Monday, January 31, 2011

Out In The Midday Sun: Mad Dogs

In Mallorcan climes there are certain times of day
When all the expats repair to switch their TVs on and conspire
It's one of those things these greatest fools obey
Because Sky is making publicity though Sky in Mallorca's not a strictly legal way

The expats fawn when the actors take to bars having finished their cuts
Because they're obviously, definitely, Nuts!

Mad Dogs for Englishmen with copies of their daily Sun
They take to the forums, pore over the press
I saw Simm, ah but I saw Max, and Glenister, he's the one
For Englishmen sights of celebrities are something with which to impress

In London town they have presented Mad Dogs in full media glare
The Mallorca tourism foundation, several thousands of euros of support, was happy to be there
The expats swoon at news of the excitement this has done
Mad Dogs for Englishmen with copies of their daily Sun

It's no surprise for the expats eyes to see
That the press will eat this hype and sycophantically treat
When the great Rupert rides, proportion there will not be
Because the simple expats are deflected from phone hacking and Richard Keys

It's the usual rot showing beautiful Mallorca off that gets trot from tourism board and press lackies too
And the expats do agree as to not do simply would not do
In Mallorca any dissenting is seldom if ever done
For it's Mad Dogs for Englishmen
With copies of their daily
Copies of their daily
Sky box strangely
Copies of their daily Sun

(With due acknowledgement to Noël Coward.)

* "Mad Dogs" will be on Sky from 10 February.

Any comments to please.

Index for January 2011
Chinese businesses - 10 January 2011
Climate change - 6 January 2011
FITUR: tourism promotion and finance - 22 January 2011
Government and local democracy, structure of - 24 January 2011
Hotels' strategy - 12 January 2011
January in Mallorca - 9 January 2011, 16 January 2011, 23 January 2011
Jaume I celebrations, violence and independence - 1 January 2011
Legumes - 5 January 2011
Luxury tourism - 19 January 2011
Mad Dogs - 31 January 2011
Mallorca in 2011 - 2 January 2011
Meetings incentives conventions and exhibitions tourism - 4 January 2011
Morality, tourism and - 30 January 2011
Operación Cloaca - 18 January 2011
Palm beetle in Puerto Pollensa - 27 January 2011
Plagiarism: Sant Sebastià poster - 14 January 2011
Population growth, Mallorca's - 7 January 2011
Porto Cristo bridge demolition - 29 January 2011
Prices in Mallorca - 26 January 2011
Prices, supply costs and - 3 January 2011
Q quality marks - 20 January 2011
Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastià: lack of promotion - 11 January 2011
Sant Antoni in Muro - 17 January 2011
Space heaters - 13 January 2011
Tourism agency director's resignation - 28 January 2011
Tourism promotion - 25 January 2011
Working day and productivity - 15 January 2011
Youth Olympics 2018 - 21 January 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Morality Of Tourism

When the uprising in Tunisia occurred, it struck me that here was an opportunity for Mallorca to spend its tourism promotion budget wisely. Rather than the odd TV campaign or cosying up to tour operators, what about spending the budget on fomenting a touch of good old dissent in rival destinations instead? Little, other than the occasional natural disaster, works better in undermining tourism than a spot of political instability, riots, civil disorder and death on the streets.

I hadn't counted on the Egyptians taking matters into their own hands. The sniggers of schadenfreude within the ranks of Mallorca's tourism industry will be suppressed, behind closed doors and never leaked in a Keys-Gray manner, but the hope of misfortune surely resides somewhere along the corridors of the industry - the hope that the gift will keep on giving, and thus giving Mallorca tourists who might otherwise have headed off to an Arab Mediterranean competitor. Tunisia, Egypt, where next? Morocco? Yes please.

You might question the morality of such a hope, but morality is not a concept that travels easily alongside tourism. Tourists themselves are not exactly beings with high moral instincts. How can taking a holiday in a country run by an unpleasant dictatorship, e.g. Egypt, be described as moral? The mere act of landing on Egyptian soil gives succour to a regime that, for most tourists, would be abhorrent in their own lands. The morality of the decision to visit such a country hardly enters the equation, if at all. What does is cost, quality of hotel, sun and plenty of it and some pleasant snorkelling, so long, that is, that there aren't too many sharks lurking in the shallows.

Tourism is the Olympic Games and the sporting prowess and achievement through which nasty countries and nasty political elites can show the world a more benign and happy face. Just as the Beijing Olympics or the Stasi-monitored steroidisation of a generation of East German athletes were morally dubious, so tourism is used to present an image that seeks to shield the realities of abuse.

An argument in favour of turning a blind eye to morality in a tourism context runs along similar lines to that which challenged sporting sanctions against apartheid South Africa. By not touring, sports teams deprived local sportspeople of the opportunity to excel or to come to international prominence. The argument was always spurious and was ultimately exposed as being totally wrong. Sanctions played a significant role in ending apartheid; they were morally correct.

Tourism, so goes the argument, brings wealth and an opening-up of societies. The argument is not without foundation, and I will come to one very good example of where it did play a major role, but if the wealth is unevenly distributed or hardly at all and if the societies remain closed or authoritarian, then how can it be said to be morally right? In Egypt, half its population lives in poverty. Wealth, not just from tourism, has been the privilege of a minority.

For developing countries, tourism plays a vital role. But even where a country operates under principles of democracy, there is an issue of morality. Take the All-Inclusive Republic, otherwise known as the Dominican Republic. This is a country that has enjoyed growth, partly the consequence of tourism. But how much of the wealth generated circulates within the population as a whole, this wealth being captured behind the security gates of the ghettoes of fine all-inclusives? How moral is it for those who might bemoan the ethics of all-inclusives elsewhere, Mallorca for instance, whilst enjoying a Dominican hotel and having their spending power end up in hands other than those of the average local?

Sometimes you want to see for yourself and sometimes you have your eyes opened by what you do see but hadn't expected. In 1973 I did the European tour. I went to Yugoslavia, then under Tito's Communist regime, and crossed the border by train into Greece, then ruled by its extreme-right military junta. I watched as a Yugoslavian student, who had been sharing my cabin and the food that I and others had packed into our rucksacks, was dragged from the train and beaten up on the platform by Greek police. I had spoken to people in Yugoslavia and then spoke also to Greeks. Always it was in hushed tones, out of earshot of other locals. I don't know that I thought much about the morality of being in either country, but what I saw and heard made me realise much about how immoral regimes work.

So it can be beneficial, this visiting of countries with unpleasant systems; beneficial in creating a greater awareness of what is going on. And there is one place, one country that benefited greatly from tourism that might otherwise have been thought immoral. Mallorca. Spain. The tourists who first came en masse were lured by cheapness and sun. They were the pawns in Franco's plan for foreign currency, economic development and legitimacy. The initial tourism in Mallorca was predicated on questionable morals, but one of the unforeseen consequences - unforeseen by the Franco regime - was that tourists brought with them not just the first trappings of wealth but also different ways of thinking.

Francoism was disintegrating in the years before the dictator's death, and tourism helped to propel this disintegration and to then, in 1975, mean that there was no future for a similar model of government. Tourism can, therefore, and despite tourists being unwitting or unknowing participants in acts of immorality, be a power for moral good.

In Egypt, it is doubtful that many, if any tourists have considered the morality of their going there. They shouldn't be blamed for not having done so, because tourism and morality are pretty much mutually exclusive. But their presence may have contributed to the dismantling of a regime, and Mallorca can sit back and reap the benefits. And you never know, Mallorca may reap further benefits, because, unlike Mallorca post-Franco, what comes next could be worse. And tourists will then not want to know.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Troubled Bridge Over Water: Porto Cristo

Manacor's mayor, Antoni Pastor, has bowed to the inevitable. The bridge in Porto Cristo, the "puente del Riuet", will come a-tumbling down. With its demolition, a chapter will close (though don't bank on it) that can be traced back to 1968 and the antecedents that led to the bridge's construction being started in 2003. Pastor, increasingly under personal pressure caused by his being fined for not complying with the order for the town hall to get on with demolishing the bridge, has fought a populist corner to keep something that not everyone in Porto Cristo will be sad to see go.

There have been protests aimed at preventing the bridge's demolition, and the publicity that these have attracted have deflected attention away from the fact that homeowners were directly affected by waking up one day to find a damn great bridge outside their windows.

These owners have had to endure noise and loss of light. They have had to pay for double glazing to try and shut out noise but have also had to keep windows shut during the summer. They have had to keep lights on all day. They have seen the value of their properties drop by some 90%. They have lived with the permanent fear that an accident might end up with a coach parked in a living-room.

The lawsuits have been many, the compensation has not been that great, the cost of pulling the thing down will run to around 900,000 euros, not much less than what it cost to put it up in the first place.

Manacor town hall, faced with footing the bill, had argued, among other things, that the bridge was not illegal, as has been deemed to be the case by the Balearics Supreme Court. It was built under an agreement between the town hall, the Council of Mallorca and the regional government, and yet it (the town hall) is expected to have to pay for it to come down.

With some justification, the town hall has a right to feel a bit miffed, not just because of the cost but also because of an absence of support from the other authorities, notably the Council of Mallorca. There is some debate as to whether the bridge is or isn't included in its plan for "carreteras". In 2009 the then director for the island's highways announced that it was. In theory, this should have put an end to the whole conflict, but now it would appear that it isn't included in the plan. The likelihood exists that a new bridge will have to be built.

The saga of the bridge is utter madness. At a combined cost of two million euros, that for building it and then knocking it down, Porto Cristo will not have a bridge, other than an old one that is inadequate for purpose. Until such a time as a new one arises, if it does, there will be congestion, and in the short term there will be chaos as the demolition work will carry on into the tourist season. And if a new bridge is built, it will cost God knows how much and be proceeded by the predictable and lengthy arguments that will themselves attract cost and delay.

What makes the bridge's demolition all the more absurd and costly is that services - water, sewage, phones and electricity - will all have to be diverted. This alone will amount to a quarter of a million euros. But the absurdity is heightened further when one considers quite why the bridge was built as it was. The result of this was, as should have been obvious, the impact on residences; an impact that led the Supreme Court to order the demolition.

One of the main reasons for the bridge being built was the traffic jams and the difficulties that coaches, heading for the Caves of Drach, had in negotiating the roads. These difficulties will return, making Porto Cristo once more a traffic nightmare in summer.

The homeowners will be pleased and so they should be. The past few years have been intolerable, but in a way, other than just because of the alleviation of traffic problems, the bridge should be allowed to stay. To stay as a monument. A monument to the stupidity that will mean it costs much the same to pull it down as it took to put it up.

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Importance Of Being Erstwhile

"To lose one director of a tourism agency, Sra. Barceló, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose a second looks like carelessness."

The tourism ministry. Home to the former, the ex, the one-time. The erstwhile. Mar Guerrero has walked away from her job as director of the ATB (the Balearics tourism agency), nine months after having replaced the erstwhile head of the erstwhile IBATUR agency. This is a real blow. Guerrero was greatly admired and liked. Her already high stock has been raised by her having done something quite unusual. She has made herself erstwhile by resigning. On a matter of principle.

She has said that she didn't like having to sell motorcycles. This might sound a rather odd thing to say, but it's a translation of a Spanish expression which means not wanting to pull the wool over people's eyes. Not wanting to deceive, if you like. This is an almost unheard of point of honour from someone in Mallorcan public life. Rather than keeping mum and pocketing her salary, she has gone. She did actually tender her resignation three months ago, but had agreed to stay on until there could be some "consensus" to explain her departure. Things obviously came to a head before that consensus could have been agreed.

Why has she gone? There seem to be several reasons. One is that the job was not the one in the brochure. She was not allowed to do what she was brought in to do. And why? Because political needs appear to have got in the way. It doesn't seem as if it was an issue over the level of funding, more one of where the funding was to go. Nevertheless, there seems also to have been a political desire to have committed to promotion, to have raised expectations without there being the credit to meet them. There was also a lack of transparency. This is the selling of the motorcycles.

It is all rather strange that just as Guerrero announces her resignation, the tourism minister Joana Barceló makes her own announcement - that of the budget for tourism promotion. It will be just short of 45 million euros, higher than last year. What is doubly strange is that this has risen from the 22 million euros that was being spoken of earlier this month and which appeared to be the limit set by the regional government's treasury minister, Carles Manera.

To add to the mystery there is the fact that an emailed document, leaked to the press some days ago, stated that the tourism ministry had no money available for developing a marketing plan this year. (It might also be remembered that the tourism ministry has been in debt to the tune of 47 million euros, now down to 39.5 million.) This email was sent from the ministry to the ATB and so was presumably seen by Guerrero and her finance director who has also resigned.

There could well be a simple explanation for the sudden discovery of this additional funding. The regional government's bond issue has been a considerable success, and, as I had suggested previously, the capital raised could quite well be made available for tourism promotion. But things don't really add up. The timing of Barceló's announcement seems opportune to say the least, a way of deflecting the bad news of the resignations. And then there is the matter of that leaked document. It was released at the same time as Barceló was saying at the FITUR fair in Madrid that there wouldn't be a lack of funding. How did the press come by it?

Of the money now being promised, nine million of it will go to the councils of the different islands, such as the Council of Mallorca, for them to engage in their own promotion. You are back again to the issue of duplication, for 6.9 million will also go directly on promotion through the ATB. Of the rest, and from the original 22 million, there is money to meet agreements previously entered into with town halls operated or then operated by the Unió Mallorquina party, Alcúdia and Pollensa being two of the four in question.

The UM, it should be recalled, ran the tourism ministry before it was booted out of the coalition; it is now having overtures made to it by the ruling PSOE socialist party to sound it out as to a possible future coalition. There is also 3.1 million euros for renovation work to be undertaken at the Pati de Sa Lluna in Menorca. This may be money well spent, but who in the regional government is from Menorca, a leading PSOE politician in Menorca and the erstwhile president of its council? Joana Barceló.

Guerrero has gone. Her departure signals more disruption within the tourism ministry, the one of which tour operators and hoteliers have asked that there be stability and continuity. Well, there is continuity. It is that of continual change. And what seems to have prompted this latest change is a political agenda, one to which she was not amenable.

Some of the erstwhile figures at the tourism ministry did not leave of their own volition. One now has. And it is important to know why. The question is whether we really do know why.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pollensa's Plague: Its town hall

A couple of days after last June's demonstration against the alleged neglect of Puerto Pollensa by the town hall, a restaurant owner who had been on the march said to me that Pollensa was the worst town hall in Mallorca. It was a theme that was revisited when I spoke the other day to someone from the port who has been active in attempting to get improvements from the "ayuntamiento" for some years. Despite my suggestion that Muro town hall, with one ex-mayor now banged up for 12 months for vote-rigging and another disqualified from office for ten years, might deserve some prominence in the dishonourable roll call of local authorities, he insisted that Pollensa remains the leader.

The current administration in Pollensa has, since being elected and appointed in 2007, stumbled from one crisis to another, largely to do with its management (such as it has been) of Puerto Pollensa. So great is the divide between the port and the town hall that when a crisis comes along for which it (the town hall) might be deserving of some sympathy, it manages instead to further alienate the port's residents, to the extent of a "denuncia" being lodged with the Guardia Civil.

An ecological disaster is occurring in Puerto Pollensa. This may sound like an exaggeration, but the impact of the loss of landscape and visual charm can be dubbed thus. Residents and tourists alike want, demand even, the attractiveness of the natural world, but when it is being killed off as rapidly as it is, then one has to wonder as to the harm that may be caused to economic life by the destruction of palm trees.

Puerto Pollensa has been hugely affected by the actions of the "picudo rojo". The weevil's appetite for palms is such that in one avenue alone over one hundred palms, all the palms in the avenue, have been infested. The sympathy that the town hall might have had stems from the fact that the control or even the elimination of the weevil is far from straightforward. The mayor has suggested that little can be done. Up to a point he is right, but this acceptance has merely highlighted the fact that the town hall's own attempts at control have been poor, to the point of incompetence. It has managed to exacerbate the situation and to make Puerto Pollensa the "epicentre" of the beetle "plague" which has now spread to neighbouring towns.

The charges levelled against the town hall's competence in respect of the palm beetle go back some time. In 2008 the delegate for the port was told that palm trees in the Gotmar area were showing signs of being destroyed. She said there was nothing wrong with them and so nothing was done. Now you have a situation in which the actions of the town hall in trying to stem the problem have resulted in the denuncia made to Seprona, the Guardia's environmental investigation unit, and the call for the head of the town's services department, Martí Ochogavia, to be sacked.

What has helped to spread the beetle has been the way in which the town hall, rather than sending infested trees that have been cut down away for incineration (as it should have done), has been packing them in plastic and dumping them in the Llenaire area of the port. This has created a breeding ground for the beetle which has then escaped from what has been punctured plastic. When the town hall decided it would set fire to the cut-down trees - in open fields - this merely gave the beetle a fright and off it flew. It is possible for the weevil to travel up to four kilometres in one go; hence it has spread and colonised trees outside of the port. And there is the potential for even greater damage, one of the beetle skipping species of palms and infesting those not currently at risk, including the "palmito", the one tree that is native to Mallorca.

Residents in the port hold Ochogavia responsible. And he has form, such as with the accusation that was reported widely some time ago of nepotism in his having granted a relative's company the contract for street lighting. There is now also a question as to what has happened to the budget, 100,000 euros, that was set aside to tackle the palm beetle. Pollensa's mayor, Joan Cerdà, has said that there needs to be more financial assistance from the regional government, and has pointed to the cost of arranging for a crane, a gardener and labourers to cope with just one tree. Nevertheless, residents are keen to know how the budget has actually been spent.

The town hall administration, with elections looming, seems to have been stung into action. The new street-cleaning operation, at a cost of 800,000 euros per annum and with a machine dedicated to cleaning Puerto Pollensa's streets, was unveiled before Christmas. The town hall has also announced two projects in the port - worth 600,000 euros in total - for upgrading waste and water pipes and for placing rubbish containers underground. But this might all be a bit late.

The disaster of the palm beetle is something of a metaphor for a different type of disaster - what the residents of Puerto Pollensa see as the disastrous management of the port by the town hall. For the administration and for Sr. Ochogavia, a plague on both their houses.

* At the "pleno" at Pollensa town hall tonight (27 January), there will be a call for Sr. Ochogavia's dismissal.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Price Barometer: Mallorca under pressure?

I can hear the sound of pencils being sharpened, of keyboards being thumped indignantly, of conclusions being drawn and of calls for "they" (the ever-anonymous "authorities") to do something.

Prices. Give me strength. The UK Post Office has issued its annual worldwide holiday costs barometer, the needle edging ever higher until the barometer bursts with the rising pressure of a correspondent letting off steam with a shout of Mallorca's so expensive.

Mallorca, according to the Post Office's survey, stands at number 14 in a list of 36 destinations. There are two ways of looking at this. Mallorca is either the fourteenth cheapest place in the world or it is the twenty-third most expensive. The damning evidence, if you want to call it this, is that Portugal and Spain top the list of the cheapest destinations. How can Mallorca be more expensive than Spain? Must be because it's a rip-off. So will go the conclusions. Presumably, similar hackles are being raised in Tenerife which comes in at number nineteen on the list. Perhaps there is something to do with islands. And what might that be?

Let's get some perspective. With the exception of Bulgaria (number four), other non-Iberian competitors to Mallorca are, if one accepts the Post Office's findings, about as expensive or about as cheap - Croatia and Cyprus fractionally cheaper, Greece and Turkey fractionally more expensive.

The other perspective that is necessary is to understand how this survey is compiled. The trouble is that the Post Office doesn't say. If you go to its website, you will find the full results, but nothing about the methodology, save for the basket of goods that form the basis of the comparison. And one other thing. As a footnote, it says that prices are supplied by tourist offices with certain exceptions. Information for Mallorca comes from a villa agency. Why? I honestly couldn't say.

Unless you know the precise way in which this survey is conducted, you can make all manner of assumptions. The villa agency in question is a highly reputable operation. It specialises in luxury villas. Of its thirteen properties in Mallorca, eleven are in Pollensa. Let's just assume for one moment that information on prices is taken locally - in Pollensa town. It is not hard to imagine that these might be a tad higher than they are in, say, Puerto Alcúdia or Magalluf.

Mallorca languishes twelve places below Spain in this survey. But what is meant by Spain? Make another assumption. Benidorm. Anyone can tell you that Benidorm has a reputation for being cheap. Naff cheap, inexpensive cheap. Potentially, therefore, you have a polarity in terms of market; the economy variety of Benidorm and the luxury end of Pollensa. Chalk and cheese. One of the greatest disparities between Mallorca and Spain, says the survey, is the cost of a three-course meal with wine for two, a twelve euro difference. So what? It's eminently possible, just as it's eminently possible to pay the lower Spanish amount in Mallorca.

Everything depends, just as President Zapatero's famous 80 cent coffee depended. Another item from the survey is the cost of factor-15 sun cream. It's way higher in Mallorca than in Spain, by almost seven euros. And? Is this the same brand, the same supermarket chain? Perhaps it is, in which case there is a legitimate question to be asked as to why it costs that much more. But perhaps it isn't. You don't know, because the survey doesn't tell you. Nor do you know what size the bottle of sun cream is. There is a factor 15 sitting in my bathroom. It still has its price sticker. 3.99 euros. From the German Müller store in Alcúdia. Is this evidence of something being cheaper than the 4.42 euros on the mainland of Spain? No, it is evidence of one product at one store in one location costing one particular price. See, it all depends.

Price comparison surveys of this type need to be treated with scepticism, taken with a pinch of salt that probably costs more in Mallorca than on the mainland. They can be indicative of prices, but the surveys themselves vary. One from last year (Skyscanner's) made Cyprus the cheapest holiday destination in Europe. Yet it is thirteenth in the Post Office's worldwide survey, one place above Mallorca. Another, that from Thomas Cook, placed the Balearics seventh - behind Egypt, Turkey and the Canaries. But these are all more expensive, according to the Post Office.

Rigorously scientific these surveys tend not to be. They are unverified snapshots, they provide a talking-point, but that's about it. And there is often another reason for their being produced. The Post Office sells currency, a point it makes on its survey.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Money Isn't Everything: Tourism promotion

Something rather odd has been happening. Prospects for this summer's tourism are looking good. It's not just the regional government saying so, the tourism industry is also confident.

This may not be odd when you consider factors such as increased prices in competitor destinations and events in Tunisia, but it is when you add in one further element, or rather its absence. Promotion. The government's promotion.

As mentioned yesterday, haggling is still going on in governmental circles as to what exactly the budget for promotion will be. Though the tourism agency (ATB) announced a couple of weeks ago that it will be assigning 22 million euros, precise spend and therefore precise plans have yet to be agreed.

Despite this, we are presented with evidence painting a rosy picture for this coming season. Which leads you to question the role of the government's promotion. There hasn't been any, yet there are optimistic noises.

Regular are the calls for more government money to be spent on tourism promotion and for television campaigns. Regular also are the links made between a failure to spend, a failure to engage in high-impact campaigns and a future of dwindling tourism in the face of international competition. Far less regular are any suggestions that this promotional spend and these campaigns may not make massive amounts of difference.

You can point to any number of reasons as to why the noises are optimistic, and one of them is reliability. It may not be an exciting message, but for a tourism market which is generally less than adventuresome and wishes only to be guaranteed reasonable value for money, then Mallorca can satisfy this wish. It doesn't necessarily need to offer excitement, especially as, as a "brand", one built up over many years, its attributes are well-enough known.

When promotion is spoken about, it tends to be done so in terms of headlining advertising, such as that involving Rafael Nadal. But this advertising is only part of the promotional equation. Its value lies as much with creating "front of mind" or reinforcing a message to the punter as it does with creating significant new business. Just as important is what goes on that is largely hidden, for example the co-operative campaigns between the government and the tour operators.

When the tourism minister Barceló was threatening to remove funding for such co-operation with Thomas Cook when it started deducting 5% from what it owed hotels, she was playing politics. It would never have been done, as to have done so would have been a case of cutting off her nose to spite Mallorca's face.

What is overlooked when it comes to tourism promotion is the sheer volume of it that is done on the government's behalf. The government has its own websites, but how many others are out there doing promotion that is as good if not better? In addition to tour operators and villa agencies, there are numerous websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts, apps for mobiles all doing their bit. Where the government has been missing a trick is in not engaging with this informal resource that does so much work for it.

The internet has totally transformed tourism promotion and, for the most part, it is considerably less expensive than television or glossy print advertising. Criticisms of the style of headlining advertising, of the Nadal type, or of its absence miss the point that its value is greatly exaggerated within the mix of media and the vast number of sources of information and promotion that are available to the tourist.

Shortage of funding for the government's tourism promotion is, in one respect, a positive. Or will be if it has the effect of making the tourism agencies think more carefully about how they use the different tools that exist in order to get their message across. Having a huge budget does not guarantee anything other than potentially wastefully expensive, "vanity" campaigns, the returns on which are difficult if not impossible to calculate. The Nadal campaign was an example of "ego" advertising; not Nadal's ego but that of the person responsible for commissioning it.

Altogether less glamorous are the associations with the tour operators, travel agencies and online brokers; the optimisation of websites and the working with those who are performing a task for tourism promotion; the tourism delegations, especially those in the newer markets. They are less glamorous but they are more meaningful.

So if it turns out there isn't some expensive TV campaign, it shouldn't be considered a failure. It might just actually be the most sensible thing the tourism ministry has done.

Any comments to please.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chickens Coming Home To Roost

Mallorca is alive to the sound of clucking. To the sound of chickens coming home to roost. It wasn't that there was something bad or stupid done in the past, just that the hatching of plans taken some years ago is being exposed as questionable.

The brave new world of post-Franco democracy ushered in a devolved form of government to the newly autonomous regions which in turn decentralised powers to further authorities. In Mallorca this meant the regional government, the Council of Mallorca and the town halls. It was, still is in theory, the very model of ideal government, one of taking democracy to the local level and to ever smaller units of administration.

The brave new world was the rejection of the corrupt, authoritarian centralisation of Franco. It was the introduction of local accountability, of local decision-making. It was idealistic and participative. By filtering democracy downwards into more compact entities, it was a means of combatting corruption. Supposedly.

The brave new world has been only partially successful. But it is still young, relatively immature. Should it be granted time to reach some maturity? Powerful people and institutions are pecking at doubts as to whether it should be.

What the euphoria of the brave new world neglected were practicalities and costs. The structure of government had been questioned even before the crisis took hold; I had on more than one occasion. But the previous murmurs of questioning have become shouts.

To begin with, there is President Zapatero. He has issued a warning to the governments of the autonomous regions that they have to curb their spending and debts. The total regional debt is 105 billion euros. The regions are being seen, as I reported the other day, as perhaps the single greatest risk to Spain's finances.

Zapatero, likable and admirable in many ways, hasn't become a completely headless chicken, but his mantra of "reforms, reforms, reforms" allied to his threats of central intervention if the regions don't tow the line suggest a volte-face in his attitudes to the regions to which, hitherto, he seems to have been only too willing to cede more and more responsibility.

Then there is Zapatero's predecessor, José Maria Aznar, who has alluded to this change of attitude. He has condemned "quick changes of policy" and what he sees as threats to the autonomous model of government enshrined in the brave new world. And this is a Partido Popular politician saying this. Without anyone actually spelling it out in the kind of dramatic way that might suggest a complete abandonment of the autonomous model, the costs of regional government are nonetheless drawing into question the sustainability of the current system.

If one homes in on Mallorca, behind the regional government lurks the Council of Mallorca. What is the point of the Council of Mallorca? It's a question I was asking B.C. (before crisis). Were it smaller, it might be justifiable, but its size, its mirroring of the regional government makes it an expensive level of bureaucracy, the purpose of which seems to be to grant jobs for the boys. Moreover, as is highlighted with the waste-collection scandal, it offers an additional opportunity for misdeeds. This scandal has even exposed the appalling waste that appears to have occurred as a consequence of its involvement with rubbish collection, that of some town halls seemingly having paid twice for the same service.

The budget for the council in 2011 will be 428 million euros. One voice that suggests the council is "very expensive" in addition to it being an "inefficient behemoth" belongs to Maria Salom, the PP's candidate for its presidency. It may sound as though she is one chicken acting like a turkey voting for Christmas, but she has called for an end to the accumulation of functions and overlaps with other institutions. Hallelujah. It may have taken several years, but someone finally seems to get it. She isn't advocating the council's complete dismantling, but she does want it stripped down. And so it should be.

And then you come to the town halls. The Majorcan hotel federation's lady president, Marilén Pol, has said that they should be eliminated - all 53 of them. They cost too much and are unnecessary given the size of population. It's an extreme proposition, but it is one that has been pursued in other cash-strapped countries.

An alternative is merger. There are examples of town halls working together, but there are others which show that it isn't straightforward. The Mancomunitat in the north of Majorca doesn't work at all, so much so that the six town halls involved have more or less agreed not to bother with future meetings. Where there are competing agendas, then it is unlikely that it would work.

Eliminating the town halls is not, I believe, a solution. They perform a social function in terms of local identity as well as adhering to the fundamentally correct principle of local democracy. But they have not succeeded in being the accountable, participative and transparent institutions they should have become, and they, like the Council of Mallorca, perpetuate bureaucratic burdens.

The chickens are coming home to roost because they have woken up to the fact that the structure of government is unwieldy and too expensive. The model is not fundamentally wrong, but it has got out of hand. The Council of Majorca should either go altogether or be pared back in terms of its function. The town halls need reforming, their spends on personnel alone having spiralled since the turn of the century.

Which leaves the regional government. It should stay. For it to not to would represent a shattering of the brave new world and a reversion to something worse - centralisation and Madrid control. And there would be something even more dramatic were the autonomous regions to be undermined. You only have to think of Catalonia and its independence claims to know what this would be. Anarchy.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cry Wolf: Winter in January

Some of you may remember contrasting photos being published in British national newspapers in June 1975; they were those of Buxton cricket ground in Derbyshire. On 2 June there was snow, on 9 June the ground was bathed in hot sunshine as the cold weather gave way to the first of the two successive hot summers of the mid-70s.

Weather in January in Mallorca does not stretch to such extremes in terms of the 1975 heat, but one week on from "Summer in January", winter has indeed, as I had suggested that it would, made its presence felt. Snow has fallen with even some flakes at sea level. The sea has been roaring in spitefulness, but has not deterred the wet-suited extreme sportists of the kite-surfing fraternity. The air being brought in on the waves has cut and torn. It's nothing unusual though.

It snowed at sea level twice last year. On one occasion it was sufficient to leave a good covering. That was unusual. The current cold snap is not. Yet, and proving that you should always take the weather with you, because in Mallorca, as in the UK, weather is the most predictable of talking-points, some cold temperatures, whiteness on the mountains and even on the beaches become a major event.

Weather is never far away in Mallorca. It's not surprising; it is an island after all. During the course of 2010 there was, on average, one weather alert issued by the local met office for every week of the year: too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too stormy. You can't avoid taking the weather with you, you can't avoid being compelled to say in an awe-struck fashion that the island is on a yellow or an orange alert. If it were on red alert, then you really would know something about weather, but the alerts are so common that they are almost like crying wolf, except for the fact that they tend to be accurate.

Weather, therefore, is bigged up. It is over-hyped, over-stated, over-reported, afforded the status of event that over-blows its real importance or rarity. Like cold and snow. Neither is rare and nor is the narrative that accompanies it.

With the same predictability with which the weather becomes the narration in the media or by the bar, so the predictable invades the description - a big freeze or a winter wonderland. With the same predictability, the camera lens is turned towards layers of white on mountains and landscapes to impress upon an audience, that should know better than to be seduced into believing in the rarity of the event, the existence, the verity of this winter wonderland.

The cry-wolf narrative, the reaching out for the cliché and the facile, paints a false picture, one removed from the commonness of Mallorca's weather. It is the same predictability and impoverishment of narrative that strips away a lexicon of presenting Mallorca in anything other than the obvious and the unthinking. There is, as a consequence, a loss of meaning, a loss of context, a loss of perspective. What is a winter wonderland anyway? I really have no idea. I do have an idea as to a "big freeze", having been around when Britain endured one in the early 60s.

Rather than over-stating, the description of weather, such as the current burst of winter, should, in the absence of an original narrative of descriptors, superlatives, metaphors or similes, be proportionate in its understatement. It's a bit on the cold side will do. Because that is the verity. And being a bit on the cold side will soon give way to it not being so much on the cold side. Normal. Usual. Pretty much the same weather as most years, pretty much at the same time as each year (summer in January giving way to winter in January), pretty much always taking the same weather with you.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Along For The Ride: Travel fairs and public finance

During the winter the Balearics go on tour. London before Christmas, Madrid and then the biggy, Berlin in March. These are the venues for the three main travel fairs, chances for the great and good and less great and good of Balearic politics and tourism to press some flesh and have their photos taken.

The islands have been to Madrid for FITUR, the Feria Internacional de Turismo en España. In addition to directors and sinecure holders of whatever the tourism agencies are these days, there are hoteliers, airline top brass and of course the politicos. The latter have been in Madrid en masse. President Antich and tourism minister Barceló have been making the most of what may be their last opportunities to partake of the free vino before being taken down in May's elections like stands at the end of an exhibition.

They have been joined by jolly Joe Ray Bowser, the mental-lapsing leader of the Partido Popular, who's presumably been there to try and learn something about tourism. This is the politician who believes that the Baltic States are competitors to Mallorca. He's a shining example of tourism knowledge and, as such, deserves to become president.

Also along for the craic has been Joe Melià. Not the Joe Melià, a minor British television actor, but the Joe Melià, a minor Mallorcan politician, as in the latest in the list of leaders of the Unió Mallorquina. Amazing that he has dared show his face, given his party's involvement with the corruption cases at the tourism ministry and the little local difficulty it is presently experiencing with the waste scandal. "Oi, Melià, what you doing here? Collecting the rubbish?"

This year they have also dragged along kids from the choir at Escolanía de Lluc, which is attached to the monastery. Known as the "Blauets", one of the choir sang the Sibil·la for the assembled dignitaries. All part of promoting Mallorca's newly bestowed "intangible cultural heritage of humanity", that is the Sibil·la, and all very sweet but also all rather clutching at straws if the tourism worthies seriously believe this is going to be something that will have tourists flocking to the island.

A great deal of attention is paid to FITUR and the other fairs, a reflection of the importance of tourism and of all the press opportunities the fairs afford the politicians and the tourism industry. President Antich has seized the moment to state that investment on tourism has never been as high as it has been during his current period of office.

Not that he has said much about spending on tourism promotion this year. In fact he hasn't said anything, because he can't. The tourism ministry is still in negotiations with the treasury which is desperately hunting down the back of its sofa and inside its jacket pockets for any loose change it can come across to pay for some promotion.

Antich was responding to complaints from the hoteliers as to the apparent tardiness with which money is being made available for promotion. But they, the hoteliers, will be aware of just how dicey the Balearics' financial state has become. It is not as parlous as that of Catalonia which started selling debt to its own people in October because it is more or less shut out of international capital markets, but it isn't in a healthy position. At the same time as the politicians have been enjoying themselves in Madrid, the regional government has decided to follow Catalonia (and also Valencia and the Basque Country) in selling public debt to the initial tune of 200 million euros. Catalonia, despite the sale, is said to have only a couple of months' worth of reserves.

The FITUR fair has been a case of putting on a brave face. By the time the Balearics take Berlin in March, hopefully the debt sale will have been that successful that there will be cash floating around that has been earmarked for tourism promotion. But the Balearics, as with the other autonomous regions of Spain, are firmly under the central-government microscope, Zapatero having warned that the government will intervene if necessary to control the regions' debts. The governor of the Bank of Spain has said that the regions may pose the "greatest risk" to Spain's finances (as reported by "Bloomberg Businessweek" back in October).

All this suggests, therefore, that money is going to be even tighter than might have been imagined, which means that it will be even tighter for tourism promotion. It's not a particularly optimistic picture, and the whole issue of regional funding is likely to get worse. Which makes you wonder what participation at future fairs is going to be like and, more importantly, how capable Mallorca and the Balearics are going be in promoting themselves.

The days of the junkets at the fairs might be over, and if you want just one example of what is spent on them, other than the costs of shipping the politicos and the rest, then look no further than the new stand at FITUR - just over two million euros. Is this a lot? Perhaps not, but it becomes so when you realise what the government is trying to raise through its bonds.

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dreams And Illusions: Palma and the Youth Olympics

You can't keep a good city down. Having so spectacularly failed to even get to the starting-line of the selection procedure for the city of culture in 2016, Palma now fancies getting egg on its face by bidding for the Youth Olympics in 2018. Palma is becoming the Yosser Hughes of publicity-hungry cities. "Giss' an event. We can do that." Doesn't much matter what it is. Anything old thing'll do.

The Youth Olympics. The first was held in Singapore last year. The budget for this was $75 million. It ended up costing $284 million. A drop in the South China Sea for an island economy that is currently racing along at 18% growth. Mallorca, on the other hand.

Palma's lady mayor, Aina Calvo, fearing being tailed off in this spring's race for re-election, has gone into full proactive mode. Here an event candidature, there an event candidature. Here a re-development of the GESA carbuncle, there a sudden discovery of funds to press ahead with the Palacio de Congresos. The threat of the ballot box has a remarkable capacity to put a spring in the step of even the most lethargic of political athletes.

For Aina, the youth games would be a "dream". President Antich, not slow now in declaring how marvellous this summer's tourism will be and himself staring down the barrel of the election's starter gun, has assured anyone inclined to listen that Palma has "all the requirements" to stage the games. It would be "difficult," says President Frantic, to find an area the size of the islands with so much "sporting quality". The games would be an "ilusión" for the president, meaning in this sense a "hope" as opposed to an illusion, as well as also being his dream. Trouble is that dreams can turn into nightmares.

There is just one little problem with referring to the "islands". It was just one that went to screwing up the city of culture nomination. Note the word "city". While the publicity for that bid waxed lyrically about the islands and their poetry, beauty and all the other guff, it did rather overlook the fact that Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera and indeed the rest of Mallorca were completely irrelevant. In fact invoking the rest of the Balearics represented a gaffe. The same applies with the Youth Olympics. Everything has to be staged within a city, i.e. Palma. Not Alcúdia, not even Magalluf, though a gathering of the world's youth might fancy Maga rather more than it does Palma.

Still, the good news, sort of, is that Palma would have many of the facilities to stage the Youth Olympics. There is none of the absurd legacy malarkey attached to these games of the type that has turned the future of London's Olympic stadium into such a farce. Nevertheless, the presidential delegate for sport has pointed out that Palma would need to "optimise" infrastructures that already exist and that central government might have to dip into its empty coffers to stump up for a bit of remodelling here or there, such as to the Son Moix stadium.

Despite the fact that the games would probably end up costing several arms and legs that no one possesses and would probably also usher in investigations into "irregularities" that would keep prosecutors in gainful employment well into the 2020s (never forget the Palma Arena velodrome affair), there might actually be some benefits. Given that Palma couldn't stage the main Olympics (though God knows this is likely to be the next "dream"), a youth olympics doesn't sound like a bad alternative. It would certainly fit with the creation of an image of a youthful, cosmopolitan and sporty city and island. In this respect, it makes some sense. And you never know, it might even be beneficial to tourism. Singapore apparently attracted 370,000 spectators, though it's not clear if these were just all Singaporeans and those living on the island.

The bid for the games and therefore the fulfilment of the "dream" or not does have some way to go. As with the city of culture, a decision as to the candidate city will be taken at national level and then forwarded for the international competition, with the final selection being made in 2014. Palma is likely, therefore, to be just one Spanish city that is in the mix, and Valencia is lurking as a competitor; Valencia, which has proved in the past to be a city that has dashed Palma's hopes, as was the case with the America's Cup.

The current political unity behind the bid, that at any rate between Calvo and Antich, gives a solid front, but things may well change in May. One can't help but feel that this unity is a display of the PSOE socialist party engaging in politicking. Dreams or no dreams, Palma's Youth Olympics may prove to be simply an illusion.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New For Old: The "Q" quality mark

They're rather fond of "Q" in Mallorca. Not James Bond's "Q", but "Q" for quality or "qualitat", to use the Catalan. But here's a question for you. When is "Q" for quality not really a "Q"? Answer. When it's a "C". Quality in Spanish is "calidad". Confused? You're not the only one. "Q" is the mark of confusion as opposed to the mark of quality which it is meant to be.

Let me try and explain. Back in 2005 the Balearic Government instituted a campaign whereby all manner of businesses - anything from hotels and restaurants to golf courses, nautical clubs and discos - could be awarded a stamp of quality approval. The "Q" mark. Last summer, the government admitted defeat. Its "Q" campaign had been a complete and utter and expensive failure.

The cost of the Balearics' "Q" had risen to around half a million euros, most of it going on paying consultancies who assessed businesses' qualifications to get the "Q" mark. While at one time there had been three consultancies, the number was trimmed to one when the Unió Mallorquina party (yep, them again) got their hands on the tourism ministry. The company in question has since been caught up in one of the innumerable corruption investigations. No surprise there, then.

What made the "Q" campaign the fiasco it became, apart from the money, was that a number of hotels got to display the "Q" plaque without ever passing any form of control, while other businesses received the mark without having asked for it (but were later expected to pay for it). And then to compound the problem, the confusion of another "Q" came along - the mark of quality from the Instituto para la Calidad Turística Española (ICTE), the "Q" that should really be a "C" for "calidad". But "Q" it is, and this pretender "Q" just added to the necessity to scrap the Balearics' "Q" because any punter seeing the Balearics' "Q" might mistake it for the new "Q", assuming they took any notice of either of them.

This latest "Q" from ICTE, which was set up last year, has, unlike the Balearics' "Q", been such a success, it would appear, that it even gets its own gala occasion; the "Noche Q", which was held in Madrid on Wednesday evening. One trusts they didn't arrange for Ricky Gervais to come along and take the rip out of it.

Amongst the successes of the new "Q" is Alcudiamar in, you might have guessed, Alcúdia. At the gala it had bestowed on it the first "Q" for a "puerto deportivo" (marina) in the Balearics. It has been awarded this on account of its "excellent management and systems, environment, risk prevention and safety information". Which is all rather nice for it. Well done, Alcudiamar; well done, Alcúdia.

There are in fact a Heinz 57 of operations in the Balearics with the new "Q". In addition to Alcudiamar, there are 34 hotels, three beaches, one travel agency, one golf course (Alcanada) and 17 restaurants. Ah, restaurants. Gastronomy. The great alternative tourism of gastronomy. Important that this should be branded with a "Q". Want to know where to go for some typical and quality Mallorcan cuisine? Well, I'm afraid this won't help you. What are these restaurants? McDonald's. All 17 of them. Indeed, if you were in two regions of Spain with the highest numbers of restaurants of "Q", you would be able to enjoy out of, respectively, 83 and 97 restaurants with the "Q" mark, 53 McDonald's in Valencia and 68 in Andalusia.

Now, there's nothing wrong with McDonald's and as a company it is very good at getting its quality systems right, but is a McDonald's really what this should be all about? Perhaps the attendees at the gala were served Big Macs. It might have made more sense to have called it the "McDonald's Noche Q" or queuing for a McDonald's.

The new "Q" is compatible with the ISO9000 family of quality standards, so it is a respectable sign of quality. But although ISO has a lot going for it in terms of conformance with quality, reliability and so on, critics believe that it costs too much, that it can involve considerable management time for management that doesn't always understand what the standards mean, and that it places certification before actual quality. There are marketing benefits from having certification, but largely they tend to be for businesses working with other businesses. Does Joe or José Public appreciate them?

I can recall that when the Balearics' "Q" was introduced, several restaurant owners were dismissive of it. They saw it as just another way to get money off of them for no real benefit. You can still see the plaques around and about. Did those restaurants that weren't dismissive ever benefit? Questionable.

The new "Q" is a feather in Alcudiamar's cap, and more operations will doubtless go through the rigmarole in order to obtain the certification, but given the experiences with the Balearics' "Q" it must be open to doubt as to whether many will consider it to be worth the effort or worth the confusion of substituting an old "Q" with a new "Q".

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Playground Of The Rich? Mallorca's luxury tourism

The rich get richer and the tourism of the rich offers ever greater riches. Airtours, TUI's luxury tourism division, will be increasing the number of wealthy German tourists that it brings to Mallorca by 25% this year. As with the luxury property market - Engel & Völkers having recently issued positive forecasts for its German sales in the 4 to 8 million bracket - so luxury tourism refuses to succumb to the savaging of economic crisis.

Mallorca, despite competition from the likes of Sardinia, continues to hold an appeal to wealthy tourists, Germans in particular. The island is also benefiting from an increase in the niche gay luxury tourism market. The company Mallorca Luxury Gay has added a further element to its offer to gay tourists, that of high-quality dental treatment, in a bid to increase its market on the island for a tourism group that typically spends more significant amounts than the "straight" market.

Positive though this may seem, the luxury market, assuming one can arrive at an exact definition as to what it means, remains small. In Spain as a whole, according to a report in 2008, the luxury tourist, said to spend some 450 euros a day, was catered for by five-star accommodation that amounted to a mere 6% of all hotels. The spend equated to just over 7% of total tourism outlay.

One of the difficulties with increasing this market lies with the costs of creating the right type of hotel and of maintaining it. The prices that can be charged, high though they may be, do not necessarily result in high returns. The profitability of the luxury hotel, compared with other destinations, such as the Caribbean, is weighed down because it is simply that much more expensive to run it. This is exactly the same equation that dogs hotels' abilities to provide superior-quality all-inclusives such as those in Turkey where there are four individual categories of all-inclusive - from "classic" to "ultra class".

It is this price-quality-return conundrum which puts into some perspective the desire of the Mallorcan hotel federation to upgrade hotel stock. The luxury market may have deep pockets, but the market itself isn't so large that it can compensate for the investment needed to attract it. And there is a further issue, one that has to do with where these hotels are located.

To take an example, in Playa de Muro there are 33 hotels, three of which are five star and several more of which are excellent four star. An up-market image of hotels is not, despite a fine beach, matched by what else the resort has to offer, namely parts of it in a state of virtual abandonment and, with the greatest of respect, a lack of genuinely quality restaurants. Rather, you have an almost uniform offer of the standard "grill" and pizzeria.

The restaurants are caught in a dilemma. They may wish to invest, may wish to change their cuisine, but to what end? They have come to realise full well that the image of all-inclusive being exclusively for the economy-class tourist is something of a myth. It only partially applies in Playa de Muro, and in a wider context it is applying less and less; demand for all-inclusive within the higher, 4-star end of the market has increased and is likely to go on increasing if what exists outside hotels is unable to match this market's more sophisticated tastes, assuming that the hotels can actually deliver the required service. But do the restaurants adapt to try and capture this market when they fear that such effort will be undermined by the all-inclusive offer?

What is on offer in restaurants is, though, an important ingredient when it comes to the luxury market. All the attention that is paid to some of the "alternative" tourism offers, notably gastronomy and golf, is understandable if this market is to grow significantly. Both these are cited as important aspects of attracting the luxury market. In Playa de Muro, the obstacles to the building of the golf course on the Son Bosc finca are seen as detrimental to the expansion of the market.

Crucially, however, the question is whether this luxury market will grow significantly and whether the investment to make it grow will be matched by results. There is, and has long been, an element of wishful thinking, some of which is now being turned towards the nouveau riche of Russia and eastern Europe. Nevertheless, if TUI is increasing the number of its minted Germans, then there is cause for some gentle optimism.

The issue will be whether Mallorca has the quality of hotel and, as importantly, quality of resort to make anything like a quantum leap. And, as has been seen with Playa de Palma, the hoteliers, pressing for upgrades and the removal of bureaucratic hoops that would facilitate them, contradict themselves by insisting (not unreasonably) that the bread and butter remains the 3-star mass tourist.

And there is lurking perhaps an additional issue, a social one. Mention of Sardinia as a competitor to Mallorca in the luxury market is a reminder of what surfaced there back in 2008. Wealthy and celebrity tourists being greeted with barrages of wet sand and cries of "louts, go home" as their motorised dinghies came ashore.

Wealth is very welcome, but in times of deprivation, more of it, ostentatiously on show, does not guarantee a welcome.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Down In The Sewer: The rubbish corruption case

Here we go again. When I suggested that you shouldn't bet against the president of the Council of Mallorca offering a message about corruption at the end of 2011, I hadn't expected that a case would arise quite so quickly to support such a message. But it has.

Operación Cloaca. A cloaca is Latin for a sewer. Appropriate, you might think. "Cases of corruption keep coming to the surface with the regularity with which malodour filters out of a sewer cover." Hmm. This was what I said in "The Year Of Living Corruptly" (30 December).

The case involves allegations of false accounting in respect of waste-collection services across Mallorca. Implicated are businesspeople operating such services, the former director of waste management at the environment department of the Council of Mallorca and an economist and an engineer from the council.

The amount of money that is being said to have been "diverted" is staggering, anything up to 3.5 million euros, and the whole thing centres on what was going on at the waste-management division within the environment department at the council. The former councillor for environment was Catalina Julve, now the spokesperson for the Unió Mallorquina (UM) party.

There is an unfortunate familiarity about all this. The UM. One of those implicated, Simón Galmés, said to have charged a monthly 9,000 euros for work not undertaken, is a member of the Alianza Libre de Manacor-UM. It is also being said that, thanks to a friendship with Miguel Riera, the former mayor of Manacor and himself in the ALM-UM, Galmés's firm got the gig to be contracted to perform the inspection of waste. Riera, now no longer with us, was also the boss of the environment department before Julve. False invoices stopped being raised, it is further alleged, only once the UM was kicked out of governmental posts by the president of the regional government following the various corruption cases the party faced.

Of the various scandals that have erupted over the past couple of years, this one has the feeling of something different. It is less familiar in one respect. Though these scandals have involved the diversion of public funds, they have been at arm's length, away from ordinary householders and businesses.

This one is different because those ordinary householders and businesses pay taxes for waste collection and treatment. These taxes, that have risen significantly, are, not unnaturally, unpopular. And now we have a corruption case which suggests that a portion of the taxpayer's burden has gone directly into certain people's pockets. It brings it home - literally in this instance - the level of corruption and the extent to which it can affect any aspect of day-to-day living.

No one has been found guilty yet. But mud, or rubbish if you prefer, sticks. And as ever it is sticking to the UM. Here is a party that, following its expulsion, looked to try and re-invent itself and have done with the scandals that had attached themselves to it. However, it now has its spokesperson, in effect the number three in the party's current hierarchy, right in the firing-line.

It seemed inconceivable that the UM, discredited as it had been, could undergo a revival that might see it return to a position of power. Yet this has been happening. The doors had been opened once more to possible coalition government with Antich's socialists after this spring's elections. Had been. Perhaps it's time for them to be firmly shut.

And what of the electorate? Taxes, be they for rubbish or anything else, are an issue that plays with voters. They have a right to see that politicians don't play with their money, and if it is being played with, then those doing the playing need teaching a lesson. The elections are going to be difficult for the UM. And so they should be. They deserve nothing less. In fact, they deserve binning in the nearest container and waiting for the electoral rubbish collectors to come and dump them.

Any comments to please.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Making Peace With The Devil: Sant Antoni

The lights dim. The theatre is about to begin.

Trays of flames and pots of fire hanging from palm trees play shadows onto the brooding enormity of the church. Organ music, a phantom of the opera, a Hammer house of horrors, throbs menacingly. A disconnected voice, deep, sombre and threatening, a Vincent Price of Catalan, warns of "foc" and "dimonis" that await the "mureres". Then a sybil-like lullaby from within an aura of bright white and silver seeks to calm fears before ...

The fires crack into life, lit by spears of tridents. They explode, whizz and bang. Now it is the demons' time. The fire time. The spooks and ghouls are roaming, racing, pressing their grotesque faces into those of the innocent, the witnesses to this ritual, this paganism. They brandish their tridents, whirl them like hammer throwers in this Hammer horror, spitting burning rain.

Primal screams and spirits, awakened from a permanent living death, collide in this maelstrom caused by the most basic element, this hell of fire. Their horrid masks that glare unseeingly into the awed expressions of the innocent are looking nevertheless. They seek the innocents and find them, spiriting them away into their purgatorial, incendiary orgy.

The beating of drums. Incessant. Rhythmic. Calling out to the living to pass over into the world of the satanic majesty of the profane acolytes of the devil, calling them to jump, writhe and be blessed with the showers of accursed droplets of flame. An innocent is grabbed, he is taken, then another. And then others, entranced by the pulsation and the offers of fiery temptation, come forward and leap and dance under firefalls.

The children have been taken! They have become one with the demons. But have they? Some taunt the devils, mocking their horns, stabbing towards them, making them dance ever more and chase with their burning prongs. We are witnesses to this, but suddenly we look elsewhere. For the church is aflame.

From its towers tumble hailstones of white flamelets. As Muro church falls, so falls Muro church in sheets of sheer pureness, a purging and exorcism of the devilry below. The drums cease, the demons are still. It is over.

This was Muro on the eve of Sant Antoni, an intimate spectacular of Mallorcan tradition at its most extreme, its most bestial and its finest. There is more than just a slight sense of the macabre about Sant Antoni, a feeling of "The Wicker Man", of folkloric degeneracy. And Muro does it well, better perhaps than its neighbour Sa Pobla. The event is more confined, more focussed, but no less frightening.

Once the demons have gone, there is the folk music. And the "ballada popular" of all ages raising their arms and legs in the gentility of the ball de bot. Small children, older children, adults, young and old, all together, unashamedly moving in time to the chords of musicians, themselves of different generations, dancing in front of the church and town hall in a communal expression of tradition. These different generations, such as with the kids who dance with the demons. Can there be anything more magical, more imagination-inspiring than to jump around under the falling flames of the demons while the drummers beat? Can there be anything more determined than Sant Antoni to prolong local traditions?

The kids will want to be demons when they are older, they will want to be the musicians inspiring the ball de bot. It is perpetuation. Of tradition. You hope that it doesn't stop. The permanent living death of the demons of Sant Antoni is a permanency that is never disrupted as part of tradition.

And perhaps in older age, these kids might become "glosadors", such as the old woman with her frankly male-masturbatory style of penetrating her ximbomba instrument and issuing a most God-awful caterwaul as she relates some raunchy tale, incomprehensible to anyone but the most Mallorcan of aficionado. She is one of the side-shows of Sant Antoni, on one of the many squares that later give way to the less traditional - the rock, the indie, the hip-hop.

In this more contemporary vein, however, there is, at an event such as Muro's Sant Antoni Eve, the local television. IB3. They spoke to me but presumably didn't reckon on an interview that wasn't going to be given in Catalan. But they did film us. We Brits. With our sobrassadas being toasted on the embers of one of the fires in front of the church. Later, we had a beer in a bar by the church square, and there it was - coverage of Muro's Sant Antoni on the telly, replete with us, twelve, fourteen of us.

We didn't really count though. And that is the sadness of Sant Antoni. The most astonishing of the fiestas, but it is one for the Mallorcans. No one else.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Summer In January

In the days when there was such a thing as summer holidays, I used to have bad dreams prior to them; bad dreams of snow in summer. Winter in July. That was Bomb The Bass; perhaps they read my dreams.

There's a symmetry between this and summer in January. Six months between two months of J. The seasons turned upside down. It doesn't seem right, not least to one of the old men of the neighbourhood who was wandering by the beach. How was he? His reaction was spontaneous. It's never easy to deal with someone crying in the street. He must have been crying for six months now, since his wife passed away. It doesn't seem right. She should have died now. In the winter. Except it isn't.

Parked by the beach is a mobile home, a remnant of summer that shouldn't be there in January. There are anglers with their anorexic cranes strained by bait anchor and taut in the sand. A girl sits by the water's edge, reading and idly tossing posidonia kiwis into the idly lapping wavelets.

It's twenty degrees or so, but the chill water and air from the sea is the reminder that this isn't really summer. Once upon a time you used to be able to head into the dunes and find sand banks that were breaks against the dank air and which created sun traps. You still can, I guess, but they've roped them all off. They only want you to look now, not actually be a part of all this nature.

This is not unusual, this summer in January, this gentleness of the sea that allows one of the fishermen to wade out in search of a catch, this stillness of sky a rhapsodical blue above the tops of pines and palms. From the upper terrace, the one onto which it is impossible to venture in summer because of the ferocity of the heat, the wall obliterates everything apart from the peaks of trees and the sky. The sun burns, even in January.

The sounds are those of distant gunshot during the never-ending hunting season, of the buzzing of winter saws cutting into deadwood or making firewood. For over from where the gunshot comes, fires are being built on the streets of Sa Pobla and Muro, fires that will be lit and which which will light the sight of demons playing with their own fire. It seems incongruous that there should be fires. Not now, not when it is summer in January. But when the sun falls into the horizon of the eel farms of Albufera, the cold descends with the tumbling yellow, as though this were a desert.

The smoke will stay you feel, it will hang in the still air. There will be a kind of smog, because of the night and morning fogs that have crept in with stealth and cloaked the stillness of this eery winter-summer, which have wrapped the crystallised spiders' weaves around car wing mirrors, gates and leaves and which have added a rare sound - that of a fog horn belching across the bay of Alcúdia. The fogs clear but their dampness lingers. The sand, which is never absent from the streets and pavements but may be all but invisible, sticks to shoes, glued there by the wetness that tells you this isn't really summer.

There is other incongruity. It is the rogue mosquito at night, a fly or two whizzing in and out of an open door or window, a brown, decaying cricket that should now be dead but which has survived the suicide dive against a brick wall that it would have performed in October and November, wanting it to all end quickly. There is even the sound of scraping legs, buried in an unattended, holiday-home garden, in this late or is it early summer or spring, for the daffodils are shooting as well.

But in a few days, you imagine, it will be winter in January. It's not so unusual to have summer in January, this reverse of the bad dream of winter in July, just as it's not so unusual for the month to head towards a deathly cold and the reactivation of daytime wood burners and heaters which, for now, need only be fired up once the sun has set. And now, at around half past six, it has just about faded completely, leaving only the streaks of red and orange above Sa Pobla and Muro, the red and orange into which will flame different reds and oranges of the Sant Antoni fires.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Time Of Day: Working hours and productivity

Did you know that there is a national commission in Spain dedicated to the rationalisation of timetables (Comisión Nacional para la Racionalización de los Horarios Españoles)? Well, you do now.

The title is a bit misleading. This commission isn't concerned with the "horarios" of buses or trains but with working hours. It wants, among other things, to bring the Spanish working day into line with most of Europe. In other words, the siesta would go.

The commission does not seek to make working days longer (the Spaniards already, contrary to what might be thought, tend to work longer than most Europeans). What it does seek is greater productivity, and Spain's productivity is one of Europe's lowest. Longer hours do not mean more productivity, as anyone, bar the most macho of managers, can tell you.

If it has its way, the commission would apply greater conformity to the working day, with 9-5 becoming more of the norm insofar as it can be said to be the norm anywhere nowadays. It would also like Spain to switch back to Greenwich Mean Time (some sixty years after abandoning it), a move, it reckons, that would aid productivity. Not that it does in Portugal where productivity is lower still.

There are a number of reasons for low productivity, not all of them to do with the siesta and the afternoon break, but some specifically are - phone calls not being taken; erratic schedules for appointments to fit around the break; too much commuting (in effect, four rush hours a day); too much food and potentially too much sleep.

To these can be added more general problems of higher levels of absenteeism than in other countries; lack of punctuality; too much time spent on meetings which aren't necessarily meetings just excuses for a chat and often in a café; and too little sleep (although some might nod off into a deep sleep in the afternoon, which is not a good idea, most don't but also don't sleep enough at night).

While there may once have been a sound reason for the siesta, and still is for those engaged in farming or labouring, there is less justification for it in what is now an advanced economy. Within the public sector there has been some attempt to move towards a 9-5 regime; the Ministry of Public Administration, for instance, has encouraged these hours. But there has been only limited success, and there is also the fact that many public offices which close at one or two o'clock then don't re-open later.

Coming into line with how business operates in other European countries would not be the only advantage for a realignment of the working day. Another would be that it would meet the demands of changing lifestyles. It isn't only the British, the Germans and other northern Europeans who get frustrated by the afternoon break, so also do increasing numbers of Spaniards. A further advantage would be to attack what is still something of a bureaucratic culture within business, as opposed to an entrepreneurial one.

Playing around with hours and time is, however, something of a challenge for a society that treats time with such disregard. This is no more than the case than with "mediodía". Just as lunch is literally a movable feast - any time you want it to be really - so also is midday. The vagueness of Mallorcan and Spanish time is probably the greatest culture clash that a northern European has to contend with. Midday is hardly ever twelve o'clock, but an appointment may be made for "mediodía", the exact time of which is anyone's guess. And whether the appointment is actually met is another matter; often it will not be because one man's one o'clock is another man's two-thirty.

This vagueness also leads to the almost unknown concept of punctuality. The word exists - "puntualidad" - but few have ever learnt what it means. I once turned up for an appointment bang on nine in the evening, as had been the arrangement. "Muy puntual," was the surprised comment. "I am English," I responded only half-jokingly.

For nine to five to become normal practice would require a pretty major shift in behaviour and culture, and, as with everything else, there is a tradition to be preserved, the siesta most obviously.

The commission for timetables faces opposition, such as that from the National Association of Friends of the Siesta. And yes, there really is one, and in October last year it held its first siesta championship. Seriously, there was a competition to judge the best siesta-ist. The commission may want to rationalise hours, but it will never be able to rationalise the irrational.

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Flaming Ellipse: Plagiarism in Palma

Palma council has been placed in a highly embarrassing situation. The poster that is being used to promote its Sant Sebastià festivities includes a design that the council now accepts has been plagiarised. The design, which comprises a series of ellipse-shaped rings intertwined and superimposed onto others and coloured in shades of red and yellow to denote flames, bears a very strong resemblance to one created by a designer called David Yerga and which was used to promote the "Falles" fiestas in Valencia last year.

The council set up a competition for the poster design. The winner receives a prize of 3,000 euros, which will now not be forthcoming. Yerga is demanding the same amount as compensation. He has also insisted that the poster be withdrawn and that unless the council complies he will seek legal redress. The council, for its part, has said that it cannot now withdraw the poster and has also said that it was in no position to be able to judge if designs were original works or had potentially violated intellectual property.

Without knowing the ins and outs of the terms of its competition, it might be argued that, as the "client", the council did have a responsibility to ensure that it was at least protected from any claim. There has been some chatter on the internet about this case to the effect that the council should have been aware of the Valencia design - they're all "Catalans" after all. This seems a bit harsh, but the council may now wish that there had been greater diligence.

Moving from the specifics of this case, it is not exactly unknown for designs to look similar. Often they are knowingly similar, but not always. As with music, there are always influences. Indeed with music, it might be argued that there is no such thing as originality any longer, just degrees of copying, conscious or not.

In creative endeavour, however, plagiarism, or allegations of it, can be highly destructive. It can kill careers stone dead, and the student who did the Palma design may come to regret what she put forward for the competition. It is also inherently lazy and runs counter to the very notion of creativity in the sense that this means originality (or as near as this can be achieved nowadays).

While borrowing ideas is commonplace, to look to effectively pass off something as one's own when it isn't is an abrogation of the creative impulse. It's why plagiarism is so frowned upon. Call yourself an artist when you nick another's painting; call yourself a writer when you lift another's words. It makes no sense. If you are involved in creative endeavour, you want to paint your own pictures, write your own words. What's the point of doing it if you don't?

There have been examples of plagiarism in its written format, ones with a Mallorcan context. Take that of the well-known journalist with a leading UK tabloid who used more or less verbatim a description of Puerto Pollensa that came from the home page of What on earth was she thinking of? The conclusion I drew was that she hadn't actually been to Puerto Pollensa but needed some copy. It would be instructive to know what she was paid.

Resort to the internet, be it for design works, photography or texts may be about working smart, but to take whole tracts of text or take photos and make them appear as your own verges on betrayal. Betrayal of the creative endeavour, of whatever profession may be involved and of the audience. I don't get it, and no more do I not get it than with grabbing from Wikipedia and other sites and reproducing word for word. If you write, you write. In your own words, not with those of someone else.

In Mallorca, as in Spain and as in the rest of the European Union, there is a clear enough law on copyright. It means that everything you do which is creative, be it written, designed, photographed, whatever, is your property. It may sometimes be difficult to prove, but the law exists nonetheless. But in Mallorca there can at times be a rather lax attitude. It's one I know only too well, having found my photos or designs reproduced somewhere without permission. It's an attitude which, when confronted, can receive a shrug of the shoulders or a look of bewilderment that anyone might suggest that something wrong had been done.

David Yerga needs to be congratulated. If a high-profile case of plagiarism can help to convince firstly councils that they need to be rather more thorough with their compliance and secondly a wider public that there is such a thing as copyright, then he will have performed a great service.

Go here to see the two designs:

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Space Monsters Ate My Atmosphere

One of my nieces is an animator. She makes models that are transformed through computer-generated imagery. She has a penchant for strange, Gerald Scarfe-like grotesques that inhabit an alternative world of the weird. I have an idea for her. Creatures with mushroom heads, thin, skeletal torsos and one tree-trunk-thick leg. These would lumber across landscapes, terrorising man and environment alike with their noxious fumes which consume air and the atmosphere. These monsters would be the Space Eaters.

One impact of the smoking ban has been that the sale of heating units for terraces has shot up. Space heaters have been common enough in bars and restaurants, but suppliers have been recording record sales as owners look to keep their clientele warm while they smoke.

Is there anything quite as ridiculous as heating outdoor air? This, let's call it the "batty proposition", is one argument against space heaters. But heating outdoor space has long been with us. Bonfires, braziers, no one ever objected unless they were being set fire to. The difference with the space heater is that it is environmentally harmful. Supposedly.

Space heaters have been around for years. The Germans, for example, have used them to warm Munich beer drinkers and Glühwein imbibers at Christmas markets since the 50s. In the UK, they were a rarity, only coming into vogue in the late 90s before being elevated into the position of number-one environmental killer thanks to the UK's own smoking ban.

The side effect of all the legislation aimed at driving smokers outside was that previously unknown carbon emissions started wafting into the atmosphere and onto the radars of environmental groups and tree-hugging politicians. Friends of the Earth leapt to the defence of the environment, earholed a Liberal Democrat MEP and, bingo, the European Parliament agreed to ban space heaters, in that it agreed with a report that was to form the basis of guiding decisions by member countries.

This was in 2008 though and bans, were they to be introduced, have yet to be implemented. But don't discount them being so. If something can be banned, then politicians will find a way of getting it banned.

Inevitably, sides have been taken in the space-heater debate, which has been warming up nicely since Brussels and Strasbourg started to stoke the fire.

An average heater uses the same amount of energy as a gas hob would use in six months and produces 50 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually, said the UK's Energy Saving Trust. No, it produces less, said Calor Gas: 35 kgs. Compare this with the average 3000kgs from a car, said someone else. The overall impact of heaters on emissions was minimal, said an Eric Johnson from the UN's Convention on Climate Change: less than plasma TVs, for example. Electric outdoor heaters have greater carbon burdens than the usual gas ones, said a report for the UK Government's sustainable energy policy, but can be more efficient as they provide focussed heat.

So, round and round the debate goes. Locally, I am unaware of enviro watchdogs having had their centimo's worth, but it can only be a matter of time if they haven't. GOB will surely come to the aid of the environmental party, but I wonder how many GOB-ists take a coffee on a space-heated terrace. Perhaps they don't indulge in such a past-time because to do so would be environmentally incorrect as coffee plantations are destructive of Brazilian or Kenyan eco-systems and the greenhouse effect of a bar's coffee machine is equivalent to the warming caused by all the methane from the dung of the entire wildebeest population of sub-Saharan Africa. Or something like this.

There is apparently a law covering heaters, one which says that they must be movable and can only be used during winter months. Which sounds like the bleeding obvious. But it also says that they should be used for only four months. Really? This is the first I've heard of this, but it comes from one of the many reports that have appeared in the local media regarding the sudden growth in space-heater sales.

For the time being though, and until any definitive moves to put a stop to space heaters, smokers and others can be kept warm on open-air terraces. But the Space Eater monsters' days may be numbered, because, as Friends of the Earth have said, there should be a ban on "these carbon-belching monstrosities".

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Stars In Their Eyes: Hotels' strategy

Mallorca's hotel federation has pronounced once more. Ahead of the local elections, it has sent out a clear message to the to-be-newly elected that "bold and strategic" measures need to be adopted to tackle the island's tourism.

Bold and strategic. Fine words. The question is whether there is anyone capable of being bold or acting strategically. Don't bank on the political classes offering such a paragon of tourism virtue. They don't have a great track record in doing so.

The federation has identified a fundamental problem with Mallorca's tourism. Or perhaps they have borrowed it. The federation says that over the period 2000 to 2008 the number of tourists increased by nearly 22% yet the level of revenue generated went up by a mere 2.3%. Where have we heard something similar? Ah yes, the other day. Dr. Ivan Murray and his findings on the diminishing returns of tourism since 2003.

The solution, says the federation, is for there to be ever more tourists, the trouble with this being that at the current rates of growth it makes little sense. If revenue goes up only slightly, but the number of tourists increases dramatically, then how can there be a benefit? In order for there to be so, the federation believes in the replacement of obsolete accommodation by superior-grade hotels which would result in greater revenues. As an indication of what it is referring to, you need look no further than the situation in Calvia. Seven out of ten hotels in the municipality are 35 years or older, and three-quarters of the places in the hotels are between one and three-star.

Grand plans for the regeneration of Mallorca's hotels and tourism are nothing new. If you go back to the 80s and then into the 90s, plans were popping up from drawing-boards on an almost annual basis. One of the first was the "decreto Cladera" of 1984 that determined the square meterage per one tourism bed. Later there was the "plan for tourism resort embellishment" (making resorts looks prettier in other words). Then there was Ecomost, which sought to establish the limit as to the number of tourists; the "D" Plan of 1997 to address seasonality; the hotel accommodation modernisation plan of the 90s under which hotels could have been closed down if they did not comply with upgrades (and many managed to somehow slip through the net); the modernisation of complementary supply (bars and restaurants) of 1996.

What all these had in common was that they were drawn up in a period before the onset of the new competition from the eastern Mediterranean. Then the new century began and brought in what we now discover, that, for all those plans, the number of tourists has increased but the money they bring in has barely increased at all.

And of these plans, notably the hotel modernisation plan and that for tackling seasonality, were particularly unsuccesful. Furthermore, they both prove that there is nothing new under the sun, as they are but two issues that plague Mallorca's ability to operate in the far more competitive tourism market of today.

Nevertheless, the hotels seem determined to modernise, which is fine, but then what? If this results in higher-grade all-inclusives, then not a great deal. It may lead to an increase in revenue, but revenue for whom? As we know from the idiotic tourism spend statistics, the gearing is towards revenue generated by aspects of the tourism offer which filter only indirectly into the wider economy; it is that on accommodation, the holiday package itself and transport.

More fundamentally though, the desire, the need to increase the number of tourists raises enormous questions as to the capacity-carrying ability of the island (whether it has the resources to support increases), as to possible further building developments (for the most part restricted by planning laws) and as to where the tourists will come from. The new markets, Russia and so on, are going to have to be pursued with considerable vigour.

Getting more tourists cannot be just about adding more during the summer. There has to be a limit to the number of tourists which can be catered for during the summer months. Moreover, creating plusher hotels adds to the current absurdity of so many of them being unproductive for such lengthy periods. Which brings in the question of seasonality. And it is here, more than anything, that an ability to deliver on a strategy, let alone develop one, is exposed.

You can go back further than that "D" Plan of 1997. In the 1980s they were planning the development of "winter products". Guess what they were. You're right: cycling, golf, culture.

The point is that when it comes to being bold and strategic, we've been here before. Several times. And it amounted to very little, even in the days before Turkey, Croatia and Egypt became the threats they now are. You wouldn't count on it being any better this time round.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Keep The Home Fires Burning

Around this time of the year, in the spirit of the traditions of January's fiestas, I uphold my own tradition, one that I share with others. It is the tradition of asking why on earth more is not made of these fiestas. I think I might have the answer. They - the great, anonymous "they" of tourism promotion - don't want to make more of them. They want them for themselves.

This, at least, is the conclusion you have to draw. And as with the fiestas, so also anything else that occurs. Take the Winter in Mallorca programme. I popped into my local, friendly tourist office the other day. Did they have a copy of the January programme? Not as such. None had been delivered, as indeed none had been delivered in December. Notwithstanding the fact that a call to whoever "they" are to ask if some might be delivered seemed not to have been considered, for a tourist office that happens to be open to be overlooked during the distribution run says much for a - how to put it - uncoordinated approach to information dissemination.

And it's not much better on the internet, a medium which, in these times of spondoolex shortage, offers the advantage of not having to cough up for Mallorca's overpriced print bills. "" was volunteered as a source of information for the Winter in Mallorca programme. Sorry, but it isn't. One thing it has is a calendar of "touristic agenda". What does this have? Well, nothing about the fiestas for starters. And nothing about the programme either. Helpfully it does let us know that there are weekly markets in Valldemossa and Ariany. Why? Or rather, why these two and none of the others? Anyone got any sensible suggestions? I'm damned if I can think of any.

"" was the other recommendation. I already knew the answer, but double-checked. There is a link, a link to complete gobbledegook. Fat lot of use.

Oh well, let's forget Winter in Mallorca. It seems as though "they" have, so why should I worry? But there are still the fiestas. Fiestas which are not any old fiestas. Antoni and Sebastià. Sa Pobla, the main centre of Antoni celebrations, and Palma, for Sebastià, to which the whole island descends. Trouble is that no one else much does.

It remains a mystery to me why, given the proximity in time of Antony and Sebastian and their undoubtedly spectacular content, they are not afforded some prominence in encouraging a January tourist. A two-centre fiesta that has the bonus of spreading things about and not being only Palma-centric.

Let's take Sebastian. Three years ago this fiesta began to take shape as an event with international content. Admittedly this was a rump Electric Light Orchestra sans Jeff Lynne who had to step in to replace Earth Wind & Fire who turned out not to be Earth Wind & Fire and didn't turn up, but then there were also Echo And The Bunnymen. Following what was a highly successful Sebastian fiesta, Palma council admitted that more needed to be done to attract an international audience for the concerts and the fire spectacular.

So what happened? Nothing. Instead the following year the acts were solidly local. "Ultima Hora" laid into the event big time, criticising the organisation, criticising the organisers for not knowing what the people wanted, criticising the lack of international acts, criticising the lower quality than in previous years. Economic straitened times might well have been the excuse, but another way of looking at it, despite the expression of good international intentions the previous year, was that they couldn't be bothered. Couldn't be bothered because, well, it's our fiesta, isn't it. Ours as in Mallorcan.

This is what you do have to start to conclude. And it is a conclusion that doesn't apply solely to Antony and Sebastian, it applies to fiestas as a whole. Yet these are at the heart of all the culture garbage that "they" trot out; they are the one aspect of culture that really does mean something to a visitor. Or would do were they given far greater prominence. But they are not. Even the summer fiestas are essentially add-ons; they do not form a focal point for promotion. And then you have the problem as to whether you can find any information or, where you can, if it is not released at too short a notice.

The fires and demons of Antoni, the bands and fire spectacular of Sebastià. Fabulous events. But we'll keep them to ourselves, thanks very much. We'll keep the home fires burning - so long as they stay at home.

Any comments to please.