Sunday, October 31, 2010

Your Swaying Arms: End of season

1 May. Optimism mixed with anxiety. 31 October. Anxiety. And above us only sky. Rains and storms come tumbling from appropriately grey heavens to tail a season which, on its first "working" day (3 May), was topped by floods of biblical proportions, ominous in being a metaphor for what was feared was going to be a wash-out of a summer. Maybe the May rains did some good though and washed away the ash cloud of strangling the season at birth.

Above us only sky. The sun up in the sky. During the summer I littered the HOT! Facebook page with musical references. One, for no particularly good reason, was the "sun ain't gonna shine anymore". It will continue to shine, from up there in the sky, but not for so long nor with as great an intensity. The "warmth of the sun" that wraps you in its swaying arms from the moment of its first vernal embrace and dance turns its lights off as certainly as the "long hot summer" passes us by.

I hate this time of year. Hate it for the taking away of summer. How dare it? Maybe a reason why I don't subscribe to much of the claptrap that is spoken about winter tourism is that it makes no sense. The connection with beach, sea and sun is too powerful to allow for any sense. Remove this connection, break it and you are left with something that isn't Mallorca, just its empty shell smashed by the breakers as the autumn winds whip the sea into a fury of spite caused by its own fading warmth.

November, with the deliciously evil contrivance of its opening days of the dead, is the zomboid month. The white faces of the living dead of summer, all those who slog through six months or so of breakfasts and beers with barely a caress from the sun, stumble around in confusion. This curious life of being here in the sun, but never seeing it or actually living it, and when time comes to be given the opportunity ... the sun has gone or has at least decided to operate on only one engine. The season over, and now what's there to do?

You have to reconcile this. It takes much of November to do so; it is a period of mourning. What you have to conclude is that there are two states - dead and alive Mallorca. Stretching ahead now is the dead time, the dead air of paused life. To fill this dead time, it is necessary to construct an alternative Mallorca. It is not solely the time for planning to do those things which, because it is too damn hot during summer to worry about (such as decorating), are always put off, but planning also the realisation of an alternative Mallorca. Well, it is for me.

Summer, for all its warmth, can be enervating. It saps you not just of energy but also of concentration. It provides an excuse for inaction, but with its passing you can't play that card any longer. October's end may herald a sense of anxiety but it also brings the opportunity for what's to come. And where I'm concerned this means finally beginning to undertake the sorts of projects I have been threatening myself with doing.

One of them has to do with Dolores. Or Dolly, to give her her diminutive. She's diminutive in a different sense, as she's petite. I know what she looks like, having constructed her from the fragmented memory of a dream in which she appeared. The question I still haven't completely answered is what Dolly is. But I think I know. She is a metaphor for Mallorca. She sucks you in, so to speak, but she isn't quite as she seems. She is contradictory, at times infuriatingly superficial but at others mystifyingly intense. She is insular and defensive, and then cosmopolitan and open. By looks, she isn't Mallorcan, she is a hybrid of northern European "mezcla". Rightly so, as the northern European grafts a cultural and physical aspect onto Mallorca in making it a mixture. She is also, of course, summer and winter - warm and cold; outgoing and introspective; loving and obnoxious; optimistic but also anxious.

Dolly's story. Imagine that. Chapter One ...

Any comments to please.

Index for October 2010
Academia, conferences and tourism - 23 October 2010
Airport charges and air taxes - 17 October 2010
Are you the right man for me? - 24 October 2010
Bad weather, tourism and - 12 October 2010
Bingo and betting - 21 October 2010
Bullfighting and culture - 7 October 2010
Coal transportation in Alcúdia - 15 October 2010
Corruption in the Balearics - 6 October 2010
End of season - 31 October 2010
Expats and multiculturalism - 18 October 2010
Fairs, Mallorca's - 4 October 2010
Felipe and Letizia - 13 October 2010
Fire fair and event publicity - 16 October 2010
Gran Hermano - 20 October 2010
Homelessness and poverty - 26 October 2010
Lidl in Alcúdia - 8 October 2010
Mixed all-inclusive in Santa Ponsa - 27 October 2010
October, the paradox of a Mallorcan - 9 October 2010
Paco de Lucia, flamenco music and - 3 October 2010
Partido Popular and language policy - 10 October 2010
Partido Popular and regionalism - 28 October 2010
Peguera's Oktoberfest - 11 October 2010
Playa de Muro, Costas' demarcation and - 25 October 2010
Ryder Cup - 5 October 2010
Sports tourism - 29 October 2010
Technology future in Mallorca - 14 October 2010
Thomas Cook and its hotel payments' "discount" - 22 October 2010
Tintin in Palma - 1 October 2010
Tourism spend statistics - 30 October 2010
Units under apartments, empty - 19 October 2010
Voting rights, residency and - 2 October 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spend, Spend, Spend: Tourists and their money

I was waiting at the head of what became a lengthening queue at the local tabacs. All I wanted to do was hand over my euro for "The Bulletin" (and, yes, I pay for my copy). I could have just plonked the coin down on the counter and cleared off, but the wait promised to be productive, more so than that of the Guardia officer who wasn't prepared to tarry long in his quest for a pack of 20.

The queue developed because of Brit tourists, wristband wearing and cleaning the place out of cigarettes. The whole exchange was fascinating to observe, right down to the production of a sealed brown envelope with its bung of snout spondulicks. When finally all the booty was assembled on the counter, out came the calculator. "Nine hundred and four euros," said the girl. The envelope was emptied of its folding notes.

Nine hundred euros, thought I. There's a convenient amount. Where had I heard nine hundred euros, more or less, mentioned before? If I had forgotten, which I hadn't, I was to find out when thumbing through the newspaper. Tourism spend. The average spend per stay. It's always in the 900 region, a bit more. 900 euros on Super Kings and whatever else being handed over to the tobacco companies. 900 euros worth of fags being carted back to the all-inclusive. I wonder what else the Brits had been spending their money on, if anything.

The statistics on tourism spend come from something known as Egatur ("Encuesta de Gasto Turístico" - the tourist expenditure survey). The information it provides, so the blurb goes, "makes it possible to ascertain with a greater degree of precision the volume of tourist expenditure by foreign visitors". Moreover, it can "improve strategic knowledge of variables regarding fundamental expenditure and tourist behaviour by visitors from other countries".

These are bold claims for information that the casual reader of it in the press is often disinclined to believe, especially when it shows an upward trend.

What the tourism spend stats are not are exact figures. They are an estimation. They are arrived at through questionnaire-based interviews at border road crossings, airports and ports. A minimum of just over 100,000 interviews are conducted annually, the majority of them at airports (and this is nationally, by the way, not just in Mallorca). When the national statistics office speaks of "fundamental expenditure", what it is referring to are five key components which contribute to total tourist spend. Of these, two, spend in restaurants and on excursions and "others", amount to a third of the total. The rest comprises spend on accommodation, transport and the tourism package.

The tourism spend stats are also not, therefore, indications of what is actually being spent on what. Take the tobacco. Unless this is included under "others" (and I don't think for one moment that it is), then where is this spend in the equation, or that in other shops, come to that? And what of that in the chemists? Spend on mosquito-bite treatment alone must run into the many thousands.

The collection of data is also reliant on the interviewee giving accurate numbers. They are more than likely also to be estimations. Come on, how many of you can say precisely how much you spend on restaurants? Unless you are one of a small breed who writes all expenditure down in a diary, then you can't be 100% certain. It is just this sort of exact data capture that tourism spend surveys should require, but it is just this sort of exact data capture that isn't being conducted. And where higher spend is registered, to what extent does this reflect an increase in prices? If it does, then any increased spend is not necessarily one in real terms. Just to take an example, has the IVA rise been discounted in figures since 1 July which suggest an improvement in tourism spend?

Much time and many column inches are devoted to the various statistics, but in truth, and God knows I have spent a sadly large amount of time myself over the years discussing them, they really aren't of any great consequence. Certainly not when it comes to providing an accurate picture of activity in the resorts. The value of the tourism spend statistics, such as it is, lies in the contribution to a calculation of overall economic performance. As for "fundamental expenditure", yes that on restaurants and excursions is fundamental, but so also, for many tourists, is that over the counter in the tobacconists.

Tourism spend statistics? Ignore them.

Any comments to please.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sport For All (Except Mallorca)

The World Travel Market in London takes place from 8 to 11 November. What is described as "the premier global event for the travel industry" will this year be devoting considerable attention to sports tourism. Which is why the Balearics will be concentrating on promoting wine.

At the WTM a report on sports tourism will be launched, one that will present a "road map for lucrative opportunities within the sports tourism industry". According to the WTM organisation, sports tourism is flourishing where traditional tourism is in decline. It goes on to say that tourism boards need "to be more proactive in identifying events and activities which (will) attract visitors and promote their destination to a wider audience".

Sports tourism falls into two categories - spectator events and participation. The reporting of the WTM in November has focussed on the first, with particular attention being given to the "legacy" and "minefield" of major sporting events. For Mallorca, this is something of an irrelevance. There have been attempts, unsuccessful ones, at staging major events - well, one, the America's Cup - but otherwise they have been pipe dreams, such as Formula 1 in the streets of Palma. This was the brainwave of former president Jaume Matas. A trip he made to Valencia as part of this idea is just one of the many items that has cropped up in the list of allegations he faces.

Unfortunately, anything that smacks of something even vaguely "major" ends up smelling less than rosy. Another great Matas venture, the Palma Arena velodrome, was the prime cause of all the allegations that started to flow in his direction. The velodrome itself has hardly been a huge success. The Mallorca Classic golf tournament, from which the current government pulled the financing some three years ago, even managed to find itself caught up in corruption investigations when the police paid the Pula golf course a visit earlier this summer. Then there were the ambitions for Real Mallorca, further pipe dreams, those of the man with the piping business, Paul Davidson. All those tourists flocking to watch the team - so he had hoped. Last heard of, Davidson, having been removed from the board of his own company, was in the US looking to flog a gadget that plugs oil leaks. Shame he couldn't have come up with something that plugs leaks in a football club's finances.

When it comes to the "lucrative opportunities" of sports tourism, Mallorca probably has to settle for less of the lucre through participation rather than events. Which brings us inevitably to the familiar themes: golf, cycling, canoeing, Nordic walking. Stifle that yawn.

If only the promotion of this tourism was done effectively, there might be grounds for some optimism. But it isn't. Take golf. In 2008 a promotional campaign was devised under the bizarre slogan of "much more than golf". What was this supposed to mean? It is probably as well that the tourism promotion agency IBATUR has been scrapped. Not because it was allegedly up to its neck in corruption, but because it was useless.

At least we can console ourselves that the bay of Alcúdia "Bienestar Activo" brand of canoeing, hiking etc., etc. has been revived, albeit with far less money. I say console ourselves, not that it is any clearer what it all entails than it was when it was ditched in September because of lack of central funding.

The WTM organisation very kindly points out that sports tourism "will post record profits and contribute an astonishing 14% of overall travel and tourism receipts by the end of 2010". There's a nice thought. For someone. Somewhere other than Mallorca. But if not sports tourism, then how about a bit of sacred-sites tourism? At the WTM there will also be sessions on what is a fast-growing sector of tourism - visits to ancient places of worship. Well, I suppose there is always Palma's cathedral.

Sports tourism. Sacred-sites tourism. It sounds like things will be a bit slow for Mallorca and the Balearics at this year's WTM. Just as well there's all that vino for them to get stuck into and to promote. And all those thousands of wine-buff tourists to anticipate. If only.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pastoral Care: The Partido Popular's woes

The Partido Popular is the natural party of Balearic government. Since autonomy and the creation of the first government in 1983, it has been the dominant party, save for the two periods of administration under coalitions led by the socialists (PSOE/PSIB). It should regain power in the elections this coming May, but it is doing everything it can to prevent this.

If the PP's leader, José Ramón Bauzá, were a football team manager, he would now face the terraces of his party shouting "you don't know what you're doing". He has managed to alienate different factions, firstly by his policy of selection, secondly by making a pig's ear of the language issue and upsetting the Catalanists, thirdly by seeming to be controlled by the right-wing mayor of Calvia, Carlos Delgado, fourthly by appearing to set the local party on a lurch to the right and one that goes against the notion of regionalism and fifthly by, to the utter amazement of many, overlooking the likes of the mayor of Manacor and the ex-mayor of Inca as candidate for the presidency of the Council of Mallorca in favour of someone called Maria Salom, a member of Congress in Madrid.

It's an impressive charge sheet, one to which can be added the hand of the party centrally in helping to make Bauzá's decisions for him, as with Salom, an apparent lack of openness in selection and an underlying tension of not so much a north-south divide but a Palma-Calvia versus everywhere else schism.

It is this final element that underpins the problems that Bauzá has brought upon himself. It is hardly a new issue. Other parties in Mallorca have faced the same internal antagonisms caused by the dominance of the Palma-Calvia axis. The nationalist Unió Mallorquina (UM) party, undergoing one of its regular periods of bloodletting, did this in spectacular style some while back when "choosing" Palma man Miguel Nadal to succeed Maria Antònia Munar as party leader. Its leadership election saw the then mayor of Alcúdia, Miguel Ferrer, vanquished at the end of a process that had at one point seen Nadal take his bat home in a fit of pique, only to return to the fray and be anointed by Munar.

The polemic within the PP is concerned not only with regionalism in terms of the interests of Mallorca and the islands but also in terms of the towns around the island. Martí Torres, the PP mayor of Santa Margalida has said that the "rest of Mallorca's municipalities should carry as much weight as Palma or Calvia". Other PP mayors in the "comarcas" (regions) have said similar things.

Torres is a supporter of one Antoni Pastor, the mayor of Manacor. Where Bauzá is the ashen-faced manager of the PP, Pastor is a bald-headed refereeing Pierluigi Collina, blowing his whistle on the in-fighting, while also contributing to it, but hoping to bring back some "morals" to the PP. Crucially though, Pastor is the flag-waver for the PP and its regionalist tendency, the left wing of the party which has become disgruntled enough to have suffered a defection to the nationalist UM. The issue of regionalism, bound up in matters to do with language policy, domination or not by Madrid and equality for the towns of Mallorca outside of Palma and Calvia, is the local party's Europe question. It is one that divides the PP down the middle, and Bauzá has proved to so far be incapable of creating unity. Quite the opposite. He has promoted division.

The Palma-Calvia dominance is entirely to be expected. With 70% of the island's population residing in Palma and Calvia it couldn't be anything other. Palma, as the capital, is "serious". It is the centre of commerce as well as government. It is from where and to where you should anticipate the professional and political elite to have emerged and to have gravitated. But the Palma connection has problems. Especially for the PP. The former president Jaume Matas, embroiled in corruption allegations, and the grandfather of Mallorcan politics, Gabriel Cañellas who was not without his own problems when it came to accusations (he was absolved), are both Palma men.

This history should not be underestimated. It colours what is happening in the PP at the moment. It may be under the surface, but it is there all the same. The regions might once have produced some old farmer who got lucky as the local mayor, but they are now bringing forth a new and more professional political class in different parties - the businessman Fornes in Muro, the admirable Llompart in Alcúdia, the impressive Pastor in Manacor.

The old boys' network is still very much at play, especially in the towns around the island. There is still a sense in which politics are the adults' version of playground spats among peers who have grown up with each other. This isn't about to go away, but nevertheless there is a further sense in which some growing up has occurred and that a new political maturity away from the Palma epicentre is bedding in, but is still being pushed onto the subs' bench.

Bauzá threatens to undermine his party through a Palma and Calvia-centric arrogance, one allied to Madrid, and by alienating a coherent and confident left wing in the regions. The goal for election victory in 2011 is wide open, but unless he sets about repairing the damage, the cuddly current president, Francesc Antich, can even now, much against expectation, anticipate stroking home the penalty shoot-out winner.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New For Old: The all-inclusive mixed message

"Mallorca has worked as an example of tourism development except in the case of all-inclusive."

So says Michael Tenzer, a senior director of Thomas Cook. A different company director had suggested that the "battle for the all-inclusive" had ended. It would appear not to have; next year will witness a 10% increase in the number of places Thomas Cook offers which are all-inclusive. In the name of tourism development, one takes it, comes more all-inclusive.

When Herr Tenzer suggests all-inclusive underperformance, he is not talking solely about the volume of AI. There is also the issue of its quality. Never fear. There is always Joana Barceló and her tourism ministry quality inspectorate which has stepped up its scrutiny of the low-grade lager.

Whether the all-inclusive "battle" is over or still being waged, at the same time as Thomas Cook is announcing an increase in its AI offer, the research organisation, the Gadeso Foundation, is reporting that the so-called complementary offer (bars, restaurants etc.) appears "mortally wounded". Every battle has its victims.

It befits a victor to be magnanimous. Thomas Cook is due to roll out a project in Santa Ponsa in 2011 which is designed to take all-inclusive out of the confines of the hotel and onto the terraces of neighbouring bars and restaurants. It sounds a good idea, but how on earth is it supposed to work?

The notion of a sort of mixed all-inclusive whereby guests could go to nearby establishments and still benefit from brandishing their wristbands was flagged up back in March this year. A "nuevo concepto" of all-inclusive was how it was being branded. I understand that such a system already operates in a limited way in Playa de Palma, but there it involves hotels and outside restaurants within the same group of ownership. In March, the reaction to the new concept from the hotel federations, the association of small- to medium-sized businesses and restaurant associations was underwhelming. They couldn't see how it could be viable, given the complexity of administration.

Why is such a system being contemplated? The altruistic interpretation is that tour operators wish to help the mortally wounded bars and restaurants. I can break thee, but I can re-make thee. For all the lambasting of hotels that subscribe to the AI doctrine, it might be considered who have been driving it - the tour operators. One can also interpret the mixed AI as an admission of responsibility for problems that have arisen within the bar and restaurant sector.

A second interpretation is that the tour operators are acting as economic engineers, assuming leadership for establishing arrangements which benefit more than simply themselves and the hotels. Sound social responsibility perhaps, but one based on countering the endless moans of a complementary sector that has done precious little for itself in trying to combat the onward march of AI. If they, the bars and restaurants, can't do it for themselves, i.e. forge relationships with hotels and/or new products, then someone has to do it for them.

Then, however, there is the issue of quality. Anecdotes in resorts such as the AI-abundant Alcúdia or Can Picafort are legion when it comes to holidaymakers seeking out better food and drink than that served up in many an all-inclusive hotel. Notwithstanding Sra. Barceló's army of inspectors, perhaps there is a recognition that some hotels are simply incapable of providing good service. And this isn't totally their fault. They have to work within the constraints of their own economics.

And then there are the guests themselves. True, there are those who are totally disinclined to shift themselves from the poolside. It's the mentality that "Benidorm" captured so perfectly. "Why go outside, when it's all free?" It might remain "free" under the mixed AI arrangement, but it creates an impulse to step outside the hotel walls, even if it would be to just go across the street. There are though many AI guests who don't want to remain confined, and it is the recognition of this fact that speaks volumes for why Mallorca has not developed in terms of AI as Thomas Cook might have liked it to.

All-inclusive in Mallorca both works and doesn't work. And it doesn't work for the very simple reason that there is so much outside the hotel. Neither the island's resorts nor many of its hotels are designed with AI in mind. The symbiosis between the hotels and the outside bars and restaurants and their shared living space are fundamental to the ongoing success of Mallorca. Disrupt this relationship, wound it so badly, and you cease to have resorts. The new concept of AI is something of the old concept of mutual benefit that worked well for so many years dressed up in newspeak.

How this new concept could work, whether it could work is yet to be answered. The practicalities are not insignificant, and quite what benefits the bars and restaurants would derive, and which bars and restaurants would derive them, are open to question. But the concept deserves to be given a go. The experiences in Santa Ponsa in 2011 could be very important.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another Day In Paradise: Homelessness

He had a pretty impressive suntan. His feet, open to the elements thanks to the flip-flops, were a mahogany colour. He wasn't doing anything. Just sitting there on a wall by the Eroski supermarket in Can Picafort. His company was a plastic bag. Inside which was a bottle. I knew who he was. Or at least he fit the description. He's the German who lives in an abandoned house. To be more accurate, a house that the family which owns it cannot agree as to what to do with it. Somehow, he had come to be living there. When a member of the family had been to the house, she had been shocked to find it inhabited. Along with all the junk that had come to be stored in it was this German, together with no electricity and no water.

He wasn't doing any harm, so he stayed on. Maybe it was an advantage. Someone to watch over the place. To stop youths getting in. Having a "botellón", taking drugs. It didn't really matter how he had come to be in the house. He couldn't exactly go back. Back to Germany, that is. His passport had long expired. He was a non-person. Time was when he used to work over in Alcúdia. But now he had no bike, and when the weather was bad that was a nightmare to use anyway. He might occasionally get some work around and about. Otherwise, he would wash in a bar in the morning. And in the evening he would be at another bar to take the odd coffee and a leak before bedtime. And at other times he would sit on a wall.

Outside a different Eroski, one in Alcúdia, a gaggle of the outer edges of society gathers to pass the time of day, to shout, to bring the dogs, to raise the plastic bags. Strictly speaking, it is an offence to drink alcohol on the streets. Sometimes they are a nuisance, but there's not trouble like that elsewhere: at the derelict, former nightspot palace of Es Fogueró, the imposingly mysterious ruin by the industrial estate in Alcúdia that gives a similar impression as to having been abandoned, despite its being new.

In Es Fogueró there was a body back in the summer. "El Gallego" was dead. He'd been killed, so the Guardia were to reveal. A brother and sister, also "residents" of the ruin, face a homicide charge. In the building where Julio Iglesias had once performed, the dance had stopped for the Galician. When you end the beguine.

It was a perishing late afternoon in January. Outside yet another Eroski. He was crouching in the walkway to the supermarket. You can forget just how cold it can get during a Mallorcan winter. A coin or a few. What does it take? How utterly merciless I had been. It would have taken very little. Little to shrug off a foul mood and a memory of the "aggressive begging" of London. Because his hadn't been.

While there isn't much overt evidence as to homelessness in places such as Alcúdia, it exists all the same. It is the lie to the nonsensically unthinking rote-speak of "this paradise island". Paradise found and paradise lost.

No one much talks about or wants to know about poverty and homelessness in Mallorca. It's not what the brochures would have you think about. The exact scale of homelessness is hard to put a finger on, in Mallorca and across Spain. Some town halls are now conducting censuses. What is reckoned is that a half of the homeless are foreigners. But not all are recent immigrants. The German has been in Can Picafort for years.

In addition to much low-paid employment in Mallorca, there is now the issue of reductions in assistance from the state. Compounding this are the increased costs of energy - electricity and butane both on the rise again. How many live in fuel poverty in Mallorca? A Mediterranean climate might make you believe such a thing couldn't exist. It does. In housing wholly inadequate in terms of insulation, draught exclusion and damp-coursing. Where the housing exists of course. Because not everyone's that lucky. So they end up on the streets and, in the case of Palma, have a council that wants to impound their consolatory alcohol.

Much of the help extended to the homeless comes through the offices of the Cruz Roja (Red Cross). In 2009 the level of help it gave in the Balearics rose by 38%. Back in 2007, the number of individuals either socially excluded or at risk of being so that it assisted was 697. The actual homeless figure it dealt with then amounted to 547 people. With the withdrawal of much state-based "ayuda", the 2009 percentage rise is unlikely to fall.

The numbers may not sound as though there is a crisis. But these scratch the surface of poverty and of those at the breadline. To whom you have to add the homeless. The soup kitchens of Mallorca have already announced a marked rise in "business" this autumn.

There is an unedifying aspect to Mallorca. It is one of real-estate division. In winter you can walk past the second homes, the villa rentals and hotels of Playa de Muro. You can repeat the exercise elsewhere. Empty. They aren't of course about to be opened up to the homeless. This isn't the point. What is, is the insult of so much land in non-productive use for so long a period. Through the winters.

At least in an abandoned house in Can Picafort, the German has a roof over his head.

Any comments to please.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nowhere To Go: Playa de Muro and Costas' demarcation

A year on from a demonstration against the threat of demolition of the old church bungalows of Ses Casetes des Capellans, there was another demonstration in Playa de Muro this past weekend. Unlike that of the owners of what are now holiday homes in Ses Casetes, this one was corporate; led by the big beasts of the hotel trade in the resort. The target, though, was the same - the Costas authority.

The Costas is a division of the national government's environment ministry, but such a seemingly subordinate function disguises its power. The name alone commands anxiety; it has acquired a reputation akin to the Inquisition. It scours the coastlines of Mallorca and Spain, handing out decrees that, many will argue, seem arbitrary and unfair. It appears to make things up as it goes along, applying interpretations to the law on the demarcation of coasts.

The law itself is not unreasonable. It is an attempt to right the wrongs of coastal building and environmental destruction and to maintain public access. The problems occur with interpretations as to what is "public domain", what is urban, what is legal, what is illegal, what is land "influenced" by the sea, what falls within one distance from the shorelines, within another one and then yet another. To all this can be added a history of unregulated building and dubious practice as well as the demands of tourism and of business.

The job of untangling the mess in Mallorca is that of the boss of the Costas in the Balearics. His name is Celestí Alomar. You might remember him from some years ago. It was he who fronted the eco-tax debacle when he was tourism minister in the previous Antich administration. He's no great friend to the hotels who were the ones expected to collect the eco-tax. When Antich became president again in 2007, Alomar was conspicuous by his absence from the list of new ministers. The reason was that he had fallen out so badly with business.

In Playa de Muro, there are indeed some big beasts of the hotel industry. They don't come much more respected than Iberostar. It has five hotels in the resort. They don't come much more representative of Muro business than Grupotel. This chain virtually is Muro. Its president is a former mayor, and the current mayor, Martí Fornes, is a former director of the company. The problem for Playa de Muro, though, is that it has been, along with parts of the coastlines in Pollensa and Son Servera, the target of the "new" law of demarcation in Mallorca, the determination of which has sped up considerably under Alomar's direction.

The other problem for the resort is its geography. It is essentially a strip of land with the sea to one side and the Albufera wetlands nature park to the other. The distance between shoreline and wetlands, at its shortest, is only some 200 metres, if that. In terms of "influence" by the sea, there is no land in Playa de Muro that hasn't been influenced. Last year, Alomar set the alarm bells ringing by referring to dried-out "salinas" (salt deposit/marsh). Natural, and they are evidence of influence by the sea. The interpretation is that they are public domain. And that means much of the resort. Playa de Muro was a totally artificial creation on top of what were dunes, scrub, forest and lagoon.

According to the "platform" leading the protests, some two million square metres of land are set to be reclassified as public domain, reversing the provisional demarcation made as a consequence of the law of 1988. Playa de Muro barely existed forty years ago. Much of it has been built since the late '80s, and that which was built before, even many years before, i.e. the bungalows of Ses Casetes, falls foul of that 1988 law on land demarcation, now being pursued with vigour.

What this all means is that property - of all types - is subject to the thirty year rule. It can remain, but it can't be sold. Any development, either new or additional, would be most unlikely to be approved (not of course that this always stops it being done). After the thirty years, there is the likelihood, as the land would revert to state ownership, of having to pay for the privilege to keep the property: an illogical outcome. If the buildings are environmentally harmful, then no amount of handing over money to the government makes them less so.

On the face of it, the Costas decision is madness. But whether the authority would see it through must be open to doubt. The feeling is that there will be some "horse-trading", while the big beasts, together with Muro town hall, will not take the ruling lying down.

There is, however, a different scenario. The Costas decision could well be seen as hypothetical, because thirty, forty or fifty years from now, the threat of rising sea levels will have done its work for them. It isn't a threat that should be ignored. But for Playa de Muro, for its hotels and residences, there is nowhere to go other than further inland. And further inland means one thing and one thing alone - a damn great legally protected wetlands nature park. There is nowhere to go.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are You The Right Man For Me?

A story for the season's end.

She sits by the bar, and you wonder if she takes a glance into the mirrored glass behind the shelves opposite. And if she does, what she sees. The music video is playing on the TV, and she sings down low, mumbling the words that would be less tuneless were she to sing loudly, as her diaphragm has closed around the melody and strangled it into the chill of a beer glass. She sits by the bar in an endless wait. She smiles at the occasional guy who comes in, makes her time seem important by thumbing a mobile, takes another cigarette, and then shifts on her stool as someone suggests to her another beer, which she accepts with a coy shrug and a throaty thanks that comes out as a part laugh and then cough.

She sits by the bar. It could be seedy; it could be exotic. It could be non-descript and, in a less charitable moment, you might believe the same of her and that were she with some bloke, were she another tourist wandering sad-faced into a bar for a no-thought-applied beer of cold lack of comfort, you would pay little attention. Except she isn't. She waits. Some she knows. Some she waits to know. And one appears, sits at the next stool and orders a beer and another for her. So she places a jacket on the back of her stool and takes one more cigarette.

Are you the right man for me?

Her summer has moved her to a moisture-destroying pursuit of tanning that may somehow be attractive, or so she may believe, but is vanity in pursuit of the passing, the passing fancies of a midday or midnight dream; it matters little what time it is. And she clouds the invasion of the sun's rays with the fogs and mists of twenty cadged from someone she knew earlier, the twenty, forty that day that crease and wreck and wrinkle as sure as the sun has created havoc and has cratered the skin. And all, perhaps, in the expectation of a moisture-creating moment of passing fantasy if this is the right man for her, except he is another who has wrinkled, creaked and been wrecked under the sun. And he sits by the bar, and you wonder if he takes a glance into the mirrored glass behind the shelves opposite, and if he does what he sees.

Are you safe? Are you my friend?

The music channel retreats decades. She smiles, moves her shoulders. She is back in seventies time, back in a playground with a skipping-rope and pigtails that some boy tugs, and so she runs and cries and forgets about anything of the future. And somehow she came to be here. She has another beer and another cigarette, and she's not sure. He, the guy on the stool next to her, smokes and strokes a beard, discolouring his face with beer and a never-ending filter of nicotine. He says things, but she doesn't really hear. She is tumbling down a dip in a playing-field, laughing and shouting and then, suddenly, going blank. She stares at him, at the tattoos and rings on his fingers, and, for a moment, she is frightened.

Or are you toxic for me?

She composes herself, starts to sing more loudly. The tourists, pale, pierced and pissed, clap and encourage this burst of spontaneous karaoke. They seek a similar small enjoyment and solace amidst the fags of their fag-end season holiday. And at some point, she disappears out the back. Cats, alert and nervous, crouch and stare and then scurry for cover beneath cars, from where they watch and wait for her to go. And for him to go. The evening has a dampness, a mistiness; not cold but humid and dank. The outside wall feels similarly moist. She makes no noise and does not see the cats' inquisitive and startled eyes.

Will you mistreat me?

He leaves, not through the bar but down an alleyway into the night. She is back on her stool. Another beer? Why not, she croaks and half-laughs, the recent past drifting away as she thumbs the mobile for any contacts. And there is one. She smiles and nods knowingly to the barman. "A promise?" he asks. She says nothing, just grins and puffs on her cigarette. She has, she thinks, an offer out, away, to somewhere else, to something else, to another bar, to another low-sung karaoke. Is he the right man for her? At the end of the season, she doesn't think of that. Just the next bar stool, the next beer and the next moisture of a dark wall.

With acknowledgement to lyrics from "Bluebeard" by the Cocteau Twins.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Divorced From Realities: Conferences and academia

Two conferences. One just finished. One taking place this coming week. Both important, and both representative of something which Mallorca does rather well - tourism research. A welcome by-product of a one-product economy, such as Mallorca's, is that it has spawned a world-class faculty at the Universitat de les Illes Balears, one dedicated to the application of academic research to the practicalities of tourism and its relationship with the economy, the environment and consumerism.

The conference that has finished was an international seminar held at the ParcBit technology park. The seventh International Seminar on Innovation in Tourism (INTO 2010) considered the ways in which tourism knowledge is transferred from academia and research into the business world. What might sound like dry academics talking to other academics overlooks the contributions of the likes of Sol Meliá's chief marketing officer and representatives of Bicycle Holidays and Expedia.

The one that takes place on 28 and 29 October is the first national congress on tourism rights; one that covers, among other things, air travel, contraction in the tourism industry and tourist consumer protection.

Does any of this matter? The answer is that it should matter a great deal. Academia, in particular, has a crucial role to play in the moulding of strategies at governmental level and at that of the über-professional - hotel managements, tour operators and so on. But to what extent it ever deals with the realities of tourism is another matter. Sometimes it does seem to, but it merely acts to emphasise the apparent impotence of governments and elements of business to take any action to tackle these tourism realities.

Let me give two examples. The most startling pieces of research that I have come across from the university relate to all-inclusives and to the actual value of different "groups" of tourist. The first, discovering the bleeding obvious probably, sought to place a figure on how little the all-inclusive guest contributes in terms of spend by comparison with visitors in other types of accommodation. The second, more startling, was the revelation that at least ten per cent of tourists amount to, in effect, a net loss. It costs more to have them as visitors than they contribute. And this was research that goes back many years. Instinctively, one finds it hard not to conclude that the percentage has risen. It was also research conducted well before the onset of the all-inclusive.

Both these pieces of research should have set alarm bells ringing. Maybe they did, but in the case of the latter (and the former, by implication), it is politically expedient to have tourism that contributes little, nothing or less than nothing. Why? So the tourism numbers and the numbers passing through the airports continue to look good.

A problem with the sort of worthy work that comes from academia or is spouted at conferences is that it might just be self-serving. The congress on tourism rights is organised by the islands' college of lawyers. Not that they don't have much to offer that is sensible in considering tourists' rights; they certainly do. But they also tend to rather like legislation. And this can have a significant impact on the realities of tourism.

When one refers to tourism rights, the other side of the coin should also be considered: the rights of tourism to, in effect, leech off the resources of Mallorca (or anywhere) and offer nothing by way of return. Is it, or should it be, the right of anyone to do this? Notwithstanding the fact that tourism made Mallorca, there is such a thing as reciprocity. Rights work both ways. For the tourist and for the tourist resorts, their people and their businesses.

Fundamentally though, the problem with the conferences, with academia is that what they talk about, what they find is completely meaningless to the front-line operators in the bars, the restaurants and the rest. They are a part of the same elite formed also by government which produces statistics no one can get their heads around. We have just learned that tourism numbers for 2010 have been superior to those in 2009; that tourism spend for the first eight months of 2010 rose by 6%. I don't personally dispute either figure, but I can well understand a response along the lines of - "and your point is?". Occupancy numbers are an irrelevance, if you take into account the percentage that might as well not be here, while spend is a generally arrived at figure, rather than one broken down by resorts and even parts of a resort.

Academia cannot be wholly blamed. It is not its fault that it may have unearthed certain findings, such as the net-lossmaking tourists, and that no one has taken any notice. Or been able or willing to do anything about it. You would hope, however, that something really meaningful does come out of these two conferences. There was one session at the INTO 2010 meeting that really stood out. Its title was "How To Develop Value In A Destination". We should be told and specifically we should be told for whom value is to be developed. My fear is that you and I know the answer, and that it ain't you, if you happen to be a bar-owner.

Any comments to please.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Power Game: Thomas Cook and its "discount"

The Balearic Government intends to "adjust" its agreements with Thomas Cook. It plans to do so in an act of solidarity with hoteliers facing the 5% "discount" on payments from the tour operator which was announced last month. The government's stance is hardly a surprise, given a need to support the all-powerful hotel lobby, but Joana Barceló, the tourism minister, has not been specific as to the exact nature of the "review of financial contributions to co-operative agreements" that the government has in place.

The action by Thomas Cook is not solely directed at Mallorca; it applies worldwide. Hotelier groups in the Caribbean have been joined by their counterparts in Spain in considering the taking of legal action against the tour operator, claiming breach of contract and abuse of market position. Travel industry lawyers believe that the cost of fighting legal cases could end up costing Thomas Cook more than it stands to gain from holding back the five per cent.

When the discount was announced, and it is meant to apply only to hotel bills for the August and September period, Thomas Cook said that opposition to the move "had been sorted out". Hardly.

Discount. Let's call a discount spade a deduction spade, shall we. It is one, according to the company, that is intended to make up for losses incurred as a result of the Icelandic ash cloud. The 5% applies to destinations served from the UK and not from Germany. German airspace was unaffected by the cloud?

There might be some sympathy for Thomas Cook, confronted as it was by the wholly unexpected, as it did incur significant losses because of the volcano. But losses were also incurred by others. They were all in it together. Weren't they? The answer to this question goes to the heart of the matter. It is the extent to which hotels - and governments - are partners in tourism. Or not.

The dynamics of the tourism supply chain have changed markedly. It was once the case that the hotels exerted the power over the tour operators. Not so now. It's a similar situation to that of the UK retail supply chain. Manufacturers and suppliers used to hold the upper hand over the retailers themselves. Not now they don't if they deal with the giant multiples such as Tesco. Partnership is an easy word to use, but it hides an unequal balance of power. The Co-operative Travel is likely to come to appreciate this through its merger with Thomas Cook. The reporting of this has to do with a further strengthening of Thomas Cook's position in a flat market and an improvement to what was an undervalued share price. Reporting about Thomas Cook, not the Co-op. There is always a dominant party in any merger.

Mallorca's hotels have had their prices squeezed. Realism in their price negotiations has been forced upon them by the economic climate and competition. No bad thing, you might think, but a further 5% cut understandably doesn't go down well. They have every right to contemplate legal redress, but they do so from a position of weakness. The big two tour operators hold the aces. And everyone knows they do.

TUI, for its part, has said that its UK division will not follow Thomas Cook's lead. It argues that the imposition of the cut does not "establish a good partnership" in the long-term. It's right to say so, but this doesn't obscure the fact that it, along with Thomas Cook, is what the game is all about. The big two just keep getting bigger and stronger. The Co-op merger is a case in point. For the tourist consumer, alarmed by the failures of smaller operators, the big two offer confidence, notwithstanding Thomas Cook's own recent financing issues.

One can but hope that the likes of Globus (Monarch and Cosmos) forge an increasingly strong third presence. A fourth, fifth or sixth significant player wouldn't go amiss either. But it's unlikely. Business theory was many years ago now speaking of the rule of four. Four dominant market players, created through the pursuit of economies of scale and the dreaded s-word of synergy brought about via acquisition. The theory wasn't completely accurate, as can be seen in the tourism industry.

There is a fear that hotels might suffer reprisals as a consequence of any action taken against Thomas Cook. This is overstating the situation and wouldn't be in the company's own interests. But the mere fact of the deduction affects not only any possible legal contract, it also affects the psychological contract between parties. The deduction is an expression of dominance and its reverse state of submissiveness, one from which the government also suffers. It can seek to pull the plug on co-operative marketing agreements, but would it? Cut. Nose. Spite. Face.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Matchstick Men: Bingo and betting

"All the fours. Betting laws." "Number three. OAP."

Centres for the elderly have been rumbling with the sound of heavy boots. Gambling-addicted oldsters, frittering away their time and money when they should have been doing something useful like knitting or waiting for their flu jabs, have been confronted by the forces of the law. All in the name of the odd ten-centimo-a-go game of bingo.

It's a question of a licence. Strangely enough, gambling does normally come with a piece of paper attached in the form of a licence. But some dotty OAPs having an innocent game of bingo ...? Whatever happened to the often sensible policy of the blind eye being turned? Well actually ... .

There are other examples of unlicensed gaming to be stumbled across. Poker clubs. Race nights. The local "bookie". You can find them all. There again, maybe they just place bets with matchsticks, like poker games are for matchsticks. Of course they are, just as the games are played by matchstick men, accompanied by their matchstick cats and dogs.

Bingo, though, has become the bizarre battleground for the fight between licensing and what is considered "appropriate" and a public determined to ignore the zealotry of regulators. It all kicked off during the summer of 2009 when the men from the interior ministry sought to be party-poopers at the fiesta in Pòrtol. A game of street bingo, one from which money was earmarked for church renovation work, was under threat as it was deemed to be illegal and its prizes were thought to be too valuable. In the end, it went ahead, as did other street bingos which, combined with the street supper, are something of a tradition during many fiestas.

Whatever the stakes and whatever is at stake, Mallorca has hardly been overrun by shady Asian betting syndicates. Probably because no one much would understand cricket's no-ball law. It is part of a country, however, which has the heaviest levels of gambling in Europe; or so it is said. This might come as a surprise, given that organised and official gambling appears to not be greatly in evidence in Mallorca. But there are always the lotteries.

What there is not is a Paddy Power or William Hill on every street. Bookmakers' shops have been slowly rolling out in regions of Spain, but they have yet to take hold. Perhaps they should. They would make a killing in the resorts amongst the Brits on tours who fancy placing a bet.

Spain, for all its obsession with gambling, remains highly regulated. Online casino gambling legislation s something towards which the national government has been edging, but internet gaming exists just the same, as also does online betting. Ask Real Mallorca. It has a shirt sponsorship deal with the Austrian-based Bet-At-Home. Not that it has come without some problems. The club, hardly in a position to turn down what is nearly a million euros of annual income from the deal, was aghast at adverts for Bet-At-Home with what appeared to be references to sex and drugs. All that was missing was the rock 'n' roll.

It is the Spanish gambling instinct that has helped to spawn the creation of "Gran Scala", the casino-stacked theme park-cum-hotel and leisure complex on the mainland. Just as the desert in Nevada is a haven for blackjack and roulette obsessives, so the desert near Zaragoza will become one - the Las Vegas of Europe. Or so the developers might hope.

But to get back to the OAPs and to bingo. The pensioners' federation in the Balearics is hoping to arrive at an agreement which will allow the games to continue. The story is not, however, as it may seem. There is more to it than some old dears being hounded by plod, or church restoration being put on hold because the interior ministry objects.

It should be noted that actions against these games were not expressly those of the interior ministry or police. There had been "denuncias". These had come from the associations which promote bingo in the Balearics. A blind eye being turned? Maybe it's right for it not to be. Where there are regulated and licensed games and organisations, they do have a right to protect their interests, even if it means upsetting a few OAPs. They have a right, and they are right. Gambling cannot be a free-for-all, because gambling is anything but free, even if you play for matchsticks.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watching You: Gran Hermano

What fabulous news for Mallorca. What publicity. What the heck.

There are two contestants from Mallorca in the latest edition of "Gran Hermano". Now, come on, you should be able to work out the translation of this for yourselves. Think oh-my-God-ing inanity in a palatial concentration camp in Elstree transported to somewhere called Guadalix de la Serra, toss in some smouldering Latin sexual chemistry and add bucket loads of hyper hysteria, Mediterranean style, and you have Big Brother's Spanish half-brother.

While Big Brother UK awaits possible Desmondisation and a transfer-window move to Channel 5, there are no such uncertainties with Gran Hermano. This is number 12 in a series spared the rantings of a Jade Goody and the even greater rantings of disapproving professional Yorkshiremen.

Gran Hermano 12 has just started. The housemates include two "girls" from Mallorca. Julia Valverde, a 30 year old "vendedora ambulante", and Lydia Navarro, a 24 year old secretary. They are the first Balearic members of the house since gardener Daniel López was the ninth-round expulsee in Gran Hermano 8. None come along for ages and then two of them suddenly appear.

Julia describes herself as a "modern gypsy", as opposed, one presumes, to being an ancient gypsy. She is indeed from gypsy stock, the first such contestant in the programme's history. Diversity is everything in Big Brother and its foreign derivatives. This year's show also has the first contestant with hearing difficulties. This might well prove to be a blessing.

(Knowledge of Julia's gypsy ethnicity is a bit of a coincidence; there has also been press coverage of gypsies in Mallorca and how they feel rejected by society and so find it hard to integrate. But this is a different story.)

Quite what Julia's vendedoring ambulante entails, I really couldn't say. The term is a catch-all for street sellers, of which the lookies are the most obvious. A looky she certainly is not. Or rather, maybe she is. A looker. Just like Lydia. Big Brother, big breasts, and blonde with it. The fact that Gran Hermano 12 can boast the biggest jacuzzi of all Big Brothers in the world should work in Lydia's favour in allowing her to display her credentials.

Gran Hermano's Davina is a Mercedes. Milá of that ilk. Quite some years older than Davina, she has the bossy appearance of a Rotary Club wife organising the annual tombola. The Gran Hermano pages of the show's TV channel, Telecinco, reckon she is "more sexy and feminine than ever". Well they would, I suppose.

If Gran Hermano is imported nonsense, Spanish reality TV can boast its own home-grown triumph of cultural sophistication, one which has itself been exported far and wide. "Operación Triunfo" dominates Spanish telly to such an extent that each show seems to last several days. It may well do, for all I know. It is a show which proves that all Spanish males below a certain age wish to be Enrique Iglesias and all Spanish females, Christina Aguilera. Spanish emoting can outdo any on "X Factor", trowelled on with the same shallow fakery but with added sun factor. So redolent is it of high Spanish culture, that Triunfo used to provide the qualifying rounds for Eurovision.

The show has produced one international star - David Bisbal - and it went British through "Fame Academy". You can't avoid Triunfo. It is everywhere, including record stores with OT special CDs and therefore pirated copies in a looky's lucky bag. Not that Julia presumably knows anything about this; she's too busy getting wet in the Gran Hermano jacuzzi along with Lydia.

Operación Triunfo, for all its triumphs, was not the model for all such shows that followed. It wasn't, say, the template for Simon Cowell. "Pop Idol" beat it to it by a matter of a couple of weeks. Both shows aired for the first time in October 2001, but Triunfo has been with us ever since, along with Gran Hermano, evidence, were any required, of the globalisation of popular culture. Froth and voyeurism. And the Spanish do them as well as anyone.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Intensive Uncared-for Units

"Look at all these places that are closed." I had bumped into a mate in Puerto Alcúdia. There were a number of "locales" that were empty. The tell-tale signs of abandonment were clear - whitewashed glass, mail piling up on the floors inside, fraying posters for this and that fly-billed onto the exteriors. "Yea, but they're units under the apartments. It's no wonder. They stick these places up, and on the ground floor they always have 'locales'. There's just too much of this stuff."

Too much. Too many bars or cafés, too many shops. There is too much of everything. Too little of what matters. Demand.

The economic crisis has served to highlight what should have been obvious - the over supply of bars and shops. Perversely, the crisis has not reduced the supply, it has seen it increase, thanks primarily to the units that sit, mainly empty, under residential buildings.

The reason for these units is the consequence of a land law in the Balearics, one that has not been adopted elsewhere in Spain. The law goes as follows. There has to be a limit to the number of apartments per building. Were the ground floor to also be used for residential purposes, the average size of all apartments would have to increase. A solution, that of making buildings lower, isn't a solution when it comes to the owners of land who want to maximise their returns. Another would be to scrap the law on the maximum number of apartments, so long as their sizes do not go below a minimum.

One view in favour of ground floors being reserved for commercial use is that people simply don't want to live on the ground floor. It's an understandable view, but only up to a point. Not wishing to be on the ground floor may have more to do with where the buildings are constructed rather than with a reluctance per se to inhabit a street-level apartment: a thoroughfare in Puerto Alcúdia is probably a case in point. But even this ignores the fact that houses, of older stock, open out onto narrow pavements right next to busy roads all over the island.

The downside of the regulation, apart from adding to the unnecessary supply of units, is that the buildings end up creating an impression of reducing desirability rather than the one that you would hope they would - that of increasing desirability. And this applies not just to the building itself but also to the general environment. Empty units benefit no one, but the mystery is why anyone thought that they could keep being created and keep being filled. Where they have been occupied, and some have been in Puerto Alcúdia, they have then become unoccupied. The crisis is not solely to blame; there is just no point to most of them.

The surfeit of bars and cafés should be enough to make any prospective tenant of the under-apartment "locales" wary of handing over his traspaso or, if he has any sense, just the rent. Other types of commercial exploitation should be met with a far bigger "buyer, beware" sign. What, for the most part, have they been? Fashion shops, if Alcúdia is anything to go by. They might also have been gobbled up by the johnnies-come-lately of the estate agency world, but the carnage in this market has robbed the units, as it has the island's high streets in general, of their absurdly excessive presence. For the fashionista chicas who take on a unit, there is something else to bear in mind, not just the fact that their shops are an irrelevance. This is the relaxation of rules on commercial centres. Out of town, in other words. The pointless units become even more pointless as consumers shift their own centres of operation.

The law needs to be changed, but any reform should be more fundamental in terms of more coherent appraisals as to the style of towns such as Puerto Alcúdia where residential and commercial building has created a functionalist mish-mash of architecture. Attention should be paid to greater harmony in terms of the look of buildings and also to the introduction of semi-pedestrianisation. This might, for example, enable the apartment blocks to be shielded by gardens at their entrance, enhancing their appearance and greening the dominant and characterless sense of concrete.

If a change means the government and town halls interfering with the market and telling owners that the ground-floor "locales" have to go, that they have to stick to reasonable prices and they lose the rents from the units, then so be it. They're not gaining rents as it is, while everyone else is losing out.

Any comments to please.

Monday, October 18, 2010

21st Century Schizoid Man: Multiculturalism

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pronounced. Multiculturalism in Germany isn't working. It's a big step for a leading German politician to take in a country where there is understandable reticence to engage in discourse that smacks, even vaguely, of racism and where there exists a worrying underground of neo-Nazism.

German multiculturalism can be traced back to the early '60s and the system of the "Gastarbeiter", primarily Turkish workers but also those from other countries, which included Spain. The Turks were the most obvious though.

It is the start of the 1970s. A curious ceremony is taking place, and I watch as Turkish Gastarbeiter board a train in Stuttgart, one or two beaten-up suitcases in hand. They are heading back to Turkey. The Gastarbeiter were meant to be temporary. Many did return, but by no means all.

Wind forward to today, and the situation in Germany is like other countries: diasporas, some members of which assimilate, some of which do not. Even the Turks of Germany who have become "German" are probably among those who regularly vote in sufficient numbers to give Turkey "douze points" from a German Eurovision audience. German multiculturalism, to use the word of Frau Merkel, has "failed".

Multiculturalism, either through intent or accident, is an idealistic state. It can function, insofar as diversity and the implicit non-integration of the concept can be said to function, so long as something doesn't come along to ensure that it doesn't. Tensions arise not directly through the existence of multiple cultures but through the cumulation of factors which makes their existence less than tolerable.

21st century schizoid man, he of indigenous origin, has been turned paranoid through such factors - economic dysfunction, terrorism, Islamophobia, for example - and by having to contend with the way they compete with his identity. He would rather, in disturbingly large numbers, even in countries with traditional tolerance like Sweden and the Netherlands, rid himself of the cultures. Or if they stay, they should conform to his monoculture. Speak the language. Eat sauerkraut or, more of a challenge for some, pork wurst. Put a towel out on the sun-lounger at six in the morning.

Frau Merkel believes that immigrants should make greater efforts at integrating. By learning the language, for instance. Hers is hardly an original view. It is one that has been expressed in Britain and in Spain. The leader of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, is one who has made such a call.

Immigration in Mallorca is regularly an issue which appears at the top of the list of social concerns as discovered through polls. In March, a poll found that seven out of ten Balearic islanders believed that there were too many immigrants. Press reports merely serve to reinforce a perception of immigrant criminality. Moroccan drug dealers in Sa Pobla. Latin American gangs in Palma. Nigerian prostitutes in Magalluf. Senegalese lookies all over the place. A judge once sentenced a Senegalese gentleman to learn the language.

Immigration goes hand in hand with multiculturalism and therefore with a lack of integration. Yet we are selective with what we mean by multiculturalism, or rather to whom it applies. The British in Mallorca are no less representative of one of the island's multiple cultures than Moroccans. But the British are seen, and see themselves, as excluded from this definition. They are part of the illusory and faintly absurd notion of a "European culture". I am a European. Define and discuss. They are nothing of the sort. Anglo-Saxonism is alien to Mallorca, as are the English language, "Coronation Street" and the full English. As with those from other cultures, cultural separatism and non-integration are a breeze when you can switch on Sky or pick up a copy of the "Mail".

Multiculturalism doesn't work. Or rather, it works very well in a free-market way. You can cherry pick from the "new" culture if you so wish, while not having to "go native". Which is how most like it. And why shouldn't they? What's the point of learning the language? Only so you can make sense of watching the telly. Therefore, there is no point when you can tune in to Ant and Dec.

Our meaning of multiculturalism is a pejorative for anything that veers too far from the cultural norm, and in Mallorca this norm has come to be broadly interpreted, as it is in the UK and in Germany. This norm isn't simply a question of learning the language, most certainly not. It's what falls outside of the norm that defines the anyone-but-me multicultural, with all the baggage of issues such as colour, religion and ethnicity that it brings. This broad interpretation excludes the British in Mallorca from the multicultural category, but lumps them into an alternative one - that of mini-cultural. Different but non-threatening. Mini-cultural maybe, but before we cast too many stones in the direction of the body with its head poking out of the sand of multiculturalism, we might bear in mind that we are all multiculturalists now.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pieces Of Eight: Airports, airlines and taxes

A group of German MPs has been enjoying a late-season break in Mallorca. In between taking in the Peguera Oktoberfest and strolling along the proms with their lederhosen on, the MPs have been having a word or two in President Antich's shell-like. "We don't think much to the rise in your airport charges, Francesc, old boy."

I suspect that they expressed this rather differently, much as I also suspect that I have completely invented their trip to the Bierfest and their leather garments, but express concern as to the charges they most certainly did. Carriers estimate that increased tariffs for security, passengers and landing, planned for next year, could bump up prices by around 12%.

Klaus Brähmig, for it was he, gave the president something of a veiled threat. Put your prices up, and tourists, German ones that is, will decide to go somewhere else. Turkey, Greece and Malta. (Since when has Malta come into the German tourist competitive destination radar? Someone should warn the Maltese and put Alec Guinness on stand-by.)

If Antich was on the ball he might well have responded by pointing out that the Germans are establishing an eco-tax, as from the start of 2011. Eight euros a pop. Doesn't matter where you fly to in Europe. Eight euros it will be. He might also have pointed out that these charges aren't his. "Nothing to do with me, Klaus. You'll need to have a word with Mr. Bean in Madrid." Not such a bad suggestion as the Germans find Mr. Bean corset-burstingly hilarious, even, one imagines, a doppelgänger such as Herr Schumacher, i.e. President Zapatero.

Herr Brähmig had pre-empted the eco-tax riposte. German tourism in Mallorca will not be affected by the pieces of eight, he parroted. In other words, the German tax is ok, but the Spanish charges aren't. Of course, he may well be right about the German air tax. It is universal, so it affects every destination, be it Mallorca or Turkey. An issue for Spain and therefore Mallorca is what happens with charges elsewhere. Athens International Airport, for instance, froze its charges this year.

But do these taxes, be they tax to fly or airport charges, really have any great impact? The evidence from the UK would suggest that they don't, not where Mallorca is concerned at any rate; the air passenger duty is set to rise to twelve pounds next month. British travellers don't, though, have much alternative. German ones do. Lufthansa's Germanwings subsidiary, responding to the eight euro tax, has looked at moving flights from Cologne/Bonn to Maastricht, just over the Dutch border. The Dutch, having scrapped their own tax because it apparently did have an effect, might stand to benefit from a German airline's patronage. Air Berlin's director-general for Spain and Portugal, the former president of the Mallorca Tourism Board Álvaro Middelmann, has described the German tax as "totally absurd".

Nevertheless, unless you happen to live within easy reach of Maastricht, the eight euro tax is one you would be likely to accept. Why pay far more to get to an airport, so that you might just be able to save a euro or so overall? It wouldn't make much sense. The real issue with taxes and charges, where they are transparent to the traveller, lies with how much they are in proportion to the cost of the flight alone. The often excessive criticism of Ryanair is that they apply "hidden" charges. They don't. The additional fees, such as one for tax, seem high because the initial price is so low.

While not everything that emanates from Ryanair is always believable, everyone's favourite airline chief executive, Michael O'Leary, has spoken about changes to the airline's strategy. He has stated that the low-cost model is unsustainable. If Ryanair is paying serious attention to its pricing and product policy, and it is, then whither other low-cost airlines? Palma airport has a high dependence upon low-cost carriers. It is their pricing models which are important, not the taxes or charges. The challenge for Ryanair, which is likely to be one for other airlines, is to grow the business. And to do so requires generating higher yields from passengers. Which means higher prices.

Even if increased taxes and charges become lower as a proportion of the initial price, the overall price of the flight increases significantly. For Ryanair, Air Berlin, Germanwings and any other airline desperate to improve margins, any additional cost element imposed by governments is unwelcome. As they are unwelcome to politicians, when it's someone's else taxes rather than your own. Herr Brähmig does protest too much. He has a German airline industry unhappy at its own government's tax to keep onside, so he takes a broadside at Spanish air charges to try and show he is on the side of the German tourist and the German airline industry. It is a bit rich, and it also obscures the more important issue - that of future air prices.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Foc You: Event publicity

Demons from Ibiza, Menorca, Binissalem, Sóller, Consell and Pollensa. Pyrotechnic displays. Fire runs. Folk and rock groups. All on one night. What an event. One to rival even the fire nights of Sant Antoni. Traditional culture at its best. Yes indeed, a spectacular occasion. What a pity no one knows about it.

You now do. It is tonight. In Pollensa. It is the first "Fira del Foc" or fire fair.

The first I was aware of this fair was a brief mention in the Friday What's On pages of "The Bulletin". I had to do a double take. Had I actually read this correctly? Yes I had, and it was taking place the next day. A phone call to Pollensa confirmed that posters had started to appear - on Thursday. The fair was appearing on some listings sites, mostly all late in the day, as in Friday. The earliest mention seemed to be on the website of one of the demons' groups themselves, that of Binissalem: one guaranteed to have less than worldwide impact on the worldwide web.

Where else might it have been mentioned? What about the regional government's tourism website? Perhaps under its "Hivern a Mallorca" programme, the rather misleading title for the Winter in Mallorca series of events that runs from October until April. There was no programme. There was a list of activities. Third page. Ah yes, there it was. With little or no information. There was a link to a blog for the federation of demons. The most recent entry was for an extraordinary general meeting in May. Demons have EGMs!?

What about Pollensa town hall's website? The fair is on its patch, even if it wasn't directly organising it. Nothing, save for a link to a PDF for an announcement in the press - on the Friday. Under its activities there was one for Saturday - the Miquel Costa i Llobera poetry prize. Even the normally assured culturapollensa site seemed less than sure. The event was listed, but it was faded, meaning there was no link to any actual information.

Of the mentions of the fair, there was, however, one that did perhaps shed a bit of light onto the darkness of this event of the night. It came from a blog called "d'en Potti". There appears to have been a bit of internecine strife in the demon world. A new "union" of devils and beasties has emerged in parallel to the federation. Maybe there was a good reason for that EGM after all. But if so, then why was the federation being linked by the government's tourism website? It was the new union that was behind the fire fair. Perhaps the government didn't know. In fact, why should anyone know? Fractiousness in the potty otherworld of demons might make for an amusing story, but whatever ideological or power struggle is being waged by the wearers of horns and the wavers of tridents shouldn't matter. Not to the earthly world at any rate, to the humans who might like to know about the fire fair.

Division or no division, it still doesn't excuse the tardiness with which the publicity appeared or the fragmented nature of its appearance. It does, though, say a lot. It is typical of the shocking disregard for the promotion of events. Staying on Pollensa town hall's website, there is a link for the town's fair in November. It leads you to official notices in Catalan for God knows what. It doesn't actually give anything useful. Like when it's on. Also in Pollensa, it may be several months away, but the dates for the wine fair in spring are a mystery. It is possible that they have yet to be decided, but even if they are, information is most unlikely to be released until close to the dates. And I have tried to find out, having emailed the co-organisers. No reply.

The wine fair is of a different nature to the fire fair. It is commercial as well as an attraction for tourists, a showcase for Mallorcan and Balearic wines. It may have escaped the attention of the organisers that tourists, who might well fancy ordering a case or several, could do with some decent advance notice to book flights and accommodation.

But no. One of the problems with fairs and fiestas is the publicity process. It goes something like this. Firstly a poster is presented. Dates are given but no more. Some days later, normally a week before the event starts, out comes the schedule. Either the poster or the schedule is afforded a ceremony: the mayoral and organising committee's photo opportunity. Advance information is jealously guarded in order not to undermine the egotism of the official "launch".

Through a combination of short-sightedness, self-importance, insularity (as with language) and inefficiency, Mallorca's events are undermined when it comes to their being broadcast effectively to a wider market. The events don't deserve to succeed. That some do is in spite of themselves and their promotion. There is more than just a slight sense of the foc you when it comes to publicity that isn't just local, assuming even this is done well. Ad hoc is the foc; they couldn't organise a burn-up in a fireworks factory.

Any comments to please.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hand Of GOB: Coals to Alcúdia

Old king coal is not a merry old soul for the residents of Alcúdia. They would rather the old boy's pipe of transportation through the town were fiddled with and made less noxious, be it in the middle of the night or at any time of the day.

The old king coal of Alcúdia has long been making its way from the port to the Es Murterar power station - 30 years or so. In a shuttle of trucks it chugs along the three kilometres of road, sometimes straining, as with the incline leaving the port itself, and letting bits of itself go and skip onto the road and into the verges. Once upon a time, before they built the by-pass next to the Puig Sant Martí, the trucks used to take a different route, right through the resort. Things are better nowadays, but only in that the trucks are less intrusive.

Given how long coal has been transported to the power station, it seems a bit odd that it is only now that Alcúdia residents have decided to denounce its movement. In fairness it has long been a matter of discontent, but the current complaint against the dirt, an alleged absence of control, and the deposits may be a case of maintaining a momentum that started in the summer.

In August, there were protests against the emissions from the power station and against the transportation of coal. There was also a level of support from business for the proposal that Es Murterar should be gradually closed and its coal and oil-fired electricity generation be replaced by that from renewables. The proposal and the protests were the work of the environmental pressure group GOB. Has the hand of GOB touched the denouncing residents of Alcúdia? If so, then rightly so.

The trucks are mobile monstrosities, while Es Murterar itself is a panoramic affront, a blight on the landscape. Wander in the tranquility of the Albufera nature park and it is hard to ignore, rising from the park's west side, the chimney of the power station. Albufera and Es Murterar are in surrealistic juxtaposition; it seems inconceivable that the power station would be built today. Not where it is, at any rate.

For all the visual unpleasantness of the lorries and the power station, the actual level of harm to the environment is open to debate. The regional government's environment ministry maintains that particles of coal dust from the transportation are within limits that might be prejudicial to health. The power station has cut significantly its carbon emissions. Albufera is thriving. It wouldn't be were it being polluted.

As you might expect, however, not everyone is of such forgiving opinion: GOB for one. It believes that Es Murterar is responsible for some 60% of local greenhouse gases. The power station is also responsible for generating a half of the electricity consumed in the whole of the Balearics. But GOB also believes that local production of energy can be scaled right back so that renewables are the only source of electricity. It is the prospect of the majority of energy requirements being met by supply from the mainland via electricity cabling and natural gas that leads it to conclude that supplementary energy creation in Mallorca could avoid the use of coal.

The regional government doesn't dispute the possibilities of GOB's argument, but it has said that there needs to be some realism. Nevertheless, the day does seem to be coming closer when the level of electricity production at Es Murterar is reduced if not eliminated completely. Were it to stop though, a question would be what would be done with the site. The old power station in Alcúdia seems no nearer to being converted into the science and technology centre it is meant to become, and it has been abandoned for years.

For now though, the coal will continue to be transported and Es Murterar will continue to hum. Old king coal's pipe will remain lit, and the residents of Alcúdia will be less than merry.

But there's one other thing. Behind every good nursery rhyme there is another story. It is one that just about surfaced a few years ago but was then given greater prominence at the start of this year. You know those trucks. Who owns the company which transports the coal to the power station? Coincidental to the Alcúdia residents' denunciation is the start of the court case involving the former president of the Council of Mallorca, Maria Antònia Munar. The company belongs to her husband, 15% of which is hers.

Timing is everything.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

White Heat Of Technology: Mallorca's future

There are thirteen new commercial projects in Mallorca, the consequence of the raising of the moratorium on their building. Let's all celebrate. Evidence of recovery, evidence of confidence in Mallorca as a place to invest. If only.

What are these projects? They are ones being undertaken by Mercadona and Lidl. Ever more supermarkets. The others are a commercial centre and a Chinese-bazar hypermarket. Why not add a few more? All McDonald's, and then the picture would be complete and appropriate. "McJob", low-paid employment and short-term construction work on commercial buildings that rise up quickly. The new projects are not evidence of a suddenly reinvigorated economy. They are the opposite: a response to the economic crisis-led demand for lower prices.

The director-general of trade at the Balearic Government's trade and industry ministry believes that these projects represent a "good rhythm" of investment. They are not unwelcome, but equally they are not diversification or wealth-generation. Their arrival has more to do with the ending of the moratorium than with real investment. Moreover, they can be seen in the context of what has been happening to the island's industrial estates. New ones come along, and are under-utilised, while old ones are abandoned by smaller businesses because of high rents or are given over to car showrooms and entertainment centres. Mallorca's industrial, manufacturing and skills base is marginalised in favour of the unnecessary and frivolous.

The trade and industry ministry should be looking for investments beating to an entirely different rhythm to those of groceries and the fish and meat counter. The need for diversification away from the unsustainable tourism-centred economic model of Mallorca is, to be fair to the ministry and to the government, understood. A strategy for innovation and development is reaping some benefit, as evidenced by the number of businesses that have sprung up on Palma's ParcBit technology park. Taken as a whole, they offer new employment opportunities and the prospect of business growth. Mallorca's hopes of becoming a Silicon Valley or a silicon beach are fanciful, but this is not a reason not to follow a technological future.

The quest for an economy in Mallorca not so dangerously dependent upon tourism has been too long in the starting. The seduction of tourism has been understandable, but it has been proven to be built on the sands of shifting tourist demand and international competition. Its dominance has also reinforced the hugely unsatisfactory six-months-on, six-months-off work culture, itself unsustainable. The service model, based on tourism, supermarkets, the plethora of lawyers and architects and any number of unproductive public-sector pen-pushers, is not a solution for the long-term. A far greater mix with technology and industry founded on new technologies has to be the way forward for Mallorca.

To this end, there is some good news. In Inca, a company called Vent Illes is due to start production of wind turbines for the generation of electricity. It will create thirty jobs. Not a huge number, but it's something. It is also indicative of the development of technology founded on local resources and know-how. Wind is very much a resource, but the Vent Illes turbines require very little wind. They are designed with the constraints caused by a limited resource - land - in mind. They are practical for locations where colossal wind farms would be untenable: other islands, for instance. It is the one eye on export possibilities that makes the Vent Illes scheme particularly interesting.

The home market, that in Mallorca, is too limited to offer local technology companies the scope for expansion and for creating significant employment opportunities. They need to be export-driven, just like Mallorca's most successful businesses, its world-class hotel chains, have, irony of ironies, exported tourism know-how to competitor destinations.

The hope is that the incubation of new-technology businesses in ParcBit, together with the likes of Vent Illes, creates a momentum towards the clustering of further businesses, thus establishing a dynamic which, while it will not completely transform the economy, will at least send it down the road to a more diverse future. It will be one predicated on what Mallorca can do well, such as marine technology and its export, and it will mean far more than the few months of tourism employment or being a shelf-stacker at a new commercial project.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Two Princes: Felipe and Letizia

A new book about the Spanish royal family by the journalists Carmen Enríquez and Emilio Oliva is due to be published next week. It concentrates on the heir to the throne, Crown-Prince Felipe, and his wife, Princess Letizia. Its central thesis is that the "Princes" are ready to take over the reins of the House of Bourbon from King Juan-Carlos and Queen Sofia. Not that this is likely to happen any time soon. The possibility of an abdication has been raised, but the natural course of events leading to a succession is the one that will be followed.

There are certain similarities between the Spanish and British royal families. The King, while having ruled for 20 odd years fewer than Queen Elizabeth, has, nevertheless, been around for a long time. Felipe, considerably younger than Prince Charles, has had to face a similar challenge to that of Charles, i.e. defining his role. He also has a beautiful, glamorous even, princess. Just like Charles once had.

Like the Queen, Juan-Carlos's stamp is firmly imprinted on the public perception of the monarchy. Both enjoy a personal popularity, which obscures rather less popularity for the total edifices that are the Houses of Windsor and Bourbon. The esteem in which both are held is a further similarity, but the causes of this esteem are quite different.

The King is inextricably linked with the transition to democracy that followed the death of Franco. But even more importantly, it was his vital role in putting down the coup attempt of February 1981 that cemented his popularity. Juan-Carlos is symbolic not only of having guaranteed democracy but also of having presided over the transformation of the country. More than politicians, he is, in the eyes of many, the embodiment of modern-day Spain. Like the Queen, he's a tough act to follow; tougher, if you like, given what he actually represents.

The King is not without his critics, but criticism is generally muted. There is a very good reason for this. It is an offence to defame or slander the royal family, as two cartoonists discovered to their cost when they ridiculed Felipe. The obstacle to freedom of speech is a bone of contention with many, but it has at least spared the Spanish royal family the sort of lampooning that has been the fate of the Windsors.

But the force field that surrounds the royal family has not prevented there being negative attitudes towards Felipe, the consequence, as with Charles, of questions as to what he actually does. However, he deserves sympathy. The apparent uncertainty as to his role would be the burden of any heir, while against the towering figure of Juan-Carlos, it has been hard for him to forge a strong identity.

This, though, is where Letizia has come in. If she has a physical attractiveness like Diana, she has none of the latter's early immaturity or later airhead tendencies. Before marrying Felipe, she was a journalist and presenter on national television. She was blessed with being worldly and intelligent as well as having good looks. Rather than the sham of Charles and Diana, her and Felipe's marriage is genuine, and it is has helped to rid Felipe of a certain stiffness, one he had in common with Charles. The image of Felipe has changed, thanks to the image of Letizia.

However, the regular images of Letizia in the media have led to concerns as to a possible trivialisation of the monarchy. Family shots with her during the summer vacations were all over the press. But rather than trivialising, the effect has been to make the royal family, and especially Felipe, seem to lighten up. In this respect, Letizia does have something in common with Diana in making the royals appear more accessible. Yet here, the similarities with the British monarchy are not directly comparable. For this observer at any rate, Juan-Carlos and Queen Sofia, despite the inevitable formality associated with their positions, come across as far more open than the Queen and Prince Philip. You couldn't imagine either of them, let alone Charles and Camilla, embracing sporting winners in the way that Juan-Carlos and Sofia have done.

Despite the worry that the Spanish monarchy's popularity resides solely with Juan-Carlos, an opposing view, as revealed by annual opinion polls, is that four-fifths of Spaniards believe that the succession will create no problems for the monarchy. And they're probably right. Felipe has come out of his shell and is now, with Letizia, enjoying increased popular support.

How Queen Elizabeth must look at the Spanish royal family and wonder what might have been.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

End Of The Road: Mallorca and bad weather

They've spoken about closing the coast road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. For reasons of the environment. It has sounded mad as it would involve either cutting off Puerto Pollensa or building a road somewhere else. It doesn't sound quite so mad when you consider an entirely different reason.

When the winds blow, this road is totally exposed. There is nothing to stop the sea. The beach, such as it is, is narrow. Much of it is shale, stone, rock, posidonia and seaweed detritus. The road is a nightmare.

The winds have blown. To drive along the road when they have blown is to swerve and manoeuvre away from the hard stuff being spewed onto the tarmac by the waves. What's the insurance policy like for getting sea-tossed rocks smacking against the bodywork? The road should be closed. Give it back over to nature. It's a hazard even when the winds don't blow. Witness the flower tributes that are constantly being renewed.

Along the road when the winds were blowing were tourists. Out walking. Buffeted by nature. Wet and miserable. I've long disputed the notion that, even when the weather's rubbish in Mallorca, it's still better than being back in Britain, if you're a tourist. It is not. To claim otherwise is to engage in what we might dub tourist dissonance justification. I come to Mallorca for the sun and the beach and when I can't have it, I justify this by reasoning that the weather's a whole load worse in Manchester. It's fair enough, but not when you take into account the expectation that such a justification is not going to be necessary.

The justification might be ok if there were anything to do. This is partly an issue to do with different parts of the island. There are more "things" in the south, for example. Even these things, though, require foul-weather gear and a very brave face. Most things are outdoors, assuming they don't get cancelled.

When the rain abates, visitors can take to the streets, flip-flopped feet filled by the puddles. The long march of everyman, vainly in search of something, anything. The bars do ok, for the simple reason that they are the anything. Cold beer, though, is cold comfort. In fact, it's no comfort at all.

I'm wary of rumours. But there is one doing the rounds. In Alcúdia. I'm not saying where, but word is of a redevelopment, one along Center Parcs' lines. Hallelujah! Finally someone's got it. If it's true. I have lost count how many times over the years I have argued in favour of such a development. All-purpose and all-weather. Somewhere that when the weather does go belly-up, it is possible to not have to resort to the dissonance justification.

Too much of Mallorca is conceived the wrong way round. The heat of the summer is what prevents a vision of working from the rotten end of the weather chain, not from the blissful. But like much housing is inadequate for the cold and damp, so is pretty much everything else. Want all-year tourism, well then create things that can accommodate it. Ah, but you say, it's like snow in Britain. It happens so rarely, it's not worth it. Bullshit. October can be poor, so can September, as can May. And climate change isn't going to change the propensity for storms; quite the opposite.

Then there are the other months, the winter months. If the rumour is true, it's a no-brainer. They should do it, and repeat it elsewhere. Tell you what, they could start by closing the coast road and erecting a centre in the vicinity. But they wouldn't do that because of the Albufereta nature area. Nope, the road would be closed, the winds would blow, the rain would fall, and there wouldn't even be any tourists to get miserable.

Any comments to please.