more elevated role of tourism is that in competing countries tourism is at the very heart of government. Yet these competing countries have far greater levels of centralised government, Egypt for example. Spain was once highly centralised, and tourism was once the flagship industry, but no longer; the country is highly decentralised. It is decentralised not just in terms of regional government but also in terms of its tourism diversity. Selling "Spain" is as outmoded as Franco's state-directed system of government. Do tourists treat Spain and Mallorca as being synonymous? I would very much doubt it. The regional governments, such as that in the Balearics, have their own tourism marketing and their own tourism ministries. The ministry in the Balearics may have become a laughing-stock, but the strategic significance of tourism is reflected in the importance attached to the ministry (one that I have argued should in fact have greater importance attached to it).

One suspects that anger in Mallorca is an expression of anxiety as to possible cuts in funding for tourism from Madrid. Given that the local tourism ministry has found innumerable ways to fritter away public money, not all of them legal (allegedly), one might have sympathy were the Zapatero administration to wish Mallorca a plague on its various tourism houses (and institutes and foundations).

Mallorca is in competition with other destinations, and included among the competition are other parts of Spain, the Canaries and the Costas. The island's politicians want Madrid to be its benefactor and seemingly its tourism "leader" as part of a greater Spanish tourism industry, while at the same time doing whatever they can to nick tourists from other parts of the country. It doesn't quite add up. The regional government has its own structure, its own tourism industry, its own ministry, its own ability to determine industries (well, one) of strategic importance; it should get on with what it's meant to be doing and not fret about musical chairs in Madrid. They can't have everything. Why should there be a tourism secretary of state? There isn't one for construction or one for making donkeys with sombreros on their ears. They should just get over it.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

History Repeating Itself: Sant Crist

It rained yesterday. Quite heavily. Miraculously even. The coincidence was even noted on Facebook. For yesterday was the triennial celebration of the miracle of Sant Crist which delivered the poor sods who lived in Alcúdia at the start of the sixteenth century from a period of drought, pestilence and all manner of privations of biblical proportions. On Sunday evening there was a special Via Fora street dramatisation of Sant Crist in the old town, one that featured a good friend of all things to do with the publications I'm involved with - Xisco at Sunwing. "Ultima Hora" described it as portraying the "leyenda" of Sant Crist: that word again - legend. For, as with many of the religious celebrations, there is a degree of, how can one put it, licence as to the reality of their origins, as there also is with their dating. Sant Crist shouldn't occur in July, as its date is in fact 24 February. Though even this might be open to interpretation.

In 2007, the town celebrated the 500th anniversary of Sant Crist. Three years ago. How time flies. While I get a distinct sense of history repeating itself when the annual fiestas roll around, a three-year lapse might be thought long enough to forget the previous occasion. Not so. I remember it well. And it was on this blog. There is something rather satisfying about the chronicling of events over a period of time. Three years seem like a long time, but they're not. Here is what was said about Sant Crist back then, and when I went back and located it, I was startled to find that the same piece had a photo of Mike and Jane Lynham at their leaving do. Was that really three years ago? It was.

From "The History Man", 21 July 2007:

"In 1507, Alcúdia and indeed the whole of the island was enduring a time of famine, plague and warring between competing dynasties. To add to this, Alcúdia had a threat of drought, which, in turn, threatened the harvest. In order to try and combat this, the local clergy and justices, organised a procession. It was to be a form of begging or pleading procession, the centrepiece of which would be an image of Christ on the cross, crafted from wood. The hope was that an adoration of and pleading to this image would lead to some form of deliverance from the misfortune that had befallen the local people.

The image was taken from the cave of Sant Martí, which is at the foot of the Puig (hill) Sant Martí, which overlooks Alcúdia. On returning to the cave, it was noted that the image oozed water and some drops of blood. This was subsequently confirmed by the religious men. The upshot of all this was that the next harvest was one of the best for many years, thus cementing the miracle of Sant Crist into local history, tradition and folklore. Whether you believe it or not (and as with most of these alleged miracles, they are implausible at best), is not really the point. The fact is that it is part of local history, mythology one might even venture. And it gives the clergy a chance to dress up and walk through the streets and for there to be a bit of a do.

And as to why every three years. In 1697 the then rector of the Sant Jaume church decreed as such. Moreover, they shifted the actual date from 28 July to 26 July, which also happens to be the date of Santa Anna.

So, now you know."

De Abarca
Following on from yesterday ... You can all sleep easy in your beds. He has been caught. And no, he wasn't in Albufera. He was found near Selva, quite some distance away.

Any comments to please.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Legend Of The Stones: The de Abarca murder case

In the garden there are a number of stones, some of them quite big stones, more like small rocks. There are also a whole load of small stones, observable on the surface of what would normally be called a lawn were it not for it having been divested of the usual grass and having turned the colour of a German tourist. What all these stones have in common is that, for some time now, they have all remained unturned, something that leaves me baffled, as the Balearics delegate, an old friend of this blog Ramon Socias, has said that no stone is being left unturned in the search for crazed murderer Alejandro de Abarca. I say "crazed" because one is expected to use such a word, even if I have no evidence as to his mental state. I also say "murderer" though he has not only not been caught he also not been charged or convicted. But to say anything else wouldn't have quite the same impact. Like saying that no stone is being left unturned.

My guess is that Sr. Socias didn't use these precise words, but we are led to believe that he did. Maybe the phrase is in common usage among police forces across Europe and among politicians who must attempt to reassure a nervous public. But the assiduous or otherwise turning of stones appears to be unnecessary in setting the public's mind at ease. Despite the fact that de Abarca may or may not be holed up in the vicinity, following the discovery of the burnt-out car in Muro with the body of Ana Niculai, his unfortunate victim - or rather, alleged victim - no one is taking much notice. Yet for all we know, he could be only a short distance away in Albufera, hiding under the nearest water buffalo. As he is nicknamed The Dwarf, this is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

Now just think about this for a moment. Killer on the loose. Massive manhunt. Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it. What isn't, to a British audience, is that there is a complete absence of hysteria. There is also an absence of British media, wandering along streets with sincere expressions saying that things like this don't happen here and that this is a tight-knit community. Delegates may resort to clichés but they are the only ones who do. There is also likely to be an absence of any Facebook pages devoted to the "legend", or "leyenda" if you prefer, of de Abarca. Tempting though it may be to apply a touch of expat snobbery in believing that the British have sole claim on complete stupidity, one finds it hard to think that there is lurking a Spaniard who would make Shannon Matthews' mother appear to possess an intellect akin to Wittgenstein's by comparison with the absurd woman behind the Raoul Moat Facebook (and if you've not seen/heard it, I implore you to go to You Tube for the interview with Talk Sport's Ian Collins).

Any comments to please.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kicking Off Again? Pedestrianisation in Puerto Pollensa

Two years after the scheme to pedestrianise the "front line" of Puerto Pollensa between Llenaire and the centre of the Moll was abandoned, it is about to make a comeback. The impetus for its return is an agreement to develop land in the Ullal area of the town (around and near to the Pollensa Park hotel). As reported in "The Diario", the town hall will give this plan the go ahead this coming week. The developers will be able to build residential accommodation on some 100,000 square metres of land, in return for which they will also undertake the pedestrianisation scheme. According to the mayor, all parties which were informed of the plan last week, which seem to include the revolutionaries (as referred to yesterday), are in agreement. Given what happened last time the pedestrianisation scheme reared its head though, it's hard to imagine that there will be unanimity this time round. Apart from anything else, it will mean that all traffic gets diverted along the bypass, which was built as part of the same plan as that for the pedestrianisation, envisaged as far back as the late sixties. Other revolutionaries, notably those of Gotmar who protested loud and long a couple of years ago, will surely not be taking the latest news lying down.

The plan is a potential minefield. Though the building development will be in the vicinity of wetlands deemed of ecological interest, the green light for it has come from the Council of Mallorca which has reclassifed the land as a so-called area of territorial reconversion (ART), which is the same provision that has been applied to areas in Bonaire and Puerto Alcúdia, prompting developments in both instances, the second of which includes what is widely presumed to be and largely already built, but mystifyingly unconfirmed, a Lidl supermarket. Despite the Council's acquiescence, one can yet anticipate objections from the environmental lobby.

What seems curious about this plan is that it doesn't directly address the tourism problem that was highlighted yesterday. If it is indeed the case that Puerto Pollensa needs more hotel stock, might the development not be better served by sticking up a new hotel or two? This said, the chances are that a number of the new houses will end up as holiday lets. For a resort with a high dependence on residential tourism, this might seem fair enough, though it runs counter to the attitude at government level towards the letting business and would provide far fewer additional tourists than a hotel would.

Meanwhile, the same ART is being invoked to finally put the Don Pedro in Cala San Vicente out of its misery. It's been a long death, but it would now seem that the demolition is going to occur; just a question as to when. This has been said for years, but now it seems as though it will happen. Much as the demolition might now appear inevitable, nothing ever runs smoothly, least of all in Pollensa; and so it may still also be with Pedestrianisation 2010.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Squeezing Lemons: Puerto Pollensa wants a tourism study

The protest against conditions in Puerto Pollensa at the start of June has led to there being meetings between the town hall and representatives of businesses and residents in Puerto Pollensa. At the latest meeting the town hall decided to invite the university in Palma to investigate reasons why the port has been losing tourists and its image (as reported in "The Diario").

When all fails, call for a study, but there is an obstacle: Mayor Cerdà doesn't know who will pay for it. Which just goes to prove that money can indeed not buy everything, if you don't have any. There is an awful lot of everything in Pollensa that cannot be paid for.

The mayor says that he doesn't know whether the tourism problem is as a result of tourists deciding against staying in the port, of the tour operators going elsewhere, of a bad image or of inadequate hotels. Things he might know are that there has been a recession, that the British market, upon which Puerto Pollensa is over-reliant, has been particularly affected, that the pound has been weak. Any study would have to establish that there was a discernible downward trend BC (before crisis). If there wasn't, then the mayor might think a study to be a waste of time and money, were there any. Its mere suggestion smacks of a dose of PR and of attempting to mollify the Moll revolutionaries.

There is a colossal amount of garbage spoken about the apparent malaise that has laid Puerto Pollensa low. Garbage being one aspect, along with what you'd rather not tread on and even, for God's sake, road signs not pointing people in the direction of the Moll. All of it is irrelevant. Cerdà's unknown unknowns are not all unknown. Funnily enough, yes, tour operators do choose to go elsewhere. And perhaps some of the hotels aren't up to scratch. Perhaps there simply aren't enough hotels, a point to which the revolutionaries have alluded.

But let's suppose a study were to be conducted. What do you think would happen? Chances are that the hefty tome of a report would gather dust on shelves somewhere in the improved town hall building that cost a mere couple of million euros along with shelved tourism ideas, such as the lunatic notion of using the image of Agatha Christie to promote Puerto Pollensa. Whatever happened to that? Let me hazard a guess. It would have cost an arm, a leg and the equivalent of several studies by the university to dosh up for image rights.

Research is fine. Nothing wrong with it, so long as it is meaningful and might result in some action. Trouble is that in Puerto Pollensa they do research, and have done so for some time. Remember? June 29 last year - "The Lemon Tree". That was about the questionnaire of tourism satisfaction that does the rounds. I doubted then that anything was done with the survey results, and I doubt it even more now. So, Pollensa town hall, go find some money down the back of the mayoral sofa, hand it over to the university and wait for another bunch of lemons. Ridiculous.

Any comments to please.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Throwback: Why all-inclusives might have a point

In Playa de Muro there are 32 hotels. Depending on your definition, there are roughly the same number of restaurants. One restaurant per hotel. You might think that this was a pretty decent equation when it comes to there being adequate business for restaurant owners. Not so, when you take into account the impact of all-inclusive offers.

One restaurant owner was talking about a protest against all-inclusives. It's a familiar theme, is it not? There was similar talk along Puerto Alcúdia's Mile earlier in the season. But there is a difference in Playa de Muro, isn't there? It's a different market.

Playa de Muro does not have the same sort of vast all-inclusive ghettoes that Puerto Alcúdia has, but all-inclusive it most certainly does have. A trawl through some websites of hotels in the resort confirms this. From the more economy Continental and Lagotel to the more exclusive Vivas and Iberostars, you will find that all-inclusive is available. Playa de Muro may be a different market in that it is generally up-market, but what's up-market when it's still subject to the same market conditions created by all-inclusives. That restaurant owner was scathing not only about the existence of so much AI, he was also critical of what he saw as an undermining of the apparent "quality" in at least one of the more up-market hotels. Plastic glasses. Re-used. Or so he says.

Playa de Muro is a curious resort. It is a complete invention of the tourism boom. There was no Playa de Muro until the late 60s and early 70s. The development around Las Gaviotas and the Esperanza hotel started it all off, and then along came a handful of restaurants and ultimately the coastal colonisation as far as Alcúdia Pins. The resort has nothing of the past of a Puerto Alcúdia or Puerto Pollensa, or even Can Picafort: it just emerged.

But as with other resorts, those who started businesses there enjoyed some good times, some very good times indeed, buoyed also by the residential tourism of Mallorcan-owned second homes and foreign-owned holiday homes, of which there are a not insignificant number. However, Playa de Muro and its businesses, save for the hotels, is a victim of that old success. Many places have simply never moved with the times. And now that times are not so good, it's hard to justify the sort of investment that might be said to be required to make places seem less, well, old-fashioned.

In the resort there are two five-star hotels. I was once told by someone at a car-hire firm that it, the car-hire agency, does good business with those from the five stars who head off in the search of restaurants, Pollensa perhaps; but not in Playa de Muro. I can recall forum comments from guests at four-star Iberostars preferring to stay in the hotel and eat because they weren't much taken by the restaurants nearby. There is nothing wrong with the restaurants nearby, quite the contrary, but many look what they are - throwbacks. For a market that has grown more sophisticated, even one that goes AI, there is an image crisis in Playa de Muro. And to this one can add the fact that there is so little differentiation. Where, for example, can one eat Mallorcan cuisine? Mar Petita, yes. Meson los Patos, yes. But the latter isn't actually in Playa de Muro. Otherwise, it's a mix of burgers, steaks, grills and the odd touch of the Orient.

The counter-arguments that the hoteliers make when faced with complaints about the impact of all-inclusive include one that businesses should make a greater effort to improve or change their products. It's not always easy, and in certain instances, e.g. along the Mile in Puerto Alcúdia, it's especially difficult because of the nature of the market. But despite the all-inclusive, Playa de Muro is an example of somewhere, because it does benefit from a more exclusive market, where greater attention to product, to image, to marketing would probably go a long way.

There won't be a protest because there would be a lack of will to effect one, and it would be of no value in any event. One can sympathise, and I do, because I know a number of these business owners, but try telling them that a change might benefit them and they'll pooh-pooh the idea. Fair enough; they know better than I what their business is. I don't run a restaurant. But I do hear and read a lot of comments, and I can observe for myself, as others observe and choose to stay in their 32 hotels.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Suck It And See: The golf course in Muro

Never think that matters in Mallorca draw to a simple conclusion. If you are inclined to think this, then consider the matter of the Muro golf course. Yes, the arguments are of course still going on. What appeared as though it might have been a conclusion, when a bird protection order was made to cover the site of the course, is nothing of the sort, and now the Balearic parliament, thanks to block voting by the centre-right parties (Partido Popular and Unió Mallorquina), has effectively given the development the green light again, the right arguing that the course is in the interest of the island. The left say it is all about private interests, while the enviro lobby group GOB reckons the decision will bring "shame" to the people of Mallorca. The protection order might still hold sway, but if so it will, in all likelihood, need the matter to be booted upstairs, all the way to Brussels. Some 14 years after the project was first talked about, a definitive agreement and indeed conclusion is still to be made.

Something interesting has been happening with the press coverage of the golf development. There have recently been two interviews with the head of the Grupotel hotel chain, one of the main shareholders in the golf course, as well as one with the director of the development company. This has been interesting as the coverage suggests a shift away from what has seemed like press favouritism towards the environmental case. Or perhaps it is just a case of greater balance being applied. The arguments set out by Grupotel and its fellow hotel groups are well known: the course will help to reduce tourism seasonality and to add dynamism to tourism in the area; the development has received favourable environmental reports, and potentially harmful environmental issues have been addressed.

Despite the endless environmental points raised by GOB and the left, the environment is not, for many, the most important issue. What is, is whether the damn course is necessary or can be justified in terms of "adding dynamism". The pronouncements in the interviews have been vague, as has always been the case where the real value of the course is concerned. The PR problem for the developers is two-fold: the environment and a persuasive business argument. They have singularly failed to be persuasive. No assessment is ever made, at least publicly, as to how many additional tourists the course will generate or as to how much value it will bring to the local economy, except in creating a small number of jobs.

There is an inherent lack of logic to the business case. Firstly, the developers cannot count on a return from the sale of real estate, which is often a core feature of golf developments; there will be no residential construction. Secondly, while making his case for the course, the director of the company pointed out that the Muro course will have advantages over other local courses - unlike Pollensa, it will have eighteen holes, and unlike Alcanada, it will not be a luxury course. However, though this hints at a course for everyone, is a "luxury" aspect not part of a course's attraction, especially to hotel groups with four- and five-star hotels in their portfolio? Moreover, whatever might be designed in Muro can surely not benefit from the landscapes of Pollensa and Alcanada or the demanding links-style nature of the latter course. Thirdly, there are several hotel groups represented in Playa de Muro which are involved in the development. How can they all benefit, especially as there is seemingly an unknown, and a very important one - the number of tourists?

The course would add to the intangibility of the "quality" of Playa de Muro as a resort. This shouldn't be underestimated, but it is - once again - a somewhat vague concept, just as the real benefits of the course remain vague. Rather like the so-called "active well-being" branding of the area that is now to be initiated seems like an exercise in sucking it and seeing, with no hard numbers being given and any number of hotels which would be most unlikely to gain any benefit, so it is with the golf course. In business terms, the Muro course has all the feel of being product-led. Here's a course, now here come the tourists. It doesn't work like that.

As ever though, the business case for the course might still be redundant if GOB and the left were to finally have their way, and given the tortuous nature of the arguments and challenges over the years, one really shouldn't rule that out.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Source Of Inspiration: On popular tourist destinations

I have a problem with journalists and writers who do not cite sources. It is a problem that has been exacerbated ever since the lazy writer or one desperate to knock off a few hundred words in order to meet a fast-approaching deadline took to using Wikipedia and other sites as get-out-of-jail cards, sometimes using verbatim what can be found on the internet with not a mention of or an acknowledgement as to the source.

Easy it may be to cobble something together with the aid of Google and the cut and paste commands, but it is short-changing not only the reader but also the writer him or herself. Some while ago, I drew attention to the apparent lifting of text from the home page of by a journalist writing in "The Sun". It was bad form and it was also a derogation of the journalistic art. For the journalist or other writers, words - his or her own - are the stock-in-trade. Even paraphrasing shows some attempt at originality, but what amounts to plagiarism is nothing of the sort and "in journalism, plagiarism is considered a breach of journalistic ethics". Where does this quote come from? Wikipedia of course.

One might argue that recourse to using chunks of text from websites is a way of working "smart". Really? I'm not sure that there's anything particularly smart about it. It's not smart, it's not big and it's not clever (and I think Steve Wright was the one who popularised the not big and not clever line, or rather popliarised, as he would have said - I can cite sources till the cows come home; and no, I don't know who came up with that saying. Look it up if you wish; on Wikipedia).

There is another type of non-acknowledgement, which is the unnamed or vague source. Sometimes this can be understandable, when someone prefers not to be named. Fair enough, and it happens all the time, as in, for example, "government sources said". But there are times when it is far less understandable, which brings me to where I really want to be today. In "The Bulletin" yesterday, the editorial referred to "an article in a top British newspaper over the weekend". Apparently this article revealed that Mallorca has slumped to the number eight spot of the "most popular destination(s) with British tourists". The editorial went on to use this as a means of beating the island's tourism. It may well indeed need a beating, but this is not the point. What is, is that because the source is not named, there is no way that the reader, myself in this instance, can check where the article came from or, as importantly, the context and rigour of the results. Well, I suppose one could by spending ages going through Google in the hope of unearthing it, which is in fact what I started to do, but to no avail.

Without being able to identify the source, the reader is left with an incomplete and potentially unreliable picture. There are, it may not have escaped your attention, any number of these "top ten" or "top one hundred"-style articles knocking around in the press. Some have a basis in research, e.g. that which is offered by the likes of ABTA, the tour operators and market research companies; others don't necessarily.

All I did manage to find when a-googling was an article from "The Daily Record", dated 14 July. This made the observation that western Mediterranean destinations are losing ground to those in the eastern Med and north Africa. But we know this anyway. What the article also revealed, seemingly based on what Co-operative Travel had to say and possibly contrary to the trend, was that the "predicted holiday destination hotspots" for 2011-2012 will be Turkey at number one and at number two ... The Balearic Islands. So much for a lack of popularity.

Maybe Mallorca is at number eight, and if so it is less than heartening news, but there can be all sorts of explanations as to why. If one doesn't know the source or the context, one cannot make a full judgement or at least be given the opportunity to make such a judgement. This is just one reason why sources should be acknowledged.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Pirates Are Here - Again: Fiesta elections

The annual voting season has been and gone. Did you miss it? Had you been in the old town of Pollensa last Friday you wouldn't have. Had you been in Santa Margalida on Sunday at the Augustine nuns' convent you wouldn't have.

The people of the two towns have had their votes. In Pollensa, some 3,500 of them took part in the election. Joan Mas and Dragut in Pollensa; Santa Catalina in Santa Margalida - Christian and Moor; la Beata. The Patrona battle between Moors and Christians will kick off, as normal, on 2 August; the procession of Beata will take place on the first Sunday of September. One Joan Ramon Armengual will be Joan (which seems appropriate - a Joan as a Joan): one Joan, there's only one Joan. Oh not there isn't; there are thousands of them, even in a small town like Pollensa. A Jaume Oliver will be the pirate Dragut, and Antònia Socies, la Beata. So now you know.

As usual, the victors can't quite believe it. It's the stuff of dreams, as usual. And not just for those heading the cast lists. Joan has his mates, Dragut his co-invaders, Beata her attendants. In Pollensa, there is even voting for members of the "old" town hall. There are any number of jobs for the boys and girls in the two towns, all part of the street theatre that is the battle and the Beata.

One of the unsuccesful Draguts was our old friend Toni, he of the Store Formentor at the Bellesreguard complex in Puerto Pollensa. He and his compatriots came halfway in the voting. He didn't seem too unhappy with the result. Not that fearsome though. If you're going to be part of some street theatre, you have, I suppose, to look the part. But simply racing around the old town, engaging in a bit of a bundle is not all there is to it. Joans have some lines to learn. One hopes they never fluff them: "Mare de Déu dels Àngels, assistiu-mos. Pollencins, aixecau-vos, que els pirates ja són aquí." How many times will the latest Joan be reciting these words over the next few days, in advance of the big moment? One trusts there'll be no stage fright.

Any comments to please.

Monday, July 19, 2010

All That Gas: Butane in Mallorca

The "butanero" delivered the other day. He does so only infrequently in summer, as there is only limited demand for gas. It was red hot, around two in the afternoon. How was he? "Bad," he replied, with a laugh. Well, you try driving a butane-gas truck around in the heat, getting in and out of the cab, lugging a heavy bottle onto the kerb. Just shifting one bottle will induce a sweat, and he's doing this time and time again.

One of these days, the butanero may well be no more, as there will be no more the chaps who try and come and check gas installations and who are always frauds. The butanero and butane may still rule the energy roost, but natural gas has now arrived (in Palma at any rate), and oil, solar and (expensive) straightforward mains supply electricity are alternatives. The demand for butane has been falling. A report from "The Diario" yesterday stated that sales have fallen by 20% since 2005. Even the cold winter past saw only a slight increase in sales over the norm.

Nevertheless, Mallorca and the Balearics form one of the most significant markets for butane in Spain. Demand may have fallen, but it is high compared with other regions, a reason being that, despite what can sometimes be very cold spells during the winter, the climate is such that it doesn't justify the costs of installing other systems of heating. The cost, though, of the gas itself has generally risen over the past decade. It does sometimes go down, but at a current price of 12.50 euros it is at least a third more expensive than it was seven or eight years ago. Only when you go into the inner sanctums of some larger restaurants and see the lines of bottles hooked up, do you begin to appreciate how much the whole economy and not just homes rely on a mode of energy supply that seems ridiculously outdated.

"The Diario" also spoke to one of the chaps who attends the butane collection points. He's been doing it for 15 years. Like the chap in Puerto Alcúdia, he is well known in his local community in Palma. Everyone knows the butane man, and he knows everyone and the inside of their car boots or the backs of their vans. For anyone who doesn't know him, he resides, together with his truck of orangey-red bottles, on a road near to the commercial port. In summer he is quiet, but in winter he can attend to whole lines of cars which have to turn around on a road unsuited for such a manoeuvre in order to park up by the truck.

Butane supply is a relic, as is the method of distribution. For all the sophistication of Mallorca, an important part of its energy provision is via something that most Brits will only ever encounter if they go camping. One day it will surely cease to be, but there is something satisfyingly old-fashioned in having such community figures as the butane delivery man and the chap at his collection point.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lie Back And Think Of ... : Ban on sex advertising

So, the Spanish Government is planning to ban the advertising of sex for sale from newspapers. The government is almost certainly right to wish to do so, even if this sounds rather puritanical, a streak I am rarely inclined to display.

There is something of the bizarre about the pages of classifieds for call girls, "massage" and a smattering of rent boys that are to be found in mostly all newspapers locally. The two Spanish dailies in Mallorca have them, as do the nationals, including "El País", which "The Guardian" points out is of a similar left-leaning nature to itself and thus, you would think, in the PC category, and also "ABC", a paper with more than a hint of religious righteousness.

The government, though, is going to cause itself some problems. The newspaper proprietors are unlikely to take a ban lying down, either on their backs or in any other position you may care to imagine. "El País", for example, is a natural ally of the Zapatero government, which can do with all the support it can muster at the moment. There is also a view that banning such advertising would be a curb on free speech, which may be a legitimate argument were it not for the censorious nature of the media when it comes to anything to do with the royal family; overstep the mark and it will land a journalist, or a cartoonist, in the dock before a beak. If the press was wishing to seek a free-speech battleground, this might well be it, and not sleazy ads for well-endowed females.

The sheer volume of these ads can be overwhelming. How much sex can actually be sold? Not enough where the papers are concerned, which already derive significant revenues from the advertising. The papers are also at pains to point out that if the government wants to stop the ads, it should make prostitution illegal. But this argument begins to move into rather murkier territory. Were it the case that the ads were just being placed by some local slapper, then there wouldn't necessarily be much harm in it. However, though a punter calling an ad might indeed end up with the woman of his dreams as opposed to one who might once have appealed to Wayne Rooney, or worse still, looks like Rooney, between that punter and the bed sheets is usually a third-party; pimps of frequently overseas origin - Russian, Nigerian, South American. The anti-ad lobby argues that the ads represent a form of "slavery" for women caught up in the "industry" (and it might add, presumably, some men as well).

The government's move to initiate a ban comes against a background of what seems like a growing willingness on the behalf of the police to move against some so-called "relax" or "alternative" clubs; prostitution may not be illegal, but exploitation and trafficking are. And there is a further dimension to this - the potential link to organised crime.

In one respect, the adverts reflect a rather reassuringly un-PC element in local society, but it is what lies behind the ads that the government (and police) are right to take an interest in. The papers may not like a ban, but they are probably going to have to learn to live without the income that prostitute advertising brings them.

* I acknowledge the source of some of the above from "The Guardian" -

Any comments to please.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

All Night Long: Tourists and nightlife

In "Ultima Hora" yesterday was a report on a survey into nightlife and its "quality" in the Balearics. What is extraordinary about the findings of this survey is not that tourists go to night bars and clubs, but that quite so many do and quite so often.

While the survey, conducted on behalf of the ministry of health and consumption (as in the consumer as opposed to its meaning TB), will lead to implications for matters such as safety and alcohol and drug abuse, what seems truly significant is that over 80% of Brits and over 70% of Germans who come to Mallorca go to a night bar on five or more nights during their stay.

The report is not clear as to which resorts these findings apply to, and one might express some scepticism as to the exact definition of a night bar or club, but assuming this to mean places that are open well into the morning then the findings really are significant. They are significant for different reasons. One, they run counter to a general image of Mallorca as a predominantly "family" destination. Two, they potentially shatter the notion of Mallorca as a destination for so-called alternative tourism; it is hard to reconcile night birds with bird-watchers, for example. Three, they confirm what anyone with an ounce of understanding knows - that for many tourists, nightlife (meaning after midnight) is an important aspect of the holiday mix, despite attempts to neuter it through measures such as terrace curfews.

It is certainly difficult to reconcile the family nature of the Mallorcan holiday with the proclivity to partake in late-night entertainment. Perhaps babysitting services are enjoying boom times, or perhaps there are a lot of elderly relatives who are brought along for this very reason. Not that the elderly are not themselves necessarily out late; the report makes no specific mention of age.

While nightlife is most obviously associated with Magaluf and Palma, it is not as though it doesn't exist elsewhere; quite the contrary. Alcúdia and Can Picafort are both well-represented in this regard. Puerto Pollensa may not be the night centre it was many years ago, but it still has quite a bit of nightlife, despite the fact that some might prefer to portray the resort as quiet and only family-oriented, which is a fallacy.

If the survey had found that tourists went out on the town once or twice during a stay, then the findings wouldn't be particularly revealing. But five or more times is a very different scale. Though not a survey under the auspices of the tourism ministry, it, if it has any sense, should be looking at the results with keen interest; instead it's likely to look at them with alarm as they do not sit easily with its misguided marketing mindset of non-sun and beach and indeed nightlife tourism.

Any comments to please.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Imitation Of Life: Robbie and Take That

So Robbie is back with Take That. If art imitates life, then there needs to be some readjustment in trib world.

When I was putting together HOT!, one possible feature was on the local Robbie, Rob Idol. It didn't happen for reasons I can't be entirely sure of. But had it, a tack I had thought of taking was for Rob to actually be Robbie. It was perhaps as well it didn't happen as I might have lost my audience in a confusion of surrealism. Nevertheless, a question would have been about re-joining Take That. Now that Robbie, as opposed to Rob, has teamed up once more with G. Barlow et al, the possibilities for trib imitation of life are increased.

There is fundamentally something rather surreal about trib acts, but to have them mirror real life, as in Rob and the local Take That performing together, would be not only hugely entertaining it would also be hugely bizarre. They must do it. Or you would hope they would. Even now, local TV should be interviewing the reunited fivesome in broken English, and plans should be afoot for a grand reunion concert of the whole of an alternative Take That on Puerto Alcúdia's promenade. Have these people no imagination? Forget Michael Jackson and his story, forget some sappy alleged Beatles. Give us the reformed and totally tribute TT.

Imitation of life and strange juxtapositions. It goes back a long way. I was probably only six when I was introduced to how art can create the unexpected combination - if the TV Western could have been described as art. But the episode when Bronco Layne crossed over into an episode of "Tenderfoot" (or it might have been the other way round) had, I now appreciate, a profound influence. It has of course happened on many other occasions, such as Kirk and Picard together, but to a small child the insane notion of two cowboys from two cowboy series appearing opposite each other on a black and white screen with a bad signal was sufficient to inform him that normal rules don't always apply, that the strange can and should happen. Which is why the doppelgänger Robbie and Take That must perform together this summer. And, moreover, mean it.

A Load of Balls - On Water
And word up for Mark and Andrea and their Walk On Water Balls next to the Las Palmeras tennis centre in Puerto Alcúdia. This looks, and is, huge fun. The set-up at WOWB is rather different to what can also be experienced at hotel swimming-pools. Firstly, it is sheltered, which means there is no direct sun onto the über-PVC balls (I've forgotten what Mark said was the exact material). Secondly, it is open all day, so no restrictions to a couple of hours here or there.

It's all very safe, and the pool being shallow makes it doubly so. Five euros a roll, or however one wants to describe it. From midday to around 22:30.

But if you're looking for a bizarre angle in this, then think "The Prisoner", think Rover.

(In the photo: a couple of kids enjoying the water balls while Mark watches on.)

Any comments to please.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Annual They Should Be So Lucky

The Calvia police conducted an operation against "vendedores ambulantes" a couple of nights ago. These vendedores are, of course, better known as "looky-looky" or "lucky-lucky" men. According to a report in "Ultima Hora", the number of luckies heading for Magaluf of an evening has recently increased, as has the number of complaints. Cue plod.

The luckies are a part of the local scene, in whatever resort. Mostly they are harmless, but like anyone who does some street "selling" - and these can include legitimate PRs where they are permitted outside their own establishments and the scratch-card wretches - they can be a damn nuisance. Apart from the fact that they are selling shit (and sometimes they are selling a type of shit that comes in small wrapped packages), the biggest beef with them concerns the fact that they take away business from shops or others and pay not a cent of tax or social security. None are legal.

That the police in the different resorts often turn a blind eye to them has to do with the sheer numbers, lack of police resources and the fact that even if they get hauled in there isn't much that can be done with them. The police in Magaluf let all of its 41 catch of luckies go, save for one who'd got stroppy. As was once pointed out by an Alcúdia policeman, take one lucky in and another will replace him. There is a production line that never seems to run out of resources.

By coincidence, "The Diario" had a report on different types of vendedores in Playa de Palma on Sunday. To the luckies can be added the beach vendors selling if not necessarily shit, then highly overpriced fruit or drinks. As one shopowner pointed out, they go to a shop, buy some cans and then go and flog them at four or five times the proper price. Another example of the tourist being ripped-off. Doubly if the shop was already charging over the odds.

The simple solution would lie with tourists not encouraging any of the street sellers by not buying their wares or not being hauled off for a hard-sell pitch for holidays they don't want or need. The latter can be more difficult to shake off as there are more silver tongues, ones that speak the language well. The luckies can be fobbed off, and many do fob them off. But many do not. Kids are especially susceptible, and so therefore are their parents, because the kids often find the luckies funny and enjoy the game of bartering.

But should we really be so sanctimonious? Who has never bought some shit from a lucky or another seller? Who has never bought a dodgy CD or DVD? There are some, including bar-owners, who are good customers for the luckies and for those who don't bother with luckies and sell direct their packaged, pirated DVDs by the hold-all load.

The luckies and their nuisance and illegal value are an annual theme. Every year's the same. Despite the efforts of the police, and the Magaluf operation will probably prove to be isolated, and despite local laws that make it illegal to not only sell but also buy hooky gear (as is the case in Alcúdia), the luckies are not going away. Like the poor, they will always be with us. And there will be some who, strange to report, will be quite happy that they are.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

For Another Euro More: Prices that take you for a ride

You may or may not appreciate what a grind it can be, hacking around hotels and other places - on a daily basis - distributing copies of HOT! Especially when it is as warm as it is now. Not that I complain. That's how it is. And it can also be highly illuminating. Stop and talk to the receptionists about how things are. Many an insight is to be gained from a few moments snatched with hotel personnel.

But when it is hot, one has to either take oneself off to a bar for some liquid or - on the hoof - get some from a shop. And so it was, at the peak of yesterday's afternoon temperature, I went into a tourist supermarket. Water, no. It's always overpriced in these places, and it's not what you really need, which is either fruit juice or a sports drink - water's fine, but you've got to get your vitamins, minerals and salts as well. So I choose a sports drink. There is a sticker on the cool cabinet - across the row of drinks from which I take an orange half litre. 1.95. The "botellas" (bottles) are 1.95. Ok, bit over the top, but I can live with it. What I can't live with is when I go to the checkout and the girl says 2.95. No it's not, says I (and this is all in Spanish). It's 1.95. That's what the sticker says. I pick up the bottle and point out the 500ml - half litre, and then I head over to the cabinet, and she comes with me. She removes the sticker. Rumbled.

The supermarket has encountered someone who isn't a tourist, who speaks Spanish, who's damned if he's going to pay a euro more than what is clearly stated - or was, before the sticker was peeled off. I pay 1.95. The girl and her companion look somewhat pissed off. It's not really their problem; they only work there. But they have to deal with it. Deal with a little example of attempting to rip-off.

When we get all the Mallorca's expensive anecdotes, some are related to the cost of items in tourist supermarkets. I have some sympathy. They try it on. And it gives a bad impression. Like, for example, this nonsense with upping the price of newspapers - a twenty cents here, a thirty cents there. It's wrong. Its legality is also a moot point. But the deal is that the supermarket, or whatever, assumes you'll be prepared to swallow the added tariff because it's convenient to do so. Oh, that the practice were confined only to the less-than-official outlets. Because it isn't. I was going to buy a copy of "The Observer" last Sunday from a "tabacs" (which double as official outlets for newspapers). Not when I saw the sticker with the added cents. They're having a laugh. One of these days I will look to buy a paper with its inflated price and insist on paying the price quoted - in print - on the paper. Again, it won't be the problem of the shop assistant, and he or she shouldn't be placed in the position of having to be confronted by a stroppy non-tourist, such as myself. But it's poor. It niggles. Niggles tourists and niggles me. They should stop trying to make fools out of people, which is why I do - sometimes - have every sympathy with those who complain about prices.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wacky Races: The Alcúdia-Puerto Pollensa coast road

The Wacky Department's at it again. It seems to be the only department in the Spanish Government that's expanding during the "cree-sis". What it has now dragged out, courtesy of the dreaded Costas and their "demarcation", is a revival of an old tune - the elimination of the coast road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. This was something that had gone ominously quiet since being given plenty of airplay a couple of years ago (for example, 9 May 2008, Road To Nowhere). But it's back on the playlist - and racing up the charts.

The idea that the coast road should be removed and nature allowed to reclaim the coastal area is one that goes back some years, but it has never really attracted serious attention. This is about to change. The Costas, as reported in "The Diario" yesterday, are embarking on two studies - one into the socioeconomic implications of getting rid of the road, the other a technical proposal for doing so.

The environmental context for the road's elimination is clear: the road runs right by a line of coast that is "rustic", i.e. not made up, and by the Albufereta wetlands and finca of Can Cullerassa, itself recently cleaned up after years of neglect following the abandonment of a building project that dated back to the seventies. The non-environmental ramifications of eliminating the road are also obvious - Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa would in effect, unless there were an alternative road, be cut off from each other. And quite what the owners of the Club Pollentia Resort, the Club Sol Apartments, the Can Cuarassa restaurant and various fincas make of the idea, God alone knows.

Pollensa's mayor Joan Cerdà, for his part, has expressed his scepticism regarding the plan and is also concerned as to what an alternative road might mean for finca owners and for the virgin land that exists beyond the Albufereta. Any new road, and there would surely have to be one, would have to cut across this land while probably also having to have feeder roads. Solving one environmental problem would merely create a different one, to which would be added the costs of expropriation and the inevitable legal challenges.

What needs to be established, above all else, is whether the continued existence of the current road represents genuine potential for long-term environmental harm. If not, then one would have to conclude, and not for the first time with the Costas' diktats on demarcation, that the road's elimination would be an example of over-zealous application of that demarcation. The project demands an independent enquiry, not one under the auspices of the Costas.

There are other issues to be taken into account. The current road can be dangerous and also a nightmare when the weather is bad and stones are being hurled onto it. It might be no bad thing if there were an alternative road, but the existing road is also important for tourism, a point that Mayor Cerdà has made.

The logic of the Costas' position would, one might think, place the continued existence of the hotels and the restaurant in peril. Leave them, but without the coast road and with a new one to their rear, and that logic would be undermined; they are as much a part of the environmental issue along the coast road as the road itself.

But there may also be another factor, one lurking in the background, and that is the European Union. The recuperation of Can Cullerassa was part of what the EU had determined to be a priority in terms of environmental regeneration.

While common sense would suggest that Cerdà is right to be sceptical as to whether the project will happen, there are sufficient forces potentially lining up that might just make it happen.

Any comments to please.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain Win The World Cup: The view from Alcúdia

In the end, Iniesta. In the end it didn't matter that it was no great final. In the end it didn't matter to the millions who will have spilled out onto the streets across Spain, just as they did in Puerto Alcúdia.

The car horns had been going off well before the match started. Is it possible that car horns can lose their horn? If they can, they will have by now. In the end and at the end it was not just the street sides that were full of flag-waving, so were the roads, right down the middle, right around the roundabouts. I came close to ending up in hospital, or worse, as I crossed the road by the Magic roundabout and a motorbike came haring around at high speed, seemingly the only road user unaware that something remarkable had happened.

And it was remarkable. Even for anyone with no interest in football, he or she could surely not have been overtaken by the outpouring of joy and euphoria. It was the greatest fiesta of all, and one not programmed by an organising committee. Fireworks went off, wherever; the people's party.

The Mile was packed. A cavalcade of flag-waving, horn-blowing cars jammed the road, as did the onlookers, cheering and crying with ecstasy. Near to Magic, the customised chainsaw with its loudhailing amplifier was roaring, being played like a guitar to passing cars and behind a police bike rider. The lorry that doubled as a float was getting more and more loaded. Kids, with no obvious sign of parents, were throwing themselves onto the dewy grass of the roundabout in an abandon of happiness. Everyone was going mental.

Yet amidst all this, bizarrely other life was going on. A group of tourists outside the Delfin Azul with their suitcases, waiting for their transfer coach; a late-night supermarket, moving the lilos inside. It is at times like a World Cup final, a World Cup final in a Spanish town, that it is hard to believe that anything else could actually matter.

In the end it didn't matter that De Jong should have been sent off, it didn't matter that Spain never really played that well throughout the whole tournament. What did matter was that Spain won. And to have been amongst it was astonishing. There was a sense of gatecrashing someone else's party, but it didn't matter; far from it, as Germans, Brits, Swedes and others joined in and revelled in one of the greatest nights most will ever experience.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One Nation Spaniards: Catalonian self-government

The people of Barcelona and Catalan people in other countries protested yesterday. Their grievance was a constitutional ruling given on Friday in respect of calls for Catalonian self-government. As you might construe from the fact of there being demonstrations, the ruling didn't look that favourably on the idea. The constitutional tribunal rejected the notion that Catalonia could be a "nation" because the Spanish constitution recognises only the Spanish nation and the Spanish nation as the only entity that can claim sovereignty. The tribunal accepted that one can talk of a nation as one with a cultural, historical, linguistic, sociological and religious reality but that what is important is exclusively the nation in a legal-constitutional sense, one that permits only the Spanish nation.

With anything constitutional, the ruling is pretty arcane. I won't attempt to explain any more of it, but I will point out that, under the constitution, the rights to autonomy, as in a degree of autonomous government, and respect of language and religion, were all enshrined following the establishment of democracy. Catalonia, like the Balearics, therefore has its own autonomous administration. Self-government is something altogether different.

If you look at the description of the nation above, there is one glaring aspect - linguistic. Language is a key issue for the Catalonians, and the ruling might therefore appear to be contradictory. But it is not the only issue. The Catalonian question is one that goes back centuries, to the joining of Castile and Aragon in the late fifteenth century, and which has passed through periods of repression and prohibition. There is also an issue of money; Catalonia is one of the wealthiest parts of Spain.

The president of Catalonia reckons that the ruling is offensive and has accused it of being politically motivated with the support of the Partido Popular. Though many Catalonian politicians as well as many in the Balearics (all the left plus the Unió Mallorquina and President Antich) may wish for self-government, a question must be to what extent there is popular support. An answer may lie in a symbolic referendum held in the small town of Arenys de Munt last September. Ninety-six per cent of voters supported an independent Catalonia within the European Union..A further answer may lie in the million protesters that took to the streets in Barcelona

The ruling is hardly surprising. Any other, one that might have looked favourably on self-government, would potentially open the floodgates. The Basques would have been following the judgement closely, as probably would many in Andalucia. But were there to be more impetus towards self-government, it would not play well in most of Spain. It wouldn't necessarily play well in the Balearics, despite what the politicians think (and only 300 people turned up to attend a demo in Palma against the decision). Despite the common(ish) language, Catalonia and the Balearics are two different beasts. One, Catalonia, has traditionally been liberal and even revolutionary; the Balearics are traditionally conservative, albeit that there has been a rise in Catalan radicalism. There is also an issue between the two over financing. Don't expect any serious calls for a greater Catalan state any time soon.

What must though be a concern is the fact that the Zapatero administration has been highly accommodating towards Catalonia, partly because it has needed its support, evidenced by the powers over taxation and law permitted in 2006 and now challenged by the PP, which led to the constitutional ruling. The next elections could be a turning-point for Spain if this ruling garners real popular support for independence and a rejection of Madrid rule and also if, as we must presume would be likely, the Partido Popular were to win the next election.

We might just have experienced a very important moment in Spain's history. Yet, all of this should be seen against the backdrop of something that is happening today. It may have escaped your attention but Spain are in the World Cup final. Strangely enough, there are times when nationalism - Spanish nationalism - assumes command, alongside the Barcelona-biased Spanish team.

Some things are more important than others.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Protect The Birds: End of the line for the golf course?

Have we come to the end of the Muro golf course saga? Almost certainly not, but the latest development is intended to put an end to it, once and for all. Or so it would seem.

The Balearic Government has approved the widening of a zone of special protection for birds, currently applied to the Albufera nature park, which will take in the Son Bosc finca where the golf development is planned. There is still a suggestion that this is not definitive, though it's hard to see how it isn't. From the reports, the word "inviable" stands out. Swap an "in" for an "un" and you have the English.

Ever since the change at governmental level which saw the environment ministry pass to the Mallorcan socialists, putting a stop to the golf course has been high on the agenda. A previous order seems not to have done the trick. Now comes the protection of birds one.

One can, with a degree of certainty, predict that those in favour of the course - the developers (i.e. Muro hoteliers) and the town hall - won't take this lying down. It could well end up in the courts.

There is nothing in the least bit wrong with the extension of this protection, but the move smacks of finding anything behind which can be hidden what is surely the real impulse - that of politics. Why is this extension being sought now? The politics of, essentially, right versus left are so transparent as to be laughable. But if this is to be the end, then for God's sake let it be the end. It won't be.

Elsewhere in Muro, down on the playa, two vivid lime-green t-shirts loomed amongst the sunbathers the other day. They were being worn by two chaps who tramped across the sand up to where there are chalets by the beach, one of which has been abandoned for some years (a photo of which is on the HOT! Facebook page). One chap stayed in front of the abandoned building, just looking at it, while the other walked on a bit, looked at the other chalets, walked back, took his mobile from his pocket and gestured to his companion. They walked away. On the back of their t-shirts were the words "Demarcación de costas".

What did it all mean? Maybe nothing, but the Costas have had their eye on Playa de Muro for a while and on buildings that may or may not have the right to be where they are.

Finally. Greatly removed, but the Moat thing has been given only little prominence by the Spanish media. Compare this with the coverage by the UK media. Rather extraordinary, rather like unfolding events during wars, listening - at a distance - to Five Live as the man on the riverside holds his gun and is surrounded by police. How extraordinary the analysis of when nothing much happens, the analysis of the situation and of the man himself. And how extraordinary that Gazza turned up. Which brings us back to the World Cup. Sunday will be mental. Like Gazza.

Any comments to please.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Houston, We Have A Problem: Hotels - smells and receptions

From the Exagon in Son Bauló, along the bays of Alcúdia and Pollensa, into the coves, into the towns and finally to Son Brull by the golf course in Pollensa, there is barely a hotel that I have not been into.

To varying degrees, the resorts are defined by their hotels. The towns - Alcúdia and Pollensa - merge into a oneness of the "petit" or interior hotel, all designer-chic or townhouse stone walls with boutique room and furnishing heterogeneity, the total opposite of the standardised sprawls of the holiday camps of Puerto Alcúdia - what are now Clubs, Bellevue and Mac, Resort (Sunwing) or both Club and Resort, Sea. Can Picafort, to an extent, shares the gardens and airiness of Iberostars and Vivas with its neighbour, Playa de Muro, where are also the Romanesque columns of the imposing Palace de Muro five-star.

The coves and remoter parts are a mix of the homeliness of the More and the heavy doors of the Cala San Vicente, which one takes it were the model for Son Brull (same people) where the doors are even heavier and larger, like gates to a castle, and where one expects a Swiss Guard to be standing to attention.

Then there is Puerto Pollensa. More modern, purpose-built tourism hotels there may be, but it is the grand old dames of Pollensa bay that are emblematic of the resort - from the Uyal to the Illa D'Or. I happened to be in both yesterday. In the latter, there is rarely ever a sound to be heard, save for the ticking of a clock. The hotel's connections with Agatha Christie are unsurprising. In the Illa D'Or everything probably stops for tea and a Miss Marple will be served her Earl Grey and scones, while reminding the waiter of her six o'clock gin and tonic order. As I left, some pink-faced old buffery was stumbling out of a taxi. The Uyal, like its twin great aunt, the Pollentia, has the feel of a southern England seaside hotel from the '60s. It seems perfectly suited to the pith-helmet, straw-hat home from home of Puerto Poll-esra. It is hard to reconcile the fact that Puerto Pollensa once had something of a Bohemian reputation.

The Uyal also has a smell. It is reassuringly musty and antique; in the lounge at any rate. It is also poignant. I had forgotten about hotels and their smells until yesterday and was transported back to the sixties and indeed to southern England seaside hotels which had a smell I couldn't explain then but was probably the accumulated, cloying and trapped odour of beef, Yorkshire pud and gravy.

Other hotels around and about have smells. Two of the sweetest are the air-conned fragrances of the Alcúdia Beach and Molins. There is little more pleasant than to enter a fresh reception and whiff vanilla. While hotels can define resorts, it is their receptions which define the hotels. And it is these, the receptions, that, more than most aspects of the local hotels, are changing. Moreover, like the default style of the "new" architecture is straight-lined, neutral-coloured, steel, so the receptions are being interior-designed to complement this contemporary landscape. The Playa de Muro Village went space age a few years ago. The Las Gaviotas, or what we must now call Las Gaviotas Suites, is similarly a showroom reproduced from the pages of the latest design bibles. The receptionist could be in touch with Houston. Even the Sol Alcúdia off The Mile (not to be confused with the Sol Alcúdia Center opposite) has been made over with the faux-industrialism of Kraftwerk receptionism. None of it looks bad. Far from it. It all looks fantastic, but it is also clinical. And is it comfortable? One hardly dares to sit on a sofa at Las Gaviotas for fear of marking the white light of the upholstery.

J'adore the Illa D'Or for its bonkers colonialism. I want more of the More and its permanent smell of old breakfast. Do you-yal? You should do, before it ceases to be pinafored into its Upstairs Downstairs old civility. The problem is that the drive is towards renovation and upgrading. All receptions may one day be out of a catalogue. While this will often be no bad thing, the fear is that a loss of charm follows. President Antich is calling on the hotels to reactivate their investment, reminding them of the funds available to do so. Much is made of the ancient nature of some hotels and of the resultant lack of competitiveness with other destinations, but renovation needs to be sympathetic. And if you want the best example of a reception that was modernised in tune with the atmosphere of the hotel and indeed the previous reception, then take a look at the Niu in Cala San Vicente. It can be done, and done very well.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Rattle And Hum: Air-conditioning

Could you live without air-conditioning in the heat of a Mallorcan summer? Many make do without it. Like me. I rarely even put it on in the car. To some extent, it has to do with home design and situation, especially the interaction of the position of the sun during the day and any shielding, such as an intervening terrace roof. But even without the influence of direct sunlight, the temperatures are high.

Air-con is hardly cheap to run. It can also be expensive to install. A restaurant owner recently explained to me that a new system had set him back 50,000 euros. That's a lot of lunches and dinners to be sold. Home units may not come to anything like this amount, but neither are they inexpensive.

Somewhere still lurking in the Wacky Department of the Spanish Government is a proposal for temperatures in bars and restaurants, one that would also insist on doors being closed and operated automatically, in order to limit changes to temperatures inside. The proposal was that interior temperatures would not be lower than 26 degrees (79 Fahrenheit) during the summer months. It was and is a mad proposal, but the thinking behind it was to conserve energy and to be environmentally friendly. It is still possible that it might actually be passed into law, at a stroke rendering air-con units more or less redundant. That it seems to have been put on the back burner, so to speak, probably has more to do with the politics of the smoking ban than any desire to save the planet.

Air-con has become pretty much de rigueur for bars and for hotels. Its presence forms part of the promotional mix. "We have air-conditioning." But not all hotels do, especially the older stock. I am led to believe that Bellevue - all 1400 plus apartments of it - could finally be kitted out with air-con. The new owners have an air-con company in their portfolio. It would still represent a massive investment, even given some favourable inter-company transfer pricing, to say nothing of the need for a dedicated system of power generation and also the charges to the guests.

In 2003, the summer of outrageous heat, the power system in Mallorca gave up one day in August. The outage lasted for up to eleven or twelve hours in parts of the island. We are told that there is plenty of capacity now to meet demand, but just think about the level of supply - for all those hotels, restaurants, shops, homes and everything else. One can argue that demand for electricity is very much lower in winter, thanks to all those cold hotels being closed. Open them all up and the gross demand for energy on the island would be significantly greater than it currently is. Perhaps this is a good reason for there only being limited winter tourism.

Air-con units and the demand for electricity have now moved into overdrive if not overload, but the temperatures are still not particularly excessive, despite an average two-degree above normal for the start of July. The fear is that, somewhere down the line, temperatures will become excessive and normal. The demand would be colossal.

The good news is that the island's power stations now have capacity, at least for current needs and a foreseeable future not sent haywire through climate change. The new one in Palma, that was opened in 2006, should be capable of handling estimated increases in demand of up to 6% per year. The growth in demand had actually gone up by a third in the five years before the plant started operating. The arrival of natural gas should be an advantage, albeit not to the plant in Alcúdia, which is coal-fired and which remains a bone of contention for environmentalists - Greenpeace have, in the past, tried to stop the shipping of coal to Mallorca.

The answer to the original question is almost certainly no. No you couldn't live without air-conditioning, and it may be that air-con becomes a matter of life or death, if we are to believe the predictions as to temperature rise. For now though, you can be sure that there will not be a collapse of the power system and that the air-con unit can rattle and hum away, racking up the electricity bill. There again, you could always keep the windows open. Or could you? Some would argue that an open window just lets in warm air, while at night in fly the mosquitoes. And then there is always that mad proposal. To air-con or not to air-con? Who'd be one who wants to save the planet?

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Chinese Take-Away

The glory that is corruption in Mallorca. The glory and the sheer stupidity. Gloriously stupid. The "Pasarela" operation into what the hell has been going on at IBATUR, the regional government's tourism promotion agency, has unearthed one of the more bizarre of all the questionable practices.

If you were to want to have translated the acronym IBATUR into Mandarin Chinese, how much do you reckon it would cost? Six letters, that's all, but let's be generous as Chinese "letters" are of course nothing like our own. There is generous, though, and there is generous. Would you say that six thousand euros was a fair payment? No, you probably wouldn't, and nor would the investigators say it was fair either. Which is why they are rather keen to understand why this amount was trousered by one Felip Ferré who just so happens to be a nephew of ... you might have guessed it ... disgraced former president, Jaume Matas, and who also happens to be implicated in yet another corruption case. The six grand was paid to him by the tourism ministry.

There are other strange questions arising from this investigation, such as one related to ten thousand euros paid to someone to come up with a study into the benefits of golf on the islands, a study that was compiled with information lifted straight from the internet. This may not be in the class of a dodgy dossier based on a PhD thesis, but it is equally stupid, as in did someone really believe that it might not be found out, like six grand for translating six letters might not be found out.

Then you have what was going on at the Fundación Balears Sostenible with its stupid green card, the "tarjeta verde". Let's be generous where this is concerned as well, and say that it was a highly altruistic means of providing discounts while at the same time promoting the natural glories of the islands. It was, however, really intended as a way of raising dosh, once the old eco-tax was kicked into the Mediterranean and drowned with the outcry that the tax had caused. How much do you reckon it raised? According to the audit for 2008, it brought in - to the Fundación, charged with its administration - the massive amount of 13,524 euros. It is believed that there has been a shortfall of some 400,000 euros, some of which can be explained, it is alleged, by the fact that hotels selling it have simply not handed over the money (and of course the hotels have been hounded for back-payment of the eco-tax during its shortlived and crazy existence). Set against the lack of revenue are the costs which have given rise to losses on the venture of over a million euros a year. In the hotels' defence, it is being said that the card had little success with tourists, which is probably true. At ten euros a pop, it may have seemed to offer benefits, but was just another example of how such a discounting approach doesn't work.

This may not necessarily indicate anything fraudulent - at the Fundación - but it smacks of inefficiency, to say the least. Which brings us to another question - that of pallets and pallets of publicity material on behalf of the Fundación which were stashed away in store and never used.

Corruption and inefficiency. Fraud and waste. Different they may be, but they are two sides of the same coin - the one that was spent and spent by an extravagant and uncontrolled public sector, especially the tourism ministry. One says "was", as one can but hope that this is no longer the case.

* Acknowledgement to "The Diario" for different reports that informed the above.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Hot House: High temperatures (wrongly) and wrong rubbish

Here we go. The weather season is upon us. It never leaves us of course, but it peaks as peak summer arrives along with peak temperatures. The question is, though, what are those peak temperatures and how accurate are they, especially those which get reported from unofficial sources, i.e. anyone other than the local met boys who are, despite met office reputations wherever you may care to mention, the only ones who can be vaguely relied upon.

It has become quite warm, there's no doubt about that. Sweaty, sweaty. No doubt. But the current heat is nothing unusual; indeed it feels pretty normal and not excessive. However, the weather season demands a rather different take. Among figures that have been thrown about, erroneously, we have had anything from mid-30s to mid-40s. Or approximately 95 to 115 in old money. If the temperature were, or had been, in the mid-40s, then one might have expected that people would have started to drop like flies. Indeed, you might not be reading this, as I would have evaporated. Mid-40s is danger territory. You would also have expected there to be issued some serious health warnings and advice.

None of this has happened, because the temperature hasn't been anything like on this scale. Official numbers are barely breaking the 30 degree barrier (86); quite normal and quite hot enough, thank you very much. And where they have, inland, they do not compare with the coast where it is always cooler.

Last year's great weather event in terms of heat saw a maximum of a bit over 42 degrees in Sa Pobla. That was serious heat, yet some reports had it so high (on the coast) that the temperature was equivalent to that which the poor sods fighting in Afghanistan have to endure - nudging the 50 mark.

I suppose it is partly down to the reliability, or not, of one's measuring device. As I write, in the middle of the afternoon, mine is showing 84 in old money, 29 in new. Maybe it's too low. I can't honestly say. But it seems about right and seems the same as it has been for a few days; it is the same figure, as it turns out, coming from the local weather station. The thermometer is, and has been, in the shade, which is of course what is actually measured.

Still, the temperatures are due to rise - 88 by Wednesday is one forecast. So, expect some danger levels to be bandied about, well above 31 Celsius. We should be careful what we wish for where temperatures are concerned. At mid-80s, they are about manageable. Sometime in the not too distant future, those really high temperatures might just start to become the norm. Then you'll really know about serious heat.

A load of rubbish
Look at the photo here. What is wrong with it? Some of you might recall a similar photo some time ago. The issue is getting worse, because what is wrong is that the bin on the left shouldn't have any garden stuff in it; it is for household waste only. This bin was emptied yesterday; by the evening it was full to overflowing. Partly, this is just downright selfishness, but it is also the case that the garden bin gets emptied only irregularly and that the garden rubbish that has gone into the one on the left has mainly come from a house that had not been occupied for some months, i.e. a holiday home. You can, to a point, forgive them if there is nowhere else to put the rubbish.

However, it is not that long ago that there was no separate bin for garden stuff, and that the household bin was emptied every day, which it still is, but only in season, and which isn't the point anyway. Then there is the fact that the rubbish tax has risen considerably. For what, exactly? And then there is another point. Some gardens are large, with all manner of plants, trees, lawns, you name it; other gardens are not large without bloody great trees. Some householders do not fill a bin with their own stuff, knowing that it is somewhat selfish. Like me, who does not have trees, but hedges which keep on not getting cut down because the bloody garden bin gets filled up as soon as it's emptied. There is also the fact that the above photo gives lie to the idea that Mallorca has suddenly become fabulously recycling conscious and also gives lie to the campaign by the town hall to inform residents of the different bins by sending someone round with a leaflet and a form that you had to sign to say that you had been told about it. Fat lot of use when it's done in winter.

I have a solution, and I shall send this photo to Muro town hall, along with my solution. This is - a garden tax. The town hall sends the boys round, checks all gardens for size, number of trees etc., and then sends out the bills. That'll learn 'em.

Yesterday - The fantastically insane "Rock Lobster", The B52s,

Any comments to please.