Thursday, September 30, 2010

Personal Touch: Culture of service in Mallorca

Vince Cable is interested in introducing a plan for employee share-ownership at Royal Mail, when or if it is ever privatised. It's all about instilling a change of culture in the organisation. Cable sees John Lewis as a model. It sounds fair enough, but it isn't as simple as handing over some share certificates.

The John Lewis Partnership can be traced back to 1919. The company's culture of service and participation is that historical and ingrained that it is, in effect, what the company is. To give an example of the challenge at Royal Mail, I heard a radio discussion about the plan in which the courtesy of a John Lewis van driver was compared with the two-fingered snottiness of a Royal Mail driver. The point is that the John Lewis "spirit" penetrates every last bit of the company's operations.

Giving out shares is, in truth, an artificial way of trying to engender a different culture. It's almost like a bribe, a financial incentive to create success without the bedrock of inner strength and values - a bit like Manchester City, without a culture of achievement, looking to usurp Manchester United, which has, with the promise of riches. It shouldn't be necessary. A rotten culture is rarely the fault of staff; the blame nearly always lies at the top.

Not long after he became the head of the Fomento del Turismo (aka the Mallorca Tourism Board), Pedro Iriondo spoke in "The Bulletin" about bygone days of a personal touch and smiling, happy people greeting tourists. What he also spoke about was that this personal style, this culture, had to start from the top of the tourism trade and cascade downwards. He was not wrong.

Much is sometimes made of indifferent service and attitudes by those in Mallorca's tourism frontline. We can all cite examples of the good or the bad. Just to give one of the former, I happened to go into the Sis Pins hotel in Puerto Pollensa the other day. I was not a guest, but the beaming and charming greeting was enough to convince me that did I wish to be a guest, then I would be so with full confidence. And this was not forced, it was totally natural, suggesting an atmosphere, a culture if you prefer, of Sr. Iriondo's personal touch. There are plenty of other examples, just as good.

But then there is the bad, made worse by a propensity for those suffering the "bad" to rush off to the internet and tell the world. To suggest that poor service or attitude can be totally eliminated is a nonsense, but perhaps Mallorca has indeed, as Sr. Iriondo has suggested, lost some of its personal touch, lost some of a culture of welcoming. Unlike Royal Mail, which starts from base camp, Mallorca is still well up the mountain, just that it needs to get back to the peak.

Part of the problem may well lie with simple terminology. "Tourists". A generic term and a sometimes pejorative one, which implies a breed apart, one that is a part of Mallorca and yet is separate from it, one that is removed from the process of Mallorca and yet which is fundamental to it. "Tourists" cease to be individuals and become resources moving along a production line, causing it to be forgotten that they are holidaymakers, with all this term implies in respect of the "fun" of holiday, and also guests. Forgotten not just by some businesses and their staff but by everyone.

In Alcúdia, there is an annual tourist day. It is a good idea and a successful event, but it is inherently contradictory. Is every day not a tourist day? When Sr. Iriondo referred to the "top", he wasn't completely right, in that - in organisational terms - it is the tourist who should be at the top of the pyramid; everyone else is in a support role, and by everyone I mean everyone. It is the John Lewis culture writ large, even down to courtesy by drivers.

Of course, embracing everyone in such a culture is an impossibility. It could only be achieved were there an authoritarian regime, commanding the populace to smile nicely and hug a tourist. Yet there used to exist something of that type of regime, at a time in the past to which Sr. Iriondo has alluded. Along the way, something got lost, the result of familiarity, routine, a greater politicisation of the tourism issue and increased wealth. It might also be a consequence of tourists themselves, or some of them; those who do not apply their own responsibilities as guests. Patience can be stretched to the limits at times.

Nevertheless, for the majority of visitors, things do need to come down from the top, be it in bars, restaurants, shops, hotels or wherever, or from the tourism ministry and organisations. Perhaps just a bit of the spend that is made on promotion could be diverted to some "internal" marketing to the staff, as in everyone in Mallorca. A reminder that each tourist is a guest and is unique, and deserves a culture in which he or she is made to feel welcome by all. Mallorca is not the Royal Mail, but were it to be John Lewis then whatever shortcomings the island may have compared with its shiny new competitors would be compensated for - through the personal touch.

Any comments to please.

Index for September 2010

Art and graffiti - 8 September 2010
Bienestar Activo - 15 September 2010
Books and culture - 22 September 2010
Breast cancer charity concert, Puerto Alcúdia - 26 September 2010
Can Picafort and hotel occupancy - 25 September 2010
Capdepera Christian theme park - 21 September 2010
Carretera Arta works - 9 September 2010
Chopin adoptive son - 10 September 2010
Columbus came from Felanitx - 27 September 2010
Correbou and bullfighting - 2 September 2010, 4 September 2010
Elton John-Andrea Bocelli concert - 3 September 2010
Fiestas, Bunyola and - 19 September 2010
General strike - 29 September 2010
German air tax - 7 September 2010
Golf, GOB and - 10 September 2010
Ironman in Alcúdia - 15 September 2010
Local elections, opinion poll and - 14 September 2010
Palma European City of Culture - 24 September 2010
Playa de Palma re-development - 11 September 2010
Pollensa, its problems, its mayor - 28 September 2010
Port de Sóller promenade development - 16 September 2010
Prostitution - 12 September 2010
Rafael Nadal and tourism promotion - 17 September 2010
Rumours, closure - 23 September
September in Mallorca - 1 September 2010, 6 September 2010
Service and culture in Mallorca - 30 September 2010
Smells and sounds of Mallorca - 18 September 2010
Tourism spend and strategy - 5 September 2010
Travel discounts, Mallorcan residents' - 20 September 2010
Vuelta al cole (back to school) - 13 September 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm All Right, Juan: A Peculiarly Spanish Strike

How's your general strike going to be?

Bliss. Day off, an hour's lie-in, putting the feet up, a trip to the pub or a pleasant long walk on the beach in the autumn sun. The satisfying feeling of not having to bother with the world for 24 hours; a bit like a Sunday.

Being British, we don't do general strikes. Not since 1926 anyway. My great great uncle Albert may or may not have driven his omnibus for part of May that year. I really couldn't say. That'll be because, as far as I'm aware, I had no great great uncle Albert. But the strike of 1926 still has the power to evoke memories and tall tales of distant relatives' militancy. Its pretext was worsening conditions and reductions in pay. Nothing new, even under a Spanish sun. Same conditions apply.

The thing with general strikes, or their near equivalent, is that they are their own pretexts to enjoy a bit of quality time without the worry of having to put in a full day's shift. Quality time, such as that down the pub.

It's 1984 and all that. The miners are on strike. There is a day of action, otherwise known as a day of inaction. It's a pub in London, just down the road from my office. There are those from the City, those from the Civil Service, and myself, who has willingly taken capitalism's publishing shilling. Somehow, we've all managed to sling a legitimate day of action sicky in order to go and get bladdered. Which is what we do. The joy of strikes.

1984 was the nearest thing to a general strike for over two generations. The day of inaction occurred, conveniently perhaps, a week or so after Orgreave, the awfulness of which should have shocked us out of the facile faux-agitprop of a day's downing of pens and early PCs. It did, up to a point. And we persevered with our distant support, giving a small infant in hand at a Saturday shopping centre a pound coin to toss into the cap of a miners' contribution. But this was London, a city unpopulated with mining communities but filled with those of us who still held some flame for the socialism and communism learnt at university and who agonised as to the obvious contradictions as to the benefits we had derived under Thatcher and our loathing of the woman.

1984 was the tipping-point. It was the breaking of unions and the putting together of the smug societal complacency that followed and which still exists: complacency that has been an inoculation against empathy with the less advantaged. It is the ironic transplantation of the "I'm All Right, Jack" couldn't-care-lessness of Peter Sellers' shop steward. In a different context, it manifested itself, or rather failed to, through the embarrassed feet-gazing submissiveness of a nation, doormatted by Blair over Iraq, that failed to take to the streets in disgust.

But that's Britain. Spain is, or was, something different, before it, too, joined the European complacency union. It can still throw up a beardy ogre such as Cándido Méndez, head of the UGT, but some day soon, on the equivalent to "Have I Got News For You", he will appear on it, as cuddly as Bob Crow once was on the original.

General strike, Spanish-style in 2010, is a quaint parody of union muscle. Spain still does general strikes, and so they come around now and then, like irregular fiestas. But when the call goes out, fiesta-like, everyone heads off to the bar. There is not the sense of a descent into the chaos verging on anarchy that has been prescribed for Greece. The crisis has been a particularly Spanish crisis, one of a bit of a protest for form's sake, combined with a docility of aspirational wealth. To borrow from Marx, the changes in Spanish society, the product of the boom years, have been the opium that sedates the people in worshipping the religion of self-interest. And who, in truth, can blame them, despite the potential for losses in earnings and pensions, the basis for the general strike? 2010 is Spain's tipping-point, and chances are it will follow the same pattern hereafter as Britain.

Yesterday, Gene Pitney:

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Town Without Pity: Pollensa

Pity Pollensa. A town of genuine artistic and cultural heritage. A town of churches and squares, of 365 steps, of the brooding presence of the Puig Maria. A town with a resort, Puerto Pollensa, which holds a place in early Mallorcan tourism of the last century and which has brought out the inner poet in visitors who have stopped to marvel at the bay and who have crowned the port (the "moll") with the jewels of the grandest majesty among Mallorca's resorts.

Pity Pollensa. A town of debt, of protest, of division.

Rare is the day when there is not some news of trouble in Pollensa. The latest, that regarding the lack of funds to kit out a day centre or to open a new pre-school nursery, is just another day in Pollensa. Pity Pollensa and pity its poor mayor. Beleaguered is an overused word, but it can apply to the mayor. Literally on occasions. What are alternatives to beleaguered? Beset, harassed, besieged. In June this year the mayor was besieged. He was in an elevated bunker in the town hall building in Puerto Pollensa while demonstrators shouted outside and at one point scaled the rampart steps to the balcony next to the office.

Pity the poor mayor. He has the look of someone beset by problems. He carries a sense of awkwardness, gaucheness perhaps, in a body he doesn't seem to quite fit. It's not his fault, like many of Pollensa's problems aren't actually his fault, but no one seems much inclined to excuse him. I passed him one day in Pollensa town and said hello. He smiled cautiously. Perhaps he was just happy, surprised even, that someone had given him the time of day. He had his hands in his pockets, labouring on the incline up to the town hall building, newly restored at a cost of over two million euros. He wouldn't have remembered me, or maybe he had, as the one who had taken a photo of him in that Puerto Pollensa bunker, one that had hinted at anxiety. Or the photo of him as he had laughed when confronting the demonstrators on the balcony. A militant next to me said, "look, he's laughing, laughing at us". I didn't think so. It was the laugh of nervousness.

The awkwardness of Joan Cerdà, as much as the awkwardness of the difficulties Pollensa has been encountering, contrasts with the assertive tallness of the basketball-playing mayor of Alcúdia, a neighbouring town which, to the bemusement of many in Pollensa, appears to benefit from infrastructure improvements and political calm, notwithstanding some awkward "questions" regarding the construction of the new Can Ramis building. Alcúdia's advance rankles with the backward-stepping pollencins.

The mayor inherited problems when he came into office in 2007. Go back to a period soon after he had first plonked himself in the mayoral seat and you will find that the newly opposition Partido Popular was denouncing the state of cleanliness and maintenance of streets in Puerto Pollensa. This was one of the grievances of the protesters of early summer. It's an old problem, one that the mayor is actually seeking to rectify with a new cleaning contract.

This might sound as if I am acting as an apologist for the mayor. Not so. He hasn't helped himself. He didn't help himself by a failure to consult when attempting to push through a pedestrianisation scheme in 2008, one that had to be abandoned. He didn't help himself earlier this summer, after the protest, by seemingly seeking to create division amongst associations in the port, each with a competing agenda that he successfully exposed.

Inadvertently though, he has also succeeded in creating a realisation that consensus, rather than division, is necessary amongst those in the port who represent opposition to the town hall's failings. La Veu d'eu Moll (voice of the port) is a new association and campaign that will hope to bring consensus to bear on the mayor. Its website will invite participation, but, in so doing, it too runs the risk of division. A Facebook campaign, highlighting examples of uncleanliness, rubbish and other issues in the port and in the town, has not met with universal approval. It has been accused of creating a negative image, just as this article might meet with the same accusation or the new website be similarly criticised.

Such defensiveness, such protectiveness of the refulgent splendour of Pollensa and the port is understandable. But some of those who do the defending will have been on the protest in June, a protest that was hardly the best image for the port, one that may be repeated at the end of the season, doubtless with the same dual-standard protesters. Moreover, presented with what is portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as an inept town hall administration, what should people who care for their town do, especially if they perceive inertia or intransigence? The directness of internet campaigning can be persuasive in a way that a caveat-loaded denial - "I know there are problems but" - is not.

Pollensa is not unique in Mallorca in being indebted and in being confronted with issues of faltering tourism, anti-social behaviour, inadequate provision of services. Perhaps the problems it faces, as in other towns, are too big for the local politicians to handle, too demanding of an old style of local nepotistic politics to solve. The issue for those who may or may not protesteth too much is what they would do that would be any better. Faced with certain realities, it might seem a whole lot less straightforward. Pity Pollensa.

Ok, this song goes back a long way. 1961 to be precise. "Town Without Pity" by ...?

Any comments to please.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Columbus Improbability: Felanitx

Want to give your town's tourism a bit of a boost? Easy. All you do is ally yourself to some old weird beard who helped to eradicate a distant tribe of loin-cloth-wearing and peace-loving foreigners: Christopher Columbus, the Kenny Rogers of the fifteenth century, all white chin furniture and islands of the gulf stream.

The mayor of Felanitx wants to make Columbus an "illustrious son" of the town and to attract all-year American tourists in search of their roots at a new theme park with Taino indians (not that they'd be real ones), labouring in building a governor's residence and dying of smallpox. But let's overlook Columbus's genocidist credentials. He wasn't in truth much good at wiping out a race - there are more efficient ways than the ones he and his successors deployed - much as he wasn't much good at discovering America.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Columbus didn't discover Manhattan or Disney World. What he did stumble across, while thinking he was on the way to China, were some islands, one of which is today carved down the centre on maps, the right bit of which is the Allinclusivan Republic, sometimes known as "Dominican" to a bar-owning fraternity of Mallorca intent on wreaking winter-home-from-home, all-inclusive revenge on this part of the Caribbean in retaliation to that of the non-Saint Miguel-buying all-inclusive hoi polloi of the resorts.

Of course, any schoolboy could tell you that it was Columbus who discovered America, although this is increasingly unlikely given the nature of history teaching, which is probably as well given that it isn't strictly true. But the same schoolboy might just also be able to tell you that Columbus came from Genoa in Italy. Which is true, at least it is generally thought to be. Not, however, that some would agree, such as the mayor of Felanitx.

There is a Mallorcan historian called Gabriel Verd Martorell. For years now he has been banging on about Columbus being a felanitxer. The town does have form when it comes to the great Columbus claim; its resort, Porto Colom, claims Columbus for itself. Porto Colom equals Port Columbus. What Martorell reckons is that an Aragonese noble, Charles, exiled to Mallorca by his father, shacked up with a Margarita Colón (Colón, Colom, it's all the same) and out popped Chris - in 1460, nine years after what is normally taken as the year of his birth in Genoa.

Charles was the brother of Fernando, also of Aragon, who married Isabel of Castile and thus - through their union as Catholic Kings - created the modern Spain. It was Fernando and Isabel who, after some years of being pestered, finally gave in to Columbus's desire to go and find China in the opposite direction from that to which it was normally approached.

The mystery of Martorell's theory is that no one at the time, back in the royal court of the late fifteenth century, seemed to cotton on to the fact that Columbus was indeed Fernando's nephew. At least this is what most, in fact all history books would have us believe. Until, that is, Sr. Martorell came along to imply that Fernando knew all along but obviously wasn't telling, and that it was Columbus's nobility that allowed the king and queen to grant him the most unusual title of viceroy - which they did -when he set off for wherever it was he was going to.

Of course, Martorell might be right, though a professor at the university in Palma considers his version of the Columbus story to be highly improbable. But Mayor Tauler of Felanitx believes him and can see a decent tourist opportunity when it presents itself. The only problem might be convincing all those tourists, especially the American ones, who might otherwise be Genoa-bound.

Columbus is the most famous Spaniard who wasn't actually Spanish. It's for this reason that there is such an industry which wants to find proof that he was as well as an offshoot industry which would like to confer Catalan status on the discoverer as a way of cocking a snook at Spanish pretensions. Politically and touristically there is much riding on the Columbus engima. Over to you, Felanitx.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back For Good: Tributes and charity

Which band or act did you see before they were famous? Want to know mine? There are a few. Genesis at an early-afternoon, Christmas-time gig at the Lyceum in London when I was barely a teenager. Graham Parker, an acquaintance from the south-west Surrey scene of the mid-seventies, of whom other alumni were Paul Weller and The Jam, remembered as the "Woking" boys and slagged off as a result with the puerile changing and addition of a letter or two, despite the dynamism of their performances that led up to "In The City".

Wind forward some years and to a different part of England, and it was Take That. Bradford, must have been 1990. It was at a club which, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of, despite having gone there regularly. It was a barn of a place, getting home from which, at weekends, was advisable before a certain time when some other boys, the bovver variety from Keighley, would turn up in search of the ritual bundle.

I can't say I remember much about them, Take That, that is. "Bunch of dancing boys" was probably my disparaging comment to my girlfriend who was rather more taken with them and rather more lustful than I was. Nevertheless, their appearance allowed me to adopt a sense of superiority when they made it big. "Oh yes, I saw them when ..." I go back a long way with Take That.

The band were in Alcúdia on Saturday. Not the Take That, but a make-believe one. Could it be magic? No, just a tribute act. "Just". Just a tribute act. It can sound as disparaging as I was in 1990. Another form of superiority can abound when it comes to tribs, a supercilious dismissal of the talent that many possess and pour out, as they did on the stage at Hidropark.

It had the atmosphere of an old Radio 1 roadshow. A fading sun and fading summer, down by the seaside with clouds scudding by, threatening rain. All that was missing was the Hairy Cornflake or ooh, Gary Davies. It had held a promise, I had hoped. Would Robbie perform with Take That? Forget all that reunion talk. It didn't happen. Robbie, appropriately enough breathing beery fumes over me, said it couldn't be worked out with the Gary. I couldn't figure out which one was the Gary, much as, in the absence of a blond one, I couldn't identify the Mark. But it didn't matter. Robbie. Rob Idol. Did we let him entertain us? He did. Supremely. So did Take That.

What was all this?

Putting this piece together, I googled Bradford and clubs, trying to jolt the memory for the name of that club. It didn't work, but by coincidence I found a reference to a party night at a club in Bradford's neighbour, Leeds. "Movimiento." A Latin night. Hidropark on Saturday was a benefit concert for the breast cancer charity, "Un Lazo en Movimiento". Sometimes, very good ideas come along, together with very good people who will make them happen. A benefit gig with trib acts is one such. From the despondency or desolation of being diagnosed with breast cancer, as the charity's founder was, to an afternoon in late September. Relighting fires that might otherwise have died in the ashes of this most shattering of diseases.

Abba, Elvis, The Beatles, Tom Jones; they were all there, along with Robbie and Take That. Tributes, a tribute to acts and others prepared to get off their backsides and do something. It could, of course, all sound a bit Radio 1-ish, as in the "charidee, mate" spoof of Smashie and Nicey. But no. Amidst the doom-laden self-pity of resorts in crisis, it is uplifting to know that humanity prevails. And fun. And that Take That and the charity's founder are back for good.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Número Uno: Can Picafort and occupancy stats

"And at number one in August, it's Can Picafort!"

The charts for August hotel occupancy in Spain have been topped by Santa Margalida. Can Picafort, in other words. How on earth has this happened?

Back in the middle of August, the Mallorcan hotel federation was indicating that, unlike some resorts which had enjoyed decent Julys, Can Picafort had been on the opposite scale. Rather than number one, it had bombed. What a difference a month makes, especially to a resort often seen as the poor relation within the trinity of conurbation it forms together with Puerto Alcúdia and Playa de Muro.

The Spanish national statistics office is the one that has elevated Can Pic to the lofty heights of suddenly being the country's most successful resort. Does the town get a plaque or something? The town hall should put up a new sign. "Welcome to Can Picafort, number one in Spain", with August 2010 in small type. 50,630 foreigners and 3,981 Spaniards can't be wrong. 97.67% occupancy. God, how they love all this junk. And for many it is junk because they don't believe it. Maybe the chaps at the stats office just stick a pin in a map and then roll some dice to see what numbers they can come up with.

To explain Can Picafort's ascendancy may have to do with factors like discounts, Germans and the position of the planets. I had wondered if having a fiesta during August, and one with some hugely entertaining duck tossing, might have been a further factor, but under four thousand Spaniards suggests otherwise; foreign tourists are not normally attracted by fiestas per se. Nope, quite why it's number one is a mystery to me, and will also be to many in a resort who are prone to wearing the long face of "cree-sis" and to letting anyone unfortunate enough to be in earshot to know about it. They will also let you know about the devil's work of the all-inclusive.

Getting to grips with quite how prevalent all-inclusive is in Can Picafort is difficult. Look at certain hotels' websites and you will find no mention of it, but go off to an agency's site and you will. There are hotels in the resort which everyone knows to be all-inclusive and which don't mind telling the world that they are, but there are others which are a bit coy. Of the approximately 50 hotels (depending on your definition) in the resort, it's not unreasonable to assume that at least a third of them offer AI; the number is probably higher.

August's celebratory occupancy figures for Mallorca as a whole, partly attributed to the rain-soaked British who fortuitously found an under-used credit card stashed in the pocket of a hastily retrieved winter overcoat, disguise the real truth - what's being spent. Despite the positive figures on spend, issued generally rather than per resort, the all-inclusive/spend relationship has been proven. The research at Palma university says it all: an average daily spend by an AI guest that is under half of that of a guest staying B&B. There are plenty who would probably disagree with this, putting it at more like a quarter, if that.

To compensate for this 50% lower spend, you need an awful lot higher than average spend by all the other tourists. With the greatest respect to Can Picafort, it has a reputation for tourism which, how can one put it, is not at the wallet-bulging end of the market. And this is not me saying this; it's a view often expressed by business owners. Nigh on full occupancy for the peak month of August doesn't mean a great deal when you place it in the context of the nature of the market.

The statistics which get pumped out may be questioned by many. I'm less inclined to; they aren't always positive. But more fundamentally, the regularity of their production and the prominence granted to them can create an illusion, or indeed a delusion. They may be correct, but they enable politicians and others to boast of "records" and of tourist seasons being "good" ones (and this one has been, according to Spain's minister for tourism) and thus fail to appreciate how tourism is working - less at the macro level but more at the micro levels of the individual resorts.

Well done though, Can Picafort, you could do with a break, but you will also know that having a number one can be deceiving. Milli Vanilli, anyone?

Any comments to please.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Invisible Islands: Palma City of Culture

The spoof news site,, once ran an item headlined "Liverpool as European City of Culture is not a joke, insists EU". A European Union spokesperson was forced to admit that he hadn't been to Liverpool, but that he had seen the promotional video and had been impressed by the "beaches, the mountains and the open-air amphitheatre". In EU circles there might be those who wonder if Palma's candidacy as Spain's 2016 city of culture isn't a mistake, as in the second C should stand for a different type of culture. Brussels need not worry though that this is the city of corruption, for who is this politician white knight, brandishing his sword of goodness? Why, it's José Ramón Bauzá, he of the Partido Popular, the one who is attempting the seemingly impossible - a list of election candidates not in some way implicated in scandal.

Sr. Bauzá's crusade has caused him the odd local difficulty, such as not being invited to the end of summer blowout in Sa Pobla, home town of Jaume Font, one of the more notable absentees from the list of electoral runners and riders. But he is deflecting the snub and in statesman-like fashion, one befitting a politician who can see himself in charge of the presidential drinks cabinet as from next spring, has announced his support for Palma's candidature.

There are thirteen Spanish cities heading for the first audition in front of a panel of cultural Cowells. Most of them you will have heard of, but Alcalá de Henares and Cuenca might be new to you. Being unknown is not a hindrance to becoming a city of culture. No one had ever heard of Pecs in Hungary, and when they had, mistook it for somewhere built on steroids. It's one of this year's culture cities and a fine one too, by all accounts.

The criteria for selection are suitably open to interpretation, a city is "not chosen solely for what it is, but mainly for what it plans to do for a year that has to be exceptional". A specific programme has yet to be put together, but the "philosophy" behind the Palma bid plays up to criteria of cultural diversity and links with European culture as well as the city's own culture. It goes rather further than just Palma. The slogan is "Palma de Mallorca y las Islas Invisibles". The campaign, or so it would seem, is one based on making "visible the invisible" Balearic islands. Or something like that. The islands, so goes the philosophy, are places of "poetry and creativity, of nature and humanity, of inter-religiosity, of spirituality and responsibility". Blimey, and there we were thinking it was just about grabbing a few more tourists.

Being a city of culture can bring benefits. The European Union identifies these as regeneration, giving new vitality to cultural life, raising international profile, enhancing image and, of course, boosting tourism. Palma doesn't necessarily need regeneration; it's not a Glasgow, a city that derived enormous benefit in transforming itself from the social and physical wreck that it once was. Nevertheless, the candidature should be adding impulse in getting a move on in finding some dosh for the faltering new Palacio de Congresos. But the city has been keen to up its profile. This is not the first attempt at putting itself more on the international map, as with the failure to attract the America's Cup. And then there is tourism. Liverpool, spoof or no spoof, doubled the number of visitors during its 2008 stint, and Palma has beaches and mountains as well.

Palma, despite or perhaps because of all the philosophy tosh, does tick most of the cultural city boxes. However, it faces stiff opposition from the likes of Oviedo, a city already associated with culture, being the venue for the annual Prince of Asturias awards, San Sebastian in the heart of Basque Country, a potential political winner in the making, and even Alcalá de Henares, with its historic centre and university a World Heritage Site.

It would be good for Palma to get the gig. Of course it would be. Having the right political support is important in getting through the selection process, so Bauzá's announcement is not just a touch of opportunism. If he can get politicians to behave themselves for once, his role might be absolutely vital.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Rumour Mill

Pacha has closed. Go on, make of that what you will. You've read it, think it to be true, and pass the information on until it becomes so widely accepted that it must indeed be true. Except, of course, that it's wrong. It may though remain as fact, where you're concerned, if you hadn't bothered to read this far.

Pacha has not closed. The club has been ordered by Calvia town hall to close one floor; that's all. Yet it is a victim of misinformation, disinformation even (and there is a difference), and the misinformation fellow-traveller, rumour. The rumour of its closure would be techno or house music to the ears of Robert Knapp. Who he? One of the findings by Knapp, in a seminal work on the psychology of rumours, was that a negative rumour made for a better rumour than a positive one.

The closure rumour is forever with us. And no more so than in what are, minus their tourists, the small-town, wildfire resorts of Mallorca. Once upon a time, a rumour would have remained in-house, or rather in-resort, but not now. Mention a rumour to a visitor, and the next thing you know it has taken on a cyber life, plastered across the internet. Through Chinese whispers or chaos theory, the rumour evolves until a wrongful claim of somewhere closing becomes Mallorca's tourism shutting down completely or the island being the subject of an alien invasion. Maybe there is some truth to those potty UFO sightings rumours after all. Mulder and Scully are seen collecting their luggage from baggage reclaim at Palma airport; from the little acorn of rumour to the mighty oak of conspiracy theory.

In the resorts, rumours of closure are what it must have been like when there was talk in the local pub of the mill, mine or steelworks shutting. Well maybe that's overdoing it, but the strategic importance of the bigger hotels inspires rumours like no others. In Puerto Alcúdia, the massive Bellevue complex has been closing most years since it truly opened as a hotel in 1984.

Earlier this summer the Bellevue rumours were in full swing once again, even in other resorts. Someone in Can Picafort told me he had overheard a conversation between some "business-looking" gentlemen in a bar in Búger of all places. What were they saying? It turned out he hadn't actually heard properly, but the conclusion was still the same. The seemingly random nature of the date that was being cited for this untruthful closure - 22 August - was, or should have been, grounds for scepticism, much as there should have been when the 22nd of a different month, October in 1844, was predicted as the day of Christ's second coming. Closure, if it's going to happen, which it wasn't, tends to be planned with greater precision, e.g. at the end of a month, unless it happens to be unexpectedly brought about by an alien invasion or the end of the world, and the Millerites of the second coming got that wrong as well - to their Great Disappointment. For the record, Bellevue came under new ownership earlier this summer: reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Along the coast in Puerto Pollensa, you would have heard further scuttlebutt; another hotel and various bars also subject to closure rumours, some circulating for several weeks. The hotel in question is taking bookings via its website for next year. The bars are not closing. Bar-side or internet tittle-tattle, it has a habit of escalating. Better to just zip it, order another drink or go indulge a rumour fantasy world on the likes of

Sometimes a rumour is started maliciously, but more often than not it is merely the gossip that can be seen coming with the flashing lights of the prefix caveat "I've heard that ...". And this is followed up with the no-smoke-without-fire justification. We seem to crave the possible conflagration of a crisis, the bad-news rumour, perhaps to add to the persecution of the greater crisis as victims of what might be the end of the tourist world as we know it. We're all Millerites in our own little way and disappointed to discover that we'd been sold a rumour pup.

Closure rumours in the current climate take hold because they fit with what we know or think we know. Times are tough and rough, so there must be some truth to them. The rumours are collectively reinforcing, despite their apparent destructiveness. The communities of the resorts allow them to flourish, and then add to them as ever more rumour is piled on, a sort of one-upmanship. My rumour is better than your rumour. And the trouble is you never know where they might come from. You've read this, and I might unwittingly have supplied fuel for a rumour. Tell you what. I've heard that ... .

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read You Like A Book: Literature, culture and technology

A week or so ago there was some navel-gazing going on. It was at a literary gathering known as Conversaciones de Formentor. Book publishers, Spanish and Mallorcan, were bemoaning what they see as the impoverishment of culture and lack of demand for more serious literature.

Books and their reading do not escape the obsessiveness with which statistics are presented on almost every aspect of Mallorcan life. Suffice it to say that reading is down, this in a wider Catalan society that can produce something as massive as the Sunday book market in Barcelona. There are all sorts of explanations as to why, one of them being media companies which contribute to what the publishers perceive as the increasing banality of local culture.

The publishers accept that new technologies can be enriching, but they worry - as many others worry - about children not growing up being "imbued with the experience of the book". But are they right to be so concerned? They might be right in being uneasy at the proliferation of the inane, an X Factor winner's fascinating autobiography for example, but technology might actually be the saviour of the book - serious or otherwise - and of children's (and adults') reading. At least this is what Amazon and Apple would like us to believe. When the publishers argue that "educational reform should not be limited to facilitating children's use of a computer", they overlook the potentially powerful symbiosis between technology and literature.

A recent book, assuming anyone's read it, has advanced the theory that the internet is changing the way we think. Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows" has provoked a debate as it argues that the net has altered how we read and use our memories. Carr himself has said that "the deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle". I can sympathise, when it comes to reading online. A mistake newspaper publishers are making in hoping for a mass migration to paid-for online newspapers is that they neglect the distractions of the internet. You can be reading something and suddenly the urge takes you elsewhere. Where do you want to go today? Why pay for something if you realise you're not going to read it?

Apple, with its iPad, offers a potentially whole brave new world for book reading. The iBooks application is but one part of the iPad, which, by coincidence or perhaps by design, an official video from the company described as feeling right "in the same way it just feels right to hold a book or magazine or newspaper". But the iPad is sold on the basis of its multiple applications; the distractions to go somewhere else, other than the book, are enormous. Amazon's Kindle is more straightforward. A promo video for the latest Kindle features a far from unattractive young lady sitting on a deckchair on a sunny beach, tucking into what may or may not be Jane Austen. Go anywhere, download anywhere, read anywhere is a seductive argument, but just how popular is it? Amazon claims millions of sales; an independent estimate suggests they are not as strong as the company would have them. Nevertheless, there may be more than just wishful thinking to Amazon's advertising which portrays the product's coolness for youngsters and for those who had never previously read a book.

But you still come back to the banality that the publishers were complaining about. The iPad or any computer hooked up to the internet doesn't overcome the greatest banalities of all - those sometimes perpetrated in the name of social networking via the likes of Facebook, recently described by the president of the Balearics' division of the Spanish consumers assocation FACUA as - and I am quoting him out of context - "the greatest evil that has been invented in the world". It isn't that (he was specifically referring to some more unpleasant aspects of Facebook), but it does contribute to a growing sense of abbreviated communication, part of a wider issue of a failure to concentrate, which is the product of what Carr is saying.

Mallorcan literary heritage is hardly a thing of international acclaim, but book reading locally has long been taken seriously. Whether what is being read is serious or not, if the publishers are concerned as to a decline in reading (and the statistics would bear this out), then they should perhaps be embracing, if they haven't already, the new technologies. Whether these really work though is still very much an unanswered question.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God Only Knows: The Christian theme park

Capdepera. A town with a walled castle fortress, not one but two golf courses, and a resort, Cala Ratjada, that is its own little piece of Germany. It is a town, like all in Mallorca, with plenty of old-time religion, but also a town with an old-time rubbish dump, which may well form part of a 17-acre site housing some new-time religion - a Christian theme park.

A company that owns just this type of a park in Argentina wants to create something similar on Mallorca's north-eastern tip. Capdepera's town hall is looking at the plans. Envisaged among the biblical scenes that would be performed at the theme park would be "live" resurrections. Not that you could have dead resurrections; that's not how resurrections work. There would also be Last Suppers throughout the day, rather like all-day breakfasts but minus the bacon.

What else have they in mind? Live crucifixions maybe? Being greeted by beaming Gospel mascots cajoling visitors into having a nice day? "Hi there, I'm Matthew, praise the Lord. Here's your complimentary miracle party bag with five loaves and two fish." As freebies go, this doesn't sound like a bad deal, and it would be the stuff that plays well with lard-arsed, Lord-rejoicing Americans. Unsurprisingly, there are several Christian theme parks in the US.

A question, though, is why Mallorca? One answer is probably the volume of tourists, all those bible-bashing ones, regurgitating pizza and lager over the morning's hymn sheets of the day's come-dressed-as-a-disciple entertainment. But this would be unfair: you don't have to be a church-goer; the theme park might actually be fun, you never know. Another answer, oddly enough, is religion. Catholic, saints and all that jazz. Jesus loves you in a theme-park style might also help reverse a local decline in the influence of religion, regular church-going having slumped to under 20% of the population. As a non-believer, I can't find much to object with the scheme, so long as it's not proselytising, ram-it-down-your-throat, happy-clappy religion. Moreover, the bible has some cracking stories, whether you believe them or not: the scope for performances is immense.

Try starting a Christian theme park in the UK and the objections would be long, loud and ludicrous. We all know why. In Mallorca there is not quite the same sensitivity, thanks God. Nevertheless, some socio-religious doubts have been raised, for example, about the fiesta street theatre of the Moors and Christians. What sort of an alternative could be arranged, short of stopping it, who knows. Maybe they could let the Moors win once in a while.

The theme park, though, would be something different, more directly subversive of inherent faith: it might undermine certain long-established religious performances, such as the portrayal of the Last Supper during Pollensa's Easter celebrations. Having a rolling show of the feast of Christ and the Apostles tucking into a loaf of Bimbo and demolishing a carton of Don Simon at times of the year other than Easter does seem somewhat sacrilegious, and you'd have to pay for the privilege, which you don't have to when it comes to fiesta time.

Put the words theme and park together, and you can usually be sure that there would be objections, those of the environmental lobby which, for instance, successfully scuppered the plans for the anti-Christ theme parks in first Inca and then Calvia. A Christian theme park, which would presumably be environmentally neutral as well as righteous, could well place the enviros in a quandary. Object or not object. They'll be hoping that there are plans to flood Capdepera in order to bring on Noah or to create rivers with blood.

Mallorca could do with theme parks. All sorts of them. The Capdepera proposal is small beer, or small communion wine if you prefer, certainly by comparison with the devil's work of the casinos, multi-theme parks and God knows what else of the Gran Scala in the desert by Zaragoza on the mainland. Capdepera would be modest, but it shouldn't be the last, either Christian or profoundly unbelieving and profane. There need to be more, but they wouldn't be on the grand scale of Gran Scala. Shame. The bible doesn't specifically proscribe gambling, but it's clear enough on its underlying sin: "for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". There again, what the hell does God know?

Any comments to please.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mister White: Residents' travel discounts

"Fomento". Its literal translation is "promotion", to mean development. English suggests the verb foment, to stir up, as in to stir up trouble or dissent. There is a minister for "fomento", a minister for stirring up brown stuff. It's not totally inaccurate; the Spanish verb "fomentar" can mean the same as the English.

The central government's fomento minister, José Blanco, knows a thing or two about promotion, promoting dissent. Who's behind the possible removal of Balearic residents' travel discounts? Mr. White. The one who, some on the extreme dissent spectrum might hope, is with Mr. Orange as the police arrive. You don't go around implying that Mallorcans are like thieves for taking advantage of discounted flights that you claim are not necessary without expecting some negative response.

Blanco has the misfortune in heralding from about as far as you can get in mainland Spain from Mallorca - Galicia. Cue an outburst of peculiarly Mallorcan xenophobia: Blanco's a Galician, hence he's got it in for Mallorca. It's rubbish, but Blanco's insinuations hardly win him friends.

Just one of the beefs with the proposed elimination of the travel discount is that air travel from Mallorca to other parts of Spain is expensive as it is. Sr. Blanco might reflect on the fact that were he to fancy an overnight break in Barcelona this coming weekend, the cost of a far longer flight by Vueling from A Coruña in his native Galicia would be, proportionally, far cheaper than one to Barcelona from Palma with the same airline: 14 kilometres for every euro from Galicia, as opposed to six per euro from Palma.

On the face of it, the higher prices of air travel don't make much sense when one considers the fact that the Son Sant Joan airport in Palma is the third busiest in Spain. But there's a take on these prices. It comes from Pepa Mari, the tourism councillor at the Council of Ibiza. In an interview with last November she said: "It looks as if the 50 per cent residents' discount is preventing the airlines and ferry services from introducing more attractive prices for non-residents. So the system of subsidies needs to be revised."

The interview was in the context of an appraisal of Ibiza's tourism situation at the end of the last summer season, but an implication of what she was saying is that prices are inflated in the knowledge that many travellers, if by no means all, can enjoy a discount. In other words, it is the airlines cashing in on central government's subsidies, not Mallorcans taking unnecessary flights to the mainland.

Another beef with Sr. Blanco and Madrid goes deeper than just the discounts. It has to do with the management of the airport. In January it was being said that "all conditions" had been met which would allow local management of Son Sant Joan. But no time frame has been decided upon to tip the pot of gold the airport generates into local hands and not those, via the airports agency AENA, of central government in the form of the department which effectively acts as the airport's holding company - Sr. Blanco's. Local management has long been an ambition of Mallorca's politicians, and the income it would create might offset a further beef - the apparent under-investment in the islands by Madrid. And which department is responsible for overseeing infrastructure developments?

President Antich is opposed to the removal of the discounts, just as he is in favour of management of the airport and greater funding. He also has an election looming. The discounts row has come at a good time for the president, his local PSOE socialist party having indicated that it is distancing itself from the Zapatero PSOE administration in Madrid. Blanco and his subsidies are a convenient peg on which to hang a manifesto.

Despite his being demonised, Blanco may have a point; it's just that the point he is making is the wrong one. Rather than styling the removal of subsidies as cost-cutting, it should be seen as potentially market-driven and as the abandonment of something of an anachronism. The discounts date back to a law of 1962. Mallorca was very different then, and so was the airline industry.

Yesterday: A burgling Peter Cook.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

And Your Bra And Panties: Fiesta traditions

Cut along to your local fiesta and the last thing you might expect is to be presented with a group of "lads" proudly waving their prosthetic erections around. Depends what type of fiesta you go to though, I suppose. If traditional Mallorcan, then the only big knobs would normally be the local dignitaries as they make their entrances for the fiesta climax. But then how many years count as traditional? In Bunyola, there is a modern fiesta tradition. Come in your underwear, as in attend in your smalls, unless you're the boys with a woody strap-on and you invite the double entendre.

For six years, the Saint Matt fiesta in the town has featured a parade of "ropa interior" - that's bras and pants to you and me. The flaunting of the nearly nude is lubricated by free beer. Bread and circuses. It's an old trick, one I learnt at university: anaethetise the college population with regular and copious, gratis Boddies and Thwaites and they'll be bound to return you at the next elections. Give 'em enough and they'll do anything, like the lads during Bunyola's Friday parade or the lasses concealing their modesty with multi-coloured bouncy baubles.

This is a splendid new tradition. Not for the fact of bare flesh - you can cop an eyeful enough of that on your nearest beach - but because it is not the same. Not the same as all the other fiestas. Want to know what's going to be happening at this year's fiesta? Easy. Look at last year's programme, or the one from the year before. All you need do is change the dates, and with some fiestas you don't even need to do that. Alternatively you can simply look at the fiesta schedule from a different town: pipers a-piping; giants a-dancing; balls-de-botting. Yep, they'll all be there.

There is much to be said for continuity and for the headlining fiesta events that drag in the crowds - be they Moors and Christians having a bundle, the Beata procession of Santa Margalida or the grape fight of Binissalem's Vermar. The year-on-year familiarity of the fiestas can be reassuring in the same way as it is if you go to a different type of party and find that you know everyone. The only trouble is that you end up telling the same jokes, having the same arguments and disappearing behind the shed with the same adulterous missus.

The formulaic introspection of fiesta and the maintenance of tradition are increasingly the source of anxiety as the forces of the generation gap square up to each other in the market or church square. Not completely. There remain the honour and pride of, for instance, being selected as La Beata or as "vermadors" and "vermadores", but the good burghers of the Mallorcan towns are shaking their heads at what they see as a threat to the fiesta tradition - one that comes from the very breaking with tradition.

The night parties of the fiestas are, in their current incarnation, relatively new traditions. But so much concern do they now arouse that you have a town hall such as Sa Pobla scrapping the Districte 54. Partly this was for financial reasons, or so they said; the more pressing reason was the mess and noise. Sa Pobla is not the only town hall which worries for the future of fiestas if the young treat them merely as excuses for massive piss-ups. In Pollensa, much as the town hall tried to limit alcohol in the fiesta centre for the Patrona parties and to ask kindly that the squares and streets weren't used as lavatories, the ambience was awash with less of the romanticism than the brochures might have you believe.

In Sa Pobla this year the fiesta programme was one that could be enjoyed by those of all ages. That was what the town hall reckoned. But was it? Having unleashed the genie of the night parties, it is hard for the town halls to put them back in the bottle without some resentment. Moreover, there must be the temptation to retrench further into the past and into long-established tradition, thus provoking a greater distance between the generations.

In Bunyola the undies parade is for all generations. It is an example of tradition invigoration that is positive in both its harmlessness and its profound silliness, one that is different and at the same time respectful of the population as a whole; well, maybe the mock stiffies might not be. Perhaps, though, too much is made of the night parties and the apparent rejection of tradition by the young. There is another tradition - quite a bit older than Bunyola's. It is the Fornalutx "correbou". If you had spent some time looking at images of the reaction to the recent protest in the village against the bull run, you might have been surprised, shocked even. The reactionaries were predominantly the young. It doesn't add up. The young are meant to reject tradition.

In your best lascivious voice, who requested "and now your bra and panties"?

Any comments to please.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Gentle Touch Of Colic: Senses working overtime

"All I could hear was the strange hum that hovered behind every other sound throughout that summer."
Tim Pears, "In The Place Of Fallen Leaves".

What are the sounds of summer? The bass from a system pulsating across vast acres of Mallorcan land as the local fiesta turns its back on tradition and admits DJ Headcase and a legion of party-goers, tanked up from the botellón. The Canadair growling low as it transports its Mediterranean payload towards smoking finca land that some fire-starter has thoughtfully taken a cigarette end to. Joni Mitchell's hissing of summer lawns, gyrating tops and spikes of water thrown around erratically and splattering the persianas. The enthusiastic keep-fitter on morning reveille duty, bellowing across a hotel pool and coaxing lard buckets with hangovers into movements more suited to the Rocky Horror Show.

But there, in the background, is the hum. In summer you can only detect it when the general silence briefly descends, usually at eight minutes past five in the morning. Earlier or later, and you'll miss it, thanks to the almost constant whoosh and splutter of coaches, motos or autos on what is the most densely populated part of Europe when it comes to car ownership. The power station hum. It's always there, as ominous as the chimney that rises above the nature park of Albufera.

The sounds of Mallorca are part of the sensory overload that the island lovingly bestows. What are the smells of summer? A grill wafting succulently and charcoaled as evening evaporates into night, the unexpected fragrance like vanilla from an unidentified plant, the sulphuric combustion of marsh gas and the insidious stench of sewage. The latter is at its most extreme when Colis comes a-calling: the drain-unblocking people who can inspire a stomach-churning or cramping retch.

But strangely you become inured to malodorousness. You don't exactly crave it but you are reassured by its mysterious presence, the unseen force of a primeval chemical reaction, albeit one sometimes influenced artificially or orificially. The bad smells form a nasal entertainment; they are their own tribute acts to an ecological and semi-ecological world that created the island in the first place and its second, industrialised and urbanised life.

A bit of a pong is not to be sniffed at. It's a reminder that not everything is or should be sanitised. Mallorca doesn't deserve to be sterilised, scrubbed and sealed hermetically. Its very imperfections are what give rise to its perfections or near-perfections, those revealed through the other senses - the sight through the transparent light of Pollensa that inspired the local post-impressionists; the radiance of white, rose or russet-bracted bougainvillaea but with its duplicitous enticement to touch the shock of its thorns; the ambrosial taste of a fig during its all too brief harvesting period.

The sights, sounds and other senses of Mallorca are too easily defined in terms of the superficiality of brochure-style beautifulness, but they ignore what can be a natural or part-natural, maleficent intoxication - that of the Mallorca that isn't quite right, an environmental quirkiness that should be bottled, if only anyone could stomach the Colical, great smell of sewage. And then there's that hum. The power station's isn't actually the only one. From Albufera, if you listen carefully when the traffic abates, you can hear a regular murmur in the darkness beyond the puff monsters of pines silhouetted against the distant lights of Muro and Sa Pobla. It's always there, just as the smells are always there.

Any comments to please.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It'll Be Lonely This Christmas Without Andy Murray

Sports commentators have developed a style of expressiveness which, at moments of triumph, combines a knowing tone of we-knew-it-would-happen-didn't-we with a precision of stating each word as though followed by an imaginary full stop. We might describe this inflection as "doing a Motson", after its earliest known exponent. Dan Maskell would never have intoned thus. The only way we knew Dan was still with us was when he would stir from his slumberous drone with a suddenly animated "ooh, I say" with which to startle awake his television audience. Sports commentary of the current day has, by contrast and thanks to Sky, Five Live and talkSPORT, added hypomania to the Motsonic glottal stop. And so it was the other day. On a whooping Five Live. "Rafael. Nadal. From. Manacor. In. Mallorca."

The words had a strange effect on me, one of a sense of territorial superiority. It was the specific mention of Manacor that emphasised it. I know that place, thought I, even if my acquaintance with the town is limited to sitting in a rush-hour traffic-jam. Nadal has gone from being from Spain, to being from Mallorca, to being from Manacor. It is no longer sufficient for commentators to refer just to the island. Nadal's celebrity has made him über-Mallorcan. The detail of his Mallorcan-ness grows with his every Open championship; at the Australian we can expect to learn the names of all his neighbours. Dan would never have stood for this. He wouldn't, for example, have let on that Roy Emerson came from Blackbutt, which was probably just as well.

Nadal is famous not just for coming from Mallorca but also for being the only famous Mallorcan ever. There are others who have had fame thrust upon them, but they are famous for not being famous, like the Catalan author and polymath Ramon Llull. No, Nadal is that famous that he has become Mallorca, or is it the other way round. And he is one of us. Which of course he isn't, if you happen to be British. But Nadal has been adopted because of the alternative - the Scottish Player, one forever cursed by monotonic moroseness and by slipping up in the third round, so it is best not to mention his name in order to avoid the bad luck that doing so would bring.

One of Nadal's virtues lies with his being perceived as "a nice boy", something to which the Scottish Player would find it hard to aspire. It is this, together with the fact that he is the only Mallorcan anyone has ever heard of, that secures him gigs as the face and chest of Mallorcan (Balearic) promotion. And Nadal has just won his first US Open. Now might be the time for a bit of Mallorcan marketing stateside. The only problem is that tourism chiefs are spending their time either about to go into prison or in China, enticing a breed of Chinese tourist with promises of cheap bazars on every Mallorcan high street. That's not the only problem.

Sadly, despite Nadal's celebrity, tourism promotion involving him has been a complete disaster. Admittedly, it doesn't help having an uncle/trainer who slags off Parisians as being "really stupid" when you've forked out 400 grands worth of promotional budget to target the French market - as was the case during last year's French Open. And it also doesn't help when the director of Spanish tourism in Paris agrees with Uncle Toni. A tourettic momentary lapse of diplomacy perhaps, but it was symptomatic of the Nadal nadir of Mallorcan tourism marketing.

What else, with hindsight though, could you have expected? We now know, courtesy of testimonies before the judge in the corruption case involving the tourism promotion agency (IBATUR), that there was such uncontrolled and unmanaged profligacy at the agency that it doubled the money for the French campaign in providing for a museum of tourism that never came about, while it is alleged that the agency was never subject to proper financial governance. If the agency was capable of playing fast and loose with public money, which it was, it was equally capable of being incompetent when it came to doing what it was meant to do - marketing. Nadal should seek to distance himself from any association, however indirect, with the agency's cowboys and their legacy.

But Bon Nadal, good old Mr. Christmas, will probably find himself still featuring in ads on some obscure channel at two in the morning, just after an equally obscure sports commentator has finished his Motson at the end of an under-19 handball event from the Ukraine. And come Christmas, as the holiday ads start to kick in, he'll still be there, floating somewhere in satellite land. But at least he will be there, unlike the Scottish Player; you wouldn't even get him as the face of a wet week in the Highlands and Islands. It'll be lonely this Christmas without ... Don't say it, just don't say it.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Charm Offence: Sóller and resort development

When you're about to spend the best part of two and a half million euros on a construction project, you might hope that someone had first checked that the whole thing wouldn't collapse or be inundated with water. What am I saying? The recent history of great Mallorcan civil engineering success stories is awash with water. The Palma Metro for example.

Along now comes another rail fiasco which we can all rail against. "The tram now standing at platform ..." Sorry, there is no platform. As also there are no proper foundations, other than sand, or adequate drainage. As for the tram, well you can forget that anyway, as they've forgotten about the supports for the power cables. Oh, and that bike lane, the one that would have been vital because the tramline had been knackered ... .? Nope, they haven't remembered that either.

Work on the re-development of the paseo marítimo in Port de Sóller, tram and all, is due to start in October. Somewhat belatedly, the technical chaps have had a peek at the plans. What plans, you might ask. There are "deficiencies", they say. Just ever so slightly there are. One of the companies contracted to undertake the work states on its website: "development is a reality". As far as Sóller is concerned, that should read, "will be" - with any luck. When though is another matter.

The Sóller promenade development can be viewed in a wider context than just the apparent deficiencies with the project. Bar and restaurant owners in the resort are none too impressed with the scheme. Ditto the on-off and now maybe on again re-development of Puerto Pollensa's frontline. Pedestrianisation may seem like a way of beautifying Mallorca's resorts, but strange to report there are plenty of people who would disagree.

An editorial in "The Bulletin" referred to a loss of charm, the consequence of resort developments. One aspect of this charm is that some tourists quite enjoy the bustle that having a road right next to a bar or restaurant can create. So too the owners. It may seem odd to wish to breathe in the fumes of a bus that has mysteriously passed its MOT, but who am I to question what anyone finds charming?

Some years ago Puerto Alcúdia's prom was pedestrianised. What was created was a spacious strolling boulevard, wide enough to house the capricious folly of a bridge that goes nowhere, an Escher-like impossible reality. The development wasn't a reality in Alcúdia, it was surrealistic, while the spaciousness is not to everyone's liking; visitors still talk of that "bustle" and charm which existed previously. There will probably be those who reject the Playa de Palma re-development on the same grounds, though how somewhere lacking charm can lose it is a moot point.

Playa de Palma, though, is a specific case, one in which there is now a collision between civil engineers, town planners and architects like no other resort. This was where the architectural vandals once scaled the ramparts and sacked the place before anyone was any the wiser. What comes now is important. The New Turkey perhaps? A resort for today's competitive age? One of dome and semi-circular five-star opulence would be in keeping with a Moorish inheritance, and would be an appropriate artifice for an artificial resort, which is exactly what it is. Everything in its place.

But this is the problem. Not everything is in its place, especially building design. It's not just the resorts. The Can Ramis monstrosity in Alcúdia town is an example of how bad unsympathetic architecture can be. It was the misfortune of the little Ramis houses that they were situated only metres from the sanctuary of the town's walls, behind which is a heritage law that would have stopped their functionalist conversion in its tracks.

The argument goes, of course, that Mallorca has to upgrade to compete. It's a fair argument, but only up to a point. The pedestrianisation dogma is not the same as creating new four- or five-star hotels. In Puerto Alcúdia's case, has the paseo made any difference to tourism competitiveness? Doubtful. But over and above a prom in this or that resort is an orthodoxy of today's school of architecture which has, for example, succeeded in undermining the ramshackle appeal of Cala San Vicente.

Sóller, Pollensa, Andratx, you can name others. They have thrived on their individual, idiosyncratic charms. But they face the offence of the "new" charm. In Sóller, maybe a botched project wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Yesterday: Fleetwood Mac,

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh Well (Or Not): Bienestar Activo and Ironman

Three months are a long time in tourism promotion. 20 June - "All Being Well". Now - all's not so well. Strategies are meant to be long-term, but not if they don't even get off the ground.

"Bienestar Activo" is - was - the brand name for a four-year strategic plan unveiled back in June. The plan was for the municipalities of Alcúdia, Muro and Santa Margalida, together with the local hotel associations and the tourism ministries at both central and local government levels, to promote various sporting activities in the resorts as a means of bolstering off-season tourism. The plan envisaged the spending of a tad under 4.5 million euros over the next four years. Annually, the central ministry would have provided 371,000 euros, a sum matched by the local ministry and also by the three town halls between them. The scheme has collapsed.

Soon after the plan was announced, I contacted the Alcúdia-Can Picafort hotel association, looking for an interview. There was an email exchange, Alcúdia's tourism councillor was also contacted, a date provisionally established, and then nothing. At the time I found this slightly strange. As it turns out, maybe it wasn't.

What I wanted to know was the exact nature of the plan, given that the activities - cycling, Nordic walking, hiking, canoeing - were already established. What was the 4.5 million meant to be spent on? I guess that I - we - will never find out. There are no funds to be forthcoming from the ministries.

There was some inkling as to how the money would have been doled out - in general. There were four, vague elements - organisation, specialisation of the destination (whatever that meant), improvement of competitiveness and marketing. But at the presentation which "launched" the project, amongst those attending - mayors, councillors and those as ever hoping for some benefit without actually putting their hands in their pockets, i.e. hoteliers and restaurant owners - there were no representatives of the ministries. The absence of government may tell a story. Had the ministries actually signed up to the whole thing? Or maybe they were going to, and then thought, as I had done, well, what is this all about? Those four aims seemed ill-defined; they may well also have been ill-conceived.

Of course, another explanation is more straightforward, namely government cuts, both nationally and local. Three months in tourism promotion isn't a long time when it is already known that money is tight, so much so that the tourism ministries at regional and central levels have been merged with others as a way of saving money. Was this plan ever a goer or was it just some sort of PR stunt, and a poor one at that, given that it was unclear what it actually entailed?

The mayors, explaining the plan's abandonment, say that they will look at it differently in the hope of bringing it back, which is probably a euphemism for saying that it will be quietly forgotten about. Maybe it should be. And maybe it would have been better had they never gone public, because this is a further embarrassment, certainly where Alcúdia is concerned, in terms of grandish tourism promotional schemes. The estación náutica concept has been quietly forgotten about, despite the fanfare that was blown when it surfaced a year and a half ago.

Fortunately for Alcúdia, something rather more concrete has emerged. Some good news with which to hopefully bury the less good news of the bienestar debacle. Thomas Cook and the regional tourism ministry have announced that an Ironman 70.3 triathlon is to be staged in Alcúdia on 14 May next year and also in 2012. Apart from some 2,500 anticipated competitors, the tour operator reckons the event will attract 20,000 visitors. I'm sceptical, but I'll bow to the company's knowledge. Nevertheless, the triathlon could well prove to be positive, and perhaps its potential does have something to do with the bienestar falling by the wayside. If you want to attract sports tourism, then better to go with a flagship-style event, rather than the vagueness of what was on offer. Relief for Alcúdia then, but what Muro and Santa Margalida make of it, who knows.

"Oh Well"?

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not The Stupid Economy: Mallorca's elections and opinion polls

Local elections in Mallorca and the Balearics are to be held next spring. An opinion poll conducted on behalf of "Ultima Hora" suggests that the current main opposition party, the Partido Popular, will win with an overall majority, thus negating the need for a coalition pact.

Since regional autonomy in the early '80s, the PP has traditionally been the party of Balearics government, firstly as the Coalición Popular and then as the PP in its own right. It lost for the first time in 1999, to a pact headed by the current socialist (PSOE/PSIB*) president Francesc Antich, regained an overall majority in 2003, under the disgraced ex-president Jaume Matas, and then lost out again to an Antich coalition in 2007, despite receiving more votes than other parties. For the PP to now seemingly be heading towards electoral victory suggests a re-establishment of Mallorca and the islands' social and political norm - conservatism.

While one can nuance the poll as being an expression of dissatisfaction with socialist government and management of the economic crisis, both at the local and the national level, the poll also reveals that the PSOE is on target to gain more of a share of the vote. It is the nationalist party, the Unió Mallorquina, which stands to lose most at the next election; it faces virtual oblivion. This, therefore, begs a question as to the influence of political corruption on voter intention. The UM has been deeply mired in scandal over the past couple of years, but the PP has been similarly tainted by the anti-corruption cases that have gone right to the top of its last administration - to Jaume Matas. The socialists, on the other hand, have escaped the sleaze, just about.

So does the poll simply reflect a reversion to the status quo of the two dominant parties - the PP and PSOE - or is there also the influence of corruption?

The PP has been looking to clean up its act, but an almighty row has erupted within its ranks as a result. Its leader and presidential candidate, José Ramón Bauza, has stated that any politician implicated in a scandal will not stand in the coming elections, which might rule all of them out, you might think. Bauza has gone so far as to say that if any charge levelled at him from his time as mayor of Marratxi were to be forthcoming, then he would step aside.

The opposition to Bauza's stance stems from what could be unjust and unproven allegations. Not every politician implicated in a corruption case is necessarily guilty. But one has an equivocal situation, because in light of all the scandals, Antich drew up an ethical code under which investigations for any alleged wrongdoing were grounds for resignation. Yet, the president, whilst supporting the position of his main political opponent in asserting that this is not "unjust", has said that he would not apply the same principle to his own party. The current socialist tourism and employment minister, Joana Barceló, has faced her own local difficulties dating back to her time at the Council of Menorca. Her case has been "archived", i.e. nothing has been proven, but Antich could be accused of double standards.

Bauza's determination to clean up the PP is laudable enough, but he opens himself and his party up to potential mischief-making. One can already hear the whispers of dirty tricks being plotted in the election machines of other parties. Bauza has another problem. And that is that some in the party believe that he has moved close to his one-time rival for the leadership of the PP, Carlos Delgado, mayor of Calvia. Moreover, it is felt that Bauza is too Madrid-centric, a possible puppet of the party's national organisation and less inclined to stand up for local Mallorcan (Balearic) interests. While he has attempted to rebut the idea that Delgado has in some way been influencing him, it might be remembered that Delgado is antipathetic towards Catalanism; he has made a virtue of not speaking Catalan.

The poll could be seen as voter support for Bauza's clean-up, but the party's in-figthing threatens to undermine his good intentions and to place an obstacle in the way of its resuming its role as the, if you will, natural party of Balearics government. Bauza and his party may already have given the opponents an own goal because of the alleged closeness to Madrid; the UM and the socialists will exploit it for all its worth. Bauza, however, could respond by accusing Antich of hypocrisy. The elections should be about the key issue of the economy, but they're likely to be overshadowed by the smell of corruption and the parochialism of insular, nationalist interests.

* Note: The PSOE is the socialist party at national level; the PSIB is the Balearics version.

Any comments to please.