Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Between Realities And Fictions: Mallorca's tourism

Mallorca's tourism has long offered a battleground of argument between hard realities and apparent fictions. The former, unfortunately, are mostly based on anecdotal evidence. This non-scientific approach confronts the latter's data gathering and report generation. Consider if you will: tourist spending statistics; airport arrival statistics; hotel occupancy statistics. Combine these factual bases and a form of meta-research gives succour to the headlines of bonanza, boom and record. The anecdotes, though, can and do suggest alternative realities.

It has been like this for years but the discrepancies are heightened at times when there are the supposed bonanzas, as at present: ones served on the plates of terrorism and competitor destination insecurities. Take the degree of disbelief regarding warnings of overbooking, which itself is inherent to hotel occupancy stats. There always is overbooking. It's the nature of the beast for the hotel sector. Statistical methodologies are at play here as well. They determine the degree by which hotels can anticipate reservations not being fulfilled. This degree is filled with overbooking in the hope of securing 100% rates of occupancy and is supported by arrangements entered into by hotels to ensure guest transfer to other accommodation. The problem arises if the stats fall down, which may indeed be the case this summer.

The disbelief arises as a consequence of the anecdotal evidence, the sharing of opinion from the touristic coal face which argues that the stats are all to cock: factual fictions, or should it be fictitious facts? Because this is not empirical evidence and only oral, it cannot be substantiated, but its existence breeds suspicion of the data-based "facts". By its very nature, though, it is discriminatory. One resort's anecdotes are not reflected by those of other resorts. Even within resorts where there are differing anecdotes. Some bars in Magalluf reporting a worse-than-ever season is evidence of Magalluf, or a part of it. Such evidence cannot be extrapolated and be used as a conclusion for the entire island. As some never tire in insisting, Mallorca is not Magalluf.

Nevertheless, there is some factual support (if one cares to believe it). Last summer it was said that bars in Magalluf had taken hits of up to 40% lower turnover, the consequence of the drive to root out "drunken tourism" (as well as the influence of all-inclusives). If that was really the case, then why should this summer be any different? By contrast, there is the evidence of boom times this summer for Palma's restaurants: turnover up by 15% and even 20% in the centre. The conclusion one draws is that the 15% applies to Playa de Palma. There will doubtless be those who disagree.

Because there are discrepancies between anecdotal facts and the apparent fictions, the process of dissonance (reconciling competing positions) errs on the side of the fictitious and therefore disbelief. It is easy to satisfy individual prejudices that will always prefer not to accept official claims, those made by the statistics purveyors, government, hoteliers and other employers. Not, it has to be said, that these prejudices are necessarily wrong; simply that they lack substantial and hard evidence.

There are other apparent fictions which have to be contended with. These are the qualitative as opposed to purely quantitative statements. For Mallorca they embrace the evidence of transformations, as with Magalluf, the upgrading of hotels and so the quest for and implementation of greater quality among the island's hotel stock (and indeed other accommodation). They can also refer to levels of service, to improved standards of cuisine, to a broader offer of complementary facilities. 

Market research opinion surveys can never hope to provide a complete picture, but the statisticians with their degrees or error and so on can offer indicators to back up claims of leaps in Mallorca's quality (or not). So it is with the latest annual survey of tourist satisfaction by Gadeso. One doesn't of course know where the tourists surveyed were staying or certain demographic information about these tourists, but if the survey is to be accepted at face value, the claims regarding transformations and improved quality are only that: claims, unsupported by the tools of market research.

Gadeso discovers, inter alia, a slip in the level of satisfaction with accommodation. This is a marginal decline, but it is a decline nevertheless at a time when accommodation is meant to be acquiring greater quality. "Specialised offers" of cuisine and retailing have fallen further than in previous years: both are "deficient". Even beach services have slipped. In fact there is very little which shows greater satisfaction: health care and public safety are notable in that they have. 

Where lies the truth with Mallorca's tourism? Impossible to say. What is certain is that we'll go through all this again next year, and Gadeso may well report a greater blip on the price-quality ratio for hotel satisfaction. Why? Satisfaction or otherwise with the tourist tax.

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