Monday, August 13, 2012

The Russian Takeover

Have you ever looked at a Russian tour operator's website? On the assumption that you probably haven't, let me tell you that the Russian holidaymaker has a similar internet experience to everyone else. I don't know why I expected it to be different - sheer ignorance, prejudice or stereotyping I suppose - but it isn't. Not that for Natalie Tours anyway. Here we find the same smiling tour operator representatives with their crisp uniforms beaming from the screen and the same delighted couples and families looking longingly at each other on a romantic beach or splashing in a pool as any Thomson or Thomas Cook website would show.

There is one minor difficulty when it comes to the Natalie Tours website. It is incomprehensible; but fortunately, not entirely. Having clicked on various options, which I had taken, correctly as it turned out, to be country destinations, I got to Spain. Finding Mallorca was simple. With the exception of a k where there should be a c, a p where there should be an r and an n round the wrong way with a small c on its side on top of it (denoting y rather than j or ll), Mallorca is pretty obvious. So I clicked away to see where Natalie sends her Mallorcan tourists on tour.

To my surprise, the resorts with the greatest numbers of hotels (and mercifully the hotels are not listed in Cyrillic script) are Magalluf, Palmanova, Santa Ponsa and Playa de Palma. Why the surprise? Well, I'd assumed that the Russians wouldn't be setting foot in any of them as they are far too well off to be slumming it in Maga and its fellow usual suspects. I had thought that they would all be heading to the likes of Playa de Muro (aka Mypo) with its stock of four and five-star hotels. They do, but what Natalie's website demonstrates is that Russian tourists aren't necessarily all in the oligarch league.

I shouldn't have been completely surprised that there might be some economy-class Russian tourists amongst the Abramovices, as I had been told, admittedly to my surprise, that there are Russians in Alcúdia's Bellevue. What they make of it, Lord alone knows. Perhaps it reminds them of the Gulag. Natalie, it would appear, doesn't send her tourists to Bellevue (or at least she isn't admitting that she does) and though she fesses up to some three-star slummery in Maga, she does send them overwhelmingly to four or five-star establishments, which is what I had expected to find.

The view that Russian tourists are walking banks (ones with cash, as opposed to Spanish ones therefore) is a widely held one, and one that is held with justification. We are being told that the streets of Palma and elsewhere are now lined with 500 euro notes, all stuffed inside a Russian pocket or purse. On the sound of a Russian voice, a restaurant owner rolls out the red carpet, offers his Russian guests the best seats in the house and shoves any Brits who happen to be in the restaurant into a back room where they can't be seen.

Things are changing in Mallorca and they are changing dramatically and will continue to do so. The other day, whilst loitering with intent with a couple of chaps from "Ultima Hora" in Puerto Pollensa, some Russian tourists walked past. "Rusos," I said, obviously, at least it was obvious to me; it was less so to the UH bods. "It's all going to be different," I told them. "In ten years, Mallorca will be very different."

Maybe they were aware that Puerto Pollensa is little Britain, so they thought not so there. Well, maybe not there, but elsewhere, yes. Put it this way. At current rates of growth in the number of Russian tourists coming to Mallorca, by 2020, if these percentage rates were to be repeated year on year, there would be nearly one million Russian tourists.

A million, and Russian tourism would be reaching similar levels to those of Britain and Germany; levels as they currently stand. German tourism isn't likely to be affected, but British tourism could well be; in fact, I'd put money on it. Whereas the British were once upon a time looked upon as the best of all tourist spenders, they most certainly aren't now. The Scandinavians and the Germans have assumed this mantle, along of course with the Russians. There are plenty in the Mallorcan tourism industry who would be quite happy to see a reliance on British tourism reduced, and they may well have their wishes granted.

Mallorca has only so many hotel places (and non-hotel, but let's not get into that discussion again) and it isn't going to be increasing the number to any great extent. Indeed, the number may fall as a consequence of the provisions for hotel conversion. If Russian tourism were to grow as dramatically as I have suggested it might, something would have to give, and this would mean reductions in the number of tourists from certain existing markets. Any guesses which ones or one?

Any comments to please.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Even with Google translator it is difficult to understand. Congratulations on getting so much information without giving up.
I suppose it is time to seriously start thinking about having russian lessons.