Saturday, January 31, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 January 2015


Morning high (8.00am): 13C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 1 February - Wind, sun, cloud, 13C; 2 February - Cloud, sun, 12C; 3 February - Rain, 10C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 3 to 5 increasing 6 during the morning, locally 7 at times and with waves to three or four metres.

Grey morning but quite mild. Wind a factor today and tomorrow, with very rough coastal and sea conditions. The outlook into next week suggests that not untypical cold February weather is on the way, with snow possible at sea level.

Evening update (22.15): High of 15C, some rain around and pretty windy. 

No Frills Excursions

The Almonds Of Son Servera

Between 1846 and 1850, Pascual Madoz compiled the extraordinary "Geographical-Statistical-Historical Dictionary of Spain and its Foreign Possessions". This dictionary (or rather, encyclopaedia) stretched to numerous volumes, and in one of them there was an entry for Son Servera. Madoz noted that it would take twelve hours to get to Son Servera from Palma, that it had a population of 399, that its roads were in poor condition and that its production included wheat, barley, legumes, olives, carobs, wine and almonds.

At the time that Madoz was putting together his encyclopaedia, almonds were acquiring a status in agricultural production that they hadn't previously enjoyed. They had, so it is generally understood, been introduced to Mallorca by the Arabs, but their cultivation had never been vast, until the reorganisation of farm land in the first half of the nineteenth century paved the way for greater exploitation of crops rather than the staples such as cereals and grapes. They were to get a further boost when the vines were devastated by phylloxera in the early 1890s and alternatives were therefore sought.

As far as Son Servera is concerned, almond production is hardly unique to it. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that towns such as Bunyola and Santa Maria are more associated with almonds. But almonds there most certainly are on the eastern part of the island, and at this time of the year the trees are in or coming into blossom and are thus contributing to one of Mallorca's most familiar and prettiest sights.

Son Servera has the almond in common with much of the island, but this hasn't stopped the town staging an almond fair. This in itself is also not unique; Santa Margalida has one as well, but in September at almond harvesting time. Tomorrow, therefore, the town is staging its sixth fair dedicated specifically to the flower of the almond, "flor d'ametler", i.e. the blossom. This is the name of the fair but almonds and almond products of different sorts also feature at the fair. The fair's name is the same as one of Mallorca's better-known products, the Flor d'Ametler perfume, made from almond blossom, that has a history going back to the 1930s and which is still produced along with other products by the family business, Rover S.L. in Marratxi.

The fair, as with several others on the island, was created as a means, it was hoped, of tackling the effects of tourism seasonality. Whether it has succeeded in doing so is doubtful, but Cala Millor, part of which is in Son Servera, lends its name to the fair along with the town hall. As a celebration of the Mallorcan landscape at this time of the year, its success would be deserved, but we are all too well aware of the issues that conspire to limit its potential success.

The story of the fair and of the almond is in fact a story within another story, and one that is of some significance to Son Servera, as it involves how the town came to acquire this name. The fair is held at the estate of Ca s'Hereu, which is now a finca for agrotourism that offers seven bedrooms, but which has a history that stretches back to the thirteenth century and to the aftermath of the conquest by King Jaume I.

One of those who came on the conquest was a Jaume Cervera, and his family became one of two landowners of what, at the time of the conquest, was known as Binicanella but which, through marriages, evolved into two estates divided up between two brothers who, by the mid-fifteenth century, had the surname Servera. One of the estates was Son Frai Gari, the other was Ca s' Hereu, where the original tower had been built at the instruction of Jaume Cervera.  

The estate of Ca s'Hereu was, until the 1970s, a working farm that employed around a hundred people and where livestock were raised and various crops were grown. One of them was of course the almond, and given the historical importance of both the estate and the almond to the town, where better to hold the fair than on what had been a farm that had gone a long way to making the almond a crop significant enough for Pascual Madoz to have highlighted it.

So, in 2010 the Son Servera tourism councillor in collaboration with the regional government's ministries for tourism and agriculture organised the first fair, and among the various dignitaries who were on hand to celebrate the occasion was the then mayor, Antoni Servera, and he was following a further tradition. Servera is, for obvious reasons, a very common surname in the town, and its first mayor, in 1837, was also a Servera.

Index for January 2015

Balearics' politicians and New Year messages - 3 January 2015
Cala d'Or improvements and positioning - 19 January 2015
Canaries' own airline - 23 January 2015
Dog poisoning Puerto Pollensa - 24 January 2015
Education struggle in Balearics - 26 January 2015
Election year in Spain - 6 January 2015
Exceltur on tourism spend - 22 January 2015
Holiday lets regulation in Balearics - 11 January 2015
Intellectual property - 21 January 2015
Javier Pierotti - 4 January 2015
Luis Bárcenas released - 25 January 2015
Mallorca's airport - 9 January 2015
Most popular stories of 2014 - 1 January 2015
Noise and tourism - 7 January 2015
Opening hours and zones of large tourist influx - 20 January 2015
Palma airport fees and AENA privatisation - 16 January 2015
Palma police corruption allegations - 17 January 2015
Podemos and Syriza - 27 January 2015
Political parties' illegal funding - 13 January 2015
Sant Antoni clamater - 10 January 2015
Sant Canut - 18 January 2015
Sineu King Jaume II statue - 29 January 2015
Son Servera almond blossom fair - 31 January 2015
Spanish Cabinet and perceptions in the Balearics - 14 January 2015
Syriza: all-inclusives - 28 January 2015
Technological developments and Mallorca's tourism - 8 January 2015
Tourism growth and electioneering - 30 January 2015
Tourism promotion and strategy - 15 January 2015
Uber in Spain - 5 January 2015
Week of the bearded ones - 12 January 2015
Year of the Archduke Louis Salvador - 2 January 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 January 2015


Morning high (8.15am): 17.5C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 31 January - Rain, sun, wind, 17C; 1 February - Sun, cloud, 11C; 2 February - Cloud, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 5 to 6, locally 7. Swells to two metres.

Extremely mild morning, having been blowy at times during the night. The wind will ease off during the day but return again tomorrow. A mix of cloud and sun today with rail likely by the evening.

Evening update (21.30): Some rain this afternoon but not heavy. The high was that of the morning, i.e. 17.5C: it got progressively cooler through the day.

No Frills Excursions

Tourism Growth And Electioneering

The Balearics tourism industry has been in Madrid this week for Fitur, one of the major tourism/travel fairs of the winter. Fitur is, therefore, an occasion for the islands' industry and government officials to hobnob with tour operators, airlines and others. Deals will be made and announcements will provide evidence that everything is rosy in the Balearic and Spanish tourism gardens. But even before Fitur got underway, there was the Global Tourism Forum, an event which seems specifically designed to allow politicians to say how good things are (well, it is organised by the national ministry for tourism after all). Suitably enough, there was Mariano Rajoy using data which shows how tourism grew last year to support his wider message of economic growth. This wasn't, however, a message that was well received by various organisations in the tourism industry; organisations such as CEHAT, the Spanish hoteliers federation, and Exceltur, the alliance for tourism excellence. They accused Rajoy of hijacking the tourist data for electioneering purposes, while arguing that, as tourism is proving to be so crucial to economic growth, the government should be doing more to help it by, for instance, reducing IVA. This call for a reduction in the tourist rate (currently 10%) has been a familiar one for several years, and just as familiar has been the refusal of the government to lower it.

José Manuel Soria, the tourism minister, closed the forum by considering the brave new world of the digital economy and how Spain was preparing for it. The country's tourism competitiveness will be enhanced by Spain becoming an "intelligent destination", which is one of those bits of jargon, like sustainability, that tourism politicians enjoy throwing around without ever actually explaining what it means. Meanwhile, the Balearics Tourism Agency was announcing its own version of tourism intelligence - the "Escaparte Turístico Inteligente" no less. And this is? Well, it means intelligent tourism showcase and it is an information system which may prove that the agency hasn't been sitting on its intelligent backside for the past couple of years after all. Long in the promise, it is, or should be, the grand system for social networking and all manner of new ways of tourism management and marketing that we have hoped for. But until it is actually up and running, we will have to hold back our excitement for the moment.

Someone else who was able to quote tourism statistics in Madrid was President Bauzá. The number of tourists coming to the Balearics in 2014 rose by 580,000, making 13,580,000 in total (in 2013 there had obviously been bang on 13 million tourists). 2015 should be even better, especially as a 10% growth in domestic tourism is being forecast. Putting something of a damper on the 2014 performance were the figures released by the national statistics institute which showed that overnight stays in hotels in the Balearics fell by 4% in 2014 (nationally they were up by almost 3%). So, how does one explain the apparent contradiction between what equated to a 4.5% increase in the number of tourists and the 4% drop in overnight stays? The answer will doubtless lie, once the hoteliers get round to explaining this with their usual propaganda, with all the tourists who don't stay in hotels and prefer to fill the pockets of the unfairly competing owners of private apartments and other unregulated accommodation. This may indeed be so, but Bauzá can't have it both ways. He can't brag about increases in tourist numbers while at the same time siding with the hoteliers and decrying a source of tourism growth. He will, though, don't worry about that.

There is, though, another way of interpreting the contradiction, and that is that tourists are opting for shorter holidays in ever greater numbers than previously. And, somewhat ironically perhaps, the new world of the intelligent, digital tourism economy facilitates this greatly, especially because it is the technologically and digitally switched-on Millennial generation which is characterised by its preference for more but shorter holidays. Furthermore, the regional government, with the assistance of Palma 365, is actively encouraging shorter stays through the promotion of city breaks.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 January 2015


Morning high (8.15am): 7C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 30 January - Cloud, sun, wind, 17C; 31 January - Cloud, 13C; 1 February - Cloud, sun, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 4 to 5 locally 6 from midday. Swells to two metres decreasing.

Cloudy at present but due to be sunny later and quite warm despite a fairly keen westerly. Wind increasing tomorrow with an alert out for more rough coastal conditions. The weekend is looking as if it might be a bit damp.

Evening update (18.00): Not bad, a high of 18C but the wind has picked up now and will get stronger overnight.

No Frills Excursions

The Madness Of King James

The town hall in Sineu has been given the green light by the Council of Mallorca's heritage commission to locate a statue of King Jaume II (James II) in a place in the town in which it wasn't previously located. In May 2011 the statue was put up in the church square. Soon after, it was removed. The new location, according to a town hall technical report, "permits a view ... of the image of the king ... which does not impair views of any specific buildings and their historical and aesthetic values or interfere with special environmental values". Which is a longwinded way of explaining and admitting that the previous siting had impaired such views and interfered with such values.

The day after the statue was inaugurated, the Council let it be known that it considered the decision of the town hall to locate it where it was to be "very serious". The town hall had not been given permission by the Council for the siting of the statue, which violated regulations regarding the town's status as being in the "cultural interest" and in particular the church of Santa Maria. The town hall went ahead anyway, in full cognisance of the fact that it did not have permission.

The story of the statue might appear to have only been an example of how competing bureaucracies in Mallorca (the Council and the town hall in this instance) can go mad, pull in opposite directions and do things which contravene some arcane regulation or other. There was, however, very much more to it.

Jaume II plays a significant part in Sineu's history, as it was during his reign that the conversion of what had been the palace of the Emir Mobaxir into the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca was undertaken. On this count, plus the fact that it was Jaume II who had granted Sineu the status of a "royal village" in 1300, there should be little debate as to the merit of there being a statue to him. There was debate, however. And it was more than just debate. It had nothing to do with where the statue was sited or with whether there was permission or not; it had everything to do with conflicting attitudes towards Jaume II, and on 29 May 2011 these attitudes spilled over into a physical conflict.

At the ceremony, members of the anti-Catalanist Círculo Balear, who hadn't been invited but went anyway, unveiled a flag with three red bars. This was, if you like, a red-bar-too-few rag to the bull of Mallorcan nationalist sentiment; the official Mallorcan flag has four red bars in accordance with the original flag of Aragon and so King Jaume I. Insults flew, there was some jostling, and the police had to intervene. The Partido Popular, which had won five seats at the previous week's municipal election and was on the point of resuming its leadership of the town hall, initially attached blame for the incidents to "radical Catalanists" but then backtracked somewhat by also criticising the members of the Círculo Balear.

So, what had all this been about? Jaume II, for certain Mallorcan nationalists, is not revered in the way that Jaume I is. Despite having been crowned the first true king of Mallorca, Jaume II does not compare with the old man because it wasn't he who conquered the island and who introduced Catalan culture. Moreover, Jaume II was none too fastidious when it came to flags. He had different versions, one with three red bars (as flown by the Círculo Balear) and even one with only two bars. As such, therefore, he was betraying the legacy of the original flag, the "senyera". The left-wing nationalist Sineu Independent party was indignant about there being a statue at all: Jaume II did not represent Sineu, it said.

Nevertheless, there is the peculiarity that it was a nationalist party, the Unió Mallorquina when it was in charge of the Council of Mallorca, which established Mallorca Day on the anniversary of Jaume II's coronation in 1276. The conflict in Sineu in 2011 was styled as one between "nationalistas" and "españolistas", the latter personified by the anti-Catalanist Círculo Balear. Yet, the very fact that a nationalist party might have felt it appropriate for Jaume II to be the pretext for a Mallorca Day confuses an argument about the very origins of this nationalism.

Much as history is important and much as events of the thirteenth century moulded Mallorcan culture and heritage, the conflict in Sineu revealed just how mired current-day society can be in this antiquity. Should it really matter that much? To some it obviously does, but to others it seems crazy to constantly relive a long-ago past. And so what will happen when the statue is placed in its new location? More of the same probably. Madness.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 January 2015


Morning high (8.00am): 10C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 29 January - Sun, 16C; 30 January - Sun, wind, 15C; 31 January - Cloud, sun, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 5 to 6 easing during the afternoon to Variable 2 to 3. Swells of two metres or greater.

Heavy cloud early on, though there should be sun at times during the day. Winds increasing again tomorrow and Friday but sunny also.

Evening update (20.00): Some sun, mainly cloud and a high of 13.2C.

No Frills Excursions

If It Could Happen In Greece ...

Following the euphoria of a party swept into a power on a raft of promises which may prove to be less feasible in their implementation than in their oratory, Greece is waking up to what the nitty-gritty of policies will actually be, and there is one area of policy on which a weather eye will be kept by many in Mallorca and other regions of Spain that are competitor tourist destinations.

Syriza's Alexis Tsipras has met with businesspeople to outline what the party's tourism policy is likely to entail, and there are some headlining elements which will resonate here, in particular those to do with all-inclusive hotels and airlines. On the latter, Syriza will look at the possibility of creating a national airline, by which one assumes that it would be a government-owned airline, and at stopping the privatisation of airports on the Greek islands. With protests against the AENA partial privatisation occurring in the Balearics, there will be interest in seeing if and how Syriza halts the privatisation process in Greece.

It is what Tsipras has had to say about all-inclusives which will probably attract greater attention. Syriza has said that it won't ban AI projects that already exist but that it would look to reduce the number of AI packages and prevent any further developments which are to offer AI in a country where an eighth of tourism revenue is derived from AI. Tsipras's observation that all-inclusive resorts exist "at the margin of local economies" will, for many in Mallorca, be indisputable. "Tourism is an issue for local communities which live and breathe it." Amen.

But AI or not AI, the Syriza line appears to be one that will block or inhibit new resort development (on a grand scale) of any type. Investors, if they haven't already, will be packing their bags and heading off in search of more amenable political regimes. And it is this, investment, which is a fault line in Syriza's policy. Were it to dry up in supporting a major industry such as tourism, then righting the Greek economy might remain a pipe-dream.

It has been suggested that the current flurry of hotel investment activity and licence applications in Mallorca has been inspired in part by fears of what a Podemos-influenced if not Podemos-led regional government might mean. Comparisons between Podemos and Syriza aren't as straightforward as some might think, as I have noted, but one would have to believe that there would be some similarity in thinking when it comes to tourism. Investment in Mallorca might, despite getting permissions in place, be affected were Podemos to become a major political influence after May.

Comparisons between Greece and Mallorca and indeed Greece and Spain in terms of tourism are also not straightforward. The Greek market is very much smaller than Spain's; the total number of tourists to Greece in 2014 amounted to roughly twice the number that Mallorca alone attracted. Given the substantially lower volume, it is just conceivable that policy changes wouldn't harm the country's tourism to the extent that numbers would fall, except that these would be policy changes that would also have an impact on tour operators, and it has been the case that, in certain parts of the globe, government attempts to outlaw or reduce AI have had to be re-thought because of tour operator influence and threats.

A further difference lies with the political organisation of Greece and Spain. Greece is a unitary state, meaning that the administrative regions of Greece do not have the devolved and autonomous powers that the regions of Spain do. These powers include tourism policies, so the Balearics (or any other region) could, in theory, ban AI, though such a ban would probably end up at the Supreme Court as it might be argued that it exceeded these powers and contravened regions' statutes of autonomy. It is these very statutes, however, that could be invoked in reverse were, hypothetically, the state to decree that there would be a halt to all new large-scale tourism development and also to AI. Much though it is argued that the regions enjoy too much power, the statutes of autonomy do act as a means of preventing abuses by central government; they could only be altered by a re-writing of the constitution.

I accept that this is all speculative, but while I find it inconceivable at present to think that Podemos might become the dominant influence in both national and regional (Balearics) government, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility. And were such a possibility to be realised, then, assuming there were tourism policies similar to those that Syriza plans, the scale of AI might well be reduced. Which might sound like good news, but then one would have to ask about future investment: a question that the Greeks will now have to ask.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 January 2015


Morning high (8.15am): 11C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 28 January - Cloud, wind, 13C; 29 January - Sun, cloud, 15C; 30 January - Cloud, sun, 12C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4 to 6. Swells to two metres.

A warmer day expected, but with the wind getting up again by the evening. An unsettled pattern at present of wind, sun and occasional showers.

Evening update (23.30): Not bad at times today, a high of 16.9C.

No Frills Excursions

Podemos And The Syriza Effect

When Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, was photographed in triumphant pose with Alexis Tspiras in Athens last week, I wondered if he might regret it. Following Syriza's astonishing electoral performance, it is possible to view those photos in alternative ways. Does Iglesias's association with and support for a supposedly hard-left party put the frighteners up Spanish voters or does it embolden these voters?

There are similarities but there are differences between Syriza and Podemos. One difference lies with the nature of the two entities. Syriza has a longer history, one that can be traced back to the start of the century but which really only became formalised at the time of the 2004 elections in Greece. A coalition of the left, it has gone through processes by which it has become a definable political party that has lost some of its more extreme propositions along the way but which remains very much to the left. Podemos, on the other hand, is very much newer, a case of almost spontaneous political combustion that is still not clearly definable as a party in the sense that its policies and make-up are fluid because of the way in which democratic participation helps to define and mould them. Ostensibly, it is of the left and operates within the parameters of left-wing politics, but watering-down can occur and has occurred, as with adopting a less dogmatic view on nationalisation. And because the Podemos philosophy is one of disassociation from the established party system, it sees itself not in terms of the clash between left and right but as aspiring towards centrality (to paraphrase what Iglesias has said).

Syriza's win can be attributed to three key elements - the austerity driven by the troika and the consequent "humiliation" of Greece, corruption and a desire to overthrow the elite, be it political or business, and to establish greater meritocracy. Spain, while its pride has taken a considerable knock, has not been subjected to the humiliation of Greece - there was no sovereign bailout after all, just one for the banking system - and the effects of austerity have not been as severe as in Greece (though they have been severe enough). Consequently, the Germans and the EU are not the hated figures in Spain to the same degree as they are in Greece. For Podemos, the enemy lies more within than without, which is where there are very strong similarities with Syriza. Corruption, elitism, the systems of amiguismo, of favouritism, of nepotism that inhibit meritocracy; for Greece, read also Spain.

With Europe not the same prime target for the ire of the Spanish people, does this lessen the likelihood of Podemos reproducing an electoral performance similar to that of Syriza? It may do, but the Greek election could also act as a springboard for even greater support for Podemos. There are differences in circumstances but only some. What Syriza has proved is that an electorate can overthrow the established system and it has done so by tapping into what contemporary society offers - the social networking of a different way of thinking and of experimentation: the post-capitalist society, if you like.

At the same time as Syriza was turning Greek politics upside down, Spain's Partido Popular was gathering in Madrid for a national convention. The pomposity of such conventions seems cringeworthy in this new society, as are the banalities of statements surrounding corruption. Rajoy was speaking only hours after Bárcenas announced that Rajoy has always known about the B accounts. Away from Madrid, PSOE's Susana Díaz in Andalusia was calling a snap election, having broken the pact of regional government with the Esquerra Unida. There's more to it than that: power politics and a possible challenge to Pedro Sánchez.

The public, in the climate of the rise of Podemos and of Syriza's victory, will look upon these events with contempt and with the knowledge that they confirm the essential proposition of Podemos, that now is the time to change these games and political charades. The main parties are being exposed as antediluvian, and commentators who persist in believing that the status quo will naturally be restored are failing to grasp the significance of what is occurring: that styling politics in Spain according to the two-party system of left and right is becoming outmoded and that is being superseded by new ways of thinking largely inspired by a younger generation hooked on social networking democracy and on technology. It should, incidentally, not be overlooked that Syriza, Podemos and also the forgotten alternative in Spain, Partido X, are all heavily in favour of investment in innovation and development.

Nevertheless, for Podemos, perhaps its greatest worry is what lies ahead over the next few months. The what's-next question has yet to be answered in Greece. The answer might just alarm Spanish voters. Or it might not.

Monday, January 26, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 January 2015


Morning high (7.30am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 27 January - Sun, cloud, 15C; 28 January - Cloud, 11C; 29 January - Cloud, sun, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 7 easing 6 by the evening. Waves from three to six metres.

Still very windy, though the wind is due to ease by the evening. Some sun expected today but not warm especially in the wind. The general outlook for the week suggests that it will become very windy again towards the weekend. Otherwise, a mix of cloud and sun.

Evening update (18.30): Wind has dropped, as had been forecast. Occasional burst of sun and occasional rain. A high of only 10.8C.

No Frills Excursions

The Struggle For Balearics Education

Two years of struggle. The very word struggle conjures up images and sentiments of great struggles of the past - workers' rights, women's rights, civil rights - all of them battles with established orders in demanding what was just and fair. But two years struggle in the Balearics? Two years for the rights of what precisely?

At Can Alcover in Palma, an exhibition is being held that celebrates the struggle of Balearics teachers, and in particular the Assemblea de Docents teachers' organisation, against the ramifications of trilingual teaching (TIL). The exhibition was in fact launched in Barcelona to commemorate the first anniversary of the massive anti-TIL demonstration in Palma at the end of September 2013. It has been brought over to Mallorca and it will be on display until 14 February. It shows, among other things, photos of the demo and charts the chronology of the struggle from the time that TIL was approved, through the sackings of two education ministers and the three-week strike, to the various "denuncias", the latest of them being against Isabel Cerdà, the director-general for planning, innovation and professional training at the education ministry, for a supposed abuse of office in respect of the "massive approval of TIL projects".

This has not been a struggle against TIL per se. It has been a struggle against the perceived unfairness and unjustness of a teaching regime that has sought to diminish the influence of Catalan. One neglects the past at one's peril, but notwithstanding the discriminations of the past and the potential for them to repeat themselves, styling this all as a struggle of some form of social injustice neglects what has been and remains a political confrontation. Both sides, teachers and government, have denied that they have had political motives, but they most definitely have: the struggle has been a clash between entrenched ideologies with language at their core. The unjustness and unfairness have been those that have plunged the education system into chaos; the victims are those on the receiving end of this system, the schoolchildren and many parents who have not been persuaded by the narrative of the teachers' struggle.   

Who pulled the first political trigger in all this mess is now pretty much irrelevant. The chronology of the struggle is thus also now irrelevant. What should be relevant and what should be the struggle is to come to an accord to create a rich, varied, contemporary public education system for a region of Spain which, linguistic arguments aside, has obstinately underperformed for way too long. Instead, and despite the protestations of government and teachers which insist that they have made paramount the needs of schoolchildren, the education system has been hung out to dry by a conflict which could have been predicted and one in which both sides have been eager participants. A plague on both their houses.

It suits the Assemblea to remind everyone of the struggle because of the next stage in its process. If, as they have threatened, the teachers go ahead with strikes in the lead-up to the regional election, these might easily backfire because of the weariness of parents. The teachers will believe otherwise: that strikes will be an additional force in bringing down the Partido Popular in May.

Strikes or no strikes, this may well happen in any event, and already there are clear indications as to what will transpire if there is a change of government. Francina Armengol of PSOE went on record months ago in saying that she would scrap TIL. On Saturday, at a conference in Palma, she spoke of taking "ambitious measures" in creating a quality public education system through a "social and political pact" that will restore peace to the classrooms. What such a pact might be and what such measures might also be, we are yet to find out, but it was perhaps no coincidence that Armengol should be speaking about such a pact when one has already been formed. Various bodies, such as the Assemblea and the Balearics parents association, have come together in drawing up what they would see forming a new education law, one to be introduced by an alternative government to the PP. While vague about but not dismissive of third language teaching, there would be a return to giving Catalan priority; a minimum 50% of teaching hours in Catalan without specifying what might be the maximum. 

Were this to come to pass, then the struggle would be over, but for how long? The four years it would take for the electorate to decide that it wants to bring the PP back into government? And then where would be? Back no doubt to the same arguments, the same conflict and the same struggle. Or maybe not. If there's one thing that many in the PP have discovered, it is that they sense some unjustness and unfairness in the current government's policies.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 January 2015


Morning high (8.15am): 9.5C
Forecast high: 11C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 26 January - Wind, cloud, sun, 10C; 27 January - Cloud, sun, 13C; 28 January - Cloud, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 7 to 8 with waves from four metres.

As had been forecast, very blowy this morning and staying so. Very rough by the coasts and at sea with force 9 in some areas. Unlikely to be much by way of sun today. More so tomorrow possibly, but the north wind will still be strong.

Evening update (19.00): And very blowy it was and still is. Cold in the wind as well. A high of 12.2C.

No Frills Excursions

The Strength Of Luis Bárcenas

The Spanish media loves nothing more than a politician or some other member of the prominenti going into or coming out of prison. Because both of these happen so frequently, there might by now be getting-banged-up and not-getting-banged-up fatigue and forgetfulness. Is Jaume Matas still in prison or isn't he? In, out, in or maybe not, we've lost all trace of his whereabouts. But there is no fatigue when the newly liberated is ex-Partido Popular treasurer Luis Bárcenas. What a couple of days he had last week. It is reassuring to have learned that the Spanish prison system does not deny inmates the luxury of a well-tailored suit, a silk tie and a neat white handkerchief tucked into a breast pocket, but then Luis had his audience to impress: the Balearic parliamentary commission considering alleged irregularities and abuses of privileged information regarding the building of Son Espases hospital. There was some formidable video kit on hand to enable Luis to tell nervous commissioners (those from the PP) that the local PP HQ had been built with donations from businesspeople and that he had handed over some eight grand to Matas to help the former Balearics president set himself up in Madrid after losing the election in 2007; some eight grand which had come from the so-called B accounts.

Perhaps more than anything, it is the mystery which surrounds these B accounts that intrigues everyone the most. We are nowhere nearer knowing the truth about what PP leaders insist was some form of elaborate hoax by Bárcenas, but the fact that they imply payments to the likes of Mariano Rajoy is the huge sword hovering over PP heads, ready at any moment to deliver a killing blow, if, that is, the accounts were to be discovered to have been authentic.

Following his star role appearance by video link, Luis found that he was to be a free man, 200 grand having been stumped up for his release on bail. Hence, the media massed and Luis emerged, sporting some high-quality knitwear. "Luis has been really strong," he said with a touch of irony; Rajoy had once sent him a text message telling him to remain strong. The PP has nothing to fear, he also said, but added, perhaps ominously, "at the moment". While he believed that the PP was the right party to continue governing Spain, there are still several months before the election; plenty of time maybe for fear to arise. At the same time as he was preparing to leave the Soto del Real prison, Luis would have been hearing that the state attorney was requesting that he should go back to prison - for 60 years (and eight months); if he is found guilty of charges in respect of the long-dragged-out "caso Gürtel", the biggest corruption scandal of the lot.

Knowing this might be the case, what does Luis have to lose? Freed from prison, we can reach for metaphors of the small arms and artillery variety: Luis, the loose cannon, firing from the hip, going down with all guns blazing. Within no time, i.e. the day after his release, Luis was in fact making it abundantly clear that the PP did have something to fear. Mariano knew about the B accounts all along, he said. Rajoy, on balance, would probably prefer that he was still locked up.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 January 2015


Morning high (8.15am): 7C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 25 January - Cloud, sun, wind, 13C; 26 January - Cloud, sun, wind, 10C; 27 January - Cloud, sun, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4 to 5.

Mainly cloudy first thing, but sun expected for much of the day. An alert for coastal conditions in place with winds due to really pick up tomorrow. Whatever rain might be around over the next day or two is forecast to fall as snow at fairly low levels.

Evening update (18.00): Very pleasant once the sun kicked in. A high of 16.2C.

No Frills Excursions

Who Would Poison A Dog?

What in heaven's name is going on in Puerto Pollensa? Seven dogs have now died as a consequence of ingesting poison, and the cases are no longer confined to the dog-friendly part of Llenaire beach. They have occurred as far apart as in front of the Club Pollentia on the coast road to Alcúdia and opposite the Uyal hotel. Vets seem to think that a poison to kill snails is being used, but there is still some uncertainty as to this. Regardless of what poison it is, the situation is deplorable.

The first instances of poisoning occurred in the summer of 2013. Following these, Pollensa town hall requested the installation of security cameras at the dog beach and nearby on the promenade. The office of the government's delegate in the Balearics, Teresa Palmer, which has responsibility for such decisions, felt that such a measure would be disproportionate. The town hall is now asking again for cameras. It also making it mandatory for dogs to be muzzled when they are in the relevant areas - this is for the dogs own safety - and to further remind owners that dogs have to be on a leash. This would not, however, get over the problem of dogs being allowed out unattended, so the town hall is really going to have get tough on this as well.

There is a worry that the poisonings could have an adverse impact on tourism, though one wonders quite how much tourism there has been as a result of the dog beach having been established. Nevertheless, the cases do nothing for the image of Puerto Pollensa, and so it must be hoped that the hateful person responsible for these appalling acts is discovered. But that is much easier said than done.

Friday, January 23, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 January 2015


Morning high (6.30am): 10C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 24 January - Sun, cloud, 14C; 25 January - Cloud, sun, wind, 12C; 26 January - Cloud, 12C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 3 to 5.

A clear, starry sky early on, but quite mild as well. Conditions by the coasts should have eased following a rough night, and the wind is not now forecast to be a major factor again until Sunday. Otherwise, the weekend will be a mix of sun and cloud.

Evening update (21.45): Showers in some areas during the day. Otherwise, reasonable, with a high of 15.4C.

No Frills Excursions

Talk, Talk: Airlines

There has been talk, you may be aware, of the Balearics forming its own airline. Talk is likely to be all it ever is, whether such a venture might be viable or not, whatever routes such an airline might serve or not. One established airline that would probably be against the idea is Ryanair, whose commercial director David O'Brien, you will recall, was doing the rounds last week in the Balearics and the Canaries, celebrating thirty years of the airline. The Balearic Islands are not unique in there being talk of an airline. They're talking in much the same manner in the Canaries, and Mr O'Brien has added to the talk. It would not be a good idea, he said the other day. Not a good idea to open the market, which in a sense is a rather odd thing for a representative of an airline that has long trumpeted the need for open markets to say. He was, after all and on a different subject, raising an objection last week to the monopoly that AENA has on Spanish airports. But when it comes to the Canaries having their own airline, he is against the idea. He went on to say that Ryanair do what others claim they will do, inferring that such an airline wouldn't work, and then to highlight ways in which Ryanair has been successful: "the key to success is in treating the passenger well, and this is what we have been doing for thirty years".

Mr O'Brien's comments haven't been greeted with universal support. A contributor to "Preferente" magazine, for example, referred to the "hypocrisy" of the "Anglo-Saxons" when talking about customer service (the Irish, it might be said, are more Anglo-Celtic, but be this as it may) and to the Spanish air industry being "in the hands of villains". So, not a lot of sympathy for the Ryanair position there, but the same contributor went on to imply that he didn't have a great deal of sympathy for Spanish airlines either: "Im not going to defend the Spanish air industry". And this industry has seen its position whittled away to the point that it has lost any previous domination of the market and is mostly owned by foreign companies (those villainous Anglo-Saxons, or Anglo-Celts in the case of Willie Walsh).

Because it remains a significant, Spanish-owned player, Air Europa does stand out, and it has reinforced its position in the Balearics by announcing that it will start operating inter-island flights from May, so creating competition to Air Nostrum. Fares should therefore come down, though they are already subject to a form of capping because they are considered to be flights that are a "public service obligation". There had been a great deal of huffing and puffing by Air Europa, which at one point appeared to be going to pull out of any future inter-island service, but presumably the arguments it had with the national ministry for development regarding scheduling have been resolved.

Over on the mainland, Air Nostrum was helping to make history by providing the first flight to take off from the white elephant airport of Castellón in the Valencia region. It was a flight with 88 passengers, all of them supporters of Villarreal football club who were off to the match against Real Sociedad. The club expects to use the airport, as it will save time and money to do so. Whether Castellón does now become a fully operational airport, we will have to wait and see. Ryanair might take note. The airport fees will probably be very favourable.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 January 2015


Morning high (8.00am): 6C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 23 January - Sun, cloud, wind, 14C; 24 January - Sun, cloud, 12C; 25 January - Cloud, sun, wind, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 2 to 3 veering and increasing North 6 during the afternoon.

Fairly cloudy first thing, a day of some sun, cloud, possible showers and, later on, high wind in store. A windy few days to come with alerts in place for rough coastal conditions.

Evening update (20.00): Some sun but otherwise fairly dismal with rain at times. A high of 13.5C.

No Frills Excursions

In Search Of Excellence: Tourism spend

Exceltur is the alliance for tourism excellence. It is an organisation for elite businesses operating in the Spanish tourism market. Of its 22 members, nine are hotel chains or groups with hotels as part of wider operations. These are: Globalia (i.e. Be Live Hotels), Hotusa, Iberostar, Lopesan, Meliá, NH, Palladium, Playa Senator and Riu. Despite the notable absence of Barceló, the hotelier representation is biased towards heavyweights in Mallorca and the Balearics: five out of the nine are based on the islands.

While this representation reflects the strength of Balearic hotels in the Spanish market, it may also reflect how Exceltur views the world of Spanish tourism, and to get a flavour of this, one only has to consider its report into tourist business valuation for 2014. It is a detailed report but some of its conclusions need to be addressed and queried.

Foreign tourism to Spain increased by 7.1% in 2014, but the Exceltur report finds that this has resulted in a 3.4% reduction in average spend. The principal reason for this, implied by what Exceltur says, is the market for non-hotel accommodation. The report compares the daily spend of a tourist in regulated accommodation (114 euros) with that of a visitor in holiday-let accommodation (67 euros).

There are two points to make about this. Firstly, all holiday-let accommodation ("viviendas en alquiler") appears to be considered to be unregulated. The report refers to tourists staying in hotel and "other types of regulated accommodation" without defining what these other types are: there is, after all, plenty of holiday-let accommodation which is regulated. So, one has to question the definitions.

Secondly, and rather more importantly, the data used come from the tourist spend surveys which are notoriously unreliable in giving a true picture of spend. Apart from the fact that this spend is calculated on the basis of samples taken at airports, ports and border crossings, it is a spend - as I have noted many times in the past - which includes the price of the holiday itself (transport and accommodation). Exceltur has stripped out the cost of transport, but there remains the accommodation and the lack of clarity within the report as to its definition. But, as a general rule, it is fair to say that non-hotel accommodation (an apartment, for instance) does cost less than a hotel and especially a hotel where the upfront cost is for all-inclusive. Because of the cost of accommodation and board, therefore, there is an inherent bias towards a higher spend being attributed to hotel guests.

The spend calculation that Exceltur is using has to be further queried when one takes account of research that has been done at the university. I referred to this in July last year. It found that tourists who rented accommodation spend 30% more while on holiday than tourists in hotels. And the Exceltur report may even support this. The two tourist business sectors which enjoyed the best years in 2014 were car rental and leisure/entertainment; the first of these is certainly one which benefits from increasing numbers of non-hotel guests.

But while Exceltur may be able to take out transport costs for independent travellers, it cannot do this for tourists on package holidays. How can it? The holidaymaker hasn't a clue how much he or she is paying for the different components, and the tourist spend surveys reflect this: a value is therefore given for the total package. This sector of the holiday market rose by 6.6%, says the report, yet it appears to have been otherwise overlooked, and the reason why, or so it appears, is that a link is being made between the type of transport and the spend of the tourist in different types of accommodation. Specifically, the report points to the level of low-cost air travel (up by over 10% in 2014), noting that a much smaller rise in passengers using "traditional" airlines (1.7%) gave a daily spend that was 31 euros higher than the low-cost traveller.

The validity of this distinction is also questionable, though. Low-cost airlines (of varying types) massively dominate the Spanish market. Ryanair, Vueling, easyJet, Norwegian, Air Berlin are in the top seven airlines by passenger numbers (Iberia is another, but almost a third of its total operations are now the low-cost Iberia Express). Their combined market is vast and it is also highly diverse; there are high-spend as well as low-spend passengers.

Reports such as these are typically reproduced in the media from the summarised key points press releases, but when closer attention is paid, a rather different picture can emerge. Exceltur is calling for urgent action against the "unfair competition" of the holiday-lets variety and has backed this up with findings to support its argument. But then, just bear in mind who some of its members are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 January 2015


Morning high (8.00am): 8.5C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 22 January - Rain, 13C; 23 January - Sun, 11C; 24 January - Cloud, sun, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West 4, swells to one metre.

A clear morning after yesterday's deluge. Rain a possibility today but nothing like yesterday. More rain in store tomorrow but after that, becoming sunnier again but cold and quite windy.

Evening update (19.30): There was indeed some rain and not much warmth. A high of 12.9C. Alerts for rain and coastal conditions for tomorrow.

No Frills Excursions

Pep Talk: Intellectual property

It is a case from the mid-1980s I remember well. It was concerned with the notion of passing off, in this instance the use of a trademark considered to be similar to that of another business. The two protagonists were Laura Ashley and the wallpaper/home furnishings company Coloroll. The latter had developed a range of wallpapers that had a similar look to Laura Ashley's. This wasn't really the problem; the logo was. Coloroll's logo looked not unlike Laura Ashley's. It was an oval and had a sort of flowery arrangement inside it. So did Laura Ashley's. Whether consumers were inclined to think that there was some association between the two businesses is doubtful, but this wasn't of course the point; Laura Ashley's intellectual property and the goodwill and attributes of its brand were.

There is a very well-known global restaurant brand which has an establishment in Palma. Away from the capital, there is - or was - a restaurant that isn't globally known. Its name was very similar. Its logo was pretty much identical to the globally known brand. There was an application to register this as a trademark, which was seemingly and probably unsurprisingly opposed. Nevertheless, the restaurant with the similar name and logo operated for a season before changing the name the following season. The logo also changed, but not to the extent that this prevented a reviewer on Trip Advisor from still being able to comment on the similarity with a famous chain of restaurants.

The restaurant with the similar name and logo appears to be no more. At any rate, when I passed by the other day the sign was down and the "local" appeared to have been cleared. If it is no more, then it is a bit of a shame. It wasn't bad, and for the most part reviews on Trip Advisor agreed that it wasn't bad. But one does have to ask why it was felt necessary to apparently wish to imitate a very well-known restaurant. Surely some form of challenge had to be expected, which at best might mean having to go the trouble and cost of changing signs, menus etc. At worst, it might mean far more. Were the punters likely to have thought that there was a genuine association with the well-known brand? Probably not. In which case, why bother?

In Tenerife, lawyers acting for Gordon Ramsay are trying to find ways of dealing with a restaurant in Puerto Colon which has been trading by the name "Gordon Ransay's" for the past four years or so. You would think that, despite the alteration of one letter in the name, this is a clear infringement of intellectual property. Even with this one letter change, the script style of the restaurant's name could lead one to read it as "Ramsay", while the "R" is not a million miles away from the "R" that is in Ramsay's signature trademark. To make matters worse, this particular restaurant gets some rotten reviews. Ramsay has every right to be furious and to be frustrated by the difficulties encountered in tackling this apparent passing off.

Andema is the national association for the defence of trademarks and brands. Its director-general said recently that Mallorca and the Canaries were "black spots" for trademark falsification. He was speaking in the context of a product counterfeiting case involving a Chinese retailer who had been fined a mere 240 euros for selling a bag with the Louis Vuitton name. The reason for the low fine was that, though the retailer had acquired 1,075 pirated Vuitton bags, 1,074 of them were in a warehouse. Only one had been in the store.

Whether counterfeiting or passing off, the principle is the same; there is an attack on intellectual property, and I imagine most of us will be fully aware of the  counterfeiting that exists in Mallorca. No one is really duped into believing they're buying the genuine item (or at least you would hope they aren't), and while it might seem fairly innocuous to buy some fake sunglasses or what have you, the scale of the counterfeiting is anything but innocuous.

A national law of 2001 was designed to help protect large and well-known brands from infringements. How well it is being applied is perhaps a question that Gordon Ramsay might like an answer to, but there may nevertheless be a danger that it goes too far in undermining efforts of local entrepreneurs, such as those behind the successful Lemon Factory, makers of Pep Lemon. While the process of a challenge by Pepsi to its Pep Cola is ongoing, the company is marketing it simply as "Pep". There may be some similarity, but as everyone knows, Pep is a common name in Mallorca. Would anyone seriously mistake a Pep Cola for a Pepsi? No, but then such is the way with intellectual property.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 January 2015


Morning high (6.45am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 13C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 21 January - Sun, rain, 14C; 22 January - Rain, 10C; 23 January - Cloud, sun, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North and Northeast 5 to 6.

Cloudy and mild but not much of a day in prospect as rain is likely at any time. Due to see more by way of sun tomorrow. General outlook unsettled, windy at times and not particularly warm.

Evening update (17.45): Awful day, especially once it decided to chuck it down and do so big time. A high of 11.3C.

No Frills Excursions

Law Of Confusion: Opening hours

In 2012 the national government introduced a round of measures designed to liberalise the retail sector and opening hours. An experiment in fourteen cities across Spain, including parts of Palma, that allowed shops to adopt all but unlimited opening hours all year round (to include Sundays and holidays) tested the impact of opening-hours liberalisation in cities with a large tourist presence. According to statistics compiled by the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (open university), liberalisation would add 0.78% to national GDP, which translated as 8,263 million euros and 16,272 jobs.

The system was thus to be extended to what were already known by the acronym ZGAT (zonas de gran afluencia turística - areas with large tourist influx). ZGAT municipalities across Spain (some towns or cities can have more than one such area) were to be able to decide whether or not they wanted to liberalise opening hours by declaring themselves all-year-round ZGATs. This measure was adopted in the Balearics under the region's Commercial Law approved in October 2014. Under this law, opening hours are normally restricted to a maximum of ninety hours a week for all working days (including Saturdays) and a maximum of sixteen days a year of Sunday and holiday opening, but ZGATs, which already had liberalised Sunday/holiday opening hours in the summer, were to be allowed to apply these to the whole year.

In Mallorca there are a number of towns which are not ZGATs, meaning that the potential for all-year liberalisation does not apply to them. In eleven municipalities, Palma being one of them, ZGAT is applicable to only certain parts of the municipality. In nineteen others, ZGAT applies to the whole town, one of these being Alcúdia. It, as with other ZGAT areas, operates opening hours according to two seasons, the summer season starting on 15 March and finishing at the end of October. As a ZGAT, shops in Alcúdia have been able to open much when they like during the summer, a situation which will continue. But only certain types of shop will now be permitted to open on Sundays and holidays during the winter, because Alcúdia town hall has rejected the notion of making the town all-year-round ZGAT.

An immediate impact of the town hall's decision has been, or appears to have been, that the two Eroski supermarkets that had been opening on a Sunday are now closed and will be until March. Notices direct customers to the store in neighbouring Sa Pobla, a town which, rather bafflingly, is a ZGAT and, because its town hall has declared it to be, an all-year-round ZGAT, to boot. Alcúdia's rejection came after small businesses lobbied against liberalisation. With one eye on the next election perhaps, the town hall sided with the small businesses, mayor Coloma Terrasa noting (and tellingly so, one feels) that now was not the time for liberalisation.

Small business associations across the island have been up in arms over ZGAT extension, claiming that it is designed to help only the larger retailers, those with shopfloors of more than 300 square metres. This size limit is a further aspect that has to be considered. There are general exceptions when it comes to Sunday opening restriction, such as with newsagents and, subject to certain provisions, shops under 300 square metres.

The Eroski supermarkets in Alcúdia are an interesting case. One presumes that it is the town hall's rejection of all-year ZGAT that has led to their closure, but then how was it that they used to be open on Sundays in winter? I don't have an answer to that, but the small business association in a different town, Manacor, has claimed that there has been an abuse of ZGAT.

It needs stressing that objections to ZGAT extension are based on competition and not on a notion of keeping Sunday special. Whether larger supermarkets being open on Sundays in winter would make a great deal of competitive difference is a moot point. Whether it is necessary for them to be open at all on Sundays is another. Areas of large tourist influx? In winter? Alcúdia isn't, but it is more likely to have what tourists are around than a town like Sa Pobla. With the best will in the world, it attracts comparatively few tourists in summer, begging a question as to why it has ever been a ZGAT. If Sa Pobla might be an anomaly, then Vilafranca most definitely is. How does it qualify as a ZGAT and an all-year one, its town hall having adopted the measure? If it can be a ZGAT, then why not, for example, Artà?

The law is confusing in application and consequence. One rule for one town, one rule for the next. If it was improved competitiveness that the government was hoping for, then this is no way to achieve it.

* The decision by Alcúdia town hall has now been reversed, so Alcúdia is an all-year ZGAT and the large supermarkets are able to open on Sundays and holidays all-year round.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 January 2015


Morning high (7.45am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 20 January - Rain, 14C; 21 January - Cloud, 10C; 22 January - Cloud, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 4 to 5 easing 3 to 4 during the morning and backing Northeast by the evening.

A milder morning temperature-wise under quite heavy cloud. Rain possible at any time during the day and tomorrow. Staying cloudy for much of the week with temperatures dropping.

Evening update (19.00): Rain around today, quite heavy in some areas, hardly anything in others. No sun, and a high of 13.5C.

No Frills Excursions

The Tarnished Gold Of Cala D'Or

In the early 1930s the Ibizan painter, cartoonist and writer Josep Costa Ferrer handed over 13,000 pesetas and acquired three coves in Santanyí. These coves became Cala d'Or. Costa Ferrer, aka Don Pep, was one of the great pioneers of Mallorca's tourism. Together with others, such as the Belgians Van Crainest and Verburg and the architects Felipe Bellini and Arthur E. Middlehurst, he began the creation of what was arguably the most successful of the pre-Civil War resorts. The success owed much to Ibizan design and architecture, though a vision for Cala d'Or as a Mediterranean Hollywood did not materialise; the war put an end to that. Nevertheless, with the tourism boom Cala d'Or was well positioned to become a leading resort and one that was discernibly different, thanks to its alternative architectural flavour. The golden cove lived up to its name. It was precious, a gold standard for Mallorca.

The "positioning" of Cala d'Or was being discussed last week. Representatives of the Cala d'Or hotel association and the vice-president of the Mallorcan hoteliers federation, Inma de Benito, met with the mayor of Santanyí, Llorenç Galmés, to consider ways of improving its positioning, a broad term that one takes to refer to its image, its branding and so to its tourist profile and how and where the resort is marketed. The meeting discussed the launch of an improved and more attractive tourism website, participation in upcoming travel fairs, means of lengthening the season through diversification of the tourism offer and public-private co-operation. As such, therefore, it was a meeting that could have been discussing any of the island's resorts.

At the end of May 2012, there was a post on the "Caladorxlibre" blog*. It ended thus: "Im sure that the dream of Josep Costa Ferrer was not going to end in such a sad way." The article spoke of the "plight" of Cala d'Or, of a resort once the envy of the rest of Mallorca where now the "law of the strongest" applied, where, if there was no remedy, it would be a place "sunk in misery", abandoned by governments and politicians who think only of "bread for today" and not the "hunger of tomorrow" which might follow. Examples of degeneration were offered, and yet in one way this criticism was surprising. In November 2010, various buildings in Cala d'Or had been officially catalogued as being of special interest and so therefore needing protection. These were buildings representative of the era from 1933, when Don Pep bought the land, until the late 1960s, during which the essence of what Don Pep had envisaged had been maintained. But following the approval of an urban plan in 1967, things started to change. The consequence was the gradual loss of original buildings and of the architectural characteristics which had defined Cala d'Or.

Cataloguing and protecting certain buildings is, however, only one act of preservation. There are the very much wider issues of resort preservation, maintenance and improvement and of the nature of a resort and its "positioning". Belatedly, it would appear, the hoteliers and town hall have realised that they need to address these issues, the town hall's Partido Popular administration having previously been stung by opposition criticisms in 2013 by announcing a project of improvement which is ongoing.

Welcome though this embellishment is, the story of Cala d'Or is one that is sadly far from unique in Mallorca. The current regional government has laid the groundwork for resort improvement but it has its twin obsessions - those of Magalluf and Playa de Palma. Other resorts are for the most part merely lumped together in the anticipation of investment (mainly by the private sector) that will somehow lead to their transformation. But this is conceptually deficient, as it neglects a need for individual resort assessment and treatment. The resorts are not all the same, though the government gives the impression of believing that they are. Cala d'Or most certainly isn't the same. Or shouldn't be.

There needs to be a co-ordinated plan that appreciates the characteristics of resorts; what they have been and what they might be and so therefore what their "positioning" should be. Cala d'Or has clearly definable characteristics which need to be rediscovered and celebrated. The years of governmental indifference have made this difficult but not impossible. Likewise and as another example, Alcúdia, with its lakes and canals, needs to be subject to specific treatment for rediscovery and not be treated with the scandalous neglect of these attributes, as is currently the case.  

Are efforts by town halls and local hotel associations sufficient? No. They go some way in effecting improvements, but the resorts - all of them - need to be part of an island-wide plan dedicated to an appreciation of what marks them out. It is a plan, one fancies, that would be beyond the comprehension of the regional government.


Photo: Josep Costa Ferrer, Don Pep.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 January 2015


Morning high (7.45am): 5C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 19 January - Cloud, rain, 14C; 20 January - Rain, 10C; 21 January - Cloud, rain, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 3 increasing 4 during the morning.

Cold under a clear sky this morning with an area low of one degree. Temperatures climbing with the sun later on to give a good day, but the last one for a while, as the week ahead is dominated by cloud, rain and not very good temperatures.

Evening update (17.00): A high of 15.7C. Sunny for the most part but when the sun went behind cloud, the chilly breeze made things feel distinctly nippy.

No Frills Excursions

The Alternative Fiesta Of Saint Canute

There are, you may have noticed, a few fiestas cracking off at the moment. Sant Antoni has now handed the baton to Sant Sebastià in what is a seamless mid-January relay of fire-burning and demon cavorting. For those of you who may still be unaware, Sebastian (to give him his anglicised name) became a big deal in the first quarter of the sixteenth century when a bone which allegedly had once belonged to him was brought from Rhodes to plague-ridden Palma by the archdeacon Manuel Suriavisqui and miraculously managed to rid the city of the plague, as old bones of saints usually of course do.

As such therefore, Sebastian celebrations with fire and demons owe nothing whatsoever to the one-time French soldier who had a fateful run-in with the highly unpleasant Roman emperor Diocletian. They owe pretty much everything to old Antoni and to his hallucinations of and temptations by devils in his hermitic cave in the Egyptian desert and, quite probably, the occasional bonfire to keep him warm on cold desert nights.

The Sebastian fiestas in Palma do in fact pre-date the appearance of the bone in 1523 in the sense that his feast day had been celebrated prior to then. It wasn't, however, until he was named patron saint, in 1634, that things in a Sebastian style really took off. Not that things were like they are now. Indeed, it was only fairly recently - 1977 - that the "revetla" (eve) partying entered the fiesta equation, which was roughly the same time as fire-wielding demons of the current-day "correfoc" variety emerged; they having featured for the first time during Barcelona's La Mercè fiesta. 

So, Sebastian, as we now know it, isn't all that traditional, which doesn't of course stop it being referred to as traditional, just as a parallel fiesta which coincides with Sebastian is also deemed to be traditional. This is the alternative fiesta of Sant Canut (also written as Kanut), which has been going in Palma since 1994 and which has occurred on the same "revetla" eve. As the name suggests, there is a distinct Danish connection with this fiesta. St. Knut's Day, which oddly enough isn't officially celebrated in Denmark but is in Sweden, Norway and Finland, takes its name from Knut Levard, a Danish duke of the twelfth century who was declared a saint in the aftermath of his assassination. He isn't the same Canute as the one of turning-back-the-tides fame. He was his nephew. The King Canute we are familiar with was also a saint and though his day is in July, St. Knut's Day has come to be a combination of saintly uncle and nephew.

All of which may be very interesting, but it fails to explain what the day (which is in fact 13 January) has to do with Palma. St. Knut isn't on the Catholic calendar for 13 January; Saint Hilary is. It is a day which only has meaning in Scandinavia. However, and this does rather help to explain the alternative nature of Sant Canut, the word "canuto" in Spanish (or "canut" in Catalan) has a specific meaning. It is a joint, as in a cannabis joint.

Being a saint, sort of, Sant Canut comes in the form of an image to be carried by the faithful. Dressed in a white, druidic gown with very long black hair, he holds an oversized joint; a very oversized joint. He was, until recently, taken to the Ses Voltes park where he was joined by all manner of bands (similar therefore to the mix of music that the Sebastià revetla has). But, because the numbers were getting too great, he was shifted to the Parc del Mar last year, but only at the last minute. It looked as though Sant Canut was going to have to be cancelled in 2014, and history is repeating itself in 2015. At the time of writing, it would appear that, despite a hope that a location in the Sa Riera park could be found, the organisers gave thrown in the towel and that Sant Canut will not happen.

There has been much criticism of Palma town hall in recent years, suggesting that it has looked to place obstacles to stop Sant Canut happening; it isn't an official town hall event. The town hall, for its part, points merely to safety issues with overcrowding, but there is a further factor, which is that, regardless of claims of "tradition" for something that has been happening for only twenty years, Sant Canut is not a tradition where the town hall is concerned, as it doesn't form part of Mallorcan culture.

Nevertheless, there should be a place for the alternative, but as things stand, tomorrow evening Sant Canut, oversized joint and all, will not live on.

* An announcement was made later today that the fiesta would take place not in Palma but in Santa Maria del Cami at the art and music centre Cases de Son Llaüt used by the association Factoria de So.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 January 2015


Morning high (8.45am): 10.5C
Forecast high: 12C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 18 January - Sun, 13C; 19 January - Rain, 13C; 20 January - Rain, 9C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 4 to 5 easing Variable 2 to 3 by midday.

A bright morning, the weekend staying mostly bright but not that warm. Cold and wet weather on its way from Monday.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 15.5C. Some good sun for much of the day.

No Frills Excursions

Mutt, Gerry And The Cops Of Palma

Normal service was restored last week. The extended season of festivity had been punctuated only by the unpleasant present that Santa, Judge Castro, had left in the Urdangarins' Christmas stocking. Silent days and nights there had mostly been, but with the memory of the Three Kings already fading, a former king discovered that the paternity suits were finally being filed, while in Mallorca it was very much business as usual: local police were being arrested on corruption allegations; a parliamentary commission was looking into apparently dodgy land dealings (related to Son Espases hospital); Calvia town hall was defending itself against a charge of "amiguismo". Nothing changes. Another year, same procedure every year.

It is regrettable that the councillor for citizen security at Palma town hall isn't called Jeff. Were he to be, then a whole new meaning to the Mutt and Jeff double act would have been made last week. Joan Mut, the head of the police, and Guillem Navarro (the said councillor) were invited to have a little chat with a judge. Still, as Guillem has a political facial hirsuteness thing going on that is not so different from a near name-a-like, the blast from the past Gerald Nabarro, perhaps we can settle instead for Mutt and Gerry. Not that the judge was falling for any of the good cop-bad cop routine. Oh no, she was finding too many bad cops (allegedly) for that to be the case. And she, the judge, has recent experience with having little chats with local cops who have been accused of being less than honest citizens. She is Carmen González, the judge in front of whom Calvia's head of police, was paraded. As I say, nothing changes, other than the names of those involved.

Judge González, faced with evidence which alleges, among other things, that warnings were given to favoured establishments in advance of raids, that drug trafficking offences were overlooked, that police enjoyed the free services of prostitutes and that cops who weren't minded to act corruptly were threatened, stated that senior police officers and senior politicians have been protecting less-than-honest cops in Palma. Well, whoever might have thought that? And speaking of prostitutes (sorry, one should say escorts), the arrest on money-laundering allegations of the owner of Globo Rojo, "Mallorca's leading club and escort service for adults", is no doubt a coincidence. 

At least Palma's mayor, Mateo Isern, has moved swiftly in suspending without pay six of the eight policemen arrested (three of whom will remain in custody for now), of whom the head of police isn't one (he was not arrested, only implicated). Meanwhile, the PSOE opposition at the town hall has called on Isern to remove Gerry, who was also only implicated. "A matter of dignity," they say. At present, Gerry is still exercising his responsibility for guaranteeing the security of the citizens of Palma. Isern is also going to set in motion a "remodelling" of the local police, in particular the Grupo de Acción Preventiva, but there are many who believe that more, much more needs to be done. The arrests in Palma last week were the latest development of a process that has caught three police services in its net - Palma's, Calvia's and Marratxi's - and it has its origins in the round-up of Hell's Angels organised criminals in 2013 and the raid on the Palma police HQ by the Guardia Civil in September of that year. The Guardia were acting with the anti-corruption prosecutor Miguel Subirán and looking into an alleged police network of extortion and favours. The arrests in Palma may be the final part of that process. But can we be sure it is?

Friday, January 16, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 January 2015


Morning high (8.30am): 15C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 17 January - Cloud, sun, 14C; 18 January - Sun, cloud, 13C; 19 January - Rain, 11C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 3 to 4, occasionally 5. Rain possible.

A cloudy and quite blustery morning. A strong chance of some rain during the day and this evening, with the wind likely to strengthen later, so not great prospects for this evening's festivities. Looking into next week, rain is due to be a factor with temperatures set to fall.

Evening update (23.00): Some spots of rain this evening, but nothing of any note and so therefore nothing to douse the fires. A high today of 17.7C.

No Frills Excursions

The Cost Of AENA Privatisation

Ryanair has been on tour in Spain this week. In Mallorca, the press was able to report the thoughts of commercial director David O'Brien. They were similar to those he had spoken in Tenerife. Ryanair, the largest airline operator in Spain in terms of passenger numbers, does things for a reason. It uses its presence to make its feelings known. In Mallorca there was all the stuff about winter flights. Yes, were landing fees and airport charges to be reduced in the off-season, then Ryanair would put on more flights from the UK and Ireland. Yes, AENA should apply differential rates for summer and winter. Yes, the Balearics should have ownership of the local airports, as decisions taken in Madrid are too distant. Ryanair said everything the local press would have wanted to hear, but Ryanair knows that none of this will happen.

In Tenerife, and so before coming to Mallorca, O'Brien had expressed his concerns about the privatisation of AENA. He said that it was likely to lead to higher airport charges, not lower. He noted that the privatisation was simply a case of swapping a publicly owned monopoly for a privately owned monopoly, which is only partly true, as the Spanish Government will keep 51%. It is true, however, as O'Brien suggested, that the privatisation process has been something of a shambles. The three key institutional shareholders, including Mallorca's Banca March, have been known for some time. They are in for 21%. The remaining 28% of shares may now finally go out for public subscription in February; there is now an auditor in place, which there hadn't been when the public sale was meant to have occurred last year.

Though the government will retain a majority of AENA shares, it will now have to take into account the requirements of its shareholders. A suggestion here that the government could simply call for a lowering of airport fees in the hope that these would bring more flights in the off-season and so more tourists, more hotels open etc. is fanciful. The development ministry, which oversees the airport infrastructure, will know that even more than before that the airports have to perform. Most of them don't. Palma airport does. Along with Barcelona, it turns in a profit way in excess of other airports in the AENA network, most of which run at a loss. The ministry is therefore interested solely in optimising airport performance and realising shareholder value; wider economic considerations are secondary.

Airport fees may indeed increase and not just because of privatisation. The Spanish airports seem likely to be operated according to the principle of the dual till in the not too distant future. This refers to the two revenue streams at an airport: those for direct airline activities and those for non-airline activities, such as car parking and retailing. Dual till would mean that the latter no longer in effect subsidise the former, and the non-airline activities are more profitable; investors are generally more interested in their value generation and not the actual airline operations. 

AENA rightly point out that increasing passenger numbers (2014 has seen another record set in this regard) should offset the need for increased airport charges because of the added profit these passengers will bring, but the possibility exists that because of the shift to dual till and because of shareholder needs for a return, the charges will rise, thus dealing a blow to any potential lowering in the off-season, and especially at Palma, which is so important in the business mix of the AENA network.

What O'Brien had to say does of course make a lot of sense. The Balearics should have ownership of the airports, but this will not happen. There was a time when co-management by local government was a possibility; it surely can no longer be, thanks to privatisation. The Ryanair tour has been mainly about publicising the risk of those higher charges through a privatisation it considers to have been a mess (rightly so). It fears they will come, so as the largest operator in Spain it has been seeking to use its muscle to impress upon the government a need for restraint. As for lower charges in winter for Palma airport, they must remain highly unlikely.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 January 2015


Morning high (7.45am): 6C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 1
Three-day forecast: 16 January - Cloud, sun, 17C; 17 January - Sun, cloud, 11C; 18 January - Cloud, sun, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 4 increasing 5 later in the day.

Another clear and nippy morning with good amounts of sun to come. The forecast for Sant Antoni Eve tomorrow has improved somewhat. An outside chance of some rain during the evening, an increasing westerly wind might be more of an issue.

Evening update (20.00): Sunny day, a high of 18.9C but didn't feel it in what was quite a keen breeze.

No Frills Excursions

The Giant Pumpkin Of Tourism

"The biggest fruit in the world." This was a headline on the BBC website's home page. The fruit was a pumpkin, a fruit in which I do not for one moment pretend to be an expert but which holds an affection because of the annual pumpkin-growing contest that is judged at Muro's autumn fair. In the US, pumpkins are as much as three or four times the size of anything a Mallorcan grower can aspire to: the giants pumpkins of America dwarf the giants of Muro.

No one would claim that giant pumpkins at a fair in a small rural town are in themselves going to make a difference to Mallorca's tourism, but the BBC's pumpkin article had a very clear touristic element. This wasn't contained in the article itself. It was the banner at the top of the article. "Visit Croatia. Share Croatia," it read. It had been placed on behalf of the Croatian National Tourist Board. These banners can be somewhat hit or miss in respect of where they might appear and so therefore who might see them, but this randomness notwithstanding, the banner spoke volumes. The difference between Croatia's tourism promotion and Mallorca's was stark. Croatia is active in a way that Mallorca most definitely isn't. Were Mallorca active, there might have been some appeal in a banner for the island featuring at the top of the pumpkin article. Not, as I say, because the pumpkin fair would have thousands of tourists beating a path to Muro but because it is indicative of an often batty, alternative Mallorca the regional government would so love the world to know about and yet which it fails so abjectly in informing.

Croatia is arguably the European champion of tourism promotion. It gets web promotion in a way that Mallorca mystifyingly doesn't, or as yet hasn't seen fit to genuinely embrace. The word "share" in the banner says much. Croatia's social-media presence is enormous, while Mallorca's is not; it is a giant pumpkin-sized approach versus a seedling. I have railed often enough against Mallorca's poor social-media activity and so wonder if the baffling lack of presence is indicative of a wider issue.

One senses that Mallorca's tourism is at a crossroads. A strategic desire is for the up-market, but is there truly an acceptance of such an exclusive market to the exclusion of others? Is, therefore, an incoherent approach to web promotion a manifestation of this uncertainty? Technology and marketing are combined in ways they never have been before, yet neither appears to have a clearly defined role. What does Mallorca want from web technology and what does it really want by way of its tourism market?

Neither the government nor the tourism industry can neglect the past. Despite an aloofness (a misguided one) that has been shown by some in Mallorca towards the current-day concept of low cost, it was precisely this - low cost - on which the island's modern-era tourism was based. The term is an invention from the 1990s, but Mallorca grew as a consequence of cheap-as-chips tourism for the masses and spawned some of the resort hideousness that the government would also so love to get to grips with. This was tourism of the giant-pumpkin variety. The larger the pumpkin, the less taste it has. Mallorca reaped what it had sown: a massive fruit comprising 98% water, little substance and little taste. 

This has of course changed over the years, but Mallorca is still faced with the giant-pumpkin conundrum. How does it add vastly more starch and sugar of a quality, up-market style while year after year still planting the seeds for massive-sized  production? How can it, when vertically integrated tour operators have to sell on volume to meet airline, airport and hotel obligations or when far too many hotels (which would need a miracle of investment) will remain for the high percentage of tourists who represent the water content or when too many jobs rely on the island's benevolence in providing a form of tourism social services for visitors whose actual contribution to the economy is otherwise negligible or often negative?

Croatia has grasped the promotional nettle because its government has taken the lead. In Mallorca the government does not lead. It trusts in the private sector to do its thinking and doing. President Bauzá said a year ago that his government had spent nothing on its tourism policy because it was in the hands of the private sector, which is all well and good, but while there is a giant pumpkin to be filled, the private sector of hotels and tour operators will do so in whichever way suits it, the result being, in the absence of clear leadership, strategy and web promotion, a fruit of a different variety - a lemon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 January 2015


Morning high (7.45am): 8C
Forecast high: 18C; UV: 2
Three-day forecast: 15 January - Sun, 18C; 16 January - Cloud, rain, 15C; 17 January - Cloud, sun, 12C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 2 to 4 veering Northwest and, by the evening, Northeast.

Chilly, clear morning with lows of three degrees but plenty of warm sun to come. Staying good tomorrow, but the forecast for Sant Antoni Eve (16th) is looking potentially a bit iffy with rain possible. Getting colder at the weekend.

Evening update (18.00): Very pleasant. A high of 19.3C.

No Frills Excursions