Monday, May 13, 2013

Neither One Thing Nor The Other: Winter tourism

Did you know that Mallorca is a "ni-ni" destination? Not a "no-no" but a "ni-ni", pronounced knee-knee. "Ni" is Spanish for neither and for nor, as in neither one thing nor the other. Mallorca is "ni-ni" because from autumn to spring it has neither flights nor hotels open.

This is a slight exaggeration, one of licence being taken with the "ni" word. You do have to be careful in Mallorca when it comes to exaggerated negatives, even if they are intended to be in jest, as Sid Lowe can testify to, having once suggested that Real Mallorca had no fans. So there will be those who doubtless take umbrage at the "ni-ni" negativity and point to all the "sí-sí" that flows through Mallorca's wintry tourism veins. Let's just settle, shall we, for the fact that there are neither sufficient numbers of flights nor sufficient numbers of hotels open in the off-season. And also settle, therefore, for the fact that neither (or "ni") are there sufficient numbers of tourists.

The degrees of seasonality and of tourist concentration into the three months of July to September have been reported on by the national Institute for Touristic Studies (IET). It has revealed that, in 2012, the Balearic Islands received over half of all their annual number of tourists during these key summer months: 52.5%, if you want precision. This percentage shows that seasonality is far more acute in the Balearics than any other essentially tourist region of Spain. You may be unsurprised to learn this, but you will probably be shocked by just how acute the seasonality is. By contrast, for example, the Canaries receive only 23.6% of those islands' annual tourists between July and September. Nationally, Spain plays host to 39.5% of its yearly tourist visitors in the summer, a figure that Andalusia's summer tourism corresponds with. In the Balearics, the figure is, therefore, 13% above the national average. 

Seasonality in the Balearics does obscure the complete picture of the islands' tourism. The archipelago ranks second behind Catalonia in terms of total annual tourism, slightly above the Canaries, where the annual figure just edges over the 10 million mark; the Balearics received 10.4 million tourists in 2012. But when more than five million of these tourists are coming over a three-month period, you get what we all know exists, a highly unbalanced tourism economy.

The Balearics are certainly not alone in facing a problem with seasonality and with facing issues pertaining to flights. In the Canaries, and this might sound strange, the lack of flights is in fact more of an issue in summer. Each of the main tourism regions of Spain has its own specific requirements and in the Balearics, each of the islands has its own specific problems. In Ibiza, for instance, one of its issues is that its summer tourism is so heavily skewed towards a youthful market; the island craves more of the family market that Mallorca can draw on.

Inevitably, whenever the S-word rears its ugly head, there is a casting around for villains to blame and for suggested solutions which, equally inevitably, are never acted upon. "Hosteltur" Magazine recently listed its own seven strategies for tackling seasonality. This magnificent seven included ones specific to the Balearics, one of them - conversion and modernisation of hotels, such as is occurring in Magalluf - which will come to nothing unless there are more winter flights. Calvià's mayor admits as much. So does the president of the Balearics hotel chains association. Others include a concentration on the German market, because the Germans are apparently the only ones who will travel at times other than the summer, a conclusion that may have something to do with the fact that the German market is far better served by flights in winter than other markets, begging the question as to whether this willingness to travel in the off-season is a chicken or an egg.

A further strategy, one advocated most strongly in Menorca, is to make it possible for social-security payments on behalf of employees taken on out of season to be reclaimed. It is a variant on a theme of tax breaks that has been advanced for as long as the seasonality problem has been recognised. It seems so obvious that it is staggering that it has never been tried. As the Menorcan hoteliers point out, the loss of governmental revenue would be offset by reductions to unemployment benefit payments and by increased revenue from IVA.

The seemingly simple solution of incentives, be they through social security or through AENA suspending landing charges for the winter season, is surely one worth giving a go. If not, Mallorca will continue to be "ni-ni" and no-no-no. No flights. No hotels open. No tourists.

Any comments to please.

No comments: