Thursday, April 10, 2014

Calvia v. Sóller: Two different bests

At the height of summer the three destinations in Spain with the highest volumes of tourists are Barcelona, Madrid and Calvia. It is a reflection of just how important Calvia is to Mallorca's tourism that it should appear alongside the El Clásico cities. It is also astonishing that it does appear alongside them. In terms of pure recognition, "Calvia" ranks a long way behind other Spanish destinations - Granada, Seville and such like.

All of these destinations - Barcelona, Madrid, Calvia, Granada and Seville - feature in the top ten best Spanish destinations, according to Trip Advisor. Calvia in fact comes eighth, and its ranking has been something to celebrate, as has been the tenth spot for Sóller. Mayors Onieva and Simarro, respectively of Calvia and Sóller, were on an away day in Madrid on Tuesday to pick up the Trip Advisor gongs for these merits (the gongs are a plaque).

In a recent article in which I wrote about land designated as touristic land in the different Mallorcan municipalities, I drew attention to the vastly greater amount of such land which exists in Calvia when compared with other towns. It is small wonder therefore that Calvia leaps into the top three of Spanish tourist density in high summer. There is a lot of touristic provision. There is a lot of quantity.

The success of Trip Advisor is such that it has elevated itself to a position of self-appointed arbiter of tourist taste. It is, to apply a greatly over-used word, a "phenomenon". Phenomenally successful but not, despite its claims otherwise, always phenomenally reliable. Occasionally, it throws up a genuine and pleasing surprise, such as that regarding the Tramuntana mountains, which I also wrote about recently: the number one attraction in Mallorca. But just one problem with it is knowing precisely how things are measured, and the best destinations classification is one of these.

Trip Advisor refers to the use of a "proprietary algorithm" that determines its popularity index. This takes into account quality, recency and quantity, but because it is proprietary, it is exclusive to Trip Advisor and the precise methodology is disclosed only in general and rather vague terms.

Because Calvia attracts the number of tourists that it does, it would be surprising if it weren't in the top ten. Indeed, one might suggest that it should be higher than eighth on quantity alone. As the algorithm takes account of quality as well, what conclusion might one draw from this? I'll leave you to work that out.

Methodology and sheer weight of tourists aside, Calvia's place in the rankings is curious because of its recognition factor. Which tourists actually go to Calvia? Lots of them of course, but Calvia is incidental. They are going to Magalluf or Santa Ponsa or Portals or Illetes or, or ... . Calvia is a Mallorca in microcosm. Much of what you would associate with the island is to be found within its municipal boundaries: high-density tourism; smaller, more intimate resorts; marinas; culture; mountains. Its very diversity makes you wonder what it is that gets it into the top ten. Go to reviews, and you get an answer. Magalluf, Magalluf, Magalluf; Palmanova, Palmanova, Palmanova.

Calvia town hall once made available an outstanding document detailing the natural environment in the municipality (it may still be available but I can't immediately locate it). For many visitors, used only to the densely populated resorts, it would have been a surprising document. I doubt that many of them saw it, though. But what it showed was that Calvia has every right to be among the best destinations because of its diversity. Yet one would have to guess that this diversity is not the basis for Trip Advisor's award. The award is primarily because of quantity.

Sóller being in tenth spot does rather emphasise this point. It has nothing like the quantity of Calvia's tourists. Sóller creeping into the top ten is surprising, whereas Calvia's eighth isn't surprising. Without fully knowing how the algorithm works, one would have to guess that the quality-quantity equation is quite different for Sóller, as on quantity alone it wouldn't have a cat in hell's chance of getting anywhere near the top ten let alone making the top ten.

Both towns will make much of their awards, and good luck to them. If there is an award, why not brag about it; there is nothing wrong in doing so. But Sóller's ranking seems more meritorious than Calvia's and very much more unexpected. The two towns are "bests" from different parts of the tourism spectrum, and where Sóller is concerned, and unlike Calvia, it has the virtue of being pretty much a single entity of town and port, linked by a quaint old tram. Sóller is singular; Calvia is all but countless.

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