Friday, March 29, 2013

With Or Without: Mallorcan attitudes towards tourism

As you do, I was spending my Holy Thursday rummaging around in Google looking for worthy material on tourism as colonisation. And blow me, what did I find but just such a piece of material, a masters paper by someone called Lola López-Bravo Palomino. Bear with me, because what Lola discovered was really quite revealing.

The research is ten years old, but I doubt that the findings would be different today. What Lola did was to talk to both tourists and locals and to get their responses to questions about tourism and specifically what tourists expected from their holidays and what they thought about Mallorca and the locals and what the locals expected from tourism and what they thought about tourists. While the responses of the tourists were interesting, those of the locals, I would suggest, were rather more so.

One way that Lola got the locals to respond was by asking them to rate a synonym for tourism. Of other words that tourism could correspond with, the one that was chosen by a significant distance was "money". Tourism equals money. She then asked the locals if they liked tourists coming to Mallorca. The majority (two-thirds) said they didn't like tourists coming to Mallorca. Then they were asked what tourists meant to them. Of the eleven different categories of response, 83% implied that tourists were merely a means to an end (they were clients or a source of income), not necessarily positive (they just came for the sun, the beach and the beer) or were in some way negative, including the ten per cent who thought tourists were "dirty, thieves, scandalous", the four per cent who perceived tourists as being "rats or animals" and the eight per cent who simply thought that tourists were "something bad".

There was a further question which asked whether tourists should be "spoiled" (as in their needs being catered for) for no other reason than because they are a source of income. 75% agreed with this. 80% said that it was locals who had to adapt to tourists, not the other way round.

What is one supposed to make of these findings? It should be pointed out that the research was conducted predominantly in three resorts - Magalluf, Can Pastilla and Arenal - so, and with the best will in the world, there may be greater negativity flying around than in more genteel parts of the island. This would have been, should have been, a caveat to the research that Lola needed to make, though I am loathe to make it myself as it appears as though tourists who go these resorts can only be considered in a negative fashion, which is very unfair.

But even if these resorts are not totally representative, do they suggest widely held attitudes across the island? Dispensing with the more graphic criticisms of tourists (rats, animals, etc.), the perception that tourists are merely a means of money and income supply might well be a widely held attitude. In fact, I would suggest that this is the prevailing attitude. Tourists are not, therefore, seen as, for example, some sort of source of beneficial inter-cultural exchange or anything as sociologically grandiose as this.

In speaking with people (British) who are genuine veterans of Mallorca in that they have been coming to the island or living on it for thirty or more years, it is fair to say that there has been a shift in attitudes among locals. It was one that started to develop in a more pronounced fashion about twenty or so years into the "boom", so from the mid-1980s. It was one, in its more extreme expression, that suggested that tourists weren't needed (and I am not referring to people with experience of the three resorts cited above).

Once that boom had become the norm, perceptions altered. Once upon a time, tourists were looked upon in a far more positive way. Of course, the nature of the tourist changed (or some tourists changed), but the attitude towards them shifted towards one of a mere commercial exchange, a neutral sort of perception, or towards a negative perception.

If anything, were Lola to repeat her research now, the perceptions would be more negative. Lower tourism spend, wider diffusion of all-inclusives, some of the poor publicity that resorts such as Magalluf and Arenal have attracted would surely mean greater negativity. Her research was quite depressing ten years ago. It would be more so now.

The title of her research had to do with "colonisation", the taking over of Mallorca by tourists. And that's what Mallorcans believe has happened. Because of this, it becomes understandable when the accusation is levelled against Mallorca that it is, at best, indifferent to tourism in winter. The island would rather not have it, because it is a time when the island can be reclaimed. But then, overwhelmingly locals looked upon tourism as a source of income ten years ago. This hasn't changed, and there is less income now from summer tourism. Mallorca is an island that can't live without tourism but would rather that it did.

Any comments to please.

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