Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Is The Point Of Imserso?

The first Imserso vacationers arrived on the island earlier this week. Their arrival was much earlier than last year. Or should one say this year? The legal wrangle involving the two vacation plans - Mundosenior and Mundiplan - meant that the first Spanish pensioners didn't come until January. Even then, there was chaos. The divvying up of destinations between the two has now been clarified, and so the vacations are running smoothly and have all but sold out.

It isn't clear quite how many senior citizen holidaymakers will come to Mallorca over the following few months. Imserso - the institute for senior citizens and social services (part of the national social security administration) - will be the one which finally releases the figures, but it is understood that something over 1.1 million places were available: these are for all destinations and over several months.

Mundiplan has the lower number available, and it is principally focused on the Balearics and the Canaries. It has sold some 200,000 places for the two. When you start to break that number down and spread it over the months of autumn, winter and early spring, and it doesn't sound a lot. It isn't a lot. There are also Mundosenior holidaymakers coming to Mallorca. It has nine hotels available, much the same as Mundiplan. The Mundosenior offer has six hotels in Playa de Palma/Arenal, one in Magalluf (the only four-star among them), one in Alcudia and one in Can Picafort. Lucky old Playa de Palma.

A great deal of attention is paid by the Spanish media to the Imserso holidays. This is partly because of the state subsidy. This, however, doesn't apply to Mundosenior, the bigger of the two plans. Imserso oversees its operation but it doesn't directly fund it: the combined might of Barceló and Globalia is capable of extracting deals that make the holidays economic without the need for a subsidy. Imserso does, nevertheless, contribute to the cost of individual holidays for those who qualify for assistance.

There is also attention because of the apparent boost it gives destinations in the off-season. It is certainly better that some hotels stay open rather than close, but otherwise, what contribution do these vacations make to resort economies? Very little, and the number of resorts is very limited as well.

Mundiplan has announced that it will be undertaking a study of the "profile" of the senior citizen traveller and will be co-opting the Balearic and Canaries administrations in order to do this study. Its CEO, Guillermo González, says that the "senior segment is developing a great deal and has become a very attractive market for many operators". Which is no doubt true, but who, apart from the operators, really benefits?

The anecdotal evidence, while it provides a generalisation, isn't totally inaccurate. Stories are told of groups of "pensionistas" descending on bars with their bags containing food they've brought with them, occupying whole bars and ordering little more than a cortado while also insisting on free crisps and olives. This is a stereotyping which fails to appreciate a senior market that has good disposable income and is also very much more active than the stereotype would suggest. It is a market that is far wider than Spain. Why a concerted and coherent effort is not made to attract a European market to Mallorca (or other destinations) has been a question asked in the past, and it still needs asking. If the likes of Barceló and Globalia can come up with deals for Spanish pensioners, then is it beyond the capabilities of them and others to do likewise for a much greater market? Broaden the whole approach and then you might really notice an off-season difference.

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