Monday, February 28, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Action against the botellón in Palma

Palma town hall has today introduced by-laws to try and curb street-drinking parties. The "botellón" has long been an issue of concern on account of noise and mess as well as under-age drinking. The town hall's order will expressly prohibit the drinking of alcohol in the streets by minors and will also seek to place parts of the city off-limits to gatherings for such parties.

MALLORCA TODAY - Fire at Santa Ponsa hotel

A fire, that originated in the kitchens, has led to the evacuation of 300 guests from the hotel Rey Don Jaime in Santa Ponsa. The fire, which occurred at lunchtime, has left two employees requiring treatment for smoke inhalation.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 February 2011

At 10.00, temperature - 9.6 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 8.9 C in Pollensa and 11.6 C in Puerto Pollensa. A bright but quite chilly start. There is a high probability of further rain today.

Today's maximums through to 18.00 - Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 12.2 C; Pollensa, 11.0 C; Puerto Pollensa, 11.9 C. No rain anywhere.

I'm A Celebrity Lawyer, Get Me An Interview

In Britain, as a rule, judges and lawyers don't become celebrities. There have been notable exceptions - Lords Scarman and Denning, James Pickles, Michael Mansfield, John Mortimer - but for the most part the legal world keeps its head down and out of the limelight.

It's not quite the same in other countries. Spain, for example. This is due in no small part to a different legal system of prosecuting judges. These judges, such as Baltasar Garzón, the subject now of a documentary film, as well as prosecutors, are firmly in the public eye. When the corruption scandals erupt in Mallorca, as they do on an almost daily basis, the media is full of photos of prosecutors entering or exiting whichever premises are being raided and searched or entering or exiting court buildings. Because also of a Spanish system whereby prosecutions can be sought outside Spanish territory - Garzón it was who issued the warrant for Chile's former dictator General Pinochet and who has also looked at prosecuting US officials for alleged torture - judges and prosecutors become their own news stories.

And because also of international courts, a breed of lawyer has flourished, one that takes up cases on behalf of all manner of strange people and one that also seeks warrants for other strange people.

Giovanni di Stefano is one of the best-known of these international lawyers. Italian, but brought up in England, he has been in the news since his arrest in Palma following the issuing of a warrant by City of London Police. So much has he been in the news that his photo - usually the same one of him in a Palma hospital where he was being treated for cancer - has appeared regularly in the press over the past week or so. He has featured heavily in "The Bulletin". Yesterday, the paper ran an interview - of sorts - with Di Stefano.

It was interesting in that it highlighted some of the people with whom Di Stefano has fraternised (albeit the information is available elsewhere, such as on Wikipedia). It was also interesting in what it didn't say or ask and why; it was, for example, more or less silent as to his own background, one that includes charges of fraud.

The main publicity surrounding Di Stefano at present, other than his anticipated extradition to England, is that he has said that he intends to have a warrant issued for the arrest of Tony Blair. It is this, one imagines, that makes him of particular interest to an English-speaking paper in Mallorca.

In the so-called interview, which might have been better described as a soliloquy, other than references to Blair and his alleged war crimes, he slags off Britain (fair enough, anyone's well entitled to do this) and mentions not just the fact that he believes Charles Manson was not a killer but also his friendships with Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian warlord Arkan. Everyone is entitled to a legal defence, but the company Di Stefano has kept has not made him everyone's favourite and cuddliest lawyer.

He was also a friend of James Goldsmith (curiously styled in double apostrophes in the paper - "Jimmy Goldsmith"). Is this any coincidence, given that Goldsmith was notoriously litigious and an unabashed publicity-seeker? And you feel that Di Stefano is cut from similar cloth. He may well have a strong defence against charges against him in England, he may well be right in that these charges are politically motivated, and he may well be using the press to proclaim this defence, but in all of it, you detect a lack of balance. You are getting his views, and his alone.

Take his background. Fraud charges he has faced are glossed over. This is not, in other words, a study of the man, but a promotional exercise by someone who has defended some thoroughly unpleasant people. There is more than just a whiff of willing manipulation about the interview, which isn't really an interview, as he has not been pressed on anything, such as his background. Nor has he been challenged as to any moral issues with regard to the likes of Saddam or taken to task for believing that Manson was misunderstood.

What comes out of this is probably not what Di Stefano might have wanted. Because it is just a mouthpiece for him, sympathy evaporates. His desire to indict Blair is one that many might share, and there might also be many who agree with him that new charges of fraud and money-laundering in England do smack of political motives, but rather than garnering support, he loses it. A combination of his "friends", unquestioning inquiry on behalf of the interviewer and a sense of a perversely deliberate but at the same time capricious maverickism on behalf of the interviewee leaves a less-than-attractive impression of Di Stefano.

Celebrity judges and celebrity lawyers may cultivate their own PR, but one wonders if they might not be better served either keeping quiet or employing someone to do the PR for them. Max Clifford for Di Stefano? Hmm, there's a thought.

Any comments to please.

Index for February 2011
Airlines, winter flights and - 14 February 2011
Alcúdia's golf course and history - 1 February 2011
Balearics Day, regional autonomy and - 27 February 2011
Can Picafort, road works in - 18 February 2011
Carnival in Mallorca - 15 February 2011
Census and electoral roll - 7 February 2011
Chopin's cell at Valldemossa - 4 February 2011
Commodity price rises - 17 February 2011
Compensation claims by British holidaymakers - 22 February 2011
Coup attempt 30th anniversary - 23 February 2011
Demons, fire-runs and health and safety - 13 February 2011
Easter and hotels opening - 10 February 2011
Educational standards in Mallorca - 16 February 2011
Fines: black economy, rentals, driving - 9 February 2011
Gaffes, tourism advertising - 19 February 2011
Giovanni di Stefano - 28 February 2011
Hairdressing salons - 26 February 2011
Jaume Font leaves the Partido Popular - 5 February 2011
Mad Dogs, The Inbetweeners and television tourism - 20 February 2011
Market positioning, Mallorca and - 3 February 2011
Nightlife, youth tourists and - 8 February 2011
Nueva Rumasa facing bankruptcy - 21 February 2011
Public decency - 6 February 2011
Puerto Pollensa, public works in - 11 February 2011
Rosa Estarás and Pula Golf - 2 February 2011
Sistema Integral de Calidad Turística en Destinos - 25 February 2011
Vote purchasing allegations - 24 February 2011
Zapatero and Spanish recovery - 12 February 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - New socialist party for Pollensa

Members of the PSOE socialist party in Pollensa, unhappy with the party, which is in coalition with the ruling Unió Mallorquina at the town hall, have decided to form their own party - PSIP, the Partit Socialista Independent de Pollença - which will partake in the local elections on 22 May.

MALLORCA TODAY - Tourist police numbers down in 2011

The number of tourist police in the Balearics this coming summer will be reduced by 20 - to 277 in total. The reason is of course cost, the individual town halls having to cover 25% of salaries. While some towns have managed to keep the same level of police officers as last season, one, Muro, will not have any. Alcúdia will have ten, and Pollensa eight.

MALLORCA TODAY - Font creates alliance of independent parties

Jaume Font, the ex-member of the Partido Popular who has formed his own party, Lliga Regionalista de les Illes Balears, has entered an alliance with other independents on the island to fight elections in various municipalities in May. Included in this alliance are +Acció per Campos, the party of the former Unió Mallorquina mayor of Campos, Guillem Ginard, and the Aliança per Muro.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 February 2011

At 09.30, temperature - 9.6 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 9.1 C in Pollensa and 10.1 C in Puerto Pollensa. Temperatures have fallen two degrees in less than an hour. Heavy rainfalls and strong winds; strongest gusts at present in Alcúdia at 51kph.

Afternoon - brightening skies but cold. At 16.00, Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 9.0 C, 14.5mm rain; Pollensa, 7.6 C, 20mm rain; Puerto Pollensa, 9.7 C, 12.4mm rain. Wind has died down to negligible.

Picnic At Hanging Rock: Balearics Day celebrations

Tuesday will be a public holiday in the Balearics. 1 March is Balearics Day. It commemorates the establishment of regional autonomy in the islands. In gestures symbolic of what many decry as a lack of urgency and a propensity for inertia in the Balearics, everywhere will be shut. Oh come on, be fair, there hasn't been a public holiday for a few weeks, and it's ages until Easter.

Official autonomy is 28 years old, 28 years of a degree of self-government which the Balearics enjoy, along with the other 16 regions of Spain and the African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The autonomy of the regions has given Spain arguably the most decentralised system of government in Europe. It is one that was created as a buffer to both separatism and extreme-right centralism. This may have been the idealistic theory, but it hasn't stopped either of these competing objectives being pursued. The granting of autonomy may also have been a means of making democracy ever more local, but it hasn't stopped the democratic process being undermined by the prevalence of corruption, and not only in the Balearics.

A year older, but not a year wiser. On Balearics Day 2010, President Antich's address included an apology for the corruption that was abroad in the islands, predominantly in Mallorca. He had sought a remedy, that of removing his party's coalition partners, the Unió Mallorquina party, from government. A year on, what can he say now? The UM is in political exile from government, but it continues to be cast as the most rotten of the apples in the far from ripely sweet barrel of Mallorca's politics. The latest scandal to rock the UM, the operation monikered "Picnic" by the anti-corruption forces, sours the celebrations of the Balearics Day anniversary, turns them into a picnic at the hanging rock for discredited politicians.

Antich has no need to apologise this year for the actions of the UM. It's not his party. Perhaps he should apologise for the corruption of the body politic as a whole, but contrition should be unnecessary. He, as much as innocent citizens who try to lead honest existences in the face of endemic dishonesty, is as much a victim of a societal malaise that allows the virus of corruption to insinuate itself into every organ of the Mallorcan body.

The UM is the most visible source of scandal, and it is also the most visible of the political organisations that autonomy spawned. It was born out of the drive to regionalism, having been formed in 1982, a year before autonomy. Its benign nationalism, mixed with a centrist, pro-business philosophy, seemed well-conceived. It still is, but it has been undone by the party having been exposed as ultimately self-serving. Its belief that a change in logo could distance itself from court hearings involving party grandees has been revealed as idiotic. It now contemplates a name change as a way of making it appear whiter than the black of envelopes stashed with cash of the past: a rose thorn by any other name.

If the responsibility for correct behaviour that was meant to come with autonomy has been hard to deliver, the buffers to the polarities of separatism and centralism have begun to come under pressure. Catalonian ambitions for independence and a more assertive Catalanism have impelled the nationalist parties of the UM and the PSM (Mallorcan socialists), together with other parties to the left, towards a clearer separatist agenda. Against this, there is the greater Spanishness of the right, one of the Partido Popular and the UPyD (Unión Progreso y Democracia), while into the mix, from different ends of the spectrum, have emerged a more militant and radicalised Catalanism as well as a far-right, neo-fascist centralism.

28 years of autonomy, and the regional organisation of government is under great discussion and strain, and not just within the Balearics. The Zapatero government has raised doubts about regionalism, not on political grounds per se but because of the cost. The Partido Popular, through both its current leader Mariano Rajoy and his predecessor José María Aznar, have made it more of a specifically political and constitutional issue, Aznar having gone so far as to suggest that the current system of autonomy is not viable. He has railed against what he calls regions' pretensions to become "micro-states".

It is against the background, therefore, of democracy-weakening corruption, of the tensions of state versus separatism and of national parties' doubts that Balearics Day takes place. The regional government has expected 40,000 people to participate in celebratory events from Friday until 1 March, and no doubt they will have. But celebrating what exactly? The Balearics region is something of an artifice as it is. Pride, identity reside more within the individual islands rather than with the archipelago. Yet there was, in 1983, pride in and passion for autonomy, an expression of a new model of political self-determination that had been considered in the years before the Civil War but which didn't come to pass. Pride has subsequently been diminished by misbehaviour; passion supplanted by a rising radicalism.

28 years of autonomy, and the cracks are there. They are the fissures, the gorges of the eroding rock of regionalism over which the threesome of the celebrators, the corrupt and the politicians clamber. In the story and film of the hanging rock, three disappeared. On Balearics Day, you wonder what might disappear. Whither autonomy?

Any comments to please.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Real Mallorca 0 : 3 Barcelona

Totally out-passed by the La Liga leaders, Real Mallorca slumped to a defeat against Barcelona through goals from Lionel Messi with a header in the 38th minute, David Villa with a left-foot finish in the 57th, Pedro in the 66th minute, thanks to Keita's second assist of the match. The defeat leaves Mallorca in eleventh spot, seven points and positions above the drop zone.

Real Mallorca:
Aoaute; Cendros, Nunes, Rubén, Ayoze; Joao Victor (sub: Pereira, 60), Marti (yellow card for protesting, 58), De Guzman (sub: Tejera, 71), Chori Castro (sub: Aki, 69); Nsue, Webo.

Pinto; Adriano (sub: Montoya, 85), Piqué, Abidal, Maxwell; Busquets, Keita, Iniesta; Pedro (sub: Afellay, 70), Messi, Villa (sub: Bojan Krkic, 70).

MALLORCA TODAY - Call for island councils to be abolished

The UPyD (Unión Progreso y Democracia), a party which was formed nationally in 2007 and which has only made its presence felt in Mallorca quite recently, has called for the councils in the Balearics, such as the Council of Mallorca, to be scrapped. This is on account of a lack of transparency and of the duplication in bureaucracy and public administration that they represent. (I have, on several occasions, drawn into question the purpose of the Council of Mallorca, suggesting its abolition or that its responsibilities be reduced significantly.)

MALLORCA TODAY - Costs of the new motorway speed limit

The Spanish Government decision to cut the motorway speed limit to 110kph from 7 March should save 1,400 million euros per annum. Set against this, the cost of changing signs, at 250,000 euros, is very little. There is, though, the issue of adjusting speed cameras, most of which are not, as yet, fully operational in Mallorca. Though meant to be a temporary measure, the saving which is claimed makes one wonder if this might become permanent. The new signs will, though, be temporary; just stuck on over existing ones.

MALLORCA TODAY - General Armada and the 1981 coup attempt

For anyone interested in the background to the failed coup attempt of 1981, the paper "El País" has been running interviews - in English - with some key figures. Go to the link below to see what General Alfonso Armada, said to have been one of the main instigators of the coup attempt, has to say. It's fascinating stuff.

MALLORCA TODAY - Operación Picnic and the Unió Mallorquina raids

Yesterday's raids on the headquarters of the Unió Mallorquina party and the IMFOF (the municipal institute in Palma for occupational development) have led to three people being arrested thus far. The police searches, under the supervision of a judge and anti-corruption prosecutors, were made primarily in relation to allegations of irregularities in obtaining votes with public money. This latest operation is called Picnic on account of free excursions that were given to those who signed up to an affiliation to the party. The excursions and picnics that were offered were allegedly paid for out of public funds, while they were organised through the environment department of Palma town hall.

The UM, which has been the subject of several recent corruption cases, had hoped to put the past behind it. The party had tried to change its image cosmetically by adopting a new logo. It had ruled out a new name, but this, in light of Operación Picnic, seems more likely, and an urgent meeting to discuss a name change has been called for Monday.

MALLORCA TODAY - European residents centre proposed

The candidate for the post of mayor in Calvia for the Unió Mallorquina party is proposing that a house in Costa de la Calma become a centre for European residents. The centre would be multi-cultural and be there to help to resolve problems and also to promote aspects of Mallorcan life, such as the learning of Catalan.

MALLORCA TODAY - Easter airports' strike threat

The privatisation of AENA, the national airports agency, is getting under way, the Spanish Government having created a new company (Aena Aeropuertos) into which will pass control of airports. The process of privatisation will start with control towers at 13 airports this April. The rest of the process, which covers 47 airports, will be effected in 2012.

The unions are planning demonstrations today against privatisation and are also threatening a strike over Easter, negotiations seemingly having broken down with the transport ministry.

MALLORCA TODAY - Sale of cigarettes down dramatically

Figures for the first month of cigarette sales since the smoking ban was introduced at the start of January show a massive drop - 32% lower sales in January compared with December. The figures are for Spain as a whole.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 February 2011

At 09.00, temperature - 10.0 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 10.6 C in Pollensa and 12.5 C in Puerto Pollensa. Overcast, but high cloud. High probability for rain tomorrow, with temperatures unlikely to rise above 14 C for the next few days.

The meteorological office is forecasting snow for tomorrow, but only as low as 900 metres. Winds will pick up and there will be a chance of thunder and lightning.

Highs today to 17:00 - Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 14.9 C; Pollensa, 14.6 C; Puerto Pollensa, 14.4 C. Warm and sunny intervals have given way to the same high cloud cover of the morning.

Cuts And Blows ... To Mallorca's Hairdressers

"Where are you going on your holidays?"

Is it the case that, when studying for a hairdressing NVQ in Britain, there is a specific module known as the snipper small talk? The holiday question may be a cliché, but it happens to be true. So true and so equated with holidays is the trip to the hairdresser, that salons the length and breadth of Britain are missing a business opportunity. They could double as travel agencies or be the promotional mouthpieces for tourism boards.

"Cut and blow, sir? It's brought you to today by our sponsors, the Balearics tourism agency."

Rather than staring gormlessly into the mirror and having to field the holiday question, why not let the client watch a bit of promotional telly. Wheel a monitor in front of him or her and play the latest advert for Mallorca. Oh, sorry, forgot, there isn't one. But you get the idea.

Whether Mallorca's hairdressers would reciprocate and show films of Anne Hathaway's cottage and the Norfolk Broads might be doubtful, but they need to sharpen up their scissors and their act a bit. Times are hard among the perm and set fraternities and sororities.

The island's hairdressers' guild is concerned as to the fate of the traditional hairdressing salon. Illegal operators, low-cost franchises and the Chinese - always the Chinese - are undermining salons. A crisis in the sector took hold strongly last year and shows no sign of abating.

A further reason why salons might be having a hard time of it is that there are too many of them. A bit like estate agencies which open up on the back of clients that an individual estate agent takes with him, so hairdressing salons open thanks to those clients who always insist that so-and-so does their hair. Unlike estate agencies, however, there is still a hands-on demand for the service. You can't, as yet, get a hair cut via the internet, but you can buy a house. There always were far too many estate agencies in Mallorca, many of them now closed because of crisis. Similarly, despite the necessity of the hair cut, the proliferation of salons is being trimmed.

Mention of the low-cost franchises is pertinent. Unfortunately for the traditional hairdresser, someone's come up with the idea of a bit of competition. Perish the thought that you should be able to get your barnet cut for under a tenner, but you can. Thanks to the franchises. They may be more like discos than a hairdresser, they may be all black and white style, down to the broom and brushpan, but they are that rare of beasts - value for money.

And mention of the Chinese is also pertinent. Not because of low-cost hairdressing. Quite the reverse. In Hong Kong, the tourism board there has accredited various salons as part of its "quality tourism services". The cost of a hair cut can be anything up to a thousand Hong Kong dollars. Ten per cent of one salon chain's business is from tourism.

In the Hong Kong case, a fair proportion of the tourism clientele is from mainland China, at around half of the 10%. Yes it's a very different market, but rather than hairdressing being treated as a cheap commodity, a luxury end of the market is thriving. And there is, where Mallorca might be concerned, the Chinese tourist as well as any others who could indulge in a spot of hairdressing tourism.

I may have been sceptical about the potential for Chinese tourism, but recent figures indicate not just the growing size of the Chinese market in Spain but also what it spends. In 2010, the market grew by 22%. The total number of Chinese tourists was 102,000. And these tourists, on average, spent 2,000 euros per person. One does, as always, have to be wary about this sort of data, but what seems irrefutable is the fact that the Chinese are among the highest-spending of all tourist groups, if not the highest-spending along with the Russians, and that they will typically purchase quality products, such as jewellery and watches.

This may not represent potential salvation for the traditional Mallorcan salon, but it may, along with the Hong Kong experience of high-value hairdressing, be a different type of opportunity for the island's hairdressers, a type of tourism directed at the high-net-worth sector, and not just the Chinese. Though if the Chinese were to be a factor, then the hairdressers of the island would need to take some lessons. How do you ask where you are going on your holidays in Chinese? Not that they would need to, as they would already be on their holidays.

Any comments to please.

Friday, February 25, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Is this the end for the Son Bosc golf course?

The regional government has today approved the amplification of an order in respect of the protection of birds, applied to the Albufera nature park, so that it also embraces the adjoining Son Bosc finca, site of the controversial Muro golf course, work on which has been suspended for some months. Environment minister Gabriel Vicens believes that, though "everything can be modified", a future Partido Popular-led government (one that is likely to be voted in in May this year) will find it hard to annul this provision. Does this mean the end of Son Bosc? You wouldn't bet on it.

MALLORCA TODAY - Civil christenings in Pollensa

Pollensa town hall has approved a proposal under which residents can celebrate civil christening ceremonies. The proposal would not replace religious ceremonies, but it gives non-religious parents the possibility to arrange christenings which will be conducted under the auspices of the town hall.

MALLORCA TODAY - Motorway maximum speed to be cut

In an effort to save petrol, the Spanish Government has introduced a lowering of the speed limit on motorways. From 7 March, this will be down to 110 kilometres per hour. Through this measure, the government hopes, there will be a 15% saving in petrol consumption. It is intended to be temporary, but much will depend upon the situation with oil supply from north Africa.

MALLORCA TODAY - Police search Unió Mallorquina headquarters

A police operation is underway this morning at the headquarters of the Unió Mallorquina party. The search is in connection with alleged irregularities related to the financing of the party and to voting at the last local elections in 2007.

The search of the UM building was still continuing at lunchtime today, and the first arrests have been made, one being that of Paula Cortés, formerly in an important position in Palma town hall's environment department.

MALLORCA TODAY - PP opposes oil exploration off the Balearics

The Partido Popular has added its voice to those registering opposition to the permission given by central government for oil exploration to be conducted between the gulf of Valencia and the Balearics (Ibiza). The PP's opposition is on top of that of regional president Francesc Antich, the concerns being potential harm to the environment and tourism. There is also the spectre of the sinking of the Don Pedro merchant ship in 2007 which resulted in heavy oil spills, the closure of beaches and a negative impact on Ibiza's tourism.

MALLORCA TODAY - Bellevue debt at 80 million euros

The Bellevue hotel and complex in Puerto Alcúdia is attracting most of the debt that has been accrued by the hotel chain Hotetur. Acquired by the Posibilitum group last year as part of the sale of assets of Grupo Marsans, Hotetur is still in difficulty, with some 100 million euros of debt hanging over it, 80% of it Bellevue's. The hotel remains the subject of a legal dispute with the Orizonia group which had a mortgage over the hotel as a guarantee for debts run up by Marsans. Bellevue is due to open on 1 April.

MALLORCA TODAY - Balearic economy buoyed by tourism

The forecasts for a very good tourism season, helped by situations in north Africa, should mean higher than anticipated economic growth in the Balearics this year. Regional government finance minister Carles Manera has announced that a revision has been made to the growth forecast, now putting it at between 0.6 and 0.7 per cent.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 February 2011

At 09.00, temperatures of 13.2 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 12.2 C in Pollensa and 13.9 C in Puerto Pollensa. Overcast, a mix of light and heavy cloud. Forecast to improve later, but the weekend is set to deteriorate with the possibility of some heavy rainfalls by Sunday.

Maximums today - Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 16.6 C; Pollensa 17.3 C; Puerto Pollensa 16.7 C. Bright and sunny since mid-morning.

Never Mind The Quality: Meaningless systems for tourism

There are certain words which, because of their widespread and widely unthinking usage, have lost any sense of meaning. Quality is one of them. Everyone does quality. "Our meat/fish/desserts/full Englishes/beers (use as applicable) are of the highest quality." Oh, for the bar or restaurant which advertises its quality as being rubbish. Or the resort which promotes itself as being the worst or most maligned: "Everyone hates us, but we don't care."

None of this applies to Alcúdia, Pollensa or, mystifyingly, Artà. Quality abounds in all three, unlike, at present, anywhere else in Mallorca, other than Palma. Each can boast of quality. The whole of Menorca can also do some boasting, as can Formentera and Ibiza. Soon, you would imagine, everywhere in Mallorca will be proclaiming quality, and so the meaning will go out the window, if there was any to begin with.

I am not making this qualitative assessment of the three towns/resorts. It is being done by something called SICTED, the Sistema Integral de Calidad Turística en Destinos. It's an unfortunate acronym. Is sick Ted pervy Edward or infirm Eddie? Sick Ted, Father Ted: "Would you have a look at this quality here, Ted." "Not while I'm vomiting, Dougal."

SICTED is, so says its website, "a project for improving the quality of tourist destinations that is promoted by the Spanish tourism institute (Turespaña) and the Spanish federation of municipalities and provinces". I'm sure you feel better for knowing this, as you will feel better - less sick - for knowing that the sick note from SICTED is a sign of a destination's "commitment to tourist quality". And signs you can get, it would appear. One with a T with a gap and a sort of Smiley curve that brings to mind the TUI logo.

They should mind the gap. If it's quality they're after, then they should learn to cross their Ts properly. But a broken T is, I suppose, all the more aesthetically and graphically-designed pleasing, and it would seem that it will be making itself known outside "distinguished establishments" in the SICTED towns: the odd restaurant or hotel and, in the case of Alcúdia, its police station.

I confess to being utterly confused. Not so long ago, there was all this stuff about the Q quality mark, something also to do with Turespaña. Now there's this one. Destinations and businesses can apply to be assessed for receiving their sick note and subject themselves to surveys of customer satisfaction. So convoluted does SICTED appear, the FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the website run to 102 in total. If you can wade through this lot, then you probably deserve to get what you're meant to - your commitment to tourist quality and your broken T.

But as the mere word quality loses its meaning, so do exercises in granting quality. How many more of them are there? And what on earth do they mean? And for whom?

Alcúdia's SICTED, so says the citation on the website, is on account of, among other things, "beautiful beaches with fine sand", "hidden coves", and "very diverse peoples who form a tranquil environment". These will presumably be the same diverse peoples whooping it up in the bars and entertainment centres of The Mile of an evening, scratch-card touts, and lookies selling dodgy DVDs and/or crack on the streets.

Pollensa "combines sea, countryside and mountains". It has "solitary coves" as opposed to hidden ones; someone's been at the thesaurus. No mention of dog mess on the streets, not getting the management of the beaches sorted out on time for the start of season or protesting business owners marching through Puerto Pollensa.

Then there is Artà. Its inclusion is a bit mystifying, as it's not exactly a place with a lot of tourism. It's off-the-beaten-track coastal Mallorca, but it does, like Alcúdia, so goes the SICTED blurb, have beaches with "fine sand". There is, possibly though, more of a reason for Artà having its SICTED than Alcúdia and Pollensa, and this is because it isn't particularly known for its tourism. Otherwise, what really is the point of all this?

The answer, one guesses and obviously so, is a desire for a general lifting of quality, a response to the threats posed by perceptions of greater quality in rival destinations. Fair enough, but does this require the rigmarole that SICTED and the Q mark demand? It should be obvious where quality failings may exist, and failings there are, even in Alcúdia and Pollensa, despite their having passed the sick test.

Who takes any notice? Tourists? It's very doubtful. And were all other towns/resorts in Mallorca to apply for and be awarded the same status as Alcúdia, Pollensa and Artà, then even less notice would be taken. It is quality becoming meaningless because everywhere has it, or so it is claimed.

Never mind the quality, because no one's paying any attention.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Gaddafi in Mallorca

Today's strange fact, courtesy of the "Diario de Mallorca". Colonel Gaddafi once came to Mallorca and met with the then Spanish president, Felipe González, in a house owned by the banker Miguel Nigorra in Santa Ponsa. The year was 1984. Gaddafi stayed at the Son Vida luxury hotel in Palma.

The meeting was facilitated by the former chancellor of Austria, Bruno Kreisky, who owned a house in Costa d'en Blanes.

MALLORCA TODAY - Petrol at all-time high price in Spain

The price of petrol has returned to the all-time high figure it achieved last month, an average of 1.285 euros per litre. The rise comes a couple of days after the Spanish Government announced a plan to cope with any possible cuts to supply from Libya.

MALLORCA TODAY - Real Mallorca struggling to sell tickets for Barça game

The biggest home game of the club's season, against Barcelona on Saturday, and Real Mallorca are finding it hard to fill its 24,000-seat stadium. Of 7,000 tickets available to non-members, over half were unsold as of last night. This is the club of which Sid Lowe of "The Guardian" famously said that it has no fans.

MALLORCA TODAY - Town hall facilities in Puerto Pollensa

The new facilities for Pollensa town hall in the port were officially opened yesterday. The new building in what was the school off the market square (Plaça Miquel Capllonch) has in fact been occupied since the start of the month. The facilities include offices, conference room, library and the local police centre. Work on re-developing the school has cost 600,000 euros, with the town hall, central government and the Council of Mallorca all contributing to the funding.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 February 2011

At 09.30, temperature of 11.2 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 12.0 C in Pollensa and 12.5 C in Puerto Pollensa. Generally sunny and calm.

This afternoon's highs - Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 17.2 C; Pollensa - 16.6 C; Puerto Pollensa - 17.1 C. Warm sunshine.

Crossing Palms With Electoral Silver: Vote-purchasing allegations

It was Alan Sugar, who I suppose we do now have to address as his lordship, who made the accusation that Brian Clough liked a "bung". Cloughie denied it and El Tel denied having suggested to Lord Amstrad, as he didn't become, that "old big 'ead" preferred the bung delivered in a plastic bag at a motorway service station. An investigation into whether Clough did or didn't like a bung was dropped on account of his ill-health. Amidst all the innumerable corruption cases in Mallorca, a plea of ill-health has, as yet, been sparingly used as a reason for not appearing in front of the beak. Give them time, though.

There are bungs for this, bungs for that. Bungs for footballer transfers, bungs in exchange for votes. Allegedly. We have no way of knowing if the plastic bags that Cloughie preferred, if indeed he did, were from a supermarket, but when it comes to vote purchasing it would appear that a supermarket's bags were involved.

Those were the days. When it didn't cost a centimo to pay for a plastic bag in a local supermarket, as it now does. You didn't need to fritter away the odd centimo here or there on bags designed to hold some fish from the deli counter, while there were more important fish to both fry and fleece. Those were the days. Not so long ago. 2007 in fact. Local elections in Mallorca.

Back then, a case was brought before a judge in which there were allegations as to vote purchasing. It was archived because there was insufficient evidence. The whole affair has now re-surfaced as part of the anti-corruption case, popularly known as the "caso maquillaje" (make-up case), currently being heard in a Palma court. According to "Ultima Hora", a total of 25,000 euros found its way into the hands of leaders of gypsy communities. The purpose? Votes. Which party was allegedly behind it? Oh, come on, you should know which one by now. Yep, the Unió Mallorquina.

To be strictly accurate, the alleged bung was not in the supermarket bag. What were, were ballot papers pre-prepared for UM voting, ones to be handed out to friends, family and neighbours. Palms were crossed with silver, and into palms were pressed the voting slips, with crosses ready-made.

Twenty-five grand is a fair amount of wonga for securing the gypsy vote, or anyone's vote come to that, and the question as to where it came from - if indeed it came from anywhere, as it is still, as yet, an allegation - relates to the wider issues of the "caso maquillaje", namely charges of diverting public money for electoral purposes. And wonga slang is appropriate, by the way, as it is meant to have come from the Romany "wongar".

The accusation of, how can I put it, a touch of manipulation of the voting process is a further embarrassment for the UM. Recently, the former UM mayor of Muro, Jaume Perelló, was given a 12-month stretch for a spot of gerrymandering at the end of the 1990s. Try as it might, the party cannot shake off its past, and is unlikely to be able to while the various cases in which it is involved make their way through the courts.

A surprise in all this is that the party is still around. Still around and receiving overtures as possible coalition partners. If party loyalists turn up on the door step before the elections, I shall be paying particular attention to any supermarket bags they might have. If they don't have, there are any number of them lurking in the kitchen, all acquired at a centimo a pop, which is meant to deter their purchase and so save the planet, but of course doesn't. As they would otherwise eventually be chucked out and consigned to landfill, the UM will be welcome to them, so long as they return them, suitably wonga-ed up.

Between now and election day, the polls will give an indication as to how well or, you would think, how badly the UM will do. The party itself should employ its own form of electoral forecasting. Find a Gypsy Rose Lee and cross her palm not with silver but with the nickel, copper and brass mix of a euro coin or several. What will she see in her crystal ball? Not a tall, dark stranger, but someone altogether scarier. "UM, you're fired!"

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - More on the butane scam arrests

The Guardia Civil has today released further information regarding its investigation into fraudulent butane-gas inspections that have been perpetrated across the island. Eleven people have been arrested, with 50,000 euros said to have been defrauded, and the company under investigation has been named as Tiansol System S.L. The company was apparently formed in September last year. This may suggest that it, or those involved with it, was potentially a new player on the butane-scam scene, and that other organisations who carry out this scam are still knocking around. While the Guardia's intervention is to be applauded, it may be that wariness still needs to be applied in case other similar, fraudulent businesses are operating.

MALLORCA TODAY - Partido Popular would cut hotel IVA

José Ramón Bauzá, the leader of the Partido Popular in the Balearics, has said that if his party were to win the national elections in 2012, it would cut the rate of IVA (VAT), as it applies to hotels, from 8% to 4%. The rate of IVA for this sector went up on 1 July 2010 from 7%, while the general rate increased by two points to 18%.

MALLORCA TODAY - Increase in January tourism

The number of foreign tourists coming to the Balearics in January was up by nearly 7% over 2010, the total figure being 112,335.

MALLORCA TODAY - Nueva Rumasa hotels not at risk

According to the troubled Nueva Rumasa group which owns the Hotasa chain, hotels such as Clumba Mar in Can Picafort will operate normally this season. Nueva Rumasa says that preparations for opening Hotasa hotels are going ahead as usual.

MALLORCA TODAY - Spain celebrates 30th anniversary of 23-F

It was thirty years ago today that Spain's new democracy faced huge uncertainty. While Antonio Tejero was the public face of the failed coup attempt on 23 February, 1981, the more important figures were behind the scenes. People such as General Alfonso Armada. In today's "El Pais", there is a fascinating interview with Francisco Laína, the head of state security at the time, who has remained silent, until now. This is in English ...

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 February 2011

At 09.30, temperature of 13.6 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 11.5 C in Pollensa and 13.3 C in Puerto Pollensa. Bright and sunny.

Today's maximums, as of 18.00, have been 14.5 C in Alcúdia, 13.7 C in Pollensa and 14.2 C in Puerto Pollensa. And it has remained generally sunny.

Saints And Sinners: The coup attempt of 1981

23-F. The Spanish love a number and a letter. Great events and not so great events become numerical and alphabetic abbreviations through which these events are afforded the cachet that is supposed to come from contraction. Some events, some dates are great, in that they are hugely significant. 23-F stands for 23 February ("febrero"). The year was 1981. The year of the last attempt at a coup d'état in western Europe.

Thirty years ago, a Guardia Civil lieutenant colonel by the name of Antonio Tejero stormed the Spanish parliament along with 200 or so Guardia officers. His aim, to overthrow the nascent democracy of post-Franco Spain. It was an inglorious failure. It collapsed the following day, 24-F, when King Juan Carlos went on television and, in a speech which cemented his place in the nation's affections, effectively put an end to the coup attempt.

Tejero was something of a comedic figure. He looked like Manuel from "Fawlty Towers". It's alright, the parliament deputies were doubtlessly reassuring each other - "he's from Barcelona". He wasn't from Barcelona, but one's recollections of the coup attempt were that it was all a bit of a farce; this waiter dressed up in military garb, waving a gun around and waiting for Basil to come along and smack him round the head.

It was a bit more serious than this, guns being fired in the parliament and so on, but it had the air of a British comedy cliché. Bumbling revolutionaries, talking in Spanglish "foreign", who put the coup on hold for a couple of hours while they took a siesta. All that was needed was Mr. Humphries declaring himself "free" and the staff of Grace Brothers cowering in the corner while Mrs. Slocombe bemused the revolutionaries with her pussy. Indeed, Captain Peacock and his department-store personnel had anticipated 23-F some four years previously, having found themselves in the midst of a revolution while on the Costa Plonka in the horror that was the "Are You Being Served" film, one that featured Andrew Sachs, typecast as a Spaniard.

Along with its letter and number, the 23 February coup attempt has been granted its own name - "el tejerazo", after the unfortunate and absurd Manuel-Tejero. What made the tejerazo seem even more ridiculous, from the distance of seeing television pictures in the UK, was that it seemed so utterly pointless and that it had come out of the blue. But this wasn't quite so.

The history of Spain's first few years of democracy was anything but smooth. The armed forces were still heavily Francoist and at the time, in 1981, there was economic crisis. The coup attempt was, to some extent, an expression of a widely held view - one that pre-dated Franco - that Spain was not capable of democracy.

Similar economic circumstances prevail at present, but it is most unlikely that a current-day Tejero would turn up at the Cortes lower house with a revolver. The armed forces' role has diminished, to the extent that when the general, José Mena, hinted in 2006 that the military would intervene were Catalonia to become more autonomous, he was promptly put under house arrest.

23-F, for all its laughable qualities, was hugely significant because the failure of the coup was confirmation of the supremacy of democratic principles and of the king as the standard-bearer for the new Spain. Nevertheless, great events tend also to attract the nutters who see conspiracy. So it is with 23-F. It was, so the conspiracy theorists would have it, a put-up job with the purpose of bolstering the king's position. What is unquestionably true is that there was a plan for a later coup d'état. It has not been honoured, if one can say this, with a number and letter, but 27-O (27 October, 1982) was the date, the day before a general election which was easily won by the socialist PSOE. The plot was uncovered and pretty much covered up.

24-F, apart from being the day when the 1981 coup was crushed, is also the day of the miracle of Sant Crist, in Alcúdia at any rate (bewilderingly celebrated in July every three years). In 1507, so legend has it, this was the day when the sweating of blood brought deliverance from drought and famine to the people of Alcúdia and the island. The modern 24-F was not a miracle and nor was it a fable, but it was a day of deliverance. From the past. It was the day when Spain stopped being a farce and started to grow up.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Fire in Albufera

There was a huge great plume of smoke coming from the Albufera nature park earlier this afternoon. Fire broke out and there was concern that winds might pick up again and spread it, but helicopters and fire crews seem to have dealt with it.

MALLORCA TODAY - Arrested lawyer plans to indict Blair

Giovanni de Stefano, the Italian lawyer who has previously represented Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic and who was detained in Palma at the request of City of London Police, plans to have a warrant issued for the arrest of Tony Blair to face allegations of war crimes. Di Stefano, who had, prior to his detention by Spanish police, been in contact with the UK justice ministry regarding the case against the former prime minister, argues that charges he now faces are politically motivated. He is due to be extradited in the next few days.

MALLORCA TODAY - Smoking ban protest in Madrid

While Mallorca's bar and restaurant owners plan actions they will take on 7 March, their counterparts on the mainland have already staged the first of their own protests - outside the interior ministry building in Madrid. Some 1500 protesters gathered yesterday to demonstrate against the introduction of the smoking ban which is said to have led to around a 20% fall in sales in bars and nightclubs and a 14% decline in restaurant income.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 February 2011

At 09.00, temperature of 16.4 C in Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 15.3 C in Puerto Pollensa. Clear skies and windy.
This afternoon's highs - 18.1 C in Alcúdia and 17.3 C in Puerto Pollensa.

Trying It On: Compensation claims

The armies of non-working British society spend their time glued to the box, waiting for ads that will promise huge payouts for suing cigarette companies which they claim have made them stub out their fags on their faces. They do so, in between watching Jeremy Kyle and some half-wits who look as though they have stubbed fags out on their faces. Repeatedly.

Compensation culture, blame culture, money-for-old-rope culture. Holidaymakers are some of the worst when it comes to pressing, shall we call them, "ambitious" claims. Give holidaymakers enough rope and you'd think they might hang themselves, but no, they all too often get away with it. And were they to hang themselves, rest assured it would be someone else's fault.

You can well imagine that, rather than the normal pre-holiday routine of making a packing list and ensuring the passport's valid, there are those drawing up other lists - ways of seeking compensation which pays for the holiday plus some extra to cover the cost of the fags that they then stub out on their faces.

Brits will try anything on in order to extract some recompense, be it for tripping over a stone on a beach or claiming they got food poisoning in the local bar when in fact they had failed to properly defrost some chicken they had bought from a supermarket and ended up with salmonella. Or perhaps they sue the supermarket.

There are any number of absurd complaints that tourists make. Thomas Cook once produced a list. It included such gems as: "There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners." Or, "we had to queue outside with no air-conditioning". There was also, famously, the chap who was awarded compensation because there were too many Germans in his hotel.

These sorts of complaint are what the local tourism industry refers to as the "sport" that Brit tourists engage in. Trying anything on. It's a whole different type of sport to the one that tourism officialdom might hope that holidaymakers would be engaging in.

There are genuine and reasonable claims for compensation; some which are genuine and reasonable enough for them to drag on for years, as with the claims against Thomson by holidaymakers who contracted cryptosporidium at Can Picafort's Son Bauló hotel in June 2003 and which were finally ruled on in January this year. But there are claims which are anything but reasonable; this is the "sport" of the holiday compensation claim.

Thomson may have dragged its heels, unreasonably so, you might think, but it, or rather TUI as a whole, has been plagued by serial compensation seekers. The group now has a black list which can be used to refuse bookings by any of its component companies. There are also websites which share information about the serial complainer.

However, the complaint coming from hoteliers in Mallorca is that tour operators tend to be all too quick to accede to compensation claims, and that the operators then claw back settlements from outstanding invoices to be paid to hoteliers. For the Mallorcan hotel, or it could be any other type of business, there is a dilemma. The judgement on the claim is not made locally but in the UK, under UK law and with the full force of aggressive ambulance-chasing firms of lawyers.

Claims can of course be challenged, but to do so would require lawyers and the defendant going to the expense of appearing in court. It is rarely worth the aggravation or the cost, even if settlements run into several thousand pounds for minor accidents. A difference between the UK and Spain is that the level of compensation in the UK is not set, which can result in high settlements, ones that are pursued vigorously by the ambulance-chasers who are not unknown to vigorously seek out potential claimants at airports and who make their services well-known via the internet and daytime TV.

There is negligence and then there are accidents and downright irresponsibility on behalf of the holidaymaker. If you are lagered up, dance on a table, fall off and break a limb, can this really be the fault of the hotel or bar? It isn't, but there will probably be a compensation-seeking lawyer in the UK who will make out that it is, and the hotel or bar will, more often than not, be left to foot the bill for a broken foot.

It's not clear how much spurious or unreasonable claims for compensation are costing Mallorca's hotels, but costing them they are. Black lists may stop some serial complainers turning up, but there are others who will take their place, looking for some pretext with which to try and extract damages that might pay for the holiday. The hoteliers might wish that the situation were different to that of the clauses which cover package holidaymakers, such as that which obtains for those who book privately in Mallorca. For them, the boot is firmly on the other foot, broken or not. Trying to get compensation from a Spanish court.

Any comments to please.

Monday, February 21, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Tamudo condemns Mallorca to loss against Sociedad

A 56th minute goal from Raúl Tamudo secured Real Sociedad a 1-0 win over Real Mallorca in this evening's La Liga fixture in San Sebastián. The win leaves Mallorca, tied before the game with Sociedad and Getafe on 31 points, in eleventh spot in the Spanish premier.

MALLORCA TODAY - Cala Millor tourist train

The tourist train that runs between Cala Millor and the Costa Pinos and which was suspended last summer because of various technical and safety issues has been given the all-clear by Son Servera town hall to start up again this season.

MALLORCA TODAY - Guardia action against butane scam

The Guardia Civil has launched an operation investigating suspected fraud committed by a Palma company that sends inspectors to check gas installations and which can result in exorbitant charges. This practice of inspection, by companies which claim to be undertaking necessary checks when they are not and which will have personnel without necessary qualifications, has long been a matter of concern, owing to the number of people who have been duped.

MALLORCA TODAY - Government was warned about crisis

In what the Spanish paper "El Mundo" describes as an "explosive document", there is evidence that in 2006 the inspectors at the Bank of Spain warned the government and in particular the vice-president and finance minister at the time, Pedro Solbes, of the potential for the economic crisis that eventually took hold. Special concern was reserved for a "fragile" real-estate market as well as a bubble in the financial system that could have dangerous consequences. The revelation of this document will be a blow to President Zapatero who, despite winning some praise for his recent handling of the economy, had been previously blamed for an inadequate reaction to the crisis.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 February 2011

As of 09.30, local high of 13C, down on an earlier morning high of 14.5C at 6am. Heavy clouds have given way to largely sunny skies.
The high this afternoon has come in at 14.8C around four o'clock.

Superman And The Fall Of Nueva Rumasa

Few are the occasions in Mallorca when it might seem pertinent to drag out the fact that I have an MBA qualification. Were it really necessary, there is the certificate to prove the fact - it's around somewhere, buried in a box. There is also, probably in a different box, a bound copy of my dissertation. On completion and entry into a word processor, its total number of words came to 33,333. What were the chances of that?

The dissertation was on mergers and acquisitions. It was full of the junk associated with the subject - corporate cultures, the dreaded s-word of "synergy", legacy IT systems, blah, blah, blah - and it had a specific section about conglomerates. These spawned their own management-speak jargon, for example "core competencies". The theory and also the practice warned against conglomerates of disparate businesses, because of the undermining of core competencies. Put very basically, if you are a bar, you don't go and acquire a clothes shop as well; your core competencies relate to running the bar, not the shop.

Mallorca and Spain have businesses that you are unlikely to have ever heard of. Their individual businesses you may well be aware of, but sitting on top of them are mysterious conglomerates with all manner of operations, some related, some not. One that did have largely related businesses was Marsans. Its colossal debts forced its sale last year, but some of the individual businesses, such as the Hotetur hotel chain, have continued to face uncertainty. Another one with huge debts which has a far more diverse portfolio is Nueva Rumasa.

Nueva Rumasa is an extraordinary company. As the "nueva" suggests, there was a previous Rumasa. It was expropriated by the government in 1983 because of the huge debts it then had. At the time, it had some 700 businesses under its control, anything from banks to chemicals. It was Spain's biggest concern, and it was the creation of one man, the same head of Nueva Rumasa - José María Ruiz Mateos (the "Ruma" of the company's name come from his two surnames). Rumasa was, at one point, given a mention in the dissertation. It was eventually left out, but had it stayed in, the satisfaction of the 33,333 words would never have come to pass.

The company is extraordinary, and so is Ruiz Mateos. He has courted publicity and controversy. On one occasion, in a protest against a judicial hearing against him, he dressed as Superman. He has been in prison more than one time. When he was allowed to re-enter the world of business, he formed Nueva Rumasa. At least ten of its hundred-plus businesses now find themselves in difficulty. They include the Rayo Vallecano football club, the Quesería Menorquina, of which the former Kraft cheese plant in Menorca is a part, and Hotasa, the chain to which, among others, three hotels in Can Picafort - the Clumba Mar, Santa Fe and Sarah - belong.

The ten businesses alone are responsible for some 700 million euros of debt. With lawsuits being threatened and with properties belonging to Ruiz Mateos's family having been embargoed by Social Security because of apparent non-payment of contributions, Nueva Rumasa is seeking bankruptcy protection and a way of arriving at agreements with creditors and calming investor nerves. These may be investors who were warned by the Spanish securities and investments board to get advice before putting money into Nueva Rumasa companies.

There can be any number of reasons why Nueva Rumasa has got into difficulties, but its is a story that is, in some respects, not unfamiliar. Diverse businesses do not always make for good corporate bed-fellows: anything but. Conglomerates are typically penalised by the markets via the so-called "conglomerate discount", i.e. traders consider them likely to yield lower returns. This comes back to the core competencies argument.

Then there is the impulse behind the diversification and the acquisition of all sorts of businesses. Sometimes it has a clear business purpose. Hanson Trust was once a good example of this before the markets came no longer to appreciate both it and the practice of conglomerates. Virgin is an example of a conglomerate that has prevailed, thanks in no small part to the persona of Richard Branson but as importantly to a system of branding that sees its components come under the Virgin name.

The role of the key man and founder cannot be underestimated. Branson and Lord Hanson were the "faces" of their companies at a time when business started to become the new rock and roll. This can be a strength but also a weakness. And the weakness can be a need for power and the sheer expression of ego that are the impulses behind acquisition and conglomerates. Take Robert Maxwell. When he was sniffing around Manchester United, I asked a contact at the company which had been the basis for Maxwell's business empire, Pergamon Press, why on earth Maxwell would want the club. The answer was hugely instructive: "he wants people to love him".

There are some similarities between Maxwell and Ruiz Mateos. Both controversial, both publicity-conscious, both political animals (Maxwell was an MP, Ruiz Mateos an MEP with his own party), both at some stage embroiled in investigations (Maxwell was once deemed someone not to be "relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company"). Maxwell fell from grace twice. So now has Ruiz Mateos, but in which direction his particular story goes we will wait to find out. And for anyone embarking on a dissertation, there are at least 33,333 words to be written. Many more probably. It's a whole book.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Can Picafort lights to be switched off

Santa Margalida town hall, badly needing to save money, is considering switching off up to 40% of street lights in Can Picafort during the winter. The town hall argues that the lighting is not needed, and were it to switch the lights off it would be following the example of Alcúdia where lights go off at midnight.

MALLORCA TODAY - Old people's home opened

A year after it was projected to open, the old people's home in the Llenaire district of Puerto Pollensa was given the official inauguration treatment by regional president Francesc Antich yesterday. The home has 120 places, and the president was quick to point out that these add to the 754 old people's home places the current legislature has created.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 February 2011

As of 09.30, top temperature 11.2 C, down on the local high today of 13.1C in Pollensa at 05.08. Conditions are heavily overcast with occasional drizzle.

But in the afternoon ... sun came out, 15C and a barbecue in Seamus (No Frills)'s garden.

Between A Dog And A Hard Place: TV and film in Mallorca

June 1969. Some of you will be old enough to wish you couldn't remember. But you may well do. It was 7 June to be precise. The day when Blind Faith first took to a stage.

Blind Faith were, from the word go, a deeply unsatisfying creation of rock super-groupism. From a healthily organic lineage of The Yardbirds, Cream, the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Family emerged the manufacturing of something cynical. So unsatisfying were they, that they fell apart within a year.

Throwing together talents, well-known ones, can bring success. But it can be success achieved, you fear, with an eye merely on the box office or the ratings and without an essential soul. So it is with "Mad Dogs", a Blind Faith of the marrying of names without the substance of the slog of a rock band of old or a TV series that either grows from nowhere or is built on a repertory group in which even relatively star names are subordinate to the ethos of the TV show itself.

"Mad Dogs", not, it must be said, without merit, is nevertheless, and notwithstanding some of its content, safe, middle-of-the-road, middle-class, focus group-shaped telly. The safety of its roster of stars makes it a "Daily Mail" of broadcast exploitation, though don't say this too loudly to Rupert Murdoch. Its exploitation goes beyond that of an indulgent audience, seeking clues as to Mallorcan sites and scenes; it is one that comes also from Mallorca's tourism officialdom who hope for some star dust to rub off, having helped with its funding, despite its not being a travel promo.

Contrast the build-up and the fawning media space granted to "Mad Dogs" with the news of the filming of "The Inbetweeners". The movie version of the comedy series will involve a month of shooting around Magalluf and in particular along Maga's "strip". It is barely getting a mention.

Yet here is a series which has enjoyed the success that comes from organic development and which is also bollock-breakingly funny. A difference with "Mad Dogs" lies with the fact that the show is not star-based. The actors may have achieved some stardom, but the strength of the series resides in the sum of its parts and the symbiosis between the members, a lesson which Blind Faith ignored.

There are further differences. The show isn't safe. Its characters, such as Will who would like to be "hard" but who spends much of the time tackling issues to do with his tackle getting hard, are embarrassing, cringe-worthy and awkward, much like teenagers are meant to be, despite all the actors being far too old for their roles. It is also to be filmed, not in brochure-beautiful, coffee-table locations around Pollensa, but among the down-and-dirty, lager-glass-ringed bar tops of Maga. The contrasting images and the contrasting image of tourism that the locations present are between the Crufts-coiffeuring landscapes of a "Mad Dogs" and the rock-hard place that is the intoxicated full-on-ness of Magalluf.

The excellent has made the point that it should be worth being in Maga for the filming, but its is pretty much a lone voice in highlighting a reason to visit in what is of course the off-season. And you have to wonder why. The reason, you feel, is snobbery and condescension being shown to the resort and also, by comparison with "Mad Dogs", to "The Inbetweeners".

Locations and filming do have the power to attract tourists, either at the time of shooting or as a consequence of broadcast. The experiences of both "Passport To The Sun" and "Sun Sea and A&E" prove that visitors will either come simply because of programmes or to seek out locations and indeed individuals featured in shows. But both these documentary-style programmes were explicit in terms of what and where they were portraying. "Mad Dogs" isn't. Nor will be "The Inbetweeners", as the film's setting is Crete, as is some other filming.

One series that has been explicit is "Benidorm". It couldn't be anything other than explicit, given its title. In between "Mad Dogs" and "The Inbetweeners" in terms of having some recognisable but not necessarily star names (in its earliest days at any rate), one of its great achievements has been to simultaneously poke fun at but also be affectionate towards its location and its typical clientele. Far from turning people off, it has made them want to visit and, moreover, to visit in order to coincide with off-season filming.

The repertory, ensemble nature of "Benidorm", one that has prevented it being simply a vehicle for its better-known actors, adds to a sense of viewer empathy. Not all of its characters might be said to be typical holidaymakers, but, in Benidorm terms, the Garvey family members who bind the show are.

The shame, for Mallorca perhaps, is that the show's creator, Derren Litten, chose Benny and not Maga. Had he opted for the latter, though, you wonder as to how well received the proposition would have been. Benidorm seems to be unabashed in revealing itself for what it is. Mallorca, on the other hand, has dual personalities, one of which it prefers to try and pretend doesn't exist, and which results, therefore, in promoting the safe artificiality of the star system "Mad Dogs" over the unsafe, true-to-life, unknowns of "The Inbetweeners".

Any comments to please.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Rafael Nadal's international tennis centre

Some years in the offing, a centre for tennis, bearing the name of its most famous son, is to be created in Manacor. The Nadal centre, which will be operated by the Rafael Nadal Foundation, is to be supported by the regional government, the Council of Mallorca and Manacor town hall. Private, it will offer an academy for young players among other things, which will include a museum dedicated to Nadal. It is hoped that it will also attract players from other countries, seeking training facilities, and that it will rub off in the form of tennis tourism.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 February 2011

Sunny, wispy cloud. As of 09.00, in Pollensa and Puerto Pollensa, 10.7C.
And the high at 12.48, 16.6C in Pollensa, with 16C in Alcúdia.

MALLORCA TODAY - Spain's Eurovision song

Lucía Pérez, described as an "experimental singer", has won through to represent Spain in this year's Eurovision Song Contest that takes place in Düsseldorf on 14 May. Pérez received 68% of votes.

MALLORCA TODAY - Only one project in Santa Margalida

The annual budget for Santa Margalida (which includes Can Picafort and Son Serra de Marina) has been agreed by the town hall. Down by 13% on 2010, perhaps the most telling aspect is that only one building investment is envisaged. It is virtually impossible for the town hall to get any credit, and so projects in the town will be limited to the building of a new wall at the secondary school.

Whatever You Do, Do Nothing: The follies of tourism promotion

Some corking gaffes have been made in the name of tourism advertising. Take the one of a photo of a man and a boy on a beach on the Costa Brava, an image of father-son bonding in a holiday idyll of a northern-Spanish style. The only problem was that it wasn't the Costa Brava. It wasn't anywhere near. It was a long, long way away. It wasn't bonding on Bondi, but it was down under. Western Australia. Father and son were Shane and Shane Junior.

The Aussies exploited the gaffe and came up with their own campaign that alluded to the mistake and which featured the gag: "Western Australia - it's Juan great holiday destination". My, how everyone must have laughed, unless they were on the Costa Brava or in the offices of the agency that mistook Oz for Spain.

Last year, when the Redknapps were enjoining the Brit tourist to not just book it, but Thomas Cook it, those with particularly eagle eyes and a sadly large amount of time on their hands carefully scrutinised scenes of the Balearics. There, as the video camera flew by, was Menorca. No it wasn't. It was Puerto Pollensa. Apparently. Not a non-fair dinkum gaffe in the class of the brave Costa Brava bloomer, but gaffe nonetheless.

To the honours list of advertising blunders we now have to add one that's been doing the rounds in Britain. For Turkey. Unfortunately, the posters offering seven nights all-inclusive don't show Turkey in its best light. They show Palma cathedral, the walls of Alcúdia and Cala Romántica in their best lights. A real turkey of touristic transposition, if you like. And if you don't like, then don't come complaining to me. Have a word with the div who should have shown a minaret and not a cathedral in a western Catholic, French Gothic tradition.

In the nearest thing you can get to a diplomatic row in the world of tourism promotion, ABTA and the London tourist office have been asked very kindly to deal with the matter by various indignant bodies in Mallorca. The director of the tourist office has said that as soon as they can find the agency responsible, they will instruct the agency and ABTA to remove the posters. Remove the posters and then smack whoever it was used the photos around the head with them.

Of course, it is most unlikely that most people, as in the punters, ever notice these mistakes, unless they spend their time poring over Thomas Cook videos and pausing for a freeze frame. It is also most unlikely that it makes a blind bit of difference. The combination of seven nights all-inclusive, 397 quid and Turkey is what gets the punter gobbling to attention. Some old church or walls? Who cares? Not interested in them. You wonder why anyone would think to use a picture of a cathedral to promote Turkey anyway. It's hardly the first thing that would spring to the potential holidaymaker's mind. They'd be better off using a photo of a kebab.

Given that only those who are in the know will pay any attention to what images are used, rightly or wrongly, and also given that the most important message is the bottom-line one of price and the actual offer, you have to ask just how powerful or important these images really are. In turn, this raises, once more, the question as to quite how significant some tourism promotion is.

We have a situation now in which, thanks in no small part to the excellent news of disturbances in competitor destinations, hotels in Mallorca are asking for Brit travel agencies and tour operators to hold back on selling for June because they fear there will be overbooking. Reservations are up by 12% as it is.

Exceptional circumstances perhaps, but the strength of Mallorca and its sheer reliability comes shining through in these revolutionary times. And there has, of course, been no great promotional campaign. Why should they bother having one? If tourists are going to fall into Mallorca's lap, then they may as well fritter away the small amount of cash the government has on something more meaningful, such as spending a thousand euros per letter to translate tourism agency acronyms into Chinese.

Alternatively, they could take the opportunity to ram the message home. Something like: "Come to Mallorca, we got shot of our dictator 36 years ago". But doing nothing is an altogether safer option. It removes the possibility of making a gaffe. Posters, for instance, showing Palma and its Plaza de España. But some idiot goes and uses a photo of Tahrir Square. There again, you might do so as a laugh - about as unfunny as the "Juan great holiday destination" admittedly - but chances are no one much would notice in any event, while the Egyptians have presumably got more pressing concerns than to fire off a reproachful missive to the Balearics tourism ministry.

The lesson of all this is that tourism promotion, and the attention lavished on lavish images, is about as pointless as making sure the images are the right ones in the first place. Was Nadal really cruising around off Balearics shores or was he in the Maldives? Who knows? Who cares? Not the punter. He wanted to know where he could find information as to the price of seven nights all-inclusive in Alcúdia, regardless of whether the walls of the town were in Turkey or not.

Tourism promotion. Whatever you do, do nothing.

Any comments to please.

Friday, February 18, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 February 2011

Today's highs as of 17.00, Alcúdia/Playa de Muro, 12.4C with 8mm of rain. In Pollensa, 14.6C with 14 mm of rain and Puerto Pollensa, 14.2C with 1mm rain. Weekend predictions of highs of 16C in Alcúdia and 15C in Pollensa.

MALLORCA TODAY - Smoking ban protests

Bar and restaurant owners are going to be invited to attend a meeting on 7 March to look at ways of protesting against the smoking ban that came into effect on 2 January. The meeting is being organised by the restaurant divisions of the local business confederation and the small to medium-sized businesses association.

MALLORCA TODAY - Low cost taxis?

The lowcosttravel group has announced the arrival of low-cost taxis to Mallorca. Reservations will need to be made for taxis from Palma airport, and there are possibilities for different types of service. To see what this is all about, go to What do you think of the prices? Don't seem that low cost to me.

MALLORCA TODAY - Increase in urban land in Pollensa

Following recent adjustments to the so-called areas of reconversion under Mallorca's land plan, Pollensa town hall has announced that it intends to urbanise 13 hectares more land within its tourist zones. This announcement revives the possibility of development in the L'Ullal area of Puerto Pollensa, one that had been raised last summer.

MALLORCA TODAY - Overbooking concerns in June

An indication of the strength of the British market this summer, partly as a consequence of events in north Africa, is that hotels in Mallorca have called for a halt to sales in June as they are concerned that overbooking will occur. Sales to Mallorca are currently up by 12% over June last year.

MALLORCA TODAY - Speed control campaign announced

Between 14 and 20 March, traffic police will launch a "massive" campaign of controls against speed on the roads. There will be a second such campaign in the summer between 15 and 21 August as well as one against drink-driving from 11 to 17 July. Tráfico has also announced that speed cameras, which currently don't work on Mallorca, should be activated within the next few weeks.

MALLORCA TODAY - Clumba Mar and Can Picafort hotels at risk

The Nueva Rumasa group of companies, which owns the Hotasa chain of hotels, is in danger of collapsing. The conglomerate has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to find a solution to its debt problem said to be as high as 700 million euros. Hotasa is the chain to which three Can Picafort hotels belong - Clumba Mar, Santa Fe and Sarah.

Damned If You Do ... : Road works

"Damned if you do and damned if you don't." An expression widely attributed to Bart Simpson, whose familial association seems apt if you side with the critics of the Homer Simpson approach to road works and traffic systems in Mallorca. As Homer once said: "If they think I'm going to stop at that stop sign, they're sadly mistaken".

Homer, some might suggest, appears to be in control of re-modelling the main road through Can Picafort. How to build a road with no actual road. But he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. It wasn't in fact Bart who first coined the expression. It was apparently an American preacher by the name of Lorenzo Dow. There are a fair number of Lorenzos knocking around in Can Pic, damning this and damning that, the main road in particular. "Dow!", or is it "Doh!"? exclaim the Lorenzos in exasperation.

This main road, the Carretera Artà, has long been a joy of an unstable surface, crossings designed to have in mind the propelling of inattentive tourist pedestrians into orbit, and insane side roads some of which you can enter or exit, some of which you can't. Much like other main roads on the island therefore. Far from unreasonably, the highways department wants to improve it. Something not meeting with everyone's approval.

The road works are having a negative impact on bars and other businesses. They are making difficult the movement of residents. Thus go the criticisms. They do rather neglect the fact that building what in effect is a whole new road system, and one that is necessary, does require a bit of disruption, even if it does also mean that you can't quite figure out how you are meant to navigate what is currently the non-road.

Why the fuss? It's not as though as any drivers used to travelling along the whole stretch of road between Puerto Alcúdia and Can Pic these past few years won't have already experienced exactly the same issues since the plan to re-model the whole stretch was started back in 2006. The fuss smacks of criticising anything that can be criticised. The fussers are probably the same ones who have been demanding improvements. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Part of the reason for the fuss is the timing. Just as there is a start to the official tourism season (1 May), so also there is a start to the let's-snarl-everything-up-by-doing-some-building-work season. Usually the first of February. Why so late, enquire the fussers. Budgets normally. Or maybe the chaps just prefer to hang around drinking beers, in a Homer style, until the Mr. Burns's from highways appear.

What Can Pic will end up with is a system like that which has come into being in Alcúdia and Playa de Muro. Apart from a better road surface, this will mean more roundabouts. Part of the justification for the re-modelling of the main road has been improved traffic circulation. It's spin of course, because circulation in summer is as bad as it ever was, but at least pedestrians run less risk of being mown down than previously. Well, this is the theory behind all the crossing-points. The practice is rather different, tourists traversing the road wherever is convenient, lightly-held lilos in hand which are caught on sudden gusts and plant themselves across windscreens. But at least you can't blame the highways people for trying. Except if you're in Can Picafort and you're a Lorenzo.

The new roundabouts will have the added advantage of giving Trafico greater work opportunities. Currently, they have limited numbers of roundabouts in Can Pic at which to stand about looking ominous or sheltering under trees when it gets too hot. Once the new road is finished, they'll be spoilt for choice.

And the finished road will add to the general appearance of Can Pic, just as the re-developed carretera did to Playa de Muro. When its stretch was completed in May 2009, various dignitaries turned up and one, Francina Armengol, the president of the Council of Mallorca, announced that it (the road) was "magnificent and emblematic". Emblematic of what exactly? Tarmac?

Ah, but what we all failed to appreciate was that this was part of a different strand of tourism. Road tourism. Come to Mallorca and admire our roads. Marvel at how level they are (until a good deluge of rain or two breaks them up again). See how many crossing-points you can ignore. Be inspired by the white lines and markings that fade rapidly and have to be repainted each year (normally in June just to aid more the traffic circulation). Yes, this is it. Road tourism, a whole new type of tourism promotion. Brought to you by Homer Simpson.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cereal Killers: Commodities and Mallorca's prices

Here's some bad news if you're someone who likes his or her morning fix of lard and sugar. Or news that you will be totally indifferent towards if you don't. The price of the ensaïmada is on the rise. I'm firmly in the indifference camp. They can charge what they like. I'm not buying anyway.

The ensaïmada may not qualify as a basic necessity of life, though for some it may do. Bread, on the other hand. Meat, too. Coffee? A questionable necessity, but something most cannot do without. What do they all have in common? They are all getting more expensive. Why? The price of commodities.

Strange to report, but ensaïmadas don't grow on trees. There aren't groves of these coiled frisbees hovering from branches in the late-winter breezes around Soller, and spreading sugary blossom. The ensaïmada doesn't come from anywhere, but a key ingredient does. The cereal for its flour. Coffee does not get pumped out of wells from fincas around Mallorca. It isn't expresso-ed from industrial Gaggias and transported in tankers. It comes in the form of a bean. Cereals, beans. Commodities.

The cost of cereals has risen to the extent that the price in the bar or the shop of the ensaïmada or bread may be affected by as much as a 20% increase. Meat is also affected, thanks to the increased cost of animal feed that includes a mix of grain. The rising cost of bread is aggravating a trend in the Balearics that has seen bread consumption fall significantly in the past decade. Per person, this consumption is half that of some other parts of Spain. The increased cost is clearly not the jam; it is the dripping of fears for the tenability of the local baker's shop.

Commodity prices generally are undergoing a boom time. Much of the reason for this lies with investment on futures markets by fund managers. Not content with having created recession, the bankers are now fuelling inflation and sending prices up thanks to their hedged and derivative mathematical models, and coining it in through the bonus system. The rich get richer and the poor can't afford to be given this day their daily bread. Or ensaïmada.

Cereals and meat may be on the rise, but they're nothing compared with coffee. The highest prices ever are being registered in trading in Kenya. I repeat, highest prices ever. The commodity boom is just one factor, another is poor weather, especially in South America. The price of coffee has been on an upward movement for some while. The current highest prices ever in Nairobi were predated by, for example, a 44% rise in coffee futures between June and September last year.

This doesn't mean a 44% rise in the price of your cortado in the local bar (or you would hope not), but the trading in coffee does have an effect. Obviously it does. The effect filters through the holes of the coffee supply chain to the wholesaler and thence to the shop or café and, naturally enough, to the drinker. Unless, that is, the retailer or the café-owner decides to absorb any rise and see his margin eroded. Or, he may opt for an inferior-grade coffee that is cheaper, but doesn't taste as good.

The rise in commodity prices comes on top of those for fuel and energy. The price on the forecourts has gone up, electricity rose by 10% at the start of this year, gas is also more expensive. Mallorca doesn't exist in isolation - well, actually it does in one respect, which is its own story - and so it is as affected by global trading and by the prices of commodities and oil as anywhere.

There may be an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, some of which has been affected by leaf rust, but there isn't an awful lot of it in Mallorca. In fact there isn't any, other than the awful of it that is drunk. And the price of your morning dose of caffeine and ensaïmada looks as though it might just get higher.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?: Mallorca's education

"The idea is to make a break with permanent change." So spoke the president of something called the Economy Circle, a high-powered organisation of businesspeople and professionals, which, together with various other bodies such as the colleges of lawyers and architects, the chamber of commerce and parents' associations, has formed a united front to present proposals to tackle the failing public education system in Mallorca and the Balearics.

It wouldn't be a break with change as these groups would like some more, but they would hope that it might be a definitive change that can restore some credibility to a system which makes the Balearics one of the worst-performing regions of Spain and which also makes the islands' schools return results that are, by some distance, below those of other countries.

Among the proposals being advanced are regular assessment of teachers, greater professionalism of both headmasters and teachers, the scope for greater autonomy in decision-making by heads and improvements in standards of English. One of the key targets is to reduce the early drop-out rate that currently stands at 40% of pupils by the age of 17. The Economy Circle and its allies insist that defects within the educational system have to be addressed, those which have been too easily blamed on factors such as tourism and immigration. Both these factors do play a part, but it is probably right to assert that they have been used to disguise deficiencies.

Permanent change in education is something of a motto for politicians who constantly wish to interfere. The same can be said of England (and Wales) as it can of Mallorca. More so, you would think. There was a period, though, after the Second World War, when the English tripartite educational system was left much to its own devices; some would argue that its status quo should never have been played around with. It was not a perfect system, maybe there is no such thing, but the first major change, the widespread introduction of comprehensives by the start of the 1970s, ended a generation of calm and unleashed all that followed and which continues to follow - permanent change.

In England though, there was no debate as to which language should be used. The great Catalan-Castilian divide in local education is about to be given another major airing, the Partido Popular seemingly intent on giving Catalan the heave-ho if it wins power at the spring elections, and the main teaching union pleading with the PP not to make the divide an issue of political confrontation. It was also brought further into the open by "protests" last week at 18 educational establishments across Mallorca. Led by teachers at the secondary school in Inca, appalled by the PP's stance, this amounted to declarations in favour of Catalan by pupils and teachers alike.

The change envisaged by the PP (or by its leader at any rate), that of primacy for Castilian with Catalan removed from the agenda, has to be seen in the context of a a report from the local schools' inspectorate. This indicates greater what is referred to as "inmersión" of Catalan, i.e. it dominates as the language of teaching school by school. It also dominates as the teaching language across the island. But the situation is anything but straightforward.

The use of Catalan or Castilian (and indeed English) varies. At primary level, Castilian has in fact increased somewhat over the past 12 months. At secondary level, there is a geographical variance. Catalan is less the language of "inmersión" in Palma than it is in the rest of Mallorca. To add to this, there is the difference between public and private education. Catalan is almost universally the dominant language in the island's public nursery schools, but in private schools it is much less so, even if here it has also enjoyed an increase.

What you have, therefore, is a confused picture. The abandonment of Catalan might remove this confusion, but to argue that it would be a helpful change to the island's educational system would be open to serious question. To also argue that it is the Catalan-Castilian divide which is at the root of the problems of the educational system would also be open to question. It may well contribute to the problems, but the Economy Circle and the other bodies do not appear to dwell on it.

From this we may well conclude that, like the immigration argument, the language debate in education clouds the real issues, those of teaching standards and professionalism as well as, perhaps most importantly, pupil motivation, to which can be added parental attitudes. Unfortunately, the politics of the election will cloud the issues ever more by highlighting the language debate. The permanent debate.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pork Scratchings And Sardines: Carnival in Mallorca

"The Guardian", bless 'em, can always be relied upon, along with the rest of the quality British press, to present "top ten" lists of places which will cost you a small fortune to visit on the pretext of a bit of culture. Want Carnival? Why not try Uruguay? Of course. Rio is just so last year.

You could always slum it somewhere a bit closer to home. Cadiz or Tenerife, for instance. The latter is making a bid for its Santa Cruz carnival to become a World Heritage Site. I'm not sure how a carnival can be a site, as somewhat by definition it doesn't stay still, but be this as it may.

Or you could always opt for Mallorca. Well, you could, but it won't cut much ice over the dinner table when Gideon and Clarissa produce their iPhone with videos of the Oruro Carnival in Bolivia. (And no, I'd never heard of it either, until I eagerly looked at the recommendations in "The Guardian".)

Carnival in Mallorca is something of a Blue Peter make-do with your mum's old sheets and some face-paint affair compared with the Lady Gaga-meets-Elton John during his diva phase extravagance of Tenerife. Not surprisingly, it doesn't make the top ten.

The Mallorca carnival is carnival-lite. Which is not to say it doesn't have something going for it, but it is small beer of a fiesta compared with the full barrel of others. It may have something to do with fiesta overload from December and January (though probably not) or with the one-time ban that was placed on carnival by old misery guts. Franco reckoned that it was all a bit too much like fun and that the wearing of masks was a disguise for a spot of villainy.

Nevertheless, most towns celebrate carnival in some way or other. Usefully, for once, there is even some advance warning. Alcúdia, for instance, has announced that the fifth and sixth of March will be days of "an explosion of colour". Perhaps so, but there are explosions and then there are small bangs. Palma will be carnival-ing from 3 March (this year's "Dijous Llarder" - la-di-da, it's lardy day) to 9 March.

As with the small beer and the small bangs, there is also the small food fare on offer. Palma, so goes the blurb, will have the "famous ensaïmadas"; Alcúdia, the sobrassada. Sounds much like any other do, then. There is always the wacky tradition of burying a sardine, but the Mallorcans might for once take a leaf out of the slim volume that is British folk tradition and import the nearest thing there is in Britain to carnival, i.e. Pancake Day. Do they still do Pancake Day, by the way? Once upon a time, it was that big that it made the news on the telly; film of housewives with head scarves, curlers and pinnies racing through the mud with frying-pans. It was a time when news was much like Mallorca's, as in there wasn't any.

The Germans, strangely enough, could also teach the locals a thing or two when it comes to carnival. Being mad and having a sense of humour aren't quite the same thing, but what the Germans may lack in the comedy department, they make up for by being totally off their heads. Unaware of the strength of carnival in Germany, I once switched on the telly and was confronted with what looked like some parliamentary session or other that was being staged by Coco the Clown. After some minutes I realised it was a parliamentary session being staged by Coco. Not that this would work in Mallorca. The local politicians dressed up as clowns. How would you notice the difference from any other day?

There is also the German carnival tradition of women rummaging around in the kitchen drawers for a pair of scissors and then heading off to the local pubs and cutting off men's ties. I assume this to have some symbolism, though the precise symbol is not something I care to think too deeply about.

Though Mallorcan carnival may not be about to make top ten listings, it isn't without its moments. The "Rua" parades can be colourful, if not explosively so. Alcúdia promises a "permissive and burlesque party", a feature of which is the wearing of satirical masks representing well-known people, politicos in particular. It's those clowns after all. And there is of course meant to be some religious meaning to the whole deal, the last days ("els darrers dies") before Lent and the consequent abstinence from eating meat. Supposedly. So, along with the sobrassadas and the lardy ensaïmada, you can also tuck into the "coca de llardons". Pork scratchings cake.

You know, they really ought to consider the pancake.

Any comments to please.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Taking The Flak: Airlines and winter flights

A canard can mean different things. It is a misleading story or it is an added-stability surface on an aircraft. It is also, in French, a duck. Get ready to duck, everyone; the flak being fired at aircraft and airlines is flying.

The story of flights to Mallorca during the winter is not a canard. There may be more of a plot to the story than the simple "tourist authorities must do something" narrative, but it is not essentially misleading. Hence the rumblings of discontent expressed in "The Bulletin", as opposed to the rumblings of engines as aircraft land in Palma; rumblings coming, in particular, from all points northwards in the UK.

The assertion that "there are plenty of winter connections to Faro, Alicante and Malaga" (from Scotland) is not wrong. Nor is the suggestion that Palma is badly served. Take, for example, easyJet and Ryanair. Over a period from 15 to 26 February, there are, from Glasgow, six easyJet flights to Faro and four with Ryanair. For Alicante, seven easyJet connections, five Ryanair. Malaga? Nine and five respectively. The picture is rather different, when it comes to Palma. The number of flights is zero and zero.

These are just two airlines from one city, so the story is not complete, but you can get a flavour of the story by looking at these numbers.

It is hard to compare like with like, but let's just consider what happens with flights from Germany. Take a city such as Nuremberg, a fair-sized place but smaller by about 60,000 people than Glasgow. Air Berlin, over the same February period, is flying from Nuremberg 18 times to Faro, 17 times to Alicante, 31 times to Malaga and 23 times to Palma.

I make this, therefore, 23 more flights over a twelve-day stretch than from a larger UK city. Moreover, Air Berlin's flights to Palma cost way more than do those of easyJet and Ryanair to the three Iberian destinations: 250 euros one way is about its Palma average. EasyJet's basic charge across the three averages out at 85 euros; Ryanair's at 49 euros.

Notwithstanding differences in airline markets in the two countries, the comparison is stark. It is that stark that you are entitled to ask what the hell's going on. You could put it down to stronger business links between Germany and Mallorca and to there being a larger German presence on the island than that from the UK. But the greater German population, roughly double the size of the British, is still not 23 flights worth greater. And these are Air Berlin flights from only one airport; it flies from many others with similar regularity through the winter.

The example of Air Berlin and its Nuremberg flights has to be treated with one caveat, and that is that, apart from a hugely expensive and circuitous trip to Palma with Lufthansa, it has sown up this connection. Which probably explains its prices. Nevertheless, it still manages, if you believe the availability information on its website, to more or less fill these flights. But the sowing-up of the route is itself instructive. Air Berlin's relationship with Mallorca goes way beyond its flights. Its director in Spain and Portugal is the former president of Mallorca's tourism board. The island and the airline are pretty much joined at the hip. Contrast this amicable arrangement with, for example, Ryanair's often frosty relationship with both the Spanish and Balearic governments.

If you go back to the easyJet and Ryanair flights to the peninsula, why are they going there and not to Palma? Much of the explanation has to do with population. In the Alicante province, the official number of UK residents is 127,561. In Mallorca, it is in the region of 16,000. In Malaga province, the number is 40,700. Only in the Algarve is the official figure lower than in Mallorca. So why the flights to Faro? Maybe they're all to do with golf. Mallorca may want a winter golfing tourist, but it does not have the Algarve's reputation for winter golf.

In terms of tourism, Malaga serves not only the Costa del Sol. There are also the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the ski resort. In Alicante, where the winter climate is much like Mallorca's, there are concerns that the Costa Blanca is losing its winter trade. Yet in the province as a whole (50% or so larger than the area of Mallorca), 392 hotels have been open this winter. Mallorca doesn't come close.

Despite Alicante's UK population and more of a winter tourism tradition, compare Air Berlin's Nuremberg flights and easyJet and Ryanair's combined Glasgow flights. There are five more Air Berlin flights. But what is the German population in Alicante? Nothing like that of the British. Just short of 30% of the size at 36,000.

All of this leads one to conclude that both in Mallorca and on the peninsula, Air Berlin is either out of step with other airlines or that it has been highly proactive in forging markets. Its traffic to Mallorca cannot solely be explained by business travellers or property owners. So there have to be tourists, and German tourists face the same issues as to hotels, restaurants and attractions not being open and face the same weather as their British counterparts.

One reason why Air Berlin is able to generate business is that cycling tourism from Germany is so popular. But it has become popular because of the tripartite efforts of tour operators, airline and tourism officials, co-operation that is vital. The airline may well enjoy more than just amicable relationships with the regional government (and other governments), but whatever agreements it has, something is working - to everyone's benefit.

The story of the lack of flights to Palma from Scotland, and indeed other parts of the UK, is not a canard. But the story is never quite as black and white as it might seem and never as simple as just blaming tourism authorities for inertia. However, the experiences of Air Berlin suggest that greater opportunities for British airlines exist than might be realised. This said, if British airlines started charging the prices Air Berlin does, then just wait for the flak to start flying.

Any comments to please.