Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From Malia To Magalluf

Over a fifteen-year period I was a regular visitor to Greece. Andros, Mykonos, Skiathos, Symi, Rhodes, Zakynthos, Crete, to name some islands. Over those fifteen years, little really changed. The islands remained mostly unspoiled. It never seemed as though there were masses of tourists. Even in 1986, a resort such as Laganas in Zakynthos was capable of being described as "quiet".

The last time I went was 1988, and something happened. It was at Heraklion airport in Crete. A fight broke out. There was total mayhem. It had been caused by a group of lads who were totally off their faces. They were British. Something happened because something had changed.

Twenty-five years on and a British teenager is in jail in Crete, accused of stabbing to death another teenager in Malia. It, along with Faliraki in Rhodes, Kavos in Corfu and Laganas, became the total antithesis of what a Greek island resort and holiday had once been, and now its reputation is well and truly sealed.

The stabbing in Malia occurred only a few days after the second anniversary of the stabbing to death of a British teenager in Laganas. That stabbing was the culmination of hostilities between locals and young British tourists. The circumstances behind the stabbing in Malia were different, but the two cases bear, in aspects of their reporting, some similarities.

I have two reports, both from "The Guardian" and by the same journalist, Helena Smith. The actual details of the two incidents are not what interest me so much as the background to them. In Malia, as well as in Laganas, local people have had enough and are taking matters into their own hands, which can mean even greater trouble. In both resorts, there is a recognition that they - the Greek people - have to assume some responsibility for the situations that have arisen. They have to accept some blame for tourism developments that have occurred, for tourism having become, in the words of the police chief in Laganas, "seriously toxic".

The similarity, though, which is the most striking is that which apportions blame beyond that which the tourists or the locals have to assume. This is Laganas in 2011: "Every night there's a fight, someone gets beaten up. Tour operators are to blame; all they are interested in is getting the kids drunk." This is Malia in 2013: "Locals have looked on aghast as holidaymakers, egged on by tour operators or commission-seeking reps, have encouraged the bad behaviour." "Tour operators put pressure on hoteliers to drop their prices because they say it is the only way of attracting more people, and the result is tourists get younger and younger."

A solution to the problems in Laganas is to improve infrastructure and focus on a better-quality tourism. Mention of this solution gives you an indication as to where I am heading, if you haven't already guessed. Improvements to infrastructure? Better-quality tourism? Sound familiar?

The solutions for Mallorca's "problem" resorts of Magalluf and Playa de Palma are identical to those proposed in Laganas. The circumstances of these problem resorts are not, however, quite the same. Both resorts are that much older than the Greek resorts. They are also resorts where, before even the days of Club 18-30, drunkenness among tourists was not exactly unknown. Whereas the Greeks may have been naïve when they allowed resorts to be changed as they were in the 1980s and may well have been unaware as to what they might be letting themselves in for, the Mallorcans should have been fully aware. Perhaps they were, but they still went along with the tour operators - yes, the tour operators, who should admit for once that they are a very major part of the problem - and so now reap what they sowed many years ago.

But the solutions will solve everything, won't they? Get rid of the low-grade tourist, the youthful binge-drinker, and everything will be fine. Except. In Faliraki, they did exactly what many would like to be seen done in Magalluf. There was a massive crackdown on bad behaviour ten years ago. The young tourists stopped going, but they weren't replaced. So now, businesses there want the youth back again.

Unfortunately for the likes of Palma town hall's Alvaro Gijon, who sees salvation in four or five-star hotels and a different class of tourist, there is simply no guarantee that Playa de Palma (as with Magalluf) will be able to replace what it wants to rid itself of. Will the tour operators be able to make this guarantee? Ask the locals in Malia and see what they think. Or Faliraki.


Any comments to please.

Index for July 2013

All-inclusives - 9 July 2013, 15 July 2013, 29 July 2013
Andratx fire - 28 July 2013
Auryn and boy bands - 30 July 2013
Balearic Symphony Orchestra - 8 July 2013
Balearics new water resources plan - 6 July 2013
Bullfight protest in Muro - 3 July 2013
Disenchantment among expatriates and home owners - 27 July 2013
Eldorado - 7 July 2013
Es Trenc hotel project on hold - 18 July 2013
Expatriate Island - 13 July 2013
Expatriates and the royal baby - 24 July 2013
Franco and artist Eugenio Merino - 19 July 2013
Jaume Matas sentence reduction - 25 July 2013
José Ramón Bauzá: Spanish premier? - 23 July 2013
Mariano Rajoy and illegal payments - 10 July 2013, 11 July 2013, 16 July 2013
Moors and Christians elections in Pollensa - 22 July 2013
Opinion poll and the Partido Popular - 2 July 2013
Pollensa Festival - 17 July 2013
Problems in resorts - 1 July 2013, 31 July 2013
Record tourism season - 12 July 2013
Residential tourism and holiday lets - 20 July 2013
Sa Pobla history and saints - 14 July 2013
Son Serra de Marina - 21 July 2013
Tourist dress protocol - 26 July 2013
Tourist infrastructure investments - 4 July 2013
Town hall consortium - 5 July 2013

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