Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Masses Turn To Mallorca's Interior

One of my favourite Sa Pobla stories is to do with events 62 years ago, when the town hall managed to lose a beach. Commanded by Madrid to sort out municipal boundaries, Sa Pobla engaged in some horse-trading with Muro. The result was that it swapped that part of Albufera which went to the sea (and the beach) in exchange for extending its interior boundary eastwards. It thought it had a deal. It did only insofar as more agricultural possibilities were obtained. Muro, perhaps by luck or possibly by foresight, obtained what is now the main part of Playa de Muro. The ultimate result was to be that Muro's economy, courtesy of its upmarket resort, diversified massively into tourism. Sa Pobla's economy didn't.

The missed opportunity condemned Sa Pobla to rely more or less solely on its agriculture, which has undoubtedly brought it wealth - thanks mainly to potatoes and rice - but which could have been significantly greater. Perhaps in recognition of its historical error in having failed to climb aboard the tourism train, the town - once democracy was established - retrenched. It came to be the island's centre of cultural revivalism. As an example, last Saturday afternoon the town was resonating with the blasts of hundreds of bagpipes: decades of piping revivalism were being celebrated.

A year ago, the town hall held a first series of seminars to consider its tourism future. Or even present. Without a tourism past, notwithstanding the fact that its January Sant Antoni fiestas have officially been in the national touristic interest for fifty years, the citizens who turned up were operating from pretty much a blank canvass. What they started to paint onto this canvass was accommodation, which in Sa Pobla's case means mostly only private properties.

During the second series of seminars, held last week, it was reported that the number of tourist places had virtually doubled in the space of twelve months. The increase was totally due to holiday rentals - all legitimate and all charging the tourist tax. Significant though this rise is, it needs to be placed in context. Compared with another neighbour - Alcudia - the number of places is 3.5% of what Alcudia has in hotel places, with no account taken of holiday rentals, legitimate or not.

Strategically, Sa Pobla is opting for alternative tourism. This inevitably means culture, heritage and gastronomy. Alternative it may be, if not exactly innovative. The alternative tourism seeker can thus be housed in a house (or similar) and enjoy this alternativism. Alternatively, this tourism seeker may well appreciate that the beach isn't so far away, and that the beach (or beaches) in question are considered to be among Mallorca's finest. One of these is Es Comú, part of the beach that had been Muro's before Sa Pobla obliged by handing over the rest and now one subjected to - so we are told - "massification".

Selva is a town further inland. Almost three years ago now, it did something similar to Sa Pobla: invited the locals to talk tourism. At the time, it could muster around 600 places. It will be more now because of an increase to the ninety or so holiday homes it was said to have. The town hall's tourism plan, interestingly enough, made a virtue of the fact that beaches in Alcudia and Pollensa weren't a million miles away. Promoting alternative tourism was going to get it only so far.

Also three years ago, Vilafranca's town hall was keen to find ways of attracting more tourists. There was a problem because it was being bypassed. A further one, the town hall accepted, was that in general terms it was way behind the tourism eight ball. Yet last month, the environmentalists GOB were backing Vilafranca's demands for the regional government to restore "sanity" to tourism. From having been nowhere touristically, the town hall had discovered that tourists were occupying holiday homes in the municipality. It was suffering "massification".

The three cases - Sa Pobla, Selva, Vilafranca - highlight ways in which all Mallorca's municipalities were obliged by the last Partido Popular government to come up with tourism plans. They also show how attitudes to tourism differ. Selva saw itself as being a centre for all types - sun-and-beach included; Sa Pobla would prefer its tourists don't head off to the beach.

Something else which is highlighted is the reform under the 2012 tourism law which made it easier to make rural properties available as holiday homes. While Sa Pobla has embraced this, Vilafranca wants obstacles to be raised.

What is happening is that properties in the island's interior, both rural and urban, are increasingly being devoted to tourism. It's a story which mirrors the experiences on the coasts and so contributes to a distortion in the accommodation market. Sa Pobla has doubled the number of places in a year. Will it double them again next year?

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