Sunday, May 12, 2013

At Your Inconvenience: Alcúdia's Ironman

When the staging of the first Ironman triathlon in Puerto Alcúdia was announced, it was said that the event would bring various benefits. Among these would be the promotion of Alcúdia as a sports tourism destination, a means of giving a boost to low-season tourism and the generation of revenues for local businesses thanks to all the participants, helpers, exhibitors and visitors.

The first event, in 2011, came, and it was very much a novelty. There hadn't been an event of such a scale before. 3,000 participants, 1,500 helpers, 20,000 visitors. Of these figures, the one that stood out was for the visitors. It stood out because it was both hard to believe that there would be this number and who they might have been. If they were from other parts of the island, then they would have the devil's own job getting into Puerto Alcúdia on the day; the roads were mostly closed. Three events on, and the novelty has now started to wear off. Questions are being asked.

There are unquestionably benefits from the Ironman event. It may indeed help to put Alcúdia more on a sports-tourism map and it does produce business in the early weeks of the tourism season that would otherwise not be produced. There are the doubters who say that triathletes, rather like cyclists, are of little value to businesses (these being bars and restaurants). They are too damn healthy to be chucking volumes of beer or beef down their necks. Not so. As with cyclists, there are triathletes who are quite capable of indulging themselves.

The business generated by Ironman is spread around; it isn't only Alcúdia which benefits from hotel guests or from consumers in restaurants and shops. There are also training camps, not necessarily directly linked to the Alcúdia event, but which are offered in the weeks before the event. Local hotels are the base for these camps. But business which really can benefit, other than hotels, is that in the port area. As ever, the spoils of events are gained by the port or the old town; never by other parts of Alcúdia, such as the main tourist centre. For those who don't benefit and even for those who do, but who face the challenge of disruption, the inconvenience of Ironman has now become more than just a little tiresome.

Closing a main road into the port for a whole week is far more than just a bit of an annoyance. Despite it only being early season, it is still season. And that means that there are an awful lot more people and a lot more vehicles than when it isn't season. The tailbacks have now become a major headache. Someone, somewhere can probably put a number to the benefits of Ironman, but can someone, somewhere put a number to its downsides?

Putting up with road closures for a day is something that can be accepted, but when one road closure creates the chaos that it has for as long as it has, then it is right that questions are being asked. The inconvenience manifests itself in different ways. For bars and restaurants, as an example, they can suffer because deliveries cannot be effected. Or because they are delayed considerably. And for all the claims of benefits to tourism, what about ordinary tourists?

Because of the problems with getting into Puerto Alcúdia, especially on the day of the event, what do you suppose happens to tourists who might be coming or going? Saturday is, after all, a fairly heavy change-round day. One thing that happens is that tourists can be expected to have to get off transfer coaches and then make their own way. Not just across a road but a considerable distance. These are tourists with luggage. Those who may have small children. Those who have been up since early in the morning.

It isn't only tourists in Puerto Alcúdia. In Puerto Pollensa, where involvement in Ironman is only minimal because the cycling leg passes through it, tourists have been told that they would have to leave for the airport seven hours before their flights. Seven hours!

There seems to be precious little concern being shown for those who are affected by Ironman. Alcúdia town hall will doubtless reiterate the benefits, declare the event a great success and look forward to next year's. But the town hall's credibility is taking a heavy knock. The laying of the blue asphalt over the stones on the beach path (used for the running stage) has been met with what has bordered on outrage. There is no other reason for the blue path, so most people believe, other than to meet demands of Ironman. The town hall claim differently, but this just compounds the degree to which its credibility is being shaken. It is surely no coincidence that a blue path along the beach, one that will be filmed and look nice for certain promotions (by Ironman), looks very similar to the blue matting for the triathlon transition area. Colour co-ordination.

Ironman may well bring benefits, but pandering to its every need and wish and the thumbing of the nose to those who are put out is not what might have been expected three years ago. The event needs re-thinking.

Any comments to please.

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