Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Illegal Offer?: Blame it on the hotels

At the start of the 1970s and so just prior to the recessionary impact of the oil crisis, there were 691 hotels in the Balearics. There were other types of accommodation, but the actual classification of accommodation focussed solely on hotels. And by hotels, one meant hotels.

By the start of the following decade, the number of hotels had increased only marginally, but there was a new classification of accommodation that was registered alongside the "hotel". This was "tourist apartments", and these meant a type of accommodation that hadn't existed until the mid-1970s - the self-catering apartment hotel. By 1981, there were 709 hotels and 458 "apartamentos turísticos".

A further ten years on, this new category had grown to such an extent that the traditional "hotel" was now in second place when it came to the number of establishments offering the different forms of accommodation.

The rise of the tourist apartment can be put down to two key factors. The first of these was the oil crisis. This didn't stop Mallorca's tourism in its tracks but it had a negative impact from which it took several years for the island to recover. One consequence of the crisis was that some hotels were forced to close. Another was that there was a determination to re-build the tourism industry and also re-shape it. This meant a new wave of hotel building but also a diversification both in terms of countries from which tourists came and in the type of accommodation that was offered to them. The previous one-size-fits-all model of the standard hotel was outmoded, and so another important factor was at play - the desire on behalf of tourists to have greater choice of accommodation and also greater flexibility when it came to how their days were spent; they didn't want to be constrained by hotel times and schedules.

This new mix of accommodation appeared to suit everyone - tourists, the Balearics regional government and tourism ministry (both established in 1983), hoteliers and tour operators. However, what had not been foreseen was a consequence of the construction boom and permissiveness that had allowed the tourist apartments to come about. Private accommodation. In 1981, there were no statistics to show the level of the "non-regulated tourist offer". By 1991, there were. Between 1991 and the start of the current century, the number of tourists taking advantage of this non-regulated tourist offer rose far more dramatically than the number going to hotels or hotel tourist apartments. Figures for tourist stays show that the non-regulated offer equated to 10% of the hotel/tourist apartments total in 1991. By 2002, it amounted to almost a third.

Such a statistic, dramatic as it was, helps to explain why the hoteliers have been and still are so agitated when it comes to private accommodation (not all of which is now non-regulated). But the statistic only tells part of the story. There is another statistic. That for passenger numbers through the airports.

The oil crisis meant that there was a relatively small increase in passengers over the period 1971 to 1981. But from the start of the 1980s on, the number rocketed, more than doubling in twenty years. In effect, it was the non-regulated tourist offer which enabled passenger numbers to rise so significantly. It wasn't the hotels or even the tourist apartments.

Yet, much as though it may have come as a shock to the hoteliers to discover that there were all these tourists opting to stay in someone's private flat or house, it shouldn't have been a shock. It had been the hoteliers who, in the 1970s, had recognised the need for more flexible accommodation, which is primarily why the tourist apartments ever came about. It was they, the hoteliers, who helped fuel the demand for what now exists - an enormous unregulated/partially regulated sector of the tourism industry that the hoteliers don't like.

An irony of economic crisis, 21st-century-style, is that the response has been the opposite to the crisis in the 1970s. The hotel offer has gone into reverse and brought about the further growth of the all-inclusive. But the hotels know only too well, as do the tour operators, that the tourist market wants multiple solutions. Hence, there is the bizarre situation whereby tourist apartment establishments can also offer all-inclusive deals. The hotels want it all ways, which is fair enough given their investment levels, but there is a question that the hotels and the regional government cannot or will not answer. Where, oh where, can all the tourists stay? Because they cannot all stay in a hotel or a tourist apartment.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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