Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Palmarati And Tourism Sustainability

Are we being sold a fast one, do you suppose? Saturation, massification, overcrowding. Increasingly I wonder if it isn't all propaganda with a yet to be revealed agenda, but one that may well come with "limits" attached. Moreover, is this propaganda all the work of what one might call the "Palmarati"?

I don't doubt that there are more tourists than ever, but does that automatically mean saturation? I had largely accepted the argument until recently. Let me explain.

My manor, for want of a better term, is right bang in one of the principal tourist resorts in Mallorca. The density of tourist population in Alcudia is extremely high. On hotel places alone, the maximum number of tourists at a given time is 1.5 times the regular population of the entire, sprawling municipality. This is something I sense and see every single day in summer. Unlike commentators, especially politicians, who are divorced from the realities of resort life, I live it. Tourism mass doesn't come any more massive than Bellevue.

Perceptions, I accept, are not scientific, but there was a sudden realisation this week that driving in Alcudia is not the nightmare it once was in August. And I'm talking perhaps ten years ago. This may reflect the level of all-inclusive in the resort, but traffic most certainly isn't determined by in-resort circumstances alone. Moreover, there is all the additional residential tourism that has sprung up. None of that is all-inclusive and much of it requires a car.

Along the bay from Alcudia is the beach of Es Comú, a long stretch of rustic beach in Playa de Muro. It's somewhere else I know, unlike some. There was a time when even on Sundays it wouldn't be especially busy. It is now. The conclusion drawn is that this is because of saturation, with tourists to blame. Yes, there are tourists, but for the most part the beachgoers are residents of the island. They started going to Es Comú because word of the beach was spread by social media (Trip Advisor included) and also by the Balearic government on its beaches website.

We now have the government's environment ministry wanting to create a minibus shuttle service for the beach. There's nothing wrong with the idea, other than its practicality. Furthermore, does the ministry's director-general for biodiversity really have any idea about Es Comú's circumstances or indeed those of other beaches she wishes to be served by minibuses? One of the others is Sa Calobra. Where would you put a car park to allow a park and ride system?

That beach was highlighted earlier this week by a group which wants to "save" the Tramuntana. This group appears not to want anyone going anywhere near the mountains. The photo it posted for the Torrent de Pareis showed a number of beachgoers along with a howling complaint of saturation. Yes, people on a beach. Who would ever have thought? But hardly packed to the gunwales. And guess what? Social media and the government have been talking lovingly about Sa Calobra in recent years.

Then there was Palma's deputy mayor, Aurora Jhardi, going on about Mallorca (as well as Palma) collapsing under the strain of all the tourists. Time to "minimise" the damage, she insisted. She's welcome to her opinion, but what does she know about Mallorca beyond Palma?

Herein lies the rub, and the greater realisation that occurred to me this week. The "Palmarati". This is the class that chatters endlessly about cruise ships this or that, which for the rest of Mallorca is mostly by the bye. Yet lo and behold, we found, thanks to figures from the State Ports, that cruise passenger numbers for the half year were in fact down on last year. Remember those 22,000 who had invaded back in May and who were used as evidence of the collapse of Palma? Always Palma, and always Palma sounding off and reckoning it knows all and knows best for the island's resorts. Yet, we have a tourism ministry and government that can see no further, for political reasons, than Magalluf and Playa de Palma. Cala Millor, Cala Ratjada, Can Picafort and others: who are you? who are you?

This isn't to minimise the potential negative impacts, of which water is the most obvious. Tourists in their apparently saturating numbers do use a hell of a lot of water, which is why I made the moral case, long before the tourist tax was even being considered, for a tax to be directed at vital resources. But tourists aren't to blame for the water shortage. The climate is, plus a lack of planning. The water crisis, though, has become a useful tool for the Palmarati (the governmental brand in particular) in its propaganda.

Biel Barceló, bless him, seems a sincere enough chap. He wants sustainability of tourism. Who doesn't? It's a non-discussion in some respects, but debating limits and future models of tourism will get nowhere when the argumentation is skewed by one side's propaganda, only to then be refuted by the other side's, and which is the domain of competing political parties, business interests and above all the Palmarati.

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