Thursday, March 06, 2014

Promoting Mallorca's Old Towns

The town of Capdepera occupies the north-eastern tip of Mallorca. For most tourists, it is a town whose name will mean relatively little. Capdepera's tourists go to Cala Ratjada, the Germanised resort whose reputation has taken a slight battering over the past two to three years on account of youthful German behaviour; but Magalluf or indeed Arenal it isn't. In addition to Cala Ratjada, the town's smaller Canyamel tourism area will become more known than it is, thanks to the luxury Hyatt holiday village complex that is currently being built there, and this new luxury complex, and the guests it will attract, form just one reason why the town of Capdepera is to undergo improvements in order to attempt to attract more tourists to it. For a town with an astonishing amount of history, and striking history at that, Capdepera doesn't do well in the tourism stakes; visitors go to the resorts and there they tend to stay.

It's a familiar tale. Capdepera is not alone in being a municipality with seaside resorts whose original, old town tends to get overlooked. Two nearby municipalities, Muro and Santa Margalida, are similarly neglected. But the feelings about tourists in the resorts and their avoidance of the old towns was once summed up by the owner of a grand old pile that doubles as a restaurant between Can Picafort and Santa Margalida who said that tourists just never ventured out of the resort. This was an exaggeration but it was perfectly understandable.

There are old towns which do very much better in attracting tourists. Pollensa is most certainly one of them and this to some extent reflects the fact that despite the distance between, Pollensa town and its port have tended to be promoted as more of a unified entity. Alcúdia is another, but Alcúdia's old town is unusual insofar as it isn't separated by distance from its tourism centres. It is not too arduous to walk to Alcúdia town. But it is arduous if you want to walk from, say, Playa de Muro to Muro town. The distance is one thing, the absence of pavements alongside what can be a dodgy road anyway is another; you would need your head examining were you to want to undertake such a walk.

The old towns, while all different, tend to have similar features; churches, squares and what have you. Not all of the towns have a blooming great castle. Capdepera does. Yet, for all that it can boast this edifice whose walls were completed at the end of the fourteenth century, the town still manages not to get the volume of tourists it would like or which it deserves.

The interior of the castle, in days of yore, became the main living space for the good folk of Capdepera, thanks to incentives offered by one-time king of Mallorca, Sancho I. Some centuries later, by which time piracy had become less of an everyday hazard, the good folk's descendants ventured out of the castle and so the town began to take shape. The point about this is that the castle, though it is in the old town, is to one side of it because of the way in which the town subsequently developed. For the tourist in a hurry to return to the beach or to a bier-und-wurst kneipe in Cala Ratjada, it is easy to "do the castle" and ignore the rest of the town.

Capdepera town hall has, therefore, adopted a plan to attract more tourists to the town. This plan consists of improved access for buses, a taxi rank by the Plaça Constitució, possible financial incentives for small shops to open and changes to local ordinance in order to permit the establishment of a petit hotel. Which all sounds fair enough but at the same time underwhelming. Making physical alterations is only part of the story, and Capdepera should look at Muro to understand why. This town, admittedly without a castle as an added attraction, underwent a significant beautification some five years. It would have been more beauteous had the money not run out, but that money which was spent - courtesy of the tourism ministry - stretched to a seven-figure sum and it was allocated primarily on improving pavements. Did it make any difference? Has it made any difference? For the people of Muro, it probably has, as they have some better pavements, but for tourists, it has made no difference at all. The reality of the anticipation that Muro might actually get more tourists can be seen by what isn't anywhere to be seen - a tourist information office.

While improvements are to be welcomed, the moral of the story for some of Mallorca's old towns which might covet greater tourism numbers lies with their promotion. Making things easier for buses or laying better pavements do not amount to promotion.

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