Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mallorca's Unbelievable Tourism

The following article comes with a disbelief warning.

Why disbelief? The reason is obvious. It is the gulf between the coldness of hard "facts" as they apply to the heat of summer's tourism and wintry perceptions of this very same heat.

The facts. After two years vying with Turkey for top spot in the Mediterranean premier league of tourism numbers, Mallorca has been proclaimed the undisputed champion for 2013. In terms of visitor numbers, of the top ten tourism centres in Spain, Mallorca (and the Balearics) have eight. In July and August hotel occupancy rates reached, respectively, 95% and 92%. Nowhere else in the Mediterranean could match these levels. Expenditure per tourist has grown this summer.

Let's consider these facts. Mallorca used to always be the undisputed champion. Turkey's climb to the top of the league has been affected this year by unrest in the country and concerns about events in its neighbour Syria. (Similar issues have also had an impact on tourism in another competitor country, Egypt.) Claiming the championship once more is a reversion to the previous norm. It is not unusual.

The eight top tourism centres have regularly found their way into Spain's top ten. They are the usual suspects, e.g. Santa Margalida (Can Picafort), Alcúdia and Calvia. The figures recorded for them are, though, percentages of occupancy. Can Picafort, for example, has fewer hotels than Alcúdia and so fewer actual tourists; Santa Margalida has headed August's hotel occupancy percentages for at least the past three years.

The total percentages of occupancy for July and August are impressive and slightly more so than last year when July's occupancy was a record since the turn of the century. They are all the more impressive when you consider the amount of whining from the hoteliers about so-called unfair competition from rented accommodation. 

Increased tourist expenditure? Ah yes, it's those old spend statistics again. Please take no notice of these. The statistics are skewed heavily in favour of spend on the holiday itself and not general in-resort spend. There has been a rise in the number of tourists from Scandinavia and Russia this summer, and these tourists spend, on average, around 25% more on the cost of the actual holiday (package primarily) than visitors from the UK. Tourist expenditure stats mean little in real terms. Indeed, various business sectors - restaurants, hire car, for example - are suggesting that there has been a fall of up to 20% in receipts this summer, but there again, how trustworthy this type of data is must also be treated with some scepticism.

But of course there will be plenty of people who will believe what the likes of the restaurant owners are saying as this fits in with their perceptions of how business has been this summer. They may also be able to point to evidence from the till rolls to back it up. There may be no more to go on than perceptions, but these are why there will be disbelief at congratulatory headlines which announce that this summer has been a record summer.

The positive facts as reported above are, with the exception of the increased hotel occupancy rates, either unexceptional (Mallorca is number one, it has eight resorts in Spain's top ten) or not worth considering (spend statistics, which have never been worth considering). Even the occupancy rates can be explained, namely by events elsewhere; they aren't in themselves anything worthy of special congratulation other than that they reflect Mallorca's safety and its capacity. 

What they conceal and what highly optimistic forecasts for 2014 conceal are the obsolete nature of parts of resorts and of many hotels. In other words, they conceal a problem of overall quality, one that will take years to rectify. They also conceal the nature of employment. Yes, there will have been more jobs this summer, but these are jobs that are often unstable. In addition, hotels outsource where they can in order to save on costs, and what sort of job stability do contractors offer? If certain business sectors are indeed suffering the falls in revenue they say they are, then what stability do they offer?

Mallorca will remain at the top of the league or thereabouts. This will not change, but is it the case that this long-held leadership is in fact a millstone? The island's capacity allows it to register the numbers of visitors that it does, but the mass of tourism is far from evenly distributed in terms of its actual contribution (locally and not to tour operators). The government and parts of the tourism industry have long been able to make boasts based on numbers, but numbers alone do not add up to a healthy tourism industry. Or to a believable tourism industry.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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