Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Population Element In Winter Tourism

Today being the 21st of September, one would expect summer to have finished and autumn to have begun. Apparently though, autumn will actually begin tomorrow evening as this is when the equinox actually occurs. Be this as it may, autumn isn't a season of great consequence in Mallorca. It happens, of course it happens. There is a fall, there is a rapid shortening of days, there are mists, there are dewy morns, but Mallorca's seasons are divided into two - summer and winter. The summer tourism season and the winter tourism season. One that is vibrant and the other which is anything but.

The deathly winter tourism season, which begins when the summer season finishes at the end of October and so coincides with the celebration of the dead at the beginning of November, has long been a matter that has inspired a great wailing in the land. Go back to the late 1960s and there were efforts to get the summer season to extend as far as the end of September. It was a different time then of course, one when air travel was in far from the liberalised state that it now is and when there was typically only ever one holiday a year. The season was short. 

Though there are recollections of busy winter tourism, the facts don't really back these up. In the seventies and eighties for example, the volume of total tourism was much lower than at present. It was more spread out, but the fact is that there have in the very recent past been more tourists in winter than there ever have been. More so certainly than in the 1980s, a decade when the first regional government and first tourism ministry addressed what it saw as the problem of winter tourism and seasonality.

The plan the first government introduced was far from a success. A measure of its lack of success can be understood when one considers that remedies for addressing seasonality are much as they were in the '80s - golf, cycling, and what have you. Though many would dispute the fact that there is now greater winter tourism, they do so by considering primarily British hotel-based tourism. Nowadays, as so few hotels are open, the winter tourism is based on private accommodation in ways that existed only minimally in the 1980s. There are hotels open, but a goodly amount of Mallorca's winter tourism is now residential and also German.

Regardless of these facts, it is undeniably the case that mostly all resorts in Mallorca close down. Whether British, German or other nationality tourism, the resorts are mostly stripped of their visitors, especially those who would stay in hotels. The winter tourism debate, therefore, centres on this resort absence and on the vast amount of hotel real estate which is empty and unproductive for so much of the year.

The debate has been going on for years. It has been going on but it never moves on. The regional government believes it now has a plan to address seasonality, but it hasn't been totally clear as to what it entails. It has said that we must wait a couple of years to see the benefits. Few people are holding their breath.

The "Majorca Daily Bulletin" wants to initiate a campaign to activate this dormant winter state of affairs. Through Facebook it has initiated considerable discussion regarding the winter malaise and what might be done to address it. Though sceptical as to whether anything meaningful can be done (and by meaningful outcome I would suggest a doubling of current numbers of winter tourists over a ten-year period), I back this and have done so in the paper.

But there is one aspect in the winter tourism debate which I fear is overlooked. It is that to do with the size of the British resident population on Mallorca. Though figures differ, the official one - that of the regional government - calculates this population as being around 16,000 or 17,000. A question asked about Mallorca's lack of winter tourism is why somewhere such as Benidorm can perform better in winter. I fancy that British resident population has something to do with this. The Alicante region, of which Benidorm is a part, has a British resident population at least twice the size of Mallorca's. For airlines, therefore, there is a base market to be served, one on which tourists can piggyback. Alicante airport receives more flights from Britain in the winter than Palma does.

On the Costa del Sol the British population is greater still, approximately six or seven times the size of Mallorca's. Malaga airport benefits from even more flights than Alicante.

It might be a simplistic way of looking at the issue, but airlines make decisions based on established markets. Residents are established, tourists are not. If Mallorca wants to attract more winter tourists (from Britain or indeed elsewhere), it needs established markets that will persuade airlines. Mallorca's lack of winter tourism isn't a tourism issue per se. It is one to do with populations.

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