Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Campers?: Not in Mallorca

In the Alicante province, near to the El Fondó nature park, there is what is called an eco-camping resort. Its name is the Marjal Costa Blanca Resort. It is a camping complex with bungalows and plots for caravans and tents. There are 1,432 of these plots. Some way north of the Marjal Costa Blanca is Benidorm, a resort most commonly associated with high-rise hotels but which also happens to be the national leader for camping holidays. The Costa Blanca and the Valencia Community are not the overall leaders for camping, however. Catalonia, and so the Costa Brava, is. The total number of camping places in Catalonia is over 200,000, only some 50,000 fewer than the total number of hotel places.

In the Balearics there are nine campsites, as in proper campsites for holidaymakers. Seven of these are in Ibiza. There isn't one in Mallorca. A letter-writer to the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" asked recently why Mallorca didn't have any camping. He guessed that it may have had something to do with the power of the hoteliers. It was a perfectly reasonable guess. It was correct.

Yesterday I referred to a law that was passed in 1984. The "ley sobre alojamientos extrahoteleros" (law on non-hotel accommodation) was the first piece of legislation that was directly to do with tourism following the establishment of the regional Balearics government in 1983. Among the issues that the law addressed was that of clandestine accommodation. The story about holiday lets goes back to this law and so also does the story about camping in Mallorca.

In essence what this law sought to bring about were improvements in quality and the provision of specific services. Allied to the first "Decreto Cladera", also in 1984, which established space requirements for hotel rooms, it was a way of introducing order to the tourism offer that hadn't until then been adequately controlled. The Cladera of the Decreto was the first tourism minister, Jaume Cladera, who arguably has been the best tourism minister the Balearics has had. He has certainly been one from a tourism background, unlike others. Though Cladera did a great deal that was good, he was close to the hotel sector, and once he ceased to be minister in 1993, he became CEO of companies linked to Stil Hotels.

In February 1986 there was another "decreto", one that followed on from the 1984 law. This decree dealt specifically with camping and even more specifically with "impeding the proliferation of campsites" in the Balearics of the type that had been established on the coasts of mainland Spain. Andrés Avelino Blasco Esteve, Professor of Administrative Law at the Universitat de les Illes Balears, has set out various pieces of legislation between 1984 and 1999 that affected Mallorca's tourism, and what he says about the decree on campsites tells us really all we need to know as to why the situation regarding camping is as it now is. It was Blasco who used the word "impeding" in outlining the "strict requisites" to be applied under the 1986 decree.

These established, inter alia, that there was to be a limit of between 70 to 100 plots (bear in mind the number that the Marjal Costa Blanca has), that there had to be safety measures, electricity supplies and sewage treatment or connections, roads or tracks of a certain width and one parking place for every two plots. The requisites also stipulated that there would be a minimum size per plot and that campsites could only be authorised for up to three years (presumably there would then be an application for renewal). Moreover, these sites had to be to luxury or "primera" standards, thus excluding the "comfort" economy class.

In pure space terms, the minimum was four times greater than that set out for hotel rooms. This was just one reason why camping failed to take off. The other reasons are pretty obvious. It was a business which would have been on shaky ground if the authorisation was for such a short period. Professor Blasco sums it all up thus: "The purpose of the decree seems clear - to hinder the implementation of campsites on the islands ... and to make it impossible for them to become a type of alternative accommodation to hotels and apartments. The consequence of this has been the virtual absence of this type of tourist establishment."

Of course, this doesn't explain why Ibiza has the campsites it has. One reason, and it is an assumption, may lie with the hippy culture of the island from the 1960s. Another is that, despite powerful hoteliers such as Abel Matutes, Ibiza is different in terms of its hotel lobby. Behind the 1986 decree, as Professor Blasco makes clear, was an intent to ensure that hotels in Mallorca dominated, a situation which does not exist in either Alicante and Benidorm or in Catalonia.

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