Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Sa Pobla scraps end-of-summer supper

In an effort to save money, Sa Pobla town hall will not stage the traditional end-of-summer open-air supper. The saving will amount to 14,000 euros. The priority for the town hall is to make sure that all suppliers are paid, including some who are still owed for last year's supper.

In another move, the mayor Biel Serra says that videos of town hall meetings will be posted onto to the town hall's website so that everyone can see the work of the mayor at first hand.

MALLORCA TODAY - New trees for Puerto Pollensa

Mayor Tomeu Cifre has announced that tests will be carried out to find plants and trees that will be most suitable to replace the palms that have been devastated by the "picudo rojo" in Puerto Pollensa. It is unlikely that new palms will be planted because of the virtual impossibility of eliminating the beetle.

Meanwhile, palm-tree remains that had been left in the Llenaire area have been burned and the area tidied up, but more remains will be deposited and burned there in the future owing to the cost of transporting them to an incinerator.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 August 2011

Following yesterday afternoon's brief and strange stormy interlude, all is back to normal. Local highs at 08.30 of 25 degrees, rising to 31 later on. The outlook going into the weekend is for higher risks of some rain; going into September there is always a greater possibility of rain and of storms.

Quite a bit of cloud but also plenty of sun on what has been another hot day with a high of 32.3 and a heat index of up to 36.7.

Fancy A Beer?

Cut along to your nearest Bar Brit and what beers do you find? Tetleys, Carling, Fosters, and perhaps some Saint Mick or Cruzcampo that will also be on tap in your nearest Spanish bar. What you will not find are rarer beers. There is the odd beer house which has exotic beers from far-flung parts of the globe, but it is hardly common. Beer is very much a standard commodity.

Go back some forty years and a British pub would serve the most God awful rubbish. The names themselves are sufficient to still send a shudder through any self-respecting beer drinker: Double Diamond, Red Barrel and the worst, by far the worst, Watneys Starlight, a beer that bad that you were tempted to think that the landlord must have vomited into the pipes before serving it and before you promptly threw up yourself.

Salvation, of sorts, was at hand in the form of real ale and CAMRA. Men with beards started appearing in pubs across England, earnestly discussing the hop content and specific gravities of obscure ales and marking them off in a book as though they were trainspotters (which some of them probably were).

The tyranny of real ale was that powerful that you were in fact forced to drink it. After some years of Fullers, Youngs, Thwaites, Jennings, Marstons, Mitchells and Sam Smiths, I came to the realisation, together with not infrequent heartburn and flatulence, that real ale was as bad as what had gone before. It wasn't in the same class as Starlight, which occupied a unique position as a crime against beer humanity, but in one respect it was worse; it was snobbish.

It was a relief when lagers and lager-ish beers began to claw back the right for real keg and for bottled beers. Where previously one might have been looked upon as a traitor to the beer cause for imbibing a cold, light-coloured lager on a summer's evening, there was now an acceptance, if not by the men with beards.

The colour of lager is all important. It is not dark. It looks what it should be and is; refreshing. Dark ales are nothing of the sort. The colour is wrong, whether from a cask or a keg; it is impossible for something that is dark brown to refresh, unless it's Coke or Pepsi. On a chilly winter's evening, the colour is appropriate, but there aren't many chilly winter's evenings during a Mallorcan summer; hence, with the exception of the Tetleys of a Mallorcan Bar Brit world, you don't get darker-coloured beers.

However. The Spanish and indeed the Mallorcans have discovered the micro-brewery, a phenomenon of the British beer-drinking classes who are the offspring of the men with beards (those, that is, who were socially adept enough to consider indulging in procreation or hadn't succumbed to the "droop").

The micro-brewery, Spanish style, sounds ominous. Its artisan beer is light but also dark. Some of the beers come with all manner of weird and wonderful tastes that make you wonder why they don't just pour some lime in, give a lager a blackcurrant top and have done with it.

But hang on, things aren't quite as bad as they sound; in fact, most certainly not. For starters, the beards tend to just grow rather than their being cultivated as a beer-drinking fashion accessory to be left with a crusty tidemark. There isn't the self-regarding snobbishness that attaches itself to English beers and leaves its mark on the beards. It is altogether more flamboyant and more redolent of a tradition, in Mallorca at any rate, of the type of experimentation and innovation which hitherto had been reserved for the liqueur and "hierbas" industry.

At the recent fiesta in Maria de la Salut a number of artisan beers were exhibited. In Palma there is a micro-brewery, beer house and restaurant, S'Escorxador, which has a tradition of producing both light and dark beers of its own. In Selva there is a micro-brewery, Tramuntana Cerveza Artesanal de Mallorca, that has recently started up, producing a light beer, a "red" beer akin to a bitter and a dark beer.

The darker beers are likely to be more popular in the cooler Mallorcan winter, but this follows a pattern with wine whereby "tinto" is for the winter and "blanco" for the summer. Whether the darker beers can gain much of a market among a local population used to the light beer remains to be seen, but the advent of a more diverse beer industry is to be applauded.

Would any of these beers make it into a Bar Brit rather than the usual Tetleys? It would be nice to think that they might. But just think; it could be so much worse. You might still be able to get Starlight.

Any comments to please.

Index for August 2011

All-inclusives: BBC programme - 15 August 2011
All-inclusives: pile 'em high - 6 August 2011
Archduke Luis Salvador, Nixe III project and - 13 August 2011
Arts funding, festivals and - 12 August 2011
Bandanas - 3 August 2011
Beaches, cost of/prices on - 20 August 2011
Beer and micro-breweries - 31 August 2011
Bullfighting - 5 August 2011
Complaints in Pollensa and Alcúdia, business - 22 August 2011
Council of Mallorca elimination? - 21 August 2011
Estación náutica and marketing - 16 August 2011
Film in Mallorca: Cloud Atlas - 7 August 2011
Fires, deliberate - 27 August 2011
Football and cricket - 14 August 2011
Fundación Mallorca Turismo to be scrapped - 11 August 2011
Holiday lets - 19 August 2011
Hotel prices in 2012 - 29 August 2011
Ice cream - 17 August 2011
Image, Mallorca's - 9 August 2011
Loudness, the Spanish and - 26 August 2011
Manacor-Artà train - 1 August 2011
Mayors' salaries - 28 August 2011
Meals and eating habits - 8 August 2011
Organ music - 2 August 2011
Riots - 10 August 2011
Tax repayments by local authorities to finance ministry - 18 August 2011
Tourism satisfaction - 23 August 2011
Tourismophobia - 30 August 2011
Travel fair budget cuts - 4 August 2011
Tribute acts, Marvin Gaye and - 25 August 2011
Youth tourism, drinking and - 24 August 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Bellevue to be split into two hotels?

The ongoing judicial saga relating to the financial and administrative affairs of the Hotetur hotel chain and its wholly-owned management company White Horse has taken a new turn, one that specifically relates to the giant Bellevue complex in Puerto Alcúdia.

An agreement appears to have been reached between the Blue Bay group (Al Andalus Management) which is currently running Bellevue and the Luabay hotel division of the Orizonia travel group.

Orizonia has been pressing its claims on Bellevue. These relate to a debt owed to Orizonia of 40 million euros that had been taken on by the previous owners of Hotetur, the now defunct Group Marsans, and for which Bellevue was the guarantee; Hotetur was acquired by the investment group Posibilitum, now the ultimate owners of Bellevue.

A resolution, in the form of the proposed agreement which seems likely to be accepted by both the receivers for Hotetur and the judge overseeing the case, will see Blue Bay and Luabay jointly run the Bellevue site. Moreover, it is understood that documents have been lodged with the Balearic Government's tourism ministry which would enable the complex to be split into two "hotels", albeit that the use of the word hotels is somewhat misleading, given that Bellevue is a series of individual blocks of apartments.

MALLORCA TODAY - Cloud Atlas: hotel spaces booked in Pollensa

Location filming for the Hollywood blockbuster version of David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" which will star, among others, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent, is due to take place from the middle of September for two weeks. Sa Calobra will be one of the main locations, and Puerto Soller and Formentor are also scheduled to feature. 180 hotel rooms have been booked in Pollensa for the duration.

A thousand or so hopefuls attended auditions for roles as extras in the film in Palma yesterday.

More on this: The main road into Sa Calobra will be closed for one day (yet to be confirmed). Permission is being sought for a galleon to dock in Puerto Soller and has been granted to use military installations on the Puig Major in the Tramuntana mountains.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 August 2011

The morning is clear, 25 degrees max at 08.30 and heading towards 30 later in the day.

And out of the blue a quick storm this afternoon, chucked it down for a few minutes while the sun was still shining, and then cleared off leaving it hotter than before. Today's highs have been just short of 30 degrees.


In research into Mallorca's tourism, no one finding has struck me more powerfully than that from the early '90s which suggested that some 10% of the island's tourism amounted to a net loss. It cost more to accommodate this very low-spend category of tourist than was gained. The cost was an approximation of resources etc. that were required to support it, but if one accepts the finding and that this 10% is now likely to be greater, then are there grounds also for accepting that such non-contribution promotes the existence of "tourismophobia", a hatred of tourism and of tourists?

A socio-ethical dimension inherent to all forms of tourism has been made more evident by all-inclusive tourism. Tour operators blather on about sustainable tourism and disingenuously refer to the sourcing of local produce and provision of local employment that all-inclusives offer (as though other types of hotel don't) but never confront the ethics of what is, for the most part, low-rent tourism and, even where it is higher worth, is a form of foreign occupation that avails itself of a destination while at the same time thumbing its nose at the destination.

The ethics of tourism have long been debated; the economic advantages always outweighing other considerations. However, when a destination becomes like a social-services repository for people transported in with little or no intention of adding to the general economic welfare of a destination, over and above the relatively small welfare created by their package holiday, the ethics debate takes a different turn.

Resources, be they human (and not always well paid), be they natural (the sun, the sea, the water, the environment in general) or be they artificial are drawn upon in satisfying the new mass of tourism, housed in ghettoes, divorced from the local communities and contributing comparatively little to them. The debate, from the point of view of a native of the destination, becomes a question: we give you all this, and what do you give us in return?

Tourism has operated under a system of reciprocity. It is one under which a destination opens its doors, accepts there will be changes if not damage to the environment, culture and way of life, but expects some compensation. Where an equilibrium has existed, as it has (or did) in many of Mallorca's resorts, then any underlying social tensions caused by tourism have been minimal.

The balance has altered, though. More difficult economic times have exacerbated the shifts caused by a market change (that of all-inclusive). They have fuelled a growth in a social phenomenon that is being covered by the Spanish tourism press and which is being taken increasingly seriously - that of "turismofobia".

To the economic argument, one can add a political and an idealistic element. In Mallorca, it is one of a small but vociferous group within mainly the younger generation who adhere to what might be styled Catalano-Luddism, essentially a turning back of the clock to a pre-tourism age and a rejection of a Spanish (Francoist) development, that of mass tourism, which was foisted onto Mallorca in the sixties.

If one ever takes a look at internet comments appended to Spanish press articles about the excesses of tourists in Mallorca, one gets a flavour of some of this phobia. It isn't just that people decry drunkenness, violence or diving from hotel balconies; comments are replete with references to a lack of respect, be it for the environment, the culture or whatever.

"Hosteltur", the Spanish tourism magazine and website, has been tracking this phenomenon for some time. At the end of last year it published a report which, while noting that this phobia was very much one held by a minority, revealed efforts designed to combat its growth. It looked at how in the Canary Islands a "social divorce" in respect of tourism had occurred and at how, in Tenerife in particular, efforts have been made to involve local people in tourism and its promotion and in communicating the benefits of tourism. In Barcelona, a major campaign has been waging to combat negative attitudes.

In Mallorca and the Balearics, however, nothing similar has been attempted, save for a forgotten and ill-funded campaign five years ago which featured a song (yes, seriously, a song) for tourism. No one can remember it. There is an acceptance, though, that the message has to be put across that tourism equates with prosperity.

The problem is, however, and as a consequence of market changes, that tourism is perceived as bringing prosperity to ever fewer numbers. "Tourismophobia" may be a minority social phenomenon, but don't count against it becoming more widespread.

Any comments to please.

Monday, August 29, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 August 2011

A bright sunny morning with 23 degrees at 09.00. A good day in prospect with highs heading towards the 30 mark. Likely to be some cloud around during the week with the possibility of a shower tomorrow morning.

The temperature has certainly climbed again this afternoon. Despite some cloud, the highs have topped 30 degrees and the heat index has been three degrees higher.

Needing Sympathy?: Hotels

Hotels full, record numbers of passengers passing through Palma airport. Oh what a summer. A great summer for the numbers-games players, especially the regional government, which loves the numbers more than most.

The hotels bursting at the seams, and so how do the hotels respond? They intend to put their prices up by 6% next year. It's cashing-in, payback time. A few years of keeping prices down and of seeing margins squeezed, the hotels want their money back.

Whether they get it is another matter. The tour operators, as ever, will have something to say about it. This summer of relative fortune has presumably seduced the hotels into believing that 2012 will be a golden summer as well, so they sense the opportunity to harvest some of the gold for themselves; the only problem is that north Africa will probably bite back and will be pricing competitively.

The hoteliers will argue that, having held prices down and despite the high levels of occupancy, their profitability has either plateaued or gone down. They, like bar and restaurant owners, complain about a lack of in-resort spend by tourists. But put prices up, either of direct sales or through a tour operator's package, and what do they think will happen? The tourist mentality is firmly and primarily wedded to the cost of the holiday itself; spend in-resort comes a poor second in the budgeting process, hence the attractions of the all-inclusive.

Should, though, one feel any sympathy for the hotels? They bring a lack of it on themselves. The constant attack on the residential tourism market and the at-times failures to deliver what it says on the tin and contemptuous attitudes make it hard for anyone to be sympathetic.

This is unfair on those hotels that play fair and treat their customers with respect, but as a body the hotels attract little compassion. The bad apples have the bad experiences they give their guests (or those who might have been guests had they not been turned away and sent elsewhere) plastered all over Trip Advisor, giving themselves a bad name together with resorts and the island as a whole.

Yet the bad experiences are not necessarily all down to failures on behalf of hotels; they can be a reflection of arrangements with tour operators, some of which can change in between holidays being booked and being realised.

The hotels, one cannot emphasise enough, form part of a distribution network in which they are independent of tour operators but also highly dependent on them. This network has four heads: the tour operators, the airlines, the travel agencies and the hotels. In certain cases, three of them are one and the same thing. Guess which one isn't.

Common ownership of three of the key elements in the network is all good business integration stuff, facilitating the regular mantra of "customer demand" to be put into good practice. However, there is another side to it.

Let me cite you the example of holidaymakers who wished to book a particular hotel. They went along to their local travel agency which informed them that the hotel in question was fully booked. This was for a holiday in May. The holidaymakers were offered and accepted an alternative hotel, one that is exclusive to the tour operator, the same tour operator that owns the travel agency. Once on holiday they went to the hotel which they had wished to book in the first place and spoke to people there. The hotel had of course been nothing like fully booked.

The point of this example is that, unless the relationship between hotel and tour operator and therefore travel agency is that strong, hotels can find themselves losing out. So what do they do? Put their prices up in order to compensate?

The hotels with the stronger relationships, which usually means exclusivity, have at least been guaranteed their sales and their money. Or have they?

There have been reports this summer of hotels being unable to meet monthly salary payments because they haven't been paid by tour operators. Which could well be hotels that, prepared to take a tour operator's shilling exclusively, have pared back prices to the bone.

It's hardly surprising therefore that the hotels might want to put their prices up. They can try, but whether they succeed is another matter. And even if they do succeed, getting paid on time is another issue entirely.

Do they deserve any sympathy? Through partially gritted teeth, I'm prepared to say that they do.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Real Mallorca 1 : 0 Espanyol

The delayed start to this season's La Liga, so Mallorca's first game at home to Espanyol.
An even first half, but Mallorca shading it with more chances on goal. A quarter of an hour into the second half, De Guzmán put Mallorca ahead with a right-foot shot. Espanyol had the greater amount of possession through the second half but couldn't break down a resolute defence that lacks Nunes, as it will for some three months of this season at least. A generally poor game, though, between teams lacking goal scorers, as highlighted by the goal attempts by Mallorca without success. And as for the goalscorer, De Guzmán may well be on his way to Villarreal. Excellent start, nonetheless, for Mallorca.

Real Mallorca:
Aouate; Zuiverloon, Chico, Ramis, Cáceres; Martí, Tejera (Victor, 67); Alfaro (Castro, 60), De Guzmán, Nsue; Tomer Hemed (Pina, 77)
Goal: De Guzmán (62 mins)
Yellows: Ramis (33 mins); Tomer Hemed (42 mins)

Alvarez; López, Amat, Moreno, Didac; Baena, Márquez (Sergio García, 74); Rui Fonte, Verdú, Luis García (Albin, 58); Alvaro (Thievy, 74)
Yellows: Moreno (32 mins); Márquez (41 mins); López (86 mins)

MALLORCA TODAY - Concerns over Fornalutx bull run protest

The animal rights group AnimaNaturalis intends to stage a protest today in the vilage of Fornalutx against the annual "correbou" (bull run) that takes place next month. There are concerns that there will be a repeat of the clashes that occurred last year when the same group staged a protest. The mayor has asked that local people do not go to the protest in order to try and avoid incidents.

Update: The protest passed off without incident. Confined to the sports area of the village to make their demonstration, the thirty or so members of AnimaNaturalis attracted little more than close police attention.

MALLORCA TODAY - Huge number of vehicles without insurance in Mallorca

According to data supplied by Tráfico, there are some 236,000 cars in the Balearics that have no insurance; 26% of the total number of vehicles. Economic hard times have led to the number without insurance soaring. And it is not just cars; 13% of "motos" also have no insurance.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 August 2011

A much fresher night with early temperatures, at 08.00, only 20 degrees. It is expected to be a cloudless day with highs possibly of 30 degrees later. The week ahead looks fine with the temperatures forecast to rise again.

It has been a very pleasant day with highs of 27 this afternoon.

The Mayoral Wonga

How much should a mayor be paid do you suppose? To answer the question you have to know what he or she does exactly, which admittedly isn't easy to get a handle on. A mayor does a lot of signing of things, puts in any number of appearances around and about, shakes a fair number of hands, chairs a few meetings, gets his or her photo taken pretty much every day.

There is a bit more to it than this and the mayor, more or less, is responsible for however many lives there are on his or her manor. It might be said, therefore, that a mayor should command a decent pay packet.

The question as to the mayoral salary has become an issue in Sa Pobla. Here the new mayor, Gabriel Serra, admitted a while back that the town hall was to, all intents and purposes, bust. Against this background and a further admission that the town hall will invest in no building works at all other than to perform urgent maintenance, the opposition's claim in early July that the mayor was going to be trousering nearly 4,400 euros a month did cause a slight rumpus. Assuming this entails 14 monthly payments, as is the wont locally, then Serra was due to be on over 60 grand a year.

Sa Pobla, it might be noted, is a smaller municipality than its neighbour Alcúdia, a tourism town where the town hall and therefore the mayor's remit is somewhat greater than a place that exists for little more than agriculture. The lady mayor of Alcúdia, Coloma Terrasa, will receive a salary the same as her predecessor - 2,100 euros net per month. On the face of it, there is something of a discrepancy with what Serra was said to have been going to be earning.

Said to be, because Serra has published his pay slip. It shows he's getting 2,137 euros net, quite a deal less than the opposition had claimed, and pretty much identical to the salary of Alcúdia's mayor. How the amount has come down by 50%, assuming it was ever intended to be nearly 4,400, one doesn't quite know, but down it has indeed come.

In Pollensa the mayor is getting 2,914 euros a month gross, which puts his take-home at roughly the same as Serra's. So the mayors of the three towns are now all making the same as each other; gross salaries, amended to take account of the two extra months in the year, of something over 40 grand.

Is this a fair amount? Is it too much, or is it too low? Who knows?

A full-time post in public service, and in the cases of Alcúdia, Pollensa and Sa Pobla, this means running towns with 19,000, 17,000 and 13,000 people respectively, should be reasonably well paid, especially if it is the only source of income. But this isn't necessarily the case of course. Many a town hall official, mayor or otherwise, tends to have business interests as well. A prime example was Muro's one-time mayor, Miguel Ramis. His interests? Well, there was the small matter of the Grupotel chain that he founded.

Ultimately, whether a mayor is worth his or her salary cheque depends on how well he or she performs, and performance can mean whatever you want it to, especially when the mayoral office is a political appointment and can count on the support of the relevant party (or parties) to ensure that performance is spun as being effective.

Yet the town halls are in financial crisis, not solely due to current economic hard times. Their tardiness in making payments to suppliers is the stuff of legend, and pre-dates economic crisis. But this should surely be a key measure of how well a town hall is being run or not. Alcúdia and Pollensa, for example, have been shown to typically take up to six months to make payments; you will hear of examples where payment has been much later (if at all).

It is when companies are faced with cash-flow crises of their own, thanks in no small part to being unpaid by municipalities, that one can understand there being some disquiet as to salaries that are paid to mayors, and not just to mayors. Full-time officials other than a mayor can expect to receive 1,800 euros per month net. And then you have the costs of town halls' personnel, which have gone through the roof since the start of the century.

A mayor can in theory be held to account. But widespread concerns exist as to a lack of transparency at town halls. Mayors, and other officials, should be made to show that they earn their money. It's a performance age, but performance as a measure has been slow to catch on in Mallorcan local government. The town halls and the mayors need to publish what they are doing, when and why they are doing whatever it is they are doing, and what they expect the results to be. Then at least we might be able to judge whether they are worth the money. And you never know, maybe this might show that they are worth more.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 August 2011

A change. Some cloud around and a fresher feel to the morning, the cooler northerly air that was promised for today making its presence felt. Local highs, as of 08.30, up to 23 degrees, the day should find highs coming down by up to five degrees over previous days (the likely high around 29). From tomorrow the temperatures are expected to slowly rise again.

The temperature has been down quite markedly. A high of only 25 this afternoon, but very pleasant compared with what has gone before.

Twisted Firestarter

There are a number of things you can do in order to have a good laugh. Kicking a shop window in, for instance. Giving someone a good kicking. What hoots. The only drawback with these is that they aren't spectaculars. There is though one way you can have a really good laugh and create a really good scene into the bargain. Set fire to something. Buildings? Not bad, but for maximum amusement, why not try entire forests? Now you're talking. One little match, some dry scrub, plenty of trees around, no obvious fire breaks, a good wind. Whoosh!

The outbreak of three fires on one day at roughly the same time and in similar positions, near to highways, is a bit of a coincidence. The Balearic Government's environment minister believes they were more than just a coincidence. Firestarters. Twisted firestarters. Yep, more than just one of them.

Mallorca's burning, Mallorca's burning, fetch the engines, fetch the engines. Pour on water, pour on water. And water is poured on from a not so great height by the helicopter bombers (an apt Anglicism given that the Catalan for firefighter is "bomber") and the Canadair.

Canadair. The word has rich resonance. The name itself, not so much in Mallorca or Spain, but in France and especially Corsica, conjures up an image of heroism.

In 1983 Corsica was ablaze. Much of the island was being torched. Deliberately. It just so happened that I was there on holiday at the height of the fires.

The geography of Corsica is quite different to that of Mallorca. A single range of mountains runs more or less the length of the island, the tallest peak being twice as high as Mallorca's Puig Major. The forests are denser, and good parts of the island are pretty much inaccessible. Combine this geography with the Mistral wind and people with boxes of matches, and you got what occurred in 1983.

The fires were that bad that tourists had to be evacuated to beaches. In Propriano where I was staying, the fires reached the hills above the resort. One night the flames were clearly visible. Local people were rounded up to go and help fight the fires.

News reports on local television were full of talk of "pyromaniacs". There were two or three in particular, all German, who the police suspected of having started many of the fires. It might have seemed like a bad time to have been a tourist in Corsica, especially as foreigners were being blamed for the conflagrations, but it was the opposite. Tourists, as outraged as the Corsicans, became involved. Some would have volunteered to help with the firefighting (we would have done), but were deterred by the police. And then there was the involvement with the Canadair.

Whenever a plane landed in the bay and took off, and this would happen for hour after hour most days, tourists joined with the locals in cheering and applauding. Sight of a Canadair produced excited pointing and chatter among children. The Canadair pilots were considered heroes; the planes themselves were heroic. The strength of the name "Canadair" has never left me.

Flying into dense woodland and dense smoke required remarkable courage. You could count the Canadair out, but you couldn't always count them back in. Cables were the greatest threats; cables that couldn't be seen by the pilots.

We were taken at one point to see the extent of the damage caused by one fire. What seemed like an entire mountainside was ash. 1983 was an ecological disaster, and it was man-made.

It takes years for forest to recover. With its burning go also the fauna and their habitats. Mallorca is called the paradise island and Corsica is the island of beauty; not though when they are on fire.

Mallorca has been spared the sort of infernos that engulfed Corsica. Because of the island's geography, the potential for massive destruction isn't as great. But this is small comfort. The fires this summer, which are likely to make 2011 one of the worst years ever, have not all been deliberate. Earlier in the summer fires near Santa Margalida and Artà were attributed to sparks from farm machinery or cars; to negligence rather than to anything pre-meditated. The later ones, however, seem more sinister, such as the three on one day and their very similar circumstances. The environmental investigation division of the Guardia Civil believes that a third of the fires this summer have been deliberate.

Why do it? Why set fire to scrub, woods or forests? Who knows the mentality of a pyromaniac, of a twisted firestarter? Just having a laugh? Go tell an heroic Canadair pilot and see if he shares the joke.

Any comments to please.

Friday, August 26, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Son Serra de Marina fire 26 August

Another fire. This one started around two this afternoon near to Son Serra de Marina, seven kilometres from Can Picafort. Canadair and other fire-fighting teams are attending.

There has also been a small fire this afternoon in Albufera near to Sa Pobla which was brought swiftly under control.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 August 2011

Local high of 25 degrees at 09.00 on a hazy morning. Maximums later in the day to around 32 degrees and from tomorrow, with any luck, a bit of cooling down.

The heat index this afternoon has gone as high as 39.4, with the maximum real temperature being just under 35 degrees. The wind has also picked up and has blown quite strongly at times, which might indicate that the change anticipated for tomorrow will happen.

Loud, Louder, Loudest

Human speech at a distance of one metre is normally around 50 decibels. 80 to 85 decibels is the level for shouting. An auctioneer was once charged with noise pollution for speaking at a volume which exceeded 80 decibels. In the US, if you speak too loudly in public places, the cops will be called.

The total decibel level on an average Mallorcan beach at peak times in the summer would presumably, were one minded to make an issue of it, break any noise regulation you might care to mention. Cumulative decibels don't matter though. What does matter is the level of individuals in your vicinity. There are those who are considerably louder than others; those in the 80-85 decibel range. Any guesses as to who they might be?

One afternoon on the beach there was a woman who managed to combine the irritation of playing wooden-racket paddle tennis (dock, dock, dock) with a monologue that lasted for getting on for half an hour. With a following wind, the sound was coming right in my direction (and she was of course further than one metre away from her companion). After five minutes I had, as I imagine had this companion, got her drift; all to do with the hours she was expected to work, the money she was being paid, blah, blah, blah.

Twenty-five minutes later and after she should have been disqualified for repetition - many times - I was considering whether there might have been some handy portable nuclear warhead and missile launcher lying in the scrub at the back of the beach. In the absence of one, there was no alternative other than to beat a retreat, leaving the lady in question rabbiting on. As far as I know, she still is.

The loudness of different nations is accentuated when they gather together. It does become very much easier to discern those who make more noise than others. With this in mind, I have developed the following equation:

L = x multiplied by y adjusted by D, where L equals "national loudness", x is one person, y is however many are in one household, and D is the distance of the household from nearby households.

This could, therefore, become L = 6 adjusted by ten metres times ten, depending on the number of (usually) relatives in the immediate neighbourhood.

The equation is one with an historical element and is largely based on local experience. Loudness, Spanish loudness, for which therefore read also Mallorcan loudness, can be generally attributed to having had to shout to be heard over all the other people in the house (of which there would have been many) and shouting as a means of communicating with the parents next door, the aunt next door to them, the grandparents on the other side, the cousins round the corner, the cousins twice removed a bit down the road ... .

Spanish loudness is inbred, a conditioning over many centuries. The equation can be amended to include what might be the PI co-efficient, where PI stands for parental indulgence.

Needless to say, the woman who was conducting the beach monologue was Spanish. No other nation quite comes near to the Spanish in terms of the sheer racket they make. In the specific case of the Mallorcans, there is an extra element, the L modified if you like, where the modification is one of the additional volume and screech akin to a cat having a potato inserted into its rear end. Not, I hasten to add, that I've ever personally tried doing this.

Doubtless there will be those who seek to claim for other nations the mantle of European loudness champions. The Germans for example. It is not a claim without some merit, one born out of an historical Junker mentality of barking orders with a monotone guttural intonation. It is a loudness, however, that grates rather than assaults the ears with the kind of lavish hyper-accentuation that the Spanish are capable of, while, as a rule, the Germans don't appear to be conducting a football commentary; speaking incessantly, in other words.

The British can't compete. As a nation the British do whatever they can to avoid drawing attention to themselves through speech. The British are the only people who whisper, even on a beach, as though they were in a doctor's surgery.

It was, however, a British auctioneer who was done for noise pollution, which says much for British attitudes to personal noise. It would be hard to imagine Spaniards being done in the same way, even if at a normal 80 decibels they should come with a health warning.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Robberies in Pollensa: further arrests

Another nine people, six between the ages of 18 and 34 and three under-18, have been arrested on suspicion of robberies and receiving stolen goods. The arrests relate to some 70 robberies of properties in Pollensa, mainly ones owned by foreigners and especially in more isolated areas, such as La Font.

MALLORCA TODAY - Another fire in Costa d'en Blanes

Yet another fire, and another one in the Costa d'en Blanes area. This one broke out mid-afternoon and has required that houses be evacuated because of the fire's proximity.

MALLORCA TODAY - Three falls in one night

And it just carries on. During the early hours of this morning, there were three more incidents of people (tourists apparently) falling from or within buildings and structures, the most serious being that of a 25-year-old Briton who fell from a wall by a parking area in Santa Ponsa. The other incidents involved at least one other Briton, also 25, who fell down a lift shaft in Portals Nous; the third incident occurred in Magalluf, a fall into a street.

MALLORCA TODAY - New casino now due to open in September

The new casino, that in Porto Pi which will replace the current one in Sol de Mallorca, is now due to open in September, following yet further delays to the renovation of the building that it will occupy, which appears to have been more complicated than had been expected.

MALLORCA TODAY - 88% hotel occupancy anticipated for September

With tourism levels in August meaning that the "no vacancies" signs have been put up on many hotels in Mallorca, September is set to be a good month as well, with 88% occupancy being anticipated, a rise of 11% over last year. Other parts of the tourism economy are enjoying a boom summer as well: rent-a-car agencies and boat charter firms are booked out.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 August 2011

Another hot day. 26 degrees the local high at 09.00, the met office has placed the north of the island on yellow alert for high temperatures today, with 36 expected in Sa Pobla; cooler by the coast.

The high this afternoon has been 33 degrees and the heat index has been up to 38 degrees. Looks as though there might be some cloud around tomorrow but no obvious fall in temperature.

What's Going On: Tribute acts

For the tribute act there are certain truisms of the art which, according to how many can be said to apply, will tend to determine the success or otherwise of the act. It does help to begin with if the trib act can sing, unless he or she is on the lowest rung of all tourist resort entertainment - the playback rung. Secondly, having a recognisable body of work is essential; recognisable preferably to all age groups, thus ensuring fun (possibly) for all the family.

Less essential but handy is that the trib act looks vaguely like his or her subject. Sometimes non-lookaliking can be compensated for with the judicious use of props. Get a blonde wig, for example, and an Agnetha is Abba-ed up; a full set, and Benny's your uncle. Very occasionally the lookaliking is so real that it can offer someone like the truly remarkable Rud Stewart; he not only looks more like Rod than Rod, he even sounds more like Rod than Rod.

The most tributed of all acts is Elvis. For the Elvises there are additional benefits, such as the stage gestures and vocal idiosyncrasies that allow the trib to become like an all-round song and dance man. The Elvises also have an advantage in that the younger generation know the Elvis oeuvre inside out; and they know this thanks to the sheer number of Elvises rather than their ever having actually heard an Elvis record.

Elvis is hugely worthy of tribute, and it is this - whether the subject is genuinely worthy - that draws into question the suitability of some subjects for tributing and asks another as to why certain artists are not tributed.

There is a distinction between artists of the past and those of the present or near present. Of those from the past, and from the early Elvis days of modern popular music up to around the start of the seventies, there were arguably only four acts to which one could assign the badge of true greatness: Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson).

Of these, a tribute Dylan wouldn't exactly go down a storm one imagines at the evening entertainment in a Mallorcan hotel. The Beach Boys would probably be largely unknown to a younger audience, while the sheer complexity and precision of their harmonies would tend to preclude them as a suitable subject for the trib act for whom simplicity is preferable.

If greatness is a necessity for tributing, then Tamla Motown as a collective would also qualify. However, Motown didn't produce true individual greats; with one notable exception, and before Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson went on to become true greats.

Forty years ago the greatest album ever made was released. It was a record that came completely out of the blue. It was unlike anything else; certainly anything else that Motown had put out. A black man's album, it wasn't black music per se; its messages and its musical styles resonated across cultures.

The "hey, what's happenin'?" chatter of Detroit Lions American footballers, the congas in an echo chamber and the sax at the start of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" introduced an album that totally changed the perception of Gaye himself, of Motown and of black commercial music. Motown, for all its success and for all that it was admired and was influential, was still looked upon as churning out formulaic pop, sanitised for a white audience.

Marvin Gaye made a musically original and brilliant album that combined protest against war, environmental damage and social injustice and which succeeded in suddenly making black music hip to those with all sorts of musical tastes. For example, a "progressive" music fan, one more inclined to searching for the meaning from a Pink Floyd record cover, could now openly admit to liking a Motown record.

But Marvin Gaye would never be the subject for a local trib act. Yet, in addition to "What's Going On", there was what came before and afterwards, while he suffered a fate that might in fact be another requirement for the trib act - an untimely and, in his case, violent end.

Trib acts are, for the most part, a bit of fun and a bit of froth. Not all, but most. True greatness isn't a pre-requisite. If it were, then Dylan, Brian Wilson and Marvin Gaye would find themselves being tributed rather than, let's say, Girls Aloud. Perhaps it's as well. The greatest tribute to the greatest album ever made is that no one in their right mind would even attempt to emulate it.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 August 2011

The high is 24.6 at 08.30. Some haze over the mountains but otherwise it has the look of another blisteringly hot day, which is what it will no doubt be. 31 or 32 degrees anticipated.

The afternoon's highs were just over 32 degrees but the heat index topped the 100 fahrenheit mark at 38.3 C.

Join Our Club: Youth tourism market

Lloret de Mar is a Spanish resort synonymous with the growth of mass and packaged tourism. It occupies a place in tourism history alongside Torremolinos, Benidorm and Arenal (Playa de Palma) as being where it all really took off. In the late sixties, when my family swapped Hastings and Bournemouth for the newly exotic and cheap Spanish resorts, it was Arenal and Lloret that, probably through the pages of a Clarkson brochure, offered promises of a holiday experience alien to that of the south-coast end-of-the-pier variety.

Lloret has never shaken off its image. Try as it might have done, and like other resorts in Spain and Mallorca, it is still considered to be essentially naff. What it has also acquired is an image for trouble, one that it shares with resorts such as Magalluf.

This summer there has been disquiet among hoteliers, businesses and town hall representatives regarding the portrayal of Magalluf on Spanish national television channels, and specifically what goes on along the "strip". The head of the tourist businesses association Acotur has voiced his concern that Magalluf has been depicted as a lawless town.

Magalluf has had its share of trouble this summer; even a US marine managed to get himself hauled in following a fight. It has not been alone. In Arenal a bunch of German skinheads engaged in a spot of what was quite clearly racially motivated bother.

But the trouble in both resorts has been nothing compared with that in Lloret.

Earlier this month there was a battle involving some 400 tourists, French and Italian. A couple of nights later there were further incidents and twenty arrests, none of them, by the way, of British people.

The indignation felt by businesses in Lloret has led them to go further than those in Magalluf. The federation representing businesses offering recreational musical activities (which, one assumes, partly or totally means clubs) is considering asking a judge to look at whether tour operator publicity has in some way contributed to the incidents. The federation considers that this publicity, and also that of "intermediary agencies", has branded Lloret as a destination for drunken tourism.

It is not clear which tour operators or intermediary agencies the federation has in mind, as it is also not clear what charge might actually be levelled against them, but if it is the case that tour operators have in some way contributed, then what does this say about their responsibilities?

If you are going to pitch a resort to a youthful market, you are unlikely to portray it as tranquil and sedate. Which doesn't mean to say you have to describe it as somewhere you can go out, get off your face and have a good old bundle.

The tour operators do, when it comes to the youth tourism market, tread a fine line. It would be a strange tour operator indeed who didn't know what the priorities for a goodly part of this market would be, and these don't include "doses of local culture and scenery that gives you that serene feeling". Don't take my word for it, as these are the words of First Choice on its 2wentys holidays to Magalluf page: "not that we're really interested in that side of things".

Further down the page is a list of what things cost. Four items. A full English but otherwise a pint of beer, spirit and mixer and a bottle of wine. The 2wentys section on the website is headed with the advice to "join 2wentys for some serious party antics, with bar crawls, booze cruises and more ...". No suggestions of any drinking there then. And none at all on its Facebook page; apologies, Magalluf, but Gumbet in Turkey is apparently the place to get totally off of it this summer.

But what does anyone expect? What indeed do the good people of Lloret expect? They might not expect pitched battles with 400 tourists, but if your resort has a clubbing and youthful reputation, then I'm sorry but you are going to get people who like the odd cold drink or a hundred.

Ever since Club 18-30 first burst on the scene - its initial destination in its old, very much less raucous Horizon days was in fact Lloret - there have been "issues" surrounding the youthful, clubbing market. Yes, the tour operators do have to assume some responsibility, but they have also been responsible for a growth in resort supply, such as the clubs. In Lloret, to which neither 2wentys nor Thomas Cook's Club 18-30 go, why exactly is there a federation representing clubs? Who are these clubs for? Senior citizens?

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Three arrests for Puerto Pollensa robberies

The Guardia Civil has arrested three men between the ages of 18 and 25 suspected of break-ins to properties in Puerto Pollensa. They are accused of eleven such offences. One of the three has confessed.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 August 2011

Morning cloud cover, the high is 23.6 at 08.30. The cloud should clear and give another hot day. The temperatures are expected to fall today but more so in the south of the island. Highs in the area today are likely to still be in the region of 32 degrees.

The extreme heat of the past few days saw a high in the north of 37.4 in Sa Pobla where 35 is forecast for today (inland temperatures always tending to be higher than the coasts). Later in the week, by Saturday, a northerly system is expected to bring cooler temperatures and a fresher atmosphere but no chance of rain.

Today's highs have been just over 30 degrees but it has been sweltering with a steamy heat index up to 36 degrees.

Is The Customer Satisfied?

The Balearics received 11% more international visitors in the first seven months of this year than last. Let joy be unconfined. Put out the bunting.

5.75 million people up to the end of July, but have they been happy? Loads of people doesn't automatically mean loads of satisfied people or indeed loadsamoney. At the same time as the statistics of joy are being sung about arrivals into the airports and ports, the latest tourism satisfaction survey compiled by the research organisation Gadeso offers a less upbeat tempo.

The overall index of satisfaction where Mallorca is concerned is down. Only fractionally, but down nevertheless. Of the four key measures of satisfaction, only the quality of the environment shows a slight upward trend. Satisfaction with public services is unchanged from 2010, while satisfaction with both accommodation and the so-called complementary offer (bars, restaurants etc.) is down.

A caveat in all this is that the results are based on a mere 400 interviews, and these 400 have been conducted across the Balearics. There have been more in Mallorca than anywhere else, but the number still isn't great, and there is no indication as to the backgrounds of those interviewed. So, is the survey of any use?

Its value does rather depend upon whether you believe that results from a limited survey can be extrapolated into painting an accurate picture of attitudes more generally. Tourists are a highly diverse bunch with a highly diverse set of expectations, and when a survey asks for making a ranking between one and ten, the decision of the person being surveyed can be fairly arbitrary.

What you get, at best, is an indication. No more. You can choose to use the results as evidence or not. If, however, you are inclined to take them as evidence, then certain findings do rather jump out at you. One in particular. That of the satisfaction with the price-quality ratio of the bars and restaurants. It has the lowest rating of any factor in the survey - 3.4 - which is the same as last year and down from 4.0 since 2009. It is the one factor that Gadeso describes as "deficient".

If one interprets this as meaning that prices are too high and quality is too low, then the bars and restaurants of Mallorca are not performing well. One suspects the ratio is, in the minds of those surveyed, skewed more by price than it is by quality; that the assessment is an assessment of price as opposed to what actually appears on a plate. Why might one suspect this? Because prices are known. Quality is intangible. Providing a ratio between the known and the unknown will place a greater emphasis on what is known. Simple.

Consequently, can we assume that prices are too high? Anecdotally they are said to be. But what are the benchmarks? One also suspects that a benchmark is an historical recollection of what things cost in the good old days or is a completely unrealistic expectation that because Mallorca is "foreign" it should automatically be cheap. Prices vary so markedly that is almost impossible to come to a conclusion. How, for instance, does one reconcile the fact that in Puerto Pollensa you can pay three euros for a coffee and a bacon sandwich in one establishment, then go to another and pay 4.50 for the coffee alone? Yes, the quality element kicks in, but if you go solely on price then a reconciliation cannot be made, other than the fact that one place is cheap and the other isn't.

The singling out of price, be it by anecdote or by survey result, is a headline maker because price is arguably the most important issue to the tourist. Indeed the Gadeso survey reinforces this, but in doing so it raises an apparent contradiction. Since 2009 price as a motivation for tourists choosing Mallorca has shot up by over 12 percentage points. 61.8% of those surveyed said it was the main motivation. So, how does this square with the finding regarding the price-quality ratio?

Perhaps it is a reflection of what tourists expect of Mallorca and is also a reflection, as noted by the survey, of low-cost travel. It may also represent expectations of first-time visitors, those who opted for Mallorca this year because of problems elsewhere in the Mediterranean region. The percentage of those who had previously been to Mallorca is down quite significantly, while the percentage of those saying they would return is also down.

Surveys are notorious for enabling whatever interpretation you want to put on them, but the message from this one is that price is the overriding factor in coming to Mallorca in the first place, and that price, once on the island, is not quite as was expected.

Any comments to please.

Monday, August 22, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - One of the worst years for fires in Mallorca

The three forest fires that broke out yesterday added to what has become one of the worst years for fires in Mallorca since the turn of the century. There have so far been 106 fires, but it is still only August; the average of the past decade has been 125 per year. The fire yesterday in Capdepera, near to the resort of Cala Ratjada, affected some 20 hectares and last night wasn't completely under control.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 August 2011

An 09.00 high of 26 degrees, another hot day in store, with highs similar to the past few days, i.e. around 32 degrees. Very little sign if any difference in the forecast during the week. A bit of cloud around perhaps mid week, but nothing of any significance.

It has been extremely warm. The local high has been 32.4, but the heat index has been up to 36.7.

You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet: Complaints

You would have thought that the complaints would have stopped. Having seen the back of the old mayor, the source of much of the discontent, the businesses of Puerto Pollensa still aren't content. New town hall boss, same as the old town hall boss. Or something like that.

There is always something to complain about in Puerto Pollensa. Over the past few months we have had streets being dug up and the renewal of utilities in the square dragging on longer than they should have, the beach management fiasco and now we have overflowing litter bins, lack of parking and a twice-weekly mini-market.

To make matters worse, or so it is being said, the port is being allowed to go to the dogs (and usually to their output) and is coming in a poor second, third or fourth behind other resorts in the north of the island. While this jockeying for the minor places suggests that comparisons are being made with Muro and Can Picafort, it is really only a comparison with the immediate neighbour Alcúdia, for years looked down upon as though it were something unpleasant on the sole of a well-heeled Pollensan shoe. It's a bit hard to continue to do so when you've just stepped in something unpleasant left under a pine tree on Puerto Pollensa's walk of pines.

The comparison with Alcúdia is worth entertaining not because of what might be considered the neighbour having assumed the lofty position of number one in the northerly rankings but because of the nature of the complaining. Puerto Pollensa does this, complaining, very much better than anywhere else. It has more moaners per square metre than any place in Mallorca.

Complaint has perpetuated complaint to the point where the complaining has become almost institutionalised and complaining for the sake of complaining. This is not to let the town hall off the hook, especially not the previous administration, but the new one has yet to complete its first hundred days in office. The new administration should be given a break.

The latest bout of complaining needs some analysis. The lack of parking is an old chestnut. Notwithstanding some talk of an area on the edge of the resort being made available for parking, quite how the town hall is supposed to suddenly magic up whole parking lots is something of a mystery. The additional mini-markets were in fact requested by local restaurants as a way of creating some ambience, even if shops aren't too enamoured of them. The overflowing litter bins? Well, maybe there is a point with this, but the mayor, somewhat mischievously avoiding the criticism, has said that these are evidence of a flourishing resort with hotels also overflowing.

The businesses to the fore in this current round of complaining have dragged in the president of Acotur, the tourist businesses' association. He has been a busy chap, and his busyness needs to be considered by those who might feel that Alcúdia is a total paragon of tourism resort virtue and who might also overlook the fact that Alcúdia is two distinct resorts - the port and the Mile.

He met recently with Alcúdia's lady mayor along with businesses around the Mile. The complaints here are of a different order to those in Puerto Pollensa: all-inclusives, the proliferation of lookies and illegal street selling, robberies and lack of maintenance. The main thing to come out of the meeting with the mayor was that the bridge along the Mile will be painted for the first time in a generation.

While the complaints were different to those in Puerto Pollensa, there is a further difference to the complaining: Alcúdia's isn't organised. It's not as if there haven't been things to complain about, but there is nothing like the well-oiled propaganda machine that exists in Pollensa and which regularly fills column inches in the local press.

The greatest single problem for businesses in Alcúdia, especially for those around the Mile, is that of all-inclusives; it is a far greater problem than any of those experienced in Puerto Pollensa. But even a proposed day of action in September when businesses would close in protest at the impact of all-inclusive probably won't happen because of the absence of organisation and the presence of self-interest and indifference.

The latest complaining in Puerto Pollensa smacks more of casting around for something to blame on behalf of some businesses which might not be benefiting from the mayor's overflowing hotels. It might also be better to keep the complaining powder dry. With the town halls in such dire financial situations, the complaining will be matched by the despairing and a general wailing and gnashing of businesses' teeth. You ain't heard nothing yet.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Fires in Cala Ratjada, Son Servera and Génova

Another day, another three forest fires to add to the spate of fires that have broken out on Mallorca this summer. The three today have been near to Costa d'en Blanes in the Génova area of Calvia, in forest in Son Servera and close to the resort of Cala Ratjada.

Cala Ratjada fire update 20.30. The fire broke out around 17.00 and is still threatening homes in the area. The Son Servera fire is under control, though that in Costa d'en Blanes is still also unstable.

Images from the Cala Ratjada fire from "Diario de Mallorca":

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 August 2011

Early morning highs (at 07.30) at around 23 degrees. Highs today again up to 32 and 33, but with the heat index likely to make things feel hotter.

The high temperatures are set to continue this coming week. Tuesday should see a cooling of a couple of degrees and some cloud, but on Wednesday things will be back to how they currently are.

And it has indeed been another hot day, with highs at 32 degrees.

The Council Tack

The Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD) party has nicked my idea. It has proposed that the islands' councils, and the Mallorca council in particular, be scrapped. You may know that I had suggested this recently, as I have suggested it before over the years.

I don't suppose for one moment that there are those in the UPyD who are paying any attention to what I have to suggest, but I'll settle for the fact that one party at any rate seems to see the sense in getting rid of the Council of Mallorca and therefore the lack of sense of its being.

There again, the UPyD, new kids on the political block, having been only formed in 2007, doesn't have much to lose by making audacious proposals. Not that it is necessarily that audacious. There are hints that the Partido Popular (PP) might be thinking along similar lines, while the PSOE candidate for national president, Alfredo Rubalcaba, has sort of flagged up the idea as well. The UPyD, though, is the only party to come out and say unequivocally that the Council should go.

The UPyD is a party that you might describe as being a bit like the Liberal Democrats. It is of the centre, and while it is against nationalism, and so distances itself from the PP with its nationalist tendencies, it also believes there is too much decentralisation of government in Spain. This is less an anti-regionalism philosophy and more a practical one.

The momentum towards eliminating the Council and therefore the cost of running it and the duplications it causes is gathering, as also a momentum is growing to cut back or eliminate other forms of provincial government in Spain below that of the autonomous communities (of which the Balearics are one).

What might hold this momentum back is the history of the Council. It is only relatively new, having been formed, along with the councils of the other Balearic islands, after the collapse of the Franco regime and with the introduction of autonomous government in the islands in the early 1980s.

Consequently, the Council is symbolic of the new democratic era in the Balearics and in Spain as a whole. And there is a bit more history to it. Island councils were due to have been formed in the 1930s, but the Civil War got in the way. Prior to this, there had only been a provincial deputation for the Balearics as a whole (which dated back to the first half of the nineteenth century). The fact that the Council's existence was delayed by some fifty years by Franco does give an historical as well as an emotional force that demands that it should stay.

The Council has a whole raft of responsibilities, granted to it under the constitution and statutes relating to the autonomous communities. To take these away completely, and so follow the trend started by the removal of tourism promotion and absorbing them within the regional government, would require a constitutional change. Or at least, one would imagine that it would.

Getting rid of the Council would be fraught with danger because it would be nuanced by parties with strong regional philosophies as turning the clock back to the bad old days and as undermining the authority given to the islands when they were made an autonomous community.

Of these parties, however, only the Mallorcan socialists really count for anything at present. PSOE (nationally if not locally) appears as though it might be adopting a more pragmatic approach which would allow for the Council's dismantling, while the PP locally would probably be prepared to go along with it. The UPyD doesn't really count for much either, but it has at least brought the subject fully out into the open.

The threat to the Council comes mainly because of financial pressures. The discussion as to its future is belated though, which may sound odd as it is an institution barely thirty years old. But its youth tells a different story. The Council was formed in the glow of the new democracy. It is symbolic, there is no question about this, but whether the organisation in that glow of democracy was the right one is the question that now should be asked. And it is being asked.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - British tourist in Magalluf dies after falling through a stairwell

A British tourist named as Paul David Newman (37) died this morning following a fall through a stairwell from the sixth to the ground floor at the Royal Beach hotel.

MALLORCA TODAY - Pollensa mayor responds to Acotur criticisms

The president of Acotur, the association of tourist businesses, attended a meeting with the mayor of Pollensa, Tomeu Cifre, to discuss complaints by businesses in Puerto Pollensa. One of these complaints, regarding parking, is to be addressed by the re-introduction from next year of the "blue zones". Of others, the mayor said that litter bins overflowing were an indication of a successful tourism season, the local hotels full, and that the effects of the twice-weekly additional market had been exaggerated and that this market had been introduced because local restaurants had asked for it as a way of improving the general atmosphere in the port.

On a different matter, town halls in Mallorca are looking at divesting themselves of the running of old people's homes and, as a way of saving costs, handing the responsibility over to the Council of Mallorca. Pollensa currently has two old homes, the one in the old town still operable despite the opening of a new centre in the Llenaire district of Puerto Pollensa.

Another cost-saving idea for towns with fewer than 20,000 people (which would therefore include both Alcúdia and Pollensa) is that a tax which is currently paid to the Council of Mallorca for fire services be scrapped.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 August 2011

Not quite as stifling a night, and the morning feels a bit fresher, despite temperatures already by 09.00 close to 28 degrees. Highs of 32 anticipated, lower than in the south of the island where 36 has been recorded.

Another cracking day, the high having been just over 33 inland in Pollensa, but a heat index high has been 35 (Alcúdia).

Paying For Sand: Prices on beaches

How much are you paying for a sunbed? It's one of those questions, on a par with what's the weather like in (add as applicable), that is on the list of the Mallorcan visitor's enquiries.

I confess to not knowing a great deal about the cost of sunbeds. I have never, ever hired one. They are a part of beach life that has passed me by, and I pass them by on the way to finding a piece of soft sand. But the sunbed is important for many. The beach should be comfortable and not be a place where no end of patting the sand down can seem to eliminate the annoying ridge that's sticking into your back.

My knowledge of the subject has, however, increased thanks to the fact that sunbeds have been very much a theme of this Mallorcan summer. They have either not been provided (Puerto Pollensa for a time) or too many have been provided (Can Picafort, before the mayor ordered the removal of excessive numbers).

And I can now thank the local Chamber of Commerce for adding to the body of the sunbed knowledge. It's put out a report and is asking for a harmonisation in pricing in the different resorts, differences in which can be as great as five euros for a bed and a shade combination. The average price is 7.6 euros.

The cost of sunbeds has increased markedly since the turn of the century. One reason for this has been an increase in the tax charged by town halls. It's a simple equation: the higher the tax, the higher the price.

The beach operators, however, have other costs to take into account, such as those for the sunbeds and parasols themselves, which are often meant to comply with certain specifications. For example, some of the parasols in Pollensa have not been of the required reed material, which has added to what has become an annual controversy in respect of beach provision.

With the tax that has to be paid and all the other costs, it is perhaps unsurprising that you got a situation such as that in Can Picafort where the operator was exceeding the number of sunbeds by some 550. It's all about profitability, after all. Nevertheless, Can Picafort is one resort where the cost is said to be reasonable.

The differing costs to the operators and the differing prices they charge mean that the overall annual benefits to operators also vary. The report suggests that in Felanitx (by which I guess it means Portocolom) the return is just under five hundred euros a unit, way higher than in Manacor (92 euros).

Sunbeds aren't the only elements of beach life that come with a price. Some come with a pretty significant one. Well, would you pay 50 euros for 20 minutes on a jetski? Maybe you would. Less expensive though and also more sedate are pedaloes. Average going rate 11.7 euros, says the report. But it can be nine euros or it can be 15 (Alcúdia). What you win on lower sunbed prices in Alcúdia, you lose on a pedalo.

And what about the beach bars? The "chiringuitos" and "balnearios". They too are subject to varying taxes according to resort, and so charge accordingly.

Last year, before the season had even properly started, I was being told about the fact that the beach bar prices were too high. An example was given in respect of Swedish tourists to Alcúdia who now found a "pint" in a beach bar to be roughly the equivalent of that back in Sweden, a country hardly known for its cheap alcohol.

But when the chiringuitos are being taxed in the way they are, the prices start to become understandable. They have to pay the town halls, the inland revenue and the concessionaire who actually runs the beach bars.

The town halls make a mint out of their beaches. If they have a number of them and/or they have large beaches with high occupancy by tourists, then they are quids in. One of the largest beaches is that in Alcúdia, and the town hall here rakes in the most of any town hall from its beaches, more so than Palma: nearly three and a half million euros. Even Pollensa, with smaller beaches, can outstrip even Calvia when it comes to its revenue: around a million less than Alcúdia.

There's money to be made from sand. But you know, the beach should be simple. Take a towel and lie on the sand, forget about the pedalo, pack your own drinks and snacks. And then there soon wouldn't be money to be made.

Any comments to please.

Friday, August 19, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 August 2011

More of the same. An oppressive night and an oppressive morning. Over 26 degrees by 09.30. Highs 30 or more later. And little sign of any change.

A repeat of yesterday. 30 degrees, but feeling hotter. At 21.00 it is 27 degrees, feels like a sauna and won't get much cooler through the night. Higher temperatures in the offing.

The Good, The Bad And The Holiday Let

I'm going to give you a list of organisations. When you get to the end of the list, here are your questions - what do they have in common and what is missing? Here goes, and pay attention:

The hotel federations of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera; the association of hotel chains; the association for agrotourism; the Mallorca Tourism Board; the chambers of commerce in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza; the federation of local authorities; the University of the Balearic Islands; the associations of small and medium-sized businesses in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza (PIMEM); the association of travel agents; the school of hostelry; airlines; tour operators; unions.

Ok, if you have said they have all been invited to form part of the Balearics Tourism Agency, then have a banana. This is indeed what they all have in common.

Pretty big agency, huh? Yes, but a reason behind them all joining the agency is to avoid duplications in tourism efforts. So, credit where credit's due. The agency may now sound unwieldy, but better this than numerous bodies here and there doing their own things.

But what of the second question? What's missing? Need some help? Just look at the list again. Which are the really big players? Tour operators, airlines, yes, but also the hotels. Still don't know the answer? This is a tourism agency, don't forget. Tourism requires accommodation. Are you getting warmer?

Nowhere in this coming together of pretty much all those who matter in Mallorca and Balearics tourism is any representation of non-hotel accommodation: the holiday lets. The tour operators are one player that has an interest in this type of accommodation, others do to a degree as well, but otherwise there is no voice at all.

Why isn't there? The obvious answer is that there is no body to represent what is a highly fragmented part of the local tourism industry. Even if there were, how well organised it would be would be open to question. There are all sorts of reasons why owners of holiday lets might not wish to be part of an organisation. This aside, the chances are that it wouldn't be invited anyway.

Two summers ago some grand strategy talking-shop was meant to have been organised by the tourism ministry. It never actually met, but had it done there were to have been two key problems to be addressed, those of seasonality and holiday lets. While mostly anyone associated with the tourism industry would agree that seasonality is a serious problem, only certain parties openly state that holiday lets are. Who were due to have been involved in this strategy talking-shop? The hotels and unions for a kick-off. Both of them antagonistic towards holiday lets.

Amongst the organisations being pulled into the tourism ministry's agency now, there are few which might speak out in favour of non-hotel accommodation. You might hope that the university would offer an independent view, for example. But as for others, they will mostly tow the line, the one that the hotels, the unions and therefore also the tourism ministry promote: that holiday lets are a bad thing.

Not completely a bad thing, as the tour operators will be quick to point out. But their interests lie with the regulated and registered villas of Mallorca. The airlines might also point out that holiday lets are not a bad thing. What about PIMEM? Where would it stand on the issue?

PIMEM has a bar and restaurant division. PIMEM is quite vocal on different matters, such as all-inclusives. A bad thing, it has been saying recently. It has also been saying that permission for hotels to convert to condohotels would be a good thing.

A hundred or so hotels are already said to be planning to sell off rooms and apartments in anticipation of a change to the tourism law which would permit condohotels and which would therefore create a type of residential tourism, akin to holiday lets but to the hotels' advantage.

PIMEM reckons this is a good idea because it isn't all-inclusive and because it would benefit its restaurant members, given the type of tourist it would attract.

But this is precisely the same argument regarding holiday lets. Or one of them. So why doesn't PIMEM come out and support these? Probably for the same reason that the tourism ministry won't. It doesn't want to upset the hotels.

The newly constituted tourism agency is a good thing in many respects, but in one, that of a whole sector of the tourism industry, it isn't. The momentum against holiday lets is unlikely to let up. Unless there are now voices at the agency to say otherwise, it is likely to get very much stronger.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 August 2011

A blistering day in prospect, the local high at 08.30 is nudging 26 and 35 is being anticipated later. Want it hot, well you've got it.

Well, turned out not be anything like as hot as had been forecast. The local high has been inland in Pollensa, just under 30 degrees. But the heat sensation has been higher, up to about 32 degrees.

Can't Pay, Won't Pay

Payback time. As reported in "The Bulletin" (17 August), the Council of Mallorca faces a likely demand from central government to pay back subsidies for road building that didn't happen and which were used for other purposes.

The Council faces an additional demand. The national finance ministry is owed 9.8 million euros by the Council. It is the shortfall between money that was paid on account by Madrid in the expectation that tax revenues generated by the Council would meet the estimate of this payment and would be handed over to the finance ministry.

This system of advance payment, a sort of cash-flow measure if you like, works only if the local authority is in a position to pay it back and only if the estimate was realistic in the first place. The estimate may have been realistic, in historical terms, but the demand for the 9.8 million relates to the year 2009. The year of crisis taking hold. Tax revenues plummetted.

The Council is far from being the only local authority which faces a demand for payment. The town halls of the Balearics are into the finance ministry for a total of 32 million euros. Palma owes 7.9 million, and the five largest towns in Mallorca after Palma - Calvia, Manacor, Llucmajor, Marratxí and Inca - all owe over one million euros; very nearly two million in Calvia's case. Of other towns, Alcúdia owes most - close to 800,000; Pollensa faces a demand for 350,000, Santa Margalida for 439,000. The only municipality that is owed by the ministry is Escorca - all of 1,600 euros.

How are the local authorities going to pay these demands? If they are all like Santa Margalida, they won't be paying. Its mayor says there isn't any money. Of course there isn't. One estimate of Santa Margalida's debt puts it at eleven million. The Council of Mallorca would seem to have little hope of handing over virtually ten million, not when it is technically bust and over 300 million in the red.

The demands have led to all manner of accusations as to where the blame lies. In Santa Margalida it is the fault of the previous Partido Popular-led town hall administration. For Manacor's PP mayor it is the fault of the PSOE socialist national government for not having reformed local authority financing. Pollensa's PP mayor says that central government got its sums wrong.

Wherever the fault lies, extracting repayments out of many town halls is going to be a tough call. Manacor, for example, faces, in addition to over a million being demanded of it, the unexpected cost (around one million itself) of complying with the idiotic demolition of the Riuet bridge in Porto Cristo. And it's not as though the towns can just wave their hands, plead penury and expect to not have to pay. Higher authorities than the town halls have been known to seek legal and financial redress from the municipalities and indeed from mayors for non-compliance with certain orders; as Antoni Pastor, Manacor's mayor, knows only too well.

What does the finance ministry do though? Does it withdraw advance payments and expect future tax revenues to cover the repayment? If so, then the town halls will be bankrupted. In addition to the debt which hovers over most of them are the constraints placed on them in respect of seeking credit. Tax revenues down in any event, how do they continue to function?

The system of public finance gives the impression of being close to collapsing. While there is a sense of chickens coming home to roost and of previous profligacy now being punished, this does nothing for assuring that public services are maintained. One ray of light in the mess comes from what Alcúdia's lady mayor has to say, that some formula will be worked out. It may well be, and it may well be that her colleagues in the PP nationally, if and when they assume office after the election in November, will find an accommodation. A question would be, what sort of accommodation? The PP is more minded to slash public funding than the current government.

Where the Council of Mallorca is concerned, its repayment burden simply adds to its precarious position and to its highly questionable viability. And what exactly was it doing spending state money on projects other than those for which the money was intended?

Perhaps this was it though. The Council, as with the town halls, had just looked upon the state as their sugar daddy and had expected that the good times would continue to roll along with the cash, whether fully accounted for or not. Unfortunately, daddy bet the house and lost, and the IMF and others have attributed Spain's financial troubles less to shaky banks and more to the amounts spent by regional authorities.

The local authorities can't pay and probably won't pay, and so Spain's financial woes just deepen.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 August 2011

Another sunny and hot day in the offing. Local highs at 08.30 are 25 degrees. On the mainland the temperatures are expected to get up to 40 degrees in some parts, though these temperatures are not being forecast for the Balearics.

It has been a very warm day, the local high being in the Albufera area; just short of 34 degrees. Tomorrow may well be the hottest day of the year (currently 35.3 on 7 July), as temperatures are expected to rise in parts of Mallorca to 36 degrees.

The Ice-Cream Man

The heat of a Mallorcan summer's afternoon. A refreshing beer perhaps? A can of chilled over-priced Coke from a beach-side supermarket? Or what about a lolly?

There can be little finer than some fruity ice with which to quench a thirst; the sweet taste of orange concentrate being sucked to the point where its colour disappears, leaving a spear of silvery frost. The lolly is a greatly underrated pleasure, inclined to be overlooked in favour of more exotic packaging to be picked over in a shop's freezer, the chill from which, on sweaty hands and forearms, is worth the price of what's to eventually be chosen: the Magnum; the one in a tub with a Venetian twirl and a suggestion of cherry; the variety of white chocolate coating, dark chocolate, chocolate with nuts. Ice cream.

The lolly is, suprisingly perhaps, a relatively recent innovation. It is little more than a hundred years old. It is a johnny-come-lately of the world of things on a stick. The ice cream has an altogether longer history, yet both share a common bond, that of ice. That it took a couple of hundred years for someone to add fruit juice to ice when cream and ice had been being combined since the early eighteenth century is a curiosity of uninventiveness. (In fact the first lolly didn't even involve fruit juice; it was made with soda water powder.)

The heritage of ice cream partly explains its dominance when it comes to the sunny-afternoon refreshment decision. The ice cream is firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. We have become instinctive ice-cream eaters. And the ice cream, because it has infinite versatility in a way that the lolly doesn't, is a marketing man's dream. We are attracted to its packaging, to its tubs of all colours, to its never-disappointing moreishness.

We grew up with lollies and ice cream, but the ice cream has stayed with us. The lolly, despite its greater thirst-quenching properties, is very much more infantile. Grown men are more likely to hide their lolly consumption than openly display it on the beaches or streets of Mallorca. The ice cream, on the other hand, holds no possible stigma. It is an accepted indulgence, a totally unguilty pleasure. One can be outed as an ice-cream eater without any thought of recrimination.

We all carry our ice-cream baggage with us, our own histories of ice cream. My own goes back to the ice-cream parlour in the village at the foot of the hill going up to the church. Fortuna's Ice Cream. The very name was parodical. Mr. Fortuna was parodical. He was an Italian before Italian stereotyping had been thought of. And he made ice cream.

The strangest thing about Mr. Fortuna was that he was an uncle of mine, despite there being not the slightest Italian connection between our family and anyone else's. He, Uncle Fortuna (we never actually knew his first name), was an uncle purely on account of the fact that every man back then was an uncle, just as every woman was an aunt. My childhood was full of confusion; I could never quite work out who I was actually related to.

To the Italians has fallen the honour of history in assigning to them responsibility for having invented certain foods and drink. Pizza, pasta, cappuccino, ice cream. Arguably, they didn't invent any of them, and a claim on ice cream is the most tenuous. The problem is, however, that the history of ice cream is not exact. The English have as much right to be named as the inventors of the modern ice cream as anyone else. But so also do the Mallorcans.

Where common ground appears to exist in the arcane world of ice-cream historians and researchers is with regard to when the modern ice-cream era started: the early 1700s. Though there is no evidence as to actual ice-cream manufacture in Mallorca at that time, the wherewithal for its manufacture was taking shape, and it was in the form of what still exists today, the Can Joan de s'Aigo chocolate parlour in Palma, and in particular something you wouldn't immediately associate with Mallorca - ice. Sr. de s'Aigo used to gather snow from the Tramuntana and store it, while a growth in almond plantations in the eighteenth century was what was to lead to the Can Joan ice cream. Almond milk met mountain snow, and the rest was ice-cream history.

Amidst the Häagen Dazs, the Ben and Jerry and the Magnum, almond ice cream assumes pride of place in the freezers of Mallorca. Along with other flavours, it is churned out by the "gelats" and "helados" of the island. Ice cream passes from generation to generation, the children's parties at fiesta time concluded with the handing out of free ice cream for all. And so the tradition is perpetuated. The ice-cream tradition. Pity the poor lolly.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Duck's off! No live ducks in Can Picafort

The annual duck-throwing event at Can Picafort's fiestas yesterday passed without incident for the first time since the ban on live ducks was introduced several years ago. Although surprises had been promised by the so-called "masked men" of previous years, there was no repetition of the flouting of the law on releasing ducks.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 August 2011

More of the same today. Hot and clear blue skies. Local high at 08.00 is 24 degrees.

Once more, sunny all day, decent little breeze taking the edge off of a coastal high of 29 degrees.

The Invisible Station

I'm making an apology on behalf of "The Bulletin". If you had gone along to the ferry terminal in Puerto Alcúdia on Sunday and had expected to find some free watersports activities which you could have enjoyed, you would have been disappointed.

I showed a short news item (from Thursday's paper) to someone in Alcúdia who, how can I put this, is in the know. The jaw dropped, followed by an expression of understanding as to how the mistake had been made. I understood it as well, as it's a mistake many people are making.

What happened on Sunday was that there were indeed free watersports activities, but they were nothing to do with the terminal or the commercial port. They were part of a promotion, in the form of a "fiesta", for the estación náutica. And it is this which caused the mistake and causes other mistakes to be made.

The estación náutica doesn't exist. It is not bricks, mortar, aluminium, glass or any material. It is a "station" without physical manifestation. It is an un-thing. But the concept, and that is all it is - a concept, begs an interpretation of the physical. Of course it does. A station is a thing not an abstraction; hence a not unreasonable confusion with the terminal.

Since the estación naútica concept was first raised in Alcúdia - at the start of 2009 - I have written about it on a few occasions, and I keep making the same point; it is not understandable. The concept is elusive, it doesn't translate into anything sensible in English (even watersports centre doesn't work because this can also imply something physical), and it doesn't even mean much to the Spanish; they also expect to find an actual centre.

This is not Alcúdia's fault as such. There are other such stations in Spain and in the Balearics. But the confusion that has existed in Alcúdia with regard to the concept makes you wonder if it hasn't occurred elsewhere. It must have done, and the same mistakes and misinterpretations are surely being made there.

In Alcúdia, however, to make matters less clear, there is a website for this station. It doesn't work. For a time at the weekend it didn't even load. Yet, there it was, proudly mentioned on the publicity, assuming it was seen. There was another website, for the "Fiesta del Mar" which is what occurred on Sunday and which was one of a series arranged by the estación náutica people in their different resorts, but it was in Spanish only. At least it worked though.

As part of this fiesta, there was also an evening event. The "orange fiesta". Nice poster, shame about the language. Catalan only. I had an exchange on Facebook about this. Catalan is an official language and the fiesta was directed at locals. Well yes, up to a point, but Puerto Alcúdia is a tourist resort and why was the tourist office emailing the poster to those, such as myself, who have a stake in the local tourism industry? Moreover, the estación náutica concept is meant to be a way of attracting more tourists, of the so-called quality type.

But Catalan-only material appears all the time. In all sorts of resorts. The estación náutica concept, the publicity in Catalan are different types of example that raise the same question: what thought process lies behind any of this? Is there one?

I had a chat with a tourist about this. Is it stubbornness that results in the Catalan-only publicity? I don't know that it is. It's more likely a case that no one stops to really think who they are meant to be marketing to and what they are marketing. But who makes these decisions?

Alcúdia is a tourist resort with a highly diverse market. It would be impractical to put out material in all the languages necessary. But at a minimum it should be in English and German; more so than even Spanish, where tourists are concerned, as the level of Spanish tourism in Alcúdia is well below that of either the UK or Germany.

The counter argument is that Catalan (and Spanish) are the local languages and so this is how it should be. Sorry, but it isn't much of an argument. Not if the market doesn't understand either language.

Poor marketing occurs because the starting-point is the wrong way round. It should be the consumer, the intended market or markets, and it is this fundamental thought process that seems to be lacking.

I don't know that there should be an apology for the mistake in "The Bulletin". The apology should be coming from somewhere else. The trouble is you don't where that somewhere else is.

Any comments to please.

Monday, August 15, 2011

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 August 2011

Another warm early morning on what should be a glorious holiday day (Assumption), a fine day for throwing ducks into the sea in Can Picafort. We have a coastal high of 24.5 at 08.30. The week is going to be fine and hot.

It's been a rocking day. Totally blue skies and temperatures at 30 degrees. Perfect.

Hope Lies In The Proles

I was interviewed by the BBC the other day. The interview was about all-inclusives and was to form part of a feature for the "Fast Track" travel programme.

The background to the feature was two-fold: the announcement by First Choice that it will be only offering all-inclusive packages as from next year, and the impact that all-inclusives have on local businesses.

The location that First Choice had suggested for filming was the Holiday Village in Can Picafort. This is a fine complex. It is modern, offers a good range of services and generally speaking is well regarded when it comes to reviews on the internet. It is four-star, and herein may lie a tale.

On the First Choice website there are ten hotels which appear most prominently when you search for Mallorca. The Holiday Village heads the list. In the Alcúdia-Can Picafort conurbation, there are four hotels in all, and only the Holiday Village is four-star.

Fair enough though; why wouldn't you pick the best that you have?

The presenter of "Fast Track", Rajan Datar, was not overly familiar with Alcúdia and Can Picafort, so I took him for a bit of a tour one evening. A port of call was a hotel complex that had been dropped by First Choice during the 2009 season. Bellevue.

The level of all-inclusive offer at this vast resort in Alcúdia has increased substantially over the past four to five years. In 2009 it was around 50%. The word locally is that it is now 80%, though local word is often not reliable. Let's just say that it would be a surprise had there not been an increase since 2009.

We went to a bar nearby. The owner is preparing to close at the end of this season, attributing this primarily to the impact of AI. He was happy enough to be interviewed for the feature. He was less happy when it came to the actual filming and choked up when reading from a poster that announces the closure.

A suffering bar owner is not the most objective of subjects for a report, but it can make for powerful telly. He displayed a lack of objectivity, understandable enough, when dismissing benefits that AIs might offer families on a tight budget.

For me, as I said during the interview, it's a no-brainer. I can completely understand these families opting for AI. But you always come back to the same seemingly intractable problem; that of the effects on the wider economy and on bars and restaurants in the shadows of all-inclusives.

I don't know what was said when the filming moved on to the Holiday Village, but I can guess. First Choice and TUI have been doing their best to put positive spin on all-inclusives, such as it being a myth that AI guests do not go off-site and do not spend outside. It is a myth, but then why do some guests find it necessary to go off-site and spend? Because the AI they have ended up at isn't much good. Holiday Village is more the exception to the fifteen to twenty-minute rule; how long it can take to be served with a beer in a small plastic glass.

However, the spend of AI guests is low. It has been proven to be so by research conducted by the university in Palma. TUI, perhaps inadvertently, added to the proof when it revealed that only 11% of guests' total spend found its way into the local community at a different Holiday Village, one in Turkey. And that is also a four-star.

This, the star rating, is relevant, because the higher the standard of the hotel and AI offer, then the more the myth of guests not spending off-site ceases to be a myth. I am at a loss to understand the logic as to why, if you get really good AI service, you would ever spend anything outside the hotel.

There is another reason for going off-site and that is because guests tire of what is on offer and also need a release to stop going stir crazy. And it is this which is perhaps inducing something of an AI backlash, together with a growing appreciation among many tourists as to the effects on the economy outside the hotel. There are plenty of tourists who will mock a bar owner saying hello in the hope of business by waving a wristband in his face, but there are plenty who are sympathetic. Without wishing to sound disrespectful, it's a touch Orwellian. The hope lies in the proles.

Any comments to please.