Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 September 2015


Morning high (7.15am): 16.9C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 1 October - Rain, sun, 22C; 2 October - Sun, cloud, 21C; 3 October - Sun, cloud, 26C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 4 to 6. Swells to two metres. Coasts could experience force 7 and waves of three metres.

Rain, heavy at times, overnight, and it is raining at present. More rain and possible storms to come with amber advice in place for rain and coastal conditions. Tomorrow will also see rain, but wind will be a factor too. This is due to pick up this evening and be strong on Thursday. Things look as though they will settle down from Friday.

Evening update (20.15): A day to forget. Only occasional breaks from the rain and only brief glimpses of sun. Still raining now, but not heavily. Serious amounts of rain - over 50 litres per square metre. Alerts out for tomorrow for everything, but the rain may well have gone by daybreak. Highs today of 23.7C coastal and 21.9C inland.

No Frills Excursions

Small Mallorca In A Shrinking World

Tourism statistics never lie. Or maybe it's the case that they prove or disprove what you want them to. Whatever the veracity of the statistics, whatever the rigour of the methodology used to gather them, there seems little escaping one truth: there are more tourists than ever before.

In the bubble we call Mallorca, we have our own perceptions of this truth or non-truth. Consequently, we reduce debate surrounding tourism to our own observations, experiences, prejudices. Within the wider world of tourism, there are similar debates, and they stem from the macro elements of tourism - competition, markets, consumer behaviour, technology - rather than just the micro ones on which we prefer to focus most of our attention, such as local taxes or regulations for this or that.

This wider world is one of the monster of a global industry, growth of which is staggering. Cliché tells us that the world is now very much smaller, thanks to the ease of travel, the openness of markets, the availability of information. And it is the shrinking nature of the world which powers this tremendous growth, only one small part of which is Mallorca. Small but still important.

The island has, as yet, been unaffected by growth that is having an impact on the Spanish mainland, an aspect of which has been the increase in tourism from Asia. The American tourist, attracted by a favourable exchange rate, has also been adding to Spanish growth. Here is evidence of the macro nature of tourism at play, the influence of markets and of currency.

At some point, this global expansion may also rub off on Mallorca, though it would require shifts in airline scheduling to truly allow it to. But while there are the alternative markets there to be exploited, they come with a warning. Russia: the provider of a new golden age, but one that has been delayed.

While there is and always will be volatility that tourism has to confront, it is generally resilient. It can take the knocks of the genuine, awful and unexpected shocks - 9/11 for example - in its stride. Of the factors that contributed to the slump in Mallorca's tourism in 2002, 9/11 wasn't one of them (and the eco-tax wasn't the only one; there was that macro effect at play as well - German recession).

The growth in Mallorcan and Spanish tourism to record levels this summer can, with some justification, be attributed to events elsewhere. But instability in competitor destinations has almost become the norm. Mallorca and Spain, therefore, are the safe havens, as they have long been. If there is one word that sums up Spanish tourism, then it is reliability.

Nothing, however, can be taken for granted. An expansion of the global tourism market hints at new riches, and they may well come. But at what cost? The debates in the wider world of tourism, not just Mallorca's, is an ability to cope. In the Canaries there are similar discussions to those being had in Mallorca. Ever more numbers, while beneficial, have their downsides. Sheer volume places a strain on services, resources and infrastructure, and in Mallorca this is compounded to a degree that it is not in the Canaries. Coming back to the statistics, a quarter of all tourist spending in Spain in August was in the Balearics. It was also more than a quarter of the spending in the Balearics for the first eight months of the year and only marginally greater than it had been in July. Over half the spend crammed into two months. This doesn't equate to half the number of tourists, but it's not far off. The islands struggle, so tourism minister Barceló is right to pinpoint high-summer saturation as a genuine concern.

Easing the load, distributing the mass of tourists across the year is the holy grail that has been sought for years. The global expansion of tourism demand could hold some solutions in this regard, but equally it might not. Remove the sun-and-beach of summer, and Mallorca, in the shrinking world of tourism, becomes that much smaller. There are just too many other destinations with mountains, culture, cycling, golf for it to be anything other, especially if you can't get here.

Nevertheless, the tourism industry in Mallorca - parts of it - commendably seek to effect a more even distribution. The revamping of hotels has in mind the tackling of seasonality, it is investment in a best-case scenario. But how realistic is it? With the best will in the world, the big wide world of tourism demand is unlikely to descend on a Mallorcan off-season in any number, meaning that Mallorca is reliant on the markets it always has been. And these markets need nurturing, not discouraging. Care has to be taken. Tourism is resilient but it is also volatile. Why, I am wondering, did German tourism slump so markedly in August?

Index for September 2015

All-inclusives - 12 September 2015
Balearic financing - 3 September 2015
Balearic government tension - 24 September 2015
Cavallets, Llucmajor - 28 September 2015
Education in Mallorca - 11 September 2015, 18 September 2015
Fairs and agriculture - 20 September 2015
Holiday lets - 5 September 2015
José María Ruiz-Mateos. - 9 September 2015
Laura Camargo, Podemos - 14 September 2015
Llorenç Moyà and Vermar - 13 September 2015
Mallorca, conferences and excellence - 25 September 2015
Mallorca Day - 7 September 2015
Mallorcan identity - 29 September 2015
Mallorca in a global market - 30 September 2015
Mallorcan spirituality - 6 September 2015
Microsoft Innovation Center Tourism Technologies - 8 September 2015
Miquel Ensenyat and Extremadura - 2 September 2015
Motorcycling tourism - 19 September 2015
Online reputation management - 4 September 2015
Purchasing power in Balearics - 10 September 2015
Sa Feixina monument - 23 September 2015
Summer and politics - 1 September 2015
Tourist tax - 17 September 2015, 21 September 2015, 22 September 2015, 26 September 2015, 27 September 2015
Weirdness: giants, big heads in Mallorca - 16 September 2015
Working-class tourism in Mallorca - 15 September 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 September 2015


Morning high (6.45am): 16.3C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 30 September - Sun, shower, 24C; 1 October - Rain, 21C; 2 October - Rain, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 4 veering East during the morning.

The moon is shining brightly before sun-up and there is due to be reasonable sun for some of the day, but an alert for rain is likely to mean a downpour later. The outlook for tomorrow and Thursday is poor - the kitchen sink of rain, wind and rough seas.

Evening update (20.00): There has been some significant rain in parts, but the worst is due to come from around midnight. Amber alert for rain, yellow alerts for storms and the coasts. Highs today, and there was some sun, coastal 24.7C and inland 24C. 

No Frills Excursions

Mallorca's Identity Conundrum

It is, when you think about it, a bit odd. There you are, stuck on an island some 250 kilometres off the Spanish mainland to which your owners (the Spanish) paid scant regard for several centuries. And yet there you are, nevertheless, a part of Spain. It is the lot of islands that they tend to belong to someone, albeit that the Maltese have eventually made a pretty decent fist of not being.

A distinction needs to be made between Spain the state and Spain the mainland. Not that Spain, as such, existed when the Catalans and Aragonese arrived in the thirteenth century. It was the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabel of Castile - more than two hundred years after the conquest - that sowed the seeds of a unified Spain. But even this union didn't dispense with Ferdinand's Crown, that of Aragon. It was to be roughly 250 more years before the Crown was dismantled together with Mallorca's part within it. Three hundred years ago marked the moment when Mallorca became definitively a part of the Spanish nation and a centralised one at that.

But prior to the enactment of the Nueva Planta decree and subsequently, Mallorca was largely ignored. Yes, it had some trading significance as well as some strategic military importance, but to all intents and purposes it was a colony, one remote from the Spanish state and mainland. It had its Viceroy, its Governor and then its Captain-General. But here, fundamentally, was an island which owed nothing to the more ancient history of Spain or indeed Catalonia. In the cultural mix of Spain, one forged from invasion and migration, Mallorca and the Balearics were the missing link (as were the Canaries). The islands and the islanders were never of the Visigoth stock which determined the course of the development of the Iberian peninsula. Not that is, until a branch line of Visigoth inter-mingled descendants came and took it over in 1229.

Colonialism, both Catalan and Spanish, implanted culture, but even now the arguments rage as to what this culture actually is or should be, and so extend to the seemingly endless quest to understand the identity (linguistic and otherwise) of the island and of the islanders. Within this debate, there is the vital factor of what happened some sixty years ago. For so long a sort of afterthought appendage to the rest of Spain, Mallorca suddenly assumed a position of critical importance. It wasn't to be the nation's bread basket so much as the nation's principal foreign-exchange agency. Tourism, ultimately, was all about money, and only some of it was for Mallorca.

The new colonisation wasn't solely that by tourists or by foreigners buying up what were then cheap-as-chips properties. It was one of enormous labour migration. In the 1950s, before the boom started, migration contributed roughly 7% of population growth. By 1970 this had risen to almost 30%, a great deal of it coming from parts of Spain without the old Aragonese connection: Andalusia, most notably.

The population of Mallorca in 1960 was just over 360,000. It has since grown by over 500,000, and within this increase is the detectable influence of the mainland. Which are the most popular surnames in Mallorca? Well, they're not ones of specifically Catalan origin. They are García, Martínez.

While many migrants will, so to speak, have gone native, is it the change in demographics of the past sixty years which helps to explain the results of the latest study of Mallorcan and Balearic identity? The annual Gadeso research is a significant sociological survey and it consistently shows that Mallorcans consider themselves as much Spanish as they do citizens of the Balearics. What it also shows is that a majority (63%) identify more with Mallorca than with the Balearics. This isn't particularly surprising, but what might be considered to be surprising is the almost total absence of sentiment towards Catalonia. A mere two per cent of Mallorcans identify with the "Catalan Lands".

The Council of Mallorca president, Miquel Ensenyat, has some justification in referring to the "colonial" nature of the financing arrangement between Mallorca and the Balearics and the state. The islands are disadvantaged, and one can argue that the colonisation from the 1960s has consistently been more to the advantage of the state than to the islands. Yet despite this, and despite what the likes of Ensenyat ultimately avow - a form of Mallorcan independence within a Catalan Lands nationalism - the popular sentiment for this, as shown by Gadeso, simply doesn't exist.

This is political sentiment, so a similar survey of cultural sentiment might well show a very different result in terms of Catalan identity, but it is nonetheless rather odd that those centuries of Spanish neglect should now appear to show a firm connection with Spain and almost none with the lands that introduced that original cultural identity.

Monday, September 28, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 September 2015


Morning high (7.30am): 18.4C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 29 September - Sun, shower, 24C; 30 September - Rain, 21C; 1 October - Rain, 20C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 3 increasing 4 to 5.

There was a storm in the distance for a while last night, and we now have a rather unstable pattern. There could be the odd shower today, but with bright spells as well. The whole of the week is threatening rain at times.

Evening update (20.00): Started out ok, but then came a deluge plus storm, quietened down and another storm started rumbling in the afternoon, making temperatures take a real dive to around 17C. Highs - Coastal, 26.5C: Inland, 24.5C.

No Frills Excursions

The Dancing Horses Of Llucmajor

They like wearing things around the waist in Mallorca, such as inanimate objects depicting animals. In Pollensa they wear eagles, but they also wear horses. There are other towns where they do likewise when it comes to the horse, and once they've strapped the horse on, they do their dances. Strictly speaking it's the horse which is the "cavallet", but the groups which do the horse-wearing and dancing are also cavallets.

The traditional players of a Mallorcan fiesta or fair are common to most towns and villages. The pipers - the xeremiers - are probably the most common, as nowhere seems not to have pipers. Giants, big heads (the "caparrots") are likewise familiar, as are the demons and the bands of music, though by no means everywhere has these: there are fiestas where they have to be shipped in from other towns or villages. And then there are the traditional players who are more obscure, who are remnants from many years past or who have been revived, but who are traditional to very few places. The cavallets, rather like the cossier dancers, are one such tradition. Arta, Felanitx, Palma, Pollensa, Santa Ponsa, here are where the cavallets have been maintained or recently invented.

These horse figures come from Catalan culture. The first reference to them was in 1424. In Barcelona there was a document entitled the Book of Solemnities, of religious rituals, if you like, in solemn honour of saints. The Barcelona horses, though, were not things of the church. They belonged to the Council of Barcelona, which deemed, six years later, that there should be eight of them in all and never more than twelve. Seven more years went by, and in 1437 the council ceded ownership to the Guild of Cottonmakers - the Gremi de Cotoners.

The cottonmakers are important to the contemporary story of the cavallets in Mallorca and none more so in a town not listed above - Llucmajor. Fifteen years ago, the tradition having been dormant in the town for decades, the cavallets reappeared and they were and are specifically referred to as the "cavallets cotoners".

It wasn't so long after Barcelona's horse figures first appeared that the tradition was exported to Mallorca, and this export, so it is believed, was to Arta and to Llucmajor. There was a link between the two towns in as much as both had Franciscan communities. In Mallorca the cavallets were essentially religious, as opposed to having been more secular in Barcelona, and in Llucmajor it was the convent of Sant Bonaventura where they became established. Documentary evidence of this was provided by a drawing made by the local notary and a reference to the dance of the cavallets in 1458. It is said that Palma introduced its cavallets in the same year.

But what did they represent? Though owned by the council in Barcelona, those first cavallets apparently took part in the ceremony to celebrate the martyrdom of Sant Sebastià (Saint Sebastian) and, so one version has it, they portrayed knights fighting against Turkish troops. This seems plausible, even if the enemy may be wrongly explained. The Ottomans weren't to be a factor for some years. More likely is that they were representative of the battles of the re-conquest of Spain from the Muslim occupiers: in Palma, the confrontation with the Muslims does pretty much explain the city's cavallets.

There again, why during the ceremony for Sant Sebastià, as he had been the victim of the Roman emperor Diocletian? There was perhaps some blurring of history or an invoking of Sebastian for his deliverance. In Palma he became the city's saint because of the miracle that ended the plague. Likewise, he could have been instrumental in deliverance from the occupiers.

In Llucmajor, though, there was a further blurring, as it is reckoned that the dances of the cavallets owed less to Catalan tradition and more to Italian. Whatever the precise origins though, the cavallets of the town became an embedded tradition which was certainly still very much evident some eighty or so years ago. There is a photo which shows them at a celebration in 1930. But as with other traditions the cavallets faded away, before being revived for the fiestas of Santa Candida in August, 2000.

The cavallets cotoners now dance on two occasions each year, and so on Tuesday they will be the focal point of the Llucmajor celebrations for Sant Miquel. Not all cavallets are children or adolescents. In Llucmajor they are, and the dances they perform have a feel of the fairground in the way in which the dancers dance round each other. It's appropriate. A cavallet is also a carousel, the fairground attraction of horses on a merry-go-round.

Photo: Wikipedia; there are other larger images available from the likes of Ultima Hora and Diario de Mallorca.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 September 2015


Morning high (7.00am): 18.4C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 28 September - Rain, sun, 24C; 29 September - Sun, rain, 22C; 30 September - Rain, 21C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 3 to 4.

A better picture for today with much less likelihood of rain, which can't be said for the rest of the week.

Evening update (19.30): Pleasant enough day. Hard to see where the rain talk was coming from. A high of 25.7C on the coast; cooler inland at 24.4C.

No Frills Excursions

The Obamas And The Tourist Tax

The Queen, Letizia that is, has apparently invited the Obamas to Mallorca. Were they to come, it wouldn't be the first time that Mallorca has experienced some Obamaisation. Michelle and the younger of the Obama girls, Sasha, were here in 2010. But now it would appear that, during the royals visit to Washington, Tizzy suggested that the whole Obama clan drops in at the Marivent for a spot of summer vacationing. Which will be nice for them and pretty damn good PR for Mallorca as well, if it comes off.

There is, however, one key question that would arise from this. Would the Obamas pay the tourist tax? Indeed, what will happen, assuming Biel has had his way and the tax is up and running in time for next season, when the royals pitch up?

Biel Barceló, or BB as we should now refer to him with due recognition of his Bardot-esque status as Mallorca's "homme fatale", needs to get his holiday accommodation regulations sorted out sharpish. Where do royal palaces fit in with this scheme of things, especially ones that Mallorca shells out some million or so euros per annum for its caretaker and the blokes who change the light bulbs and cut the grass? The King, decent cove that he is, wouldn't flinch at handing over some folding euro notes as tourist tax payment, but who's going to demand it of him? Or of the Obamas?

My own suggestion would be that the Speaker of parliament, Xelo Huertas, is pressed into service as tax collector. As she suggested to His Royal Highness that the wonga forked out for the recent reception at the Almudaina would have been better spent on soup kitchens, then the task should be hers and be in the full glare of the media: the royals stumping up the tax and Xelo then shooting off and thrusting it into the hands of some Syrian refugees in their Arenal hostel. But Xelo, people would say, this isn't what the tax is intended for. It isn't?, she would query, but rightly point out that BB and La Presidenta have alluded to the "solidarity" nature of the tax. Tourists showing solidarity with Mallorca, in whatever way, and joyfully forking out the equivalent of an evening's drinking (or more than one evening in all likelihood) in rescuing the island and the islanders from the penury forced onto them by the evil Mariano and Count of the Mount of Gold.

To all those making bids for their cut from the tax we now have to add Mallorca's small farmers - small as in size of holdings as opposed to stature. As tourists take selfies of themselves in front of almond trees or peasants packing straw, then they are worthy recipients of the tax as well. And quite right, too. Indeed, the more applicants to benefit from the tax the better, and in the spirit of the new age of politics, might I suggest that Podemos organise a text-voting system to figure out where the revenues should go? Participation is the word of the moment, and it should involve all the taxpayers - resident and tourist alike - given that residents are now also classed as tourists.

Among those bidding for some tax money would be myself, my justification being that, erm, well I don't have one, but as every other bugger wants a cut, then why not? With a massive social media campaign, I'd storm to tax victory and then willingly share the booty in demonstrating solidarity with the bodegas of Mallorca.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 September 2015


Morning high (6.45am): 16.3C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 27 September - Rain, 23C; 28 September - Sun, rain, 22C; 29 September - Sun, rain, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 3 to 4.

The Ironman triathletes - all 2,500 or so of them - can expect sunny and warm conditions today. It's as well the event is taking place tomorrow. Looks like rain, and looks like rain for several days.

Evening update (19.15): Highs - Coastal 25.8C; Inland 26.2C.

No Frills Excursions

Tourist Tax: Support ebbs away

There's been some talk about a tax. You might just have noticed. If only the government could pretend it was all a ploy to divert attention from other matters. It can't because the tax goes to heart of the government - its differences and divisions, its need for increased revenues, its ideologies.

The government can now count on an ever-diminishing number of allies for the tourist tax. Jumping ship, for example, is the Balearic general public, scandalised at the prospect that it will be considered to be among the tourist classes and be forced to pay what will, in effect, be a hotel tax for residents. One of the government's dwindling band of allies is ARCA, the association for the preservation of historic centres. It has voiced its support this week and added that it would like the tax to be spent on preserving buildings and other structures of a heritage nature. There's something else for Biel Barceló to spend the tax on.

Everyone's now wading into the argument. The British press are at it, and amusingly one Spanish report (which should have known better as it came from a normally intelligent source) said that the left-wing press was taking issue. "The Mail"? Since when has "The Mail" been left-wing? ABTA are now at it as well, while the ranks of Spanish politicians and their confidants who are against the tax have been swelled by Mariano Rajoy's chief economics advisor. He's against it, as you would expect him to be.

It was, in a way, a bit rich for a Rajoy advisor to take issue with a tax on the grounds that it will lead to a loss of competitiveness. What about when the PP raised IVA (VAT) on all manner of tourist-related services? What about when the PP didn't stick to their promise to cut the tourist rate of IVA? Were these going to lead to a loss of tourism competitiveness?

As things have turned out, they haven't, and the experience of the IVA rise, which in some instances was to the tune of 13%, tells its own story, as do the price rises by hotels this year and, more so, next year. And as also does the tax on petrol to help fund the Balearic health service. IVA - Value Added Tax - is a terribly dull subject and its payment is, for the most part, not obvious, even if it has meant a price increase. Hotel prices? Well, these are passed on by the tour operators and included in, for example, the price of a package. The price of the package might go up, but is there a big song and dance? The tax on petrol? Not all tourists hire cars, but those who do and have been doing so for the past few years might not be aware that they have been assisting in paying for the health service when filling up at the petrol station.

There is, of course, a fair question to be asked about that petrol tax. Has it gone to the health service? Who can say. But whether it has or it hasn't, its introduction was by and large ignored by the travel industry and the travel media. IVA, hotel prices, petrol, none of them catch the imagination and cause a frothing at the mouth in the same way as a naked and visible tourist tax does.

The government has been coming out with some pretty strange stuff about the tax, which only goes to reinforce the feeling that the tax simply hasn't been thought through. We have President Armengol banging on, as she constantly does on everything, about there being "dialogue" and there not being "imposition". When so many beg to differ with the government over the tax, imposition seems to be exactly what it is. The president then appeared to imply that the 13.5 million tourists who come to the Balearics will be paying the tax out of the generosity of their hearts. Yes, she used the word "generous" and another which can be interpreted as supportive or even charitable.

To cap it all though, and with the British (and German) media poised to thrust the dagger ever deeper, we have government spokesperson and minister for the presidency, Marc Pons, approaching Inma Benito of the hoteliers' federation to ask her and the hoteliers to form a "common front" so that the foreign tourist markets will understand the necessity for the tax and ensure that it doesn't damage the image of the Balearics as a tourist destination. Well, nothing like trying to get your greatest enemy onside, I suppose, but when Benito is constantly reminding the government of the damage that will be caused, how is she supposed to come over as a credible witness for the government's defence? Pons' approach felt like desperation, as was his insistence that the "citizenship" was in agreement with the tax because of the need for additional financing for the Balearics. The citizenship might well have been, before, that is, it discovered that it would be contributing to this additional financing.

To be fair, both camps can choose their words and examples selectively. The anti-camp, as ABTA have shown, can invoke the damage that the old eco-tax caused and the significant fall in tourism that resulted. The main problem with this is that the fall was nothing like legend has it. As I pointed out in an article a couple of months ago ("Eco-Tax Crash: Myth or not myth"), there was a fall in 2002 of 550,000 tourists, a drop of 7.6%, but this was overwhelmingly because the German market slumped by 16%: the UK's went down by 1.2%. The fact was that the German economy had gone into a short recession, and in 2003, the second year of the eco-tax (it wasn't scrapped until the autumn), tourism grew by almost seven per cent, with the German market up by over 4% and the UK's by 7%. In addition, what is always overlooked is that in 2001, the year before the eco-tax came in, there had also been a drop in tourism numbers.

Even allowing for the fact that the decline was not as disastrous as some would suggest, using the experience of the previous tax helps only so much. There is one very big difference to how things were in 2002, and that is the existence of social media. While the established media (British and German) savaged the tax then and will do so once again, it is social media through which the damage could really be done, and the government is revealing itself to be unprepared to the point of ineptitude for the negative publicity assault. Pons making his approach to the hoteliers is, I would suggest, evidence of this.

Friday, September 25, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 September 2015

Morning high (7.00am): 15.5C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 26 September - Sun, cloud, 25C; 27 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 28 September - Cloud, sun, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Northwest 2 to 4 veering Northeast by the afternoon.

Hazy sun expected today. The weekend a mix of cloud and sun, and next week looking as though it might be a bit damp.

Evening update (20.15): Not a bad day. Inland high, 26.6C; Coastal high, 26.2C.

No Frills Excursions

The Missed Opportunity For Excellence

We must be coming to the end of the season. The tourism industry is gathering, holding conferences. Autumn is a time for reflection and casting an eye to horizons new, and the industry gets into a collective huddle to review the past months and to deliver encouraging and motivational oratory - the visions of the future.

In six weeks time this global industry will descend on London. The World Travel Market is the first of the premier league industry events. More than 2.5 billion pounds of new business, 300,000 new connections, more than 50,000 travel professionals. So shouts the website. Buried under the safety umbrella of the Turespaña pavilion, the islands of the Balearics will await the inevitable. It's going to be an awkward market.

It would be stretching things to suggest that the eyes of the world will be turned towards Mallorca, but some eyes will be, as will ears. The difficult questions that will be asked, the forced smiles conveying harmony to be captured through the lens of a smartphone and instantaneously flagged up, shared and tweeted, especially if those smiles betray unease. But then, it is a compliment that such attention should be paid. What happens in Mallorca doesn't stay in Mallorca, and it never has done. Or not for the past fifty or so years at any rate. Mallorca has played a part, a very significant part in creating the peripatetic monster that is the tourism industry and its travelling roadshows of autumn and winter. If there ever was such a thing as Year Zero in tourism, then it was a Mallorcan invention. Mallorca was and is mass, and the massive attacks of other destinations were learned at its knee.

While the industry is preparing for its London November, closer to home, as in Mallorca, the industry is congregating on much more modest scales. There is a conference today. Telefonica and other genies of digital technologies will be offering their tablets of stone, made gigabyte transmission. The "social" communications of the digital transformation of the tourism industry, the new mass, hidden within the smily-faced virtuousness of the ease of information searching and sharing, that of Big Data and its cookie back-end data mining.  

There was another conference - it took place yesterday - that was equally as important. The management of risks in the tourism sector. Investment, the use of the internet, the internationalisation of business and the management of personnel in an environment geared, supposedly, towards corporate social responsibility. They might have added another risk - actions of regional governments viz. taxation, for example.

Forty-two years ago, ABTA held its first ever convention. The location it chose was Mallorca. The choice was highly appropriate. Britain's travel agencies had never had it so good, thanks in no small part to Mallorca. The coincidence of the oil crisis of the time shook the tourism industry and shook Mallorca, but it took only a short time for the industry to recover and for Mallorca to bounce back, its place at the centre of travel agencies' shelves once more confirmed. Here was reliable Mallorca. Big Mallorca.

That first ABTA convention should have been a springboard, but in terms of congresses Mallorca has never assumed the position that it should have done and nor has it ever assumed a position, drawn from the strengths of its experiences and of the pervasive interest shown in it, to diversify a world tourism leadership into a different type of world leadership - that as the centre for tourism excellence, knowledge, research and, yes, conferences and congresses.

There are and have been attempts. There is to be the business school, largely the creation of leading hoteliers. There is a fine tourism research centre at the university. There are technological developments, though there are also the embarrassing failures, as with the Microsoft centre. And then, of course, there is the Palacio de Congresos.

Amid all the recriminations and arguments surrounding the Palacio, there is also the sense that it is far too late. If there was ever going to be a major conference and exhibition centre, it should have been built years ago. That it wasn't points to where Mallorca failed to grasp the nettle of what it could now be: that world centre of tourism excellence and of conventions. Madrid may be Spain's capital, but it was not the epicentre for Spain's dramatic tourism boom. Mallorca was (and, it should be conceded, so also was the Costa Brava). Yet the Spanish equivalent of the World Travel Market is held in Madrid.

The opportunity that was missed lay with not appreciating that there was more than just living from tourism. There was living from the tourism industry as well - its meetings, its research, its education, its technologies. Winter, one would suggest, would be very different had that opportunity not gone begging.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 September 2015


Morning high (6.15am): 16.5C
Forecast high: 23C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 25 September - Cloud, sun, 25C; 26 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 27 September - Cloud, sun, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 2 to 3.

Cloud expected to dominate for much of the day, with sun appearing later. Looking reasonable into the weekend, though then unsettled from Sunday.

Evening update (19.30): Cloudy it was, sun later, a spot of rain parts. Highs - Coastal, 25.8C; Inland, 24.4C.

No Frills Excursions

The Creative Tension Of Government

A year ago, I wrote an article entitled "We Can Collapse Governments". It was about Podemos: We Can. In it I suggested that a coalition, formed from PSOE, Més and Podemos, "could be thrown into chaos or could collapse". It was prophetic, one might say, in being more than just a suggestion of possibility in the future. The past tense of the modal "can", i.e. "could", was an indication of what Podemos is turning out to be. The positivity of "we can" is being replaced by the conditions of "we could". Podemos, the party of the conditional. We could, if you were to agree with us.

Podemos, the advocates of openness, dialogue, participation, shroud all this with confrontation. It is to their credit that they don't just swear blind allegiance to a government of which they are nominally a part, but of which, in truth, they are apart. One wondered why they didn't wish to formally join the Balearic government, but now this is becoming clearer. On the outside but still vital for giving Armengol a majority, they can challenge and confront without being subjected to the admonishments of the opposition that would come from formally being within government. It's clever, but how good is it for the smooth operation of government?

It is increasingly evident that the real power within Podemos in the Balearics is Laura Camargo, the parliamentary spokesperson. This was suspected to be so before Alberto Jarabo was selected as leader and now it is being confirmed. Recently, Camargo spoke of the tension within government. Creative tension. It was a good thing.

This reminded me of a situation years ago as a senior manager. One of the company's owners and so a board member was the principal brains of an organisation littered with academic eggheads. He once spoke in glowing terms of the value of creative tension, something that he and the board were engineering, to which I suggested that there was plenty of tension and not enough creativity. It was a company with a highly political culture, and within this culture if there was no one to manage or moderate the process of this creative tension, which there wasn't, then the consequences would be as they proved to be. Fierce arguments conducted within an ill-defined framework that left some highly disaffected.

One of the many buzzwords surrounding government at present is consensus. Read more or less any report and you will find reference to it. Consensus, though, requires some compromise. It isn't achieved by the confrontational nature of creative tension, unless there is someone to moderate the process. And there isn't.

Mariano Rajoy has referred to Podemos as an experiment. He was right but not in the way that he meant. Podemos are a concept which renders a definition of them in terms of a conventional political party largely meaningless. They are an abstraction chiselled principally from the walls of academia, a world in which argument is everything. Hence, creative tension is deemed a good thing, even if it fails to achieve the desired consensus.

Attractive though Podemos are as an alternative to largely discredited political parties, the confrontational style may lose them more friends than it gains. A company's struggles with creative tension are shielded from the public. A government's is not. They were right to challenge the appointments of Juli Fuster and Pau Thomàs and to support the Partido Popular in the charges of PSOE nepotism, and they will have gained admirers for having done so, but what further confrontations will there be? And might the viewing public begin to take a negative view of constant arguments between those who are supposedly meant to be partners?

It is most unlikely that either Fuster or Thomàs will be removed from their respective posts as director-general of the regional health service and as advisor to the employment ministry. The defeat of the government, by which one means PSOE and Més, was an embarrassment, but the result of the vote will not, one would think, claim Fuster and Thomàs. But it was more than just an embarrassment, as it revealed the divisions brought about by the Podemos desire for creative tension. PSOE have taken a hit and so have Més. A year ago I was suggesting that Més, because of experienced campaigners such as Biel Barceló and Fina Santiago, might play the moderating role, but though Barceló has said that Fuster's appointment could be viewed as being somewhat questionable, he and Més have stayed loyal to the pact with PSOE. They are as much in Podemos's firing-line as PSOE.

But how can there be a government in which issue is taken over almost everything? Consensus cannot be attained under such circumstances, and the stridency of Laura Camargo is such that she has in effect thrown down the gauntlet to Armengol to break the far from solid foundations of the pact. Then what?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 September 2015


Morning high (5.45am): 20.3C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 24 September - Cloud, sun, 24C; 25 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 26 September - Cloud, sun, 24C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 5 to 6 easing 3 to 4 by the afternoon.

So, rain expected today, and the temperature will be down markedly. If the forecast for rain is accurate, then some improvement can be expected later in the day. Tomorrow is looking better than had previously been suggested.

Evening update (20.45): And rain there was, though not particularly heavy. Not much sun through the day, and temperatures erratic, dropping to 18C or lower. Highs of 21.5C inland and 21.2C on the coast.

No Frills Excursions

Demolishing The Past: Sa Feixina's monument

Sa Feixina. It is the park in Palma as you turn off the Paseo Marítimo onto the Avenida Argentina and then go right for the Paseo de Mallorca. The origin of its name is uncertain. The Catalan-Valencian-Balearic Dictionary offers various alternatives. The favoured one is to describe a ramp embankment with beams ("feix" is a beam) made from branches and sand bags for the protection of soldiers on the outside of a fort. The land, which has belonged to the town hall since the seventeenth century, was modelled as a park in 1935, and a school was built. During the Civil War the school became a barracks. It wasn't to officially be returned to the town hall until the 1960s, a decade during which the park was used to house a fair dedicated to tourism and artisan crafts. In 1991 the park was given a makeover and so now consists of terraces with gardens, trees and various sculptures, one of which is by Aligi Sassu, he of horse-sculpting fame.

In 1928 construction began on a warship at the El Ferrol naval shipyard in Galicia. It was a giant of a ship, almost 200 metres in length. For various reasons it wasn't to be fully commissioned until 1936 and its first true voyage was in December of that year. Two years later the ship was sunk. At the battle of Cabo de Palos the "Baleares" was torpedoed. Eight hundred crew lost their lives. The "Baleares" had become one of the flagships of Franco's Nationalist navy. The torpedoes were those of the Republican navy.

Some years later, in 1945, a monument was built. Perhaps the apparently militaristic origins of the park's name was the reason for the choice of location or perhaps there was no militaristic connotation. Nevertheless, the monument was in memory of the "Baleares". Among the gardens and sculptures of Sa Feixina, the monument stands tall to this day. But for how much longer?

When José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was prime minister, his PSOE administration introduced the law of historic memory. Under this law symbols of Francoism could be removed. It was not a mandatory law in that decisions were left to local authorities to apply the law as they saw fit. It was also not a law that necessarily required the dismantling of physical manifestations of Francoism. The main principle of the law was that symbols which exalted Franco and the regime should go. 

In 2010 the administration in Palma, then led by PSOE's Aina Calvo, applied the law to the monument. A local decree was issued. This established that a shield and words exalting Franco's regime would be removed. The monument would otherwise stay, and there would be a new plaque. It was to read: "This monument was erected in 1945 in memory of the victims of the sinking of the battleship "Baleares" during the Civil War (1936-1939). Today it is a symbol for the city of the democratic will to never forget the errors of wars and dictatorships".

The text had in fact been agreed some years before the law had been brought in. It, and consideration of the monument under the provisions of the law, were studied by two law professors at the university. With their guidance the town hall adopted the decree, Calvo pointing out that the law did not require the monument's withdrawal and also noting that the law recognised the memory of all victims of the war. The monument was thus officially reinterpreted, and this interpretation was made when one of Calvo's deputy mayors was José Hila, now himself mayor of Palma.

The current administration under Hila, which comprises PSOE, Més and the Palma branch of Podemos, is seemingly going to go ahead in approving the demolition of the monument, which doesn't have any protected status insofar as it is not "catalogued" by the municipality, something that would afford it heritage preservation. As has been pointed out, however, in a new era of consultation and dialogue, there hasn't been any, including requests for reports from the likes of ARCA, the association for the preservation of old centres. It concedes that the monument doesn't necessarily have great artistic merit but it does have historical value, and it - as are others - is reminding the administration of the compromise that Calvo arrived at: one with which Hila was in agreement.

The arguments that are now raging are predictable ones. They include accusations that the leftist administration is representative of a tendency which wishes to continue to fight battles of almost eighty years ago but which should let things be. The reinterpretation of the monument was made, and it was done so to the satisfaction of a majority, but the counter-arguments have it that it remains a symbol of the horrors of Francoism and one, moreover, that took the name of the islands.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 September 2015


Morning high (6.45am): 16.9C
Forecast high: 28C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 23 September - Rain, 21C; 24 September - Rain, sun, 22C; 25 September - Cloud, sun, 24C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3, settling East-Northeast around midday.

A good sunny day in prospect, one to get the washing out, as autumn officially starts tomorrow and it'll be bringing rain that may endure into Thursday.

Evening update (20.00): Highs - Inland, 29.9C; Coastal, 29.1C. Rain tomorrow.

No Frills Excursions

Backlash And Uncertainty: Tourist tax

And so it has begun. With inevitable predictability the British press are on the case - that of the tourist tax. Red top and broadsheet alike, The Mirror, The Mail, The Guardian, they are all flagging up a similar message, and it's one that comes with a price tag. 100 euros, 110 euros. Do I hear more? God help us when Bild and the German press work up a full head of media steam.

It isn't only the press. The poll being run on the Bulletin's website currently has an 86% rejection of the tax. Take a look at forums, such as Trip Advisor's Majorca forum, and you will find similar messages. Principally, they reject the tax, but there is also enormous uncertainty. Is it coming in next year? How much will it be? Neither you nor I can say with certainty. Nor, one fancies, can the government, despite Biel Barceló insisting that it will be "applied" in 2016.

Barceló is fast running out of any goodwill that might have surrounded the introduction of the tax, with the main pocket of this goodwill being home-grown. Opinion surveys have shown that a majority of Mallorcans - those who aren't, for instance, hoteliers - support the tax, and the majority hasn't been fractional: it has been in the order of 70%. For Barceló this could be taken as confirmation of what he referred to, in so many words, as the will of the people. As ever when politicians invoke elections and manifesto pledges, they can distort the will. Were people voting for a tourist tax?

At least Barceló can have a clear conscience. Més, his party, and Podemos both had the tax in their manifestos. PSOE weren't as clear. The tourist tax may become this government's TIL trilingual teaching, but it was a potential that was clearly known about before the elections. TIL was a post-election invention of the Partido Popular. Those who claimed it was a manifesto pledge were either ignorant, lying or both: it was not.

So, perhaps Barceló is right, up to a point, in suggesting that the tax was an election "winner", if only with some elements of the electorate. Now, however, he faces a backlash. To avoid potential European challenges and sanctions, the tax cannot discriminate. If you are a resident of Mallorca and you want to spend a weekend in a hotel, you will also pay the tax. The Spanish have a word. "Tontería." Foolishness. An utter nonsense. There has been another survey. Should residents have to pay? No, they should not. The majority is overwhelming.

It is a nonsense, and it is one to which the leader of Podemos, Alberto Jarabo, has made reference, albeit in the context of the frankly insane notion of attempting to collect the tax at airports and ports. Jarabo has said that the tax should be on those who are subsidised in their use of services, resources and infrastructure by local taxpayers. His choice of words was somewhat strident, but the sentiment, the principle is not, in my opinion, totally wrong. If there is any justification for a tourist tax, it is on the moral base of everyone, tourists included, contributing directly to resources that they consume, such as water, and to services from which they benefit, e.g. health provision.

But then Jarabo is alluding to yet another purpose for the tax, one that differs from Barceló and his undefined uses for innovation, resort improvements and the environment. It differs also from President Armengol who appears to believe that the tax will right the wrongs of Madrid's funding.

These differing interpretations are further adding to what is now becoming just as important an issue as the tax itself: the sheer uncertainty. And this uncertainty is arising at a time when bookings for 2016 will be being considered and made. For a tourism minister to allow such uncertainty borders on the irresponsible. Hence, the British press can make an estimation, just as I have, as to how much it will cost. 100 euros, 110 euros would be about right. Fourteen nights for a family of four at two euros a head would in fact be 112 euros. It may not be anything like as much if the levy is not two euros but one and if children are excluded, as is the case in Catalonia, if there is a maximum number of nights (seven), as is also the situation in Catalonia.

The backlash in the foreign press has started, as we all knew that it would start (except, it would seem, the government), and now there is also a backlash from the very people who supposedly, according to Barceló, voted for the tax. It should be ditched, and ditched quickly. It won't be because he's in too deep, but might, if it were to seek one, the local backlash actually give the government a get-out clause?

Monday, September 21, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 September 2015


Morning high (7.15am): 15.9C
Forecast high: 28C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 22 September - Sun, 28C; 23 September - Rain, 21C; 24 September - Cloud, sun, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 2 to 3. Variable at times.

A fine and hot day in store and remaining fine tomorrow before going a bit pear-shaped on Wednesday, when rain can be anticipated.

Evening update (20.15): Highs - coastal, 29C; inland, 28.7C.

No Frills Excursions

Biel Day And Tourism Apocalypse

It was one of those intense "debates", the sort where there are invited speakers who do a great deal of speaking and not a lot of actual debating, and the theme was our dear old friend, the holiday let. They've not invited me back. Not since, as a debater, I debated - vocally and in public - which planet the representative from the tourism ministry and indeed the then tourism minister, Jaime Martínez, were on. Never mind, there's another minister now, of whom the same question can be asked. More of him below.

Anyway, the debaters included Javier Blas, a lawyer whose Mastermind subject is holiday lets. He knows everything there is to know on the subject, which is a great deal more, therefore, than most inhabitants of the ministry. To cut to the chase, Javier believes laws on lets - the Balearic tourism law and the national Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos (conveniently referred to in English, for all those English speakers who can't pronounce the law, as the tenancy act) - are both less than adequate, a point on which, one fancies, there is general agreement, except among those who drew up either of the laws: Jaime Martínez, for example.

It was a debate that was useful in reminding us all that nothing has been done by the current Balearic government to alter this unsatisfactory state of affairs. With the mad rush - one that seems to be getting more insanely rapid - to introduce the tourist tax, Jaime's successor, Biel Barceló, appears to have completely forgotten that he said the holiday lets thing would come before the tourist tax thing. Needs must, one supposes. As the Balearics are theoretically bankrupt, the government has to lay its hands on the first thing it can that happens to be lying around untaxed - tourists sprawled on a beach, in this instance.

It was of course all too good to last. We'd heard nothing from Biel on the tax for at least, erm, a week, and then he went and spoilt it all by upsetting everyone by apparently implying that from the start of next summer's season, a family of four on a fortnight's holiday will be handing over in the region of 100 euros. Or maybe it will be less. And maybe it'll be paid when checking in at a hotel. Or maybe not. Or maybe it won't be introduced next year. Or maybe it will. And maybe it'll be spent on tourist infrastructure. Or maybe it won't be. Don't worry though, Biel clearly knows. Just like the ministry sorts know all about laws on holiday lets.

The urgency to introduce adequate legislation to deal with private holiday accommodation has been made all the more urgent by what we must call the collaborative economy, a euphemism, where some are concerned, for renting out accommodation without the slightest intention of paying tax on it. While Biel seems to be neglecting the subject, someone who isn't, of all people, is the Pope.

On Portuguese radio the other day, Pope Francis said that religious congregations which have the odd empty convent or whatever knocking around can't simply turn it into a hotel or hostel and expect not to pay tax on income it generates. The "business" would not be "clean", he suggested, in letting monks know that they can't shove the takings into their back pockets. (Do monks have pockets? Perhaps not.) The Pope, clearly in tune with the new age of the collaborative economy, must be concerned that the odd convent might turn up on Airbnb.

As the collaborative economy seems so determined to take over tourism accommodation, be it convent or other, perhaps next Sunday should be renamed. Rather than World Tourism Day, it should be World Collaborative Economy Day, though in the Balearics it might be more appropriate to name it Biel Day. And as Cala Millor is where they celebrate world tourism more than anywhere else (the resort's tourist fiestas week starts tomorrow), Biel should get himself along. Meet and greet the tourists. Oh, by the way, have I told you that next year you'll be forking out a couple of euros a night for yourself, your good lady wife and the kids? Yep, Biel Day it should be. Tourism apocalypse beckons. There'll be no more tourism fiesta days. Party's over.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 September 2015


Morning high (6.15am): 17.6C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 21 September - Sun, 28C; 22 September - Sun, cloud, 26C; 23 September - Rain, 23C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 2 to 3.

There may be the odd shower around this morning, but otherwise a fine day. Rain on the cards for Wednesday, though the met agency has said that whatever rain there is likely to be should only be light.

Evening update (20.00): Cloud took some time to disappear, but once it did, very pleasant. Highs - inland, 29.2C and coastal, 27.6C.

No Frills Excursions

You Are What You Grow: Mallorca's fairs

They haven't been celebrating the almond for long in Santa Margalida. Today is only the fourth of the town's almond fairs, an appendage to celebrations for Sant Mateu, themselves an add-on to the La Beata fiestas, which only ended a fortnight ago. Sant Mateu, aka Matthew, is something of a saintly afterthought, picking his way through the shattered pitchers of the Mallorcan home-grown saintliness of La Beata in staking a claim to be remembered.

Almonds are not unique to Santa Margalida. Indeed it is probably fair to say that they are more associated with land to the south, such as in and around Marratxi and Calvia. Where the latter is concerned, the almond was given an honourable mention during the opening address for the fiestas in Santa Ponsa. As part of the town's gastronomy, its role in pastries was applauded, while other produce from Calvia was also referred to - aubergines, for example.

Nevertheless, the almond has long featured in the rural economy of Santa Margalida, and the fair is indicative of its importance to this economy, while its introduction in 2012 was more than simply the creation of another event in the town's social calendar. It was also a means of increasing awareness of threats to the local almond business that were coming from drought and fungus. The fair was a way of reminding relevant authorities that the almond is a precious crop for Mallorca and that it required rather more attention than it had been getting, with so much more attention having been given to an expansion of olive production at the expense of the almond.

There will, inevitably, be a part of the fair dedicated to almond-based gastronomy. Most typically associated with pastries and cakes and also of course ice-cream - Mallorca's indigenous ice-cream manufacture arose more than two centuries ago because of the almond - it also finds its way into other types of cuisine.

The versatility of Mallorca's crops has become increasingly evident because of the number of fairs that are devoted to agricultural production in individual towns and villages and so also to the type of dish that comes from these crops. The produce of the land has become the theme for many a fair. So much so that a town or village is defined by what it grows or at least for what it is principally noted for growing. Hence, Sa Pobla is the town of the potato people; Soller is orange town and orange folk; Binissalem is "grapesville". There are others: Caimari is olives and especially olive oil, Porreres is apricots, Lloret is figs, Vilafranca melons, Muro pumpkins.

But this highlighting of specific crops obscures the fact that there are, of course, many others. In Muro, as an example, the pumpkin fair is a bit of a contrivance. Yes, there are pumpkins grown but they are not the principal crop or anything like it. Muro shares with Sa Pobla an earth for vegetable production that gives rise to, among others, the cabbage and the artichoke. So valuable is local artichoke farming that the Guardia has had in the past to be pressed into service and undertake artichoke watch: thieves were nicking artichokes in the dead of night.

Certain towns, however, are defined by more than one main crop. Sa Pobla is one the best examples. While it is Potato Central in Mallorca, it is also Rice Central. They've dabbled with theming events along rice lines in Sa Pobla, always aware though of the sensitivities of its potato identity, the potato having begun to assume importance for the local economy roughly a hundred years before rice production in Albufera started in any meaningful fashion. Care needs to be exercised when the populace identifies so much with one product of the land, but nevertheless the town hall is to embark on a rice gastronomy route - "arròs pobler" - as a means of attracting more visitors to the town.

So, the fruit and veg-themed fairs reveal town and village folk who are what they grow, but among all these various crops there is one that seems to be missing and it is one right at the centre of traditional, peasant cooking. There is, as far as I am aware, no cabbage fair. Might the cabbage offer, therefore, a niche fair theme for town halls on the lookout for giving a boost to their fair calendar? Or maybe it's the lot of the humble cabbage that it doesn't lend itself to a diversity of gastronomy that other crops do. In which case, what about the equally humble carrot? Any takers? The carrot does, after all, share something in common with Santa Margalida and its almond. Cake.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 September 2015


Morning high (6.45am): 18.7C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 20 September - Sun, cloud, 25C; 21 September - Sun, cloud, 25C; 22 September - Sun, cloud, 26C.

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

Some cloud observable in the still night sky, and what there will be this morning is forecast to clear and give plenty of sun later on. Tomorrow, much the same. Looking into next week, Wednesday appears somewhat iffy.

Evening update (19.15): Rather cloudier than had been forecast. Only light cloud for the most part, but there was some rain in parts. Highs - 26.3C on the coast and 26C inland.

No Frills Excursions

Noises In The Tramuntana

Towards the end of October the 800KM Mallorca Classic will take place. It is a five-day event for classic motorbikes that started last year in Argentina with the Patagonia Classic and is being brought to Spain this year. It is an occasion for bike enthusiasts and collectors to gather and head off together on one long road test. In Argentina, it is said, the event has had the support of sponsors and local authorities in towns and villages, and its route has included the Tronador mountains and the Moreno and Nahuel Huapi lakes.

The classic in Mallorca is being supported by, among others, the Balearic Motorcycling Federation and Palma365. According to the website, riders will be staying at exclusive five-star hotels in Palma and their excursions will be taking them onto the roads of the Tramuntana mountains.

Coming as it will towards the end of the summer season, a gathering of bike enthusiasts - the precise number isn't yet known - in top-quality accommodation sounds highly positive. These are presumably visitors, possibly with family or friends, who will have money to spend. They may well fit a profile, therefore, of the type of tourist the regional government seems so desperate to attract. However, will everyone look upon the event positively? Local authorities in Argentina in areas with mountains and lakes may do so, but will local authorities in Mallorca with mountains and artificial lakes, the reservoirs of Gorg Blau and Cuber?

Mayors of towns in the mountains, Soller's mayor in particular, have been expressing their concerns about the seemingly illegal motorbike races that take place on the mountains' roads each Saturday. The legality and safety of these races are two issues, another one is the noise, and the sound of motorbikes roaring around the mountains was one that was highlighted in the "manifesto" of a save the Tramuntana group not so long ago.

Bikes do make noise. There's no getting away from this. But, illegal races aside, are there too many complaints? And doubtless there will be ones when the classic race hits the mountain roads in October. Biking is a very good way of seeing Mallorca and especially the mountains, as also is cycling, yet there were complaints earlier this year that there were too many cyclists, and these complaints form part of a general pattern: there are too many tourists in the mountains full stop.

Another manifestation of this abundance of visitors has been a recent concern expressed at the volume of beachgoers in Sa Calobra, but this concern just reinforces what should be a pretty fundamental question as to what, touristically, Mallorca wants from its mountains. The Tramuntana has its status as a World Heritage Site (and are we ever allowed to forget the fact), but there is still a lack of clarity and vision as to what this means in terms of tourism promotion.

There are those who will argue that this Unesco status is a double-edged sword, its negative aspect being that it leads to so-called "massification". But are more cyclists, bikers, beachgoers in Sa Calobra the consequence of heritage status? I wouldn't have thought so for one moment. Having such status can be something to be banged on about incessantly, as it is, but there are numerous ways by which visitors are attracted to the mountains, to its beaches, to its cycling and biking potential that have absolutely nothing to do with Unesco. Social media are just one of them. Do visitors truly pay much attention to awards such as world heritage or even blue flags and other beach quality standards? Some might, but blue flag beaches of Mallorca that have been packed out at weekends this summer owe very little to the flags. They owe a great deal more to the sheer volume of visitors, popularity with residents and sharing via social media.

As for the classic motorbikes, noise there will be in October in the mountains, but it is not a noise that should be made to feel unwelcome.

Friday, September 18, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 September 2015


Morning high (7.15am): 18.4C
Forecast high: 25C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 19 September - Sun, cloud, 25C; 20 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 21 September - Sun, cloud, 26C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 3 to 4.

A fine morning, quite fresh and clear. A mix of cloud and sun anticipated for today, and a bit cooler. Weekend forecast is the same with just a slight risk of a shower on Sunday.

Evening update (19.45): Decent enough but with temperatures down. Highs - 25.8C on the coast and 26.3C inland.

No Frills Excursions

Dissatisfaction In The Classroom

I'm starting to think that all the statistical mumbo-jumbo that spews out of press release orifices of government and non-government might actually be of use, if only in that it can give me the hook for an article. Following on from the recent purchasing power revelation (it's down in the Balearics, despite economic recovery), there's another one of a consumer nature. Most of the Barclaycard-IESE (business school) report into consumer spending over the years of crisis was as you would have expected - huge falls in purchases of jewellery, furniture, household goods, for example - but it was the item for the greatest increase in spend which caught the attention. Up by 37% over the period from 2007 to 2014 was what was being forked out for education. It seems an extraordinary rise, especially given that the next highest rise (of 21%) was for utilities, and they were subject to steep increases in certain instances anyway, e.g. electricity, while internet provision would surely have played a part in higher telecommunications spend.

In third place was a 13% increase in health spending. Taken with that on education, a conclusion that might be drawn - and it's probably an accurate one - was that the public was fearful about cuts to public provision of the two sectors that consume far more of regional authorities' budgets than anything else: in the Balearics, health and education account for not far short of 80% of everything the government spends in a year.

But if we take the 13% on health to be a reflection of an increase in private health insurance, then perhaps we could have expected a similar sort of increase in spend on private schooling, but no, the figure was significantly greater.

Not all the 37% would have been on private schooling, as there would have been a fair amount going on training courses and higher education, but a goodly sum would have been going towards schools, and in looking for clues as to why, there are some lurking in the latest survey of opinions regarding education in the Balearics undertaken by the Gadeso research foundation.

Unsurprisingly, the survey reveals that overwhelmingly there are beliefs that education is vital for future job prospects and that education shouldn't be considered an expense but an investment in the future. It depends as ever, however, on who it is doing the investing, and herein, one suspects, lies the rub of that increased educational spending.

There was a perception, a fairly widely held one, that in the Bauzá years of crisis, there was a deliberate but unstated policy to drive parents towards the private sector. Though education spending remained comparatively high, there were cutbacks to education, and on top of these was all the fuss that was to break out over language policy. Allied to this was the far greater and regular attention that media circles were paying to performance of the Balearic public education system. The news was almost invariably less than positive.

The Gadeso survey shows that there is a continuing decline in satisfaction with this system. It also shows that it is believed that the system does not adequately address the needs of the workplace and that there is under-investment.

Put all this lot together, throw in the awareness of the need for a good education, and the greatly increased private spending on education over the years of crisis is understandable.

The survey doesn't particularly lay any blame with problems with the education system on the teachers. There is a concern about teacher motivation, but this can be taken as a consequence of a variety of things: lack of investment, the trilingual teaching (TIL) debacle, cutbacks. In fact, there is support for the teachers and their continuing to put pressure on the government. A majority of those surveyed believe that the decision not to call off the indefinite strike (or the possibility of taking strike action) is right.

But the teachers do need to be taken to task, some of them at any rate, and to be questioned about an ongoing struggle for power between the established unions and the Assemblea de Docents, the teachers' assembly. The unions seem inclined to accept that it is time to call off the strike and to be willing to give the new government a chance: the government is, after all, appointing over 350 additional teachers. The Assemblea isn't willing, and so threatens to kill at birth the government's desire for a grand "pact" to address and seek to solve the problems of the Balearic education system once and for all.

The survey does provide some clues as to why there was that huge increase in private spending on education, but it might also provide clues as to why this spending will continue. Until all parties come together and genuinely do create a pact for improvement, the dissatisfaction and underperformance will continue.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 September 2015


Morning high (7.15am): 20.3C
Forecast high: 27C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 18 September - Sun, cloud, 25C; 19 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 20 September - Sun, cloud, 24C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 4 to 5 veering Northwest during the morning and easing North 2 to 3 by the afternoon.

Forecast to be a clear-sky sunny day all day, which possibly means that it won't be, but a good enough start nonetheless. Becoming a bit cooler from tomorrow.

Evening update (21.45): Very still now, the breeze having dropped to almost none. Highs - inland, 31.3C; coastal, 28.9C.

No Frills Excursions

The Have-Nots And The Tourist Tax

Proceedings in the Balearic parliament are much like any other parliamentary proceedings. There's a good deal of noise, a good deal of superficial waffle and relatively little light. And this sounds rather like the current government. At present at any rate. Meat has yet to be put onto bone. The fleshing-out has yet to truly start, assuming it does before Podemos manage to bring it crashing down. But President Armengol made an observation this week which does shed some light. Or at least light on how she, and so presumably PSOE, perceive the tourist tax.

Lurking in the background is the thought (hope, some would put it) that Armengol will rediscover the reluctance to commit to the tax that she had before the election. As she would totally destroy the government were she to turn her back on it - Podemos' removal of support she might be able to survive but not that of Més as well - we have to assume that there is no turning back, but what she had to say about the tax highlighted, not for the first time, the divergence of opinion between the government's partners as to its purpose.

The tax was being discussed in the context of general fiscal policy. As usual, there was all the stuff about the deficit. Because of Madrid's inflexibility, the Balearics will have to find alternative means. The first point to be made about this is that, although Armengol has linked the tax to the issue of Balearic financing by the state, she hadn't associated it with the deficit. While the deficit and state financing amount to the same thing in terms of government spend, they are separate issues. So, Armengol has shifted the goalposts to a degree.

The second point, and the more important one, was the context of general taxation policy and the philosophy being applied by the Armengol government. She spoke about the redistribution of wealth between the haves and have-nots of Balearic society, referring to the likelihood of increased income tax for higher earners and rises to other taxes, such as inheritance. But in the same context, she also referred to the tourist tax. By implication, tourists are the haves, and they will be assisting in a redistribution of their own wealth.

She then went on to say that tourists, via the tax, will be showing solidarity with the have-nots, and so was seemingly making the case for the tax to be a means of assisting the government, deprived of all the financing it should get from Madrid and also of a more flexible deficit, in paying for its guaranteed social income and for services paid for out of general tax revenues. The tourist tax will be, or at least this is what Armengol appeared to be saying, just another tax.

This is most definitely not what the vice-president and minister for tourism, Biel Barceló, has been saying. The tax may be used for some tourist-related environmental projects, but fundamentally it is to be one to help with funding tourism infrastructure improvements. This is a very different objective.

The government is going to face, and it really doesn't appear to appreciate this, the devil's own job in terms of PR when the tourist tax is launched. The difficult task has already started, though maybe the government hasn't noticed the broadsides coming from the likes of Thomas Cook and Jet2. But it will become more difficult if there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that it is no more than a general tax. A specific tax is a difficult enough "sell". But one to pay for the have-nots? Sorry to have to say it, but tourists' sense of social responsibility doesn't, generally speaking, stretch very far: not to the environment nor to the eradication of poverty.

It's not as though tourists aren't aware. Of course they are. But issues of poverty and have-nots are more a touristic thing of less-developed societies. Mallorca doesn't fall into this bracket, especially not when there is such ostentatious wealth and opulence on display in many a resort. Likewise, the environment, and so the genuine meaning of an eco-tax, is something for places where the ecology and the environment can genuinely be seen to be both spectacular and fragile. Jet2's Steve Heapy was right when he alluded to an eco-tax for destinations which are devoted to eco-tourism. Costa Rica is the principal example, and tourists willingly pay for a type of tourism that has been lampooned as being "ego tourism".

The Balearic tax isn't, in any event, an eco-tax, much though the environmentalists GOB would like it to be and much though others might like to believe that Mallorca is an eco-tourism destination, when it quite plainly isn't. So, what is the tax for? Barceló seems to know, but Armengol would appear to have other designs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 September 2015


Morning high (6.00am): 23.1C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 17 September - Sun, cloud, 28C; 18 September - Sun, cloud, 23C; 19 September - Sun, cloud, 23C.

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

Breezy morning and staying breezy. Sunny enough and quite warm. Scheduled to get cooler by Friday, though rain only a slight possibility.

Evening update (20.15): Really quite windy for most of the day. Nice sun though. Highs of 29.3C inland and 28C on the coast.

No Frills Excursions

Selling Weirdness: Giants and tall tales

A tour guide of my acquaintance told me about an American couple he was showing around Palma. By chance the tour coincided with the gathering of giants for the Virgin Mary's birthday fiestas. The Americans were suitably impressed. You don't stumble across giants in the US as a rule. Not when history is as short as it is there.

Back in late June, a German friend, visiting with her partner and small children, asked about a what's-on event she had seen mentioned in a local German newspaper. It was the annual walk from Alcúdia town to the hermitage at La Victoria. Would the giants, who take part in the walk, be something the children would like to see? Why not, I suggested. They did see and they enjoyed.

On Monday they were dragging large boxes out of Alcúdia's council chamber and lugging them on to the steps of the town hall building. There were four boxes, just a sample, as there are other boxes which house the heads of the characters who make up the gang that follows the conquering king of Mallorca, Jaume I of Aragon. S'Estol Rei en Jaume is a motley crew of the historically factual and legendary invented. For the presentation of the annual fair's poster, four of the heads were on display - those of the king himself, that of his Moorish opponent, and then two who are inventions: the mad miller and the girl who tries to be nice but who is in fact utterly gross.

Impressed though the Americans were by the history parading through the streets of Palma, this is history of recent invention. The giants of Mallorca are invariably quite new, but the giants' tradition, and also that of big heads, is long: at least back to the sixteenth century. But something which Mallorca does very well is to make recent creations seem very old, and the giants and big heads are representative of this inventiveness.

These are creations which clearly impress both the young and the older, be it the small German children or the adult Americans, and I can include myself in the latter category. On one particular occasion, I happened to go into the town hall in Muro and was confronted by Toni and Joan, who, as far as I am aware, are the only all-male giants' pairing in Mallorca. There they were, in the reception of the town hall with their bagpipe, drum and whistle. They were shocking, given that I hadn't expected them to be there and because they were and are so enormous and so downright odd.

There is a strain of tourism potential lurking in Mallorca's culture that I'm not sure is entirely appreciated. It is tourism of the weird, and Mallorca has a great deal of weirdness. Odd, peculiar, strange, unusual, however you describe phenomena such as giants, big heads, dragons, demons and all the rest, they all contribute to a collective weirdness and difference. Yes, there are such characters elsewhere, especially Catalonia, but when there is talk of alternative tourism, there seems too little recognition of the fact that staring everyone in the face are manifestations of alternativism.

These are characters who put in appearances at fiestas and fairs and are then more or less forgotten, but it is here where I think a trick is being missed, not just in promotional terms but also in a wider marketing sense to include products and merchandise.

To come back to the Alcúdia figures, these have their own back stories. Characters like the mad miller come from folk tales, yet these stories remain locked in the Catalan language. This isn't a plea for translation but the suggestion of the possibility of making up stories related to these odd creations. S'Estol Rei en Jaume is like a mini-Canterbury Tale. The miller's tale, the gross girl's tale, the tale of the stupid boy who has grown donkey's ears, the water woman who stops children looking down wells and falling into them and drowning. Children's stories and so storybooks or audio books.

As for the figures and characters themselves, has it ever been considered that these might become dolls or figurines? Maybe it has been, but if so, I can't say that I've ever seen any. When it comes to souvenirs, and to a revitalisation of a part of the tourist retail market that has been in the doldrums for some considerable time, then might the characters of fairs and fiestas not provide an opportunity? The point being, of course, that everywhere in Mallorca has them - the giants, the big heads and what have you.

Mallorca, or some involved in tourism promotion, talks a good story about its history, but it ignores the stories themselves. Dates, facts, battles, they're all very interesting, but behind them are the stories, the legends, the oddities. Weird Mallorca - the stories and the souvenirs. They should do it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 September 2015


Morning high (6.30am): 17.9C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 16 September - Sun, cloud, 29C; 17 September - Sun, cloud, 26C; 18 September - Sun, cloud, 24C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 2 to 3 veering and increasing Southwest 3 to 5 by the afternoon.

Cooler morning, cooler night. A day to come just as warm as yesterday, with moderate southerly breezes shifting African air northwards. Outlook remaining good, though possibly less warm by the weekend.

Evening update (21.00): Cloudier than had been forecast. Not bad though. Highs of 29C on the coast and 29.4C inland.

No Frills Excursions

The Working-Class Of Mallorca's Tourism

In 1938, an act was passed by the British government that wasn't, for obvious reasons, to have much impact for many years. It was the Holiday Pay Act, an item of legislation which lurks in the background to the story of Mallorca's tourism. There was to be entitlement to paid holidays, and when eventually it started to have an impact it was on a sector of the workforce which had previously been unable to afford taking time off without pay - the ordinary working man and woman.

After the war, the Workers' Travel Association, founded in 1921, was to renew a key objective: fostering international peace. Through cultural exchange, the belief was that the possibility of further war would be lessened. It was an objective that was shared by post-war tourism pioneers, especially those who were Jewish, such as Gerard Blitz of Club Med and Vladimir Raitz of Horizon. In 1949, the year when both Blitz and Raitz went to Corsica and were intrigued enough by that island's Club Olympique to want to do something similar, the Workers' Travel Association stole something of a march on them. In 1949, it organised its first trip for British workers to Mallorca.

Raitz, in addition to a desire for peace, believed that the ordinary working man and woman should have the means not just of a holiday but of a foreign holiday. 1949 was a year when it all started to fall into place. There were the facts of the pay act and those different trips to Corsica and to Mallorca. Though Raitz was to first take a plane to Corsica, it was Mallorca, the choice of the Workers' Travel Association, that was to feature far more strongly in his plans for developing Horizon and in his wish to provide affordable holidays for everyone.

The Mallorca of the 1950s, in tourism terms, perceived itself as a destination for the well-to-do. It clung to its legacy of the pre-war years, one of a sophisticated, wealthy traveller and of the occasional celebrity, and hotels which reflected this. The change was to be, of course, fundamental, and part of that change was the nature of the traveller. It would be quite wrong to say that Mallorca became solely the preserve of the working-class tourist, but for the masses to have become as they did, they needed to draw on different levels of foreign societies. For the British worker the cost of a Mallorcan holiday in the early sixties was the equivalent of two weeks' wages. Though affordable, it was still a fair sum. But Mallorca itself was so cheap that it was fully worth it.

It seems, nowadays, passé to talk in terms of class, but there are those who do, and, by a particular twist of fate, it is something being given renewed and full voice by parts of the British media which aren't of the establishment: the publishing wings of the Socialist Workers' Party and others are analysing the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in terms of the class struggle.

Corbyn's win is a coincidence, because I had been going to write this article anyway, the inspiration for doing so having been remarks made locally. One set has come from Macià Blázquez, a professor at the university, the other from the journalist Andreu Manresa during his address at Santa Ponsa's fiestas.

Manresa said that tourism of the masses should not be denigrated and nor should those tourists who aren't wealthy be looked down on. He alluded to precisely what Raitz had believed in, a tourism from a time when there was a need to cultivate knowledge of other cultures and peoples, and so to a tourism which had been crucial for Mallorca. Blázquez was more blunt. Magalluf was being "demonised". Working-class tourism was being removed and is being replaced by an "elitist" model. Pointedly, he referred to this model having its "beach club project". It was pretty obvious what he had in mind.

Both Manresa and Blázquez have opened up a line of tourism debate that seems to have eluded partners in the new government, among which is Podemos, whose national leader, Pablo Iglesias, sent Corbyn his congratulations. Here is a left-wing government which, as far as I am aware, has never nuanced tourism in terms of class. Perhaps it is to their credit that they don't or perhaps class in other societies doesn't interest them. But underlying the tourism thinking of the left seems to be a model which panders to elitism. It is the craving for the "quality" tourist, and all the implications this loaded term carries.

Class may no longer be the appropriate term, but there are still the ordinary working men and women seeking affordable holidays. Should Mallorca, should any destination for that matter, concern itself with such needs of foreigners? There was a time when Mallorca most definitely did concern itself.

Monday, September 14, 2015

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 September 2015


Morning high (7.00am): 24.7C
Forecast high: 27C; UV: 6
Three-day forecast: 15 September - Sun, cloud, 29C; 16 September - Sun, cloud, 28C; 17 September - Sun, cloud, 26C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Northwest 3 to 5 veering Northeast 3 by the afternoon.

The breeziness has dropped. Warm morning but not humid, thanks to the breezes. A fine day ahead, with sunny conditions forecast for most of the week.

Evening update (20.15): Decent day, clouded up a bit later on. Coastal high, 28.7C; Inland high, 30.4C.

No Frills Excursions