Wednesday, February 06, 2013

This Is Our Land: Perceptions of tourists

What is the single most important measure that needs to be adopted in Mallorca in respect of the tourist "product"? If you are resident, but not Mallorcan, or if you are a visitor (as in a tourist), what would you say was the most important out of the following: 1. the conversion of hotels; 2. the modernisation of the complementary offer (bars, restaurants, pretty much anything that isn't a hotel); 3. the modernisation of mature tourism centres; 4. improvements to transport connections; 5. the diversification of the tourist product; 6. environmental and cultural protection.

Of this little list, there is only one that suggests to me that it would be of paramount concern and that would be number four - improvements to transport connections, as in more flights in winter. Of the others, I don't know that British or other foreign residents or tourists would express much of a preference. Indeed, they might not really get the question. What, for example, is meant by modernisation of the complementary offer?

These measures are not ones that I have dreamt up; they were the six that formed the basis of the most recent survey of attitudes towards the tourist product conducted by the research organisation Gadeso. The survey was undertaken last month. Overwhelmingly, probably exclusively, the respondents would have been Mallorcan. It would be very much more interesting were Gadeso to conduct different research: that into attitudes of tourists themselves and from different nationalities.

The most important measure, according to the survey, is number six - environmental and cultural protection. The finding is no great surprise. It reflects the constant struggle between the commercial realities of tourism and the exploitation of the natural land and seascapes; a struggle that Mallorcans find hard to reconcile.  This protection embodies a proclamation of this (Mallorca) being our land (the Mallorcan people's land).

It would be untrue to imply that tourists are not also concerned about environmental and cultural protection. There has been research among tourists into just this issue. The French, for instance, are particularly dismayed as to the extent of coastal development. The Germans are considered to be so environmentally righteous (a stereotyping that may not be wholly accurate) that they are the only ones, including and especially including Mallorcan residents, who pick every last bit of a container apart in order to place it in the correct recycling bin.

But a general perception among Mallorcans is that tourists care little about either the environment or the island's culture. And where many tourists are concerned, they are right to perceive this. The consequent tensions between tourists and islanders are, therefore, the product of differing perceptions of the tourist product. It is because such tensions exist that research would be that much more meaningful were it to highlight where and why these perceptions diverge.

But tourists, far from being one homogeneous blob, are a vast collection of organisms wriggling in opposing directions. There is no one tourist perception. One tourist's aloof and nose-raised snootiness directed at a Brit-style or less-than-sophisticated bar is another tourist's contentment with even the naffest hostelry. Satisfying tourists as one unified whole is an impossibility because there is no such thing as a unified perception by tourists of the tourist product. The only way that such unity of perception might be attained is through some engineering that creates a relative singularity of tourist psychographics and socioeconomics.

Mallorcans might yearn for a homogeneous, "quality" tourist whose sympathies might correspond more with their own perceptions, a tourist who is environmentally and culturally sound and who is more inclined to engage in tourist pastimes that aren't simply to be found on a beach or by a pool. They might yearn for such a paragon of touristic excellence, but then what else does the Gadeso survey reveal? The least important measure is considered to be diversification of the tourist product, supposedly the grand panacea for Mallorca's ills, especially in the off-season. What this finding suggests is a reinforcement of the most important measure of environmental and cultural protection. It is a reinforcement of what many suspect; that Mallorcans put up with tourists in resorts in summer but don't particularly want them elsewhere or during the months of the off-season. This is our land. Nostra terra.

Behind the Gadeso survey one detects the admission of perceptions that are less to do with physical manifestations of the tourist product and more with the abstract - what Mallorcans think about tourists. Whatever they truly reveal, one thing is for sure, that Mallorcan and tourist perceptions of the tourist product are two very different things.

Any comments to please.

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