Thursday, August 31, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 August 2017

Morning high (6.16am): 22.9C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 7
Three-day forecast: 1 September - Cloud, 28C; 2 September - Cloud, sun, 26C; 3 September - Cloud, 26C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East-Northeast 2 to 3 increasing Northeast 5 during the morning.

Some rain around early on but only light. More possible at any time during the day. The outlook at present is rather unsettled through the weekend and into the start of next week.

Evening update (19.00): High of 31.4C. Some more rain, light almost everywhere but fairly heavy in certain places with thunder. Occasional sun.

The Price Behind The Occupancy

Five years ago, the then vice-president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, Inma Benito, spoke about the economy being "broken" because of the August hotel occupancy rate. It was around 90%. Benito said that it should be much higher, even implying that it should be 100%. She would have known, as anyone in the industry knows, that there is no such thing as 100%. Some hotels maybe, but across the board it never happens.

The hotel occupancy rate is an indicator that needs to be considered with care. It's important but behind the rate there are factors that have to be taken into account. It is also important to distinguish between forecasts and actual. Talk of a five per cent decline in occupancy in September is forecast talk. The real figure won't be known until late on next month. Moreover, the forecast itself didn't chime with the figures from the Balearic Statistics Institute. For September last year it showed an occupancy rate of 85.94, almost identical therefore to the 85% being forecast for this September. How can there therefore be a five per cent drop? It probably depends on what statistical base is adopted. If the hoteliers have a different one, then there needs to be an explanation as to the variance.

That 86%, was about as good as it has ever been for a Mallorca September. The year before it was 83.4%. If the hoteliers are right, and the rate is around 85% this year, then it would still represent a very positive figure. But as I say, the hoteliers seem to be operating from an alternative base.

The point about occupancy is, quite obviously, that it is a ratio linked to the number of rooms and beds. A further point - also obvious - is that occupancy applies to the full range of hotels and so therefore to their star categories and their prices. Both of these points, however obvious they are, can easily be overlooked.

As part of the modernisation process of Mallorca's hotels, some have added rooms. The 2012 tourism law facilitated this. More rooms mean more beds mean higher potential occupancy. The process is only now drawing to a conclusion.

So one has to be aware that in certain instances one isn't comparing like with like because of an increased number of rooms. A further ingredient in the modernisation process has been the upgrading of star categories. There are now that many more four-star superior and five-star hotels. There have never been as many. And it is with these hotels where occupancy can begin to look potentially troublesome. The much-vaunted quality has risen and so has the price.

In July the occupancy of these top-notch hotels was no better than it had been the previous year. Forecasts (always forecasts) had anticipated that they would be better, but they weren't. August is likely to have shown no difference. In September, well in September might it be that a fall in occupancy, if it truly emerges, is in this high-end sector? The problem is that one doesn't get an accurate picture because the occupancy rate is a catch-all.

The experience in Ibiza is particularly startling. Several hotels at the high end were only scraping 60% occupancy in July. To put this figure into context, the July occupancy for Ibiza and Formentera last year was 88%, below Mallorca's 91.35. It now emerges that there are current offers of up to 30% off for some hotels in Ibiza, with the high end among those making the offers. The president of the Council of Ibiza, Vicent Torres Benet, who has specific responsibility for tourism, says the season has not been as had been anticipated, and that's because of prices.

Ibiza isn't the same as Mallorca in that its hotel occupancy is typically lower, but it does act as a barometer. While Mallorca's hoteliers can point to increased revenues, courtesy of higher prices, a further key indicator for them - the RevPar revenue per available room - may just start to go into reverse. The price is up but the take-up is lower.

Yet for all this, we had a situation in July where occupancy in Mallorca (based on overnight stays) outstripped everywhere else in Spain with the possible exception of Benidorm. In Andalusia, Costa del Sol and all, there was an average occupancy of 67% compared with the 90% plus in Mallorca. And this is for a region which spends healthy sums of money on promotion, the opposite to what happens in Mallorca.

September's occupancy is something of a red herring, but lurking behind it is the issue of price and not just the price for the high end. It's next year we should be looking at. It is suggested that the strength of the Mallorca "brand" can withstand most that it is thrown at it. This may be so, but what about the prices?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 August 2017

Morning high (7.10am): 24.9C
Forecast high: 31C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 31 August - Rain, 29C; 1 September - Sun, cloud, 27C; 2 September - Cloud, 26C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 2 to 4.

Wind has picked up suddenly. Tomorrow should see the real change. Looking a bit unsettled for a few days.

Evening update (20.15): High of 33.5C.

Why Are Balearic Children Being Held Back A Year?

When I was fourteen I went to Germany on a school exchange trip. Not quite knowing what to expect from this experience, I found it somewhat daunting to suddenly find myself in a maths class. Maths was not my one of strong subjects in English. In German, well forget it.

Apart from a general sense of bewilderment as to what was going on, allied to panic when asked a question, I was baffled by the presence of at least one pupil who was older than the rest. He was a boy who didn't really qualify any longer as a boy. I forget now how old he actually was. After the class, I asked my exchange friend, Joachim, what the deal was with the "boy" with the beard. He was a repeater came the explanation. He must have been a serial repeater, I concluded, and when I asked Joachim's father, himself a teacher, I discovered that this was not unheard of.

Repeating a year or a subject was a wholly alien concept to me, though I was aware that my grammar school had something known as the sixth year remove. In the sixth year, what with A Levels and all that, it was presumably necessary. I sensed, nevertheless, that there was a certain stigma attached.

When I first came to Mallorca I was surprised to learn that repeating a year was common. So often did one hear about repeating a year that I took it to be the norm and that it may not say a great deal about standards of education. Insofar as the Balearics stubbornly maintains a lowly ranking for performance in core educational competences, there is perhaps an element of truth in this. But it can only explain so much. There is, I now understand, a culture of repeating.

Germany still has its system - grade retention is the jargonistic term. Some other European countries have one. In Finland, often held up as a European panacea for school education, the system operates but it is only used in exceptional circumstances. In Spain, it can almost seem to be applied willy-nilly.

The case against repeating a year is strong. It is said to in fact be harmful to the chances of academic success. It is likely to lead to increased educational inequality, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pupils who repeat are more likely to drop out (a big issue in the Balearics). They don't necessarily ever catch up. The negative effects are said to be greater when there is repeating at primary level.

It can be, however, that the effects are positive. I can think of an example of a girl (British) who repeated a year in primary school and is now doing very well at secondary school. The repeat had principally been due to her Catalan not having been good enough.

But the problem where educationalists are concerned is being able to identify pupils who will benefit. On balance, therefore, repeating a year is being looked at as something to avoid. And this isn't just for social and educational reasons. There is a cost attached. In England, the cost of a school year - on average to cover primary and secondary levels - is put at around six thousand pounds.

In New South Wales, Australia, schools are now trying to avoid repeating a year. A leading education and psychology researcher, Dr. Helen McGrath, says that the evidence is damning. It's like playing "Russian roulette" with a child's future. In New South Wales they're taking note of the cost that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has come up with. It is significantly higher than the English figure - 50,000 Australian dollars per repeater.

Closer to the English 6,000 pounds is the cost that has been calculated for Spain: 5,623 euros, which breaks down as 5,738 euros at secondary level and 4,865 at primary. This cost becomes extremely relevant when one considers the scale of repeating. By the age of fifteen, 40% of pupils in the Balearics have repeated. This costs almost 38 million euros a year. The scale of repeating by age fifteen is higher than in Spain as a whole (31%) and way above an OECD rate of 12%.

The regional education ministry's institute for educational system evaluation and quality has issued a report in which it says that there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate positive effects from repeating and in improving academic performance. Essentially, it points to there being a culture for repeating, which was something I had concluded some time ago.

There needs to be a change of mentality, the regional government's advisers are saying. I would suggest that rather more than a mentality change is needed. The evidence, notes Helen McGrath, is damning. The system needs changing.

I wonder if that "boy" in Germany ever passed his maths.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 August 2017

Morning high (6.33am): 23.4C
Forecast high: 32C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 30 August - Cloud, 30C; 31 August - Cloud, sun, 29C; 1 September - Cloud, 27C

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

So, who remembers the summer of 2003? Very similar to this one because of the enduring heat and because June was particularly hot. On 31 August the weather broke, there was a storm that ushered in a rather poor September. This Thursday, it looks like rain.

Evening update (21.00): Mainly cloudy again. You feel that a storm is brewing. High of 33.9C.

The Market That Broke The Rentals' Legislation

"We will create a legal framework for tourist rentals in 'plurifamiliar' properties so that, under established conditions, they can be rented." This comes from PSOE's manifesto for the 2015 elections in the Balearics. By plurifamiliar, if you're not familiar, this means apartment buildings.

"We will develop a new tourism law ... that will regulate ... tourist rentals." "We will make tourism a source of shared prosperity to ensure that the majority of the population actively participates in the benefits of tourism." This is from the Més manifesto for the same elections.

When Més referred to regulation of rentals, they meant regulation that was more permissive than allowed under the 2012 tourism law. When they spoke of shared prosperity, they were talking in general terms about a more equitable distribution of wealth but also in more specific terms. One of the party's prominent spokespeople on tourism, Toni Reus, the ex-mayor of Santa Margalida, had referred to the right of individual families to supplement their incomes from the renting of a property.

When Biel Barceló of Més became tourism minister after the elections, it was generally acknowledged that he had inherited a hot potato - holiday rentals. New regulation of rentals, he once said, would be undertaken before a new tourist tax was introduced. This didn't happen. Events conspired to mean that the rentals' regulation came along a year later.  

The politics of holiday rentals, broadly shared by PSOE and Més prior to the 2015 elections, were such that the left opposed the Partido Popular's dogmatic stance on apartments. Up until midway through the PP's 2011-2015 administration neither PSOE nor the PSM (the main constituent of Més, of which Barceló is a member) had taken a great deal of interest in holiday rentals. They had been together in government on two occasions - 1999 to 2003 and 2007 to 2011. Holiday rentals had escaped legislative attention.

Although there was an "issue" with the legality of apartment rentals, it was an issue that governments could deal with by making reference to the 1999 law, making the odd threat and basically never doing anything. The issue wasn't worth the renewed legislative hassle. It wasn't that big an issue. The status quo was maintained. Rentals' illegality and legality were allowed to coexist.

In 2012 the PP made a difference. They legislated. Or rather, they reinforced their own 1999 tourism law. It was only after the 2012 act went through that rentals really started to become a "hot potato". Suddenly everyone was talking about rentals and about the tenancy act. The left took up the cause. The PP's law was unfair. It was biased towards the hoteliers and biased against the likes of Toni Reus' families. It was also a potential risk to the islands' tourism.

Over the summer of 2013 there was a great deal of discussion. By August of that summer the tourism minister, Carlos Delgado, was being bombarded with requests and demands to adopt a more permissive approach. PSOE was to the fore in making this bombardment. The PSM weren't far behind, and they were backed by the Chamber of Commerce and various associations, one of which was the restaurants association within the Balearic Confederation of Business Associations. Its president was Pilar Carbonell. She is now the director general of tourism, the choice of Biel Barceló.

The general mantra was that there was a danger in not liberalising the rentals' market. Tourists may well choose to go somewhere else rather than Mallorca and the Balearics. Delgado called a meeting. It had looked as though he might have had a change of mind. He hadn't.

So, when PSOE and Més (with Podemos in the wings) formed the government in spring 2015, rentals' legislation was firmly on the agenda. Both PSOE and Més had it in their manifestos. Neither had given any idea what the legislation might be, but a clue possibly lay with the Catalonia regulations: relatively permissive and capable of bringing in an extra pot of tourist tax revenue.

The government is now being accused, among other things, of kowtowing to the hotels. Més? In the pocket of the hoteliers? Don't be ridiculous. And Pilar Carbonell, a political independent, had constantly been at loggerheads with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation when she was the restaurants' president, especially because of all-inclusives. As tourism director general, she, like Barceló and like PSOE have had to adapt to an altered situation.

Airbnb was an emerging factor during the time of the PP administration. It then exploded in a way that few could have foreseen. Had it not exploded, it is quite possible that the stock of "illegal" apartments could have been dealt with in a far less complex way than is the case. Who knows, maybe all that had been "illegal" at the time of the election could have been made legal. The fact is that it did explode and has brought with it the various social problems that it has.

Those manifesto pledges haven't been totally broken. It was the Airbnb market that broke what otherwise would have been different legislation.

Monday, August 28, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 August 2017

Morning high (7.00am): 22.7C
Forecast high: 32C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 29 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 30 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 31 August - Cloud, sun, 31C

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

Having noted yesterday that there was no sign of unsettled conditions, there now is. September may start with some rain. As for today, feeling close this morning.

Evening update (20.15): Fairly cloudy all day. Humid. High of 32.2C.

#Better In Summer

Sorry, but things aren't quite going to plan, are they. Mallorca (and the Balearics) have admittedly only been officially better in winter since the tourism agency started insisting this was the case last winter, but winter betterment was a wonderland dream of the tourism minister prior to the government's stamp of betterment. Being better in winter means that summers shouldn't be as good, as in there aren't as many tourists, while winters will be better because of a summer tourist reallocation to mid-January. Ah yes, of course winters will be better. However ... the Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastià fiestas are great fun, but sadly they don't come replete with 30-plus degrees of sun.

While Mallorca is knocking out hotel occupancy levels in summer that are the envy of the rest of the country, the sad truth of the matter is that there were fewer tourists this year between January and March. Better in winter really does have some catching-up to do. This said, April was positively overflowing with tourists. Saturated, one might even say. The ministry has frowned upon this. In April next year, the tourists are going to have to pay the full tourist tax whack. That'll learn 'em. And we (the ministry) will have a higher rate of tax, to boot. Take that, you tourist. Aren't you listening? It's better in winter, and the tax is lower. Ok!

Of course, and according to some, the ministry and the government are doing their best to create a nuclear winter all year round. One detects a glee in some quarters. These are the quarters manned by the critics whose cliches extend no further than wishing Mallorca back to the days of everyone riding donkeys. Seriously, can't anyone come up with something more original?

Yes, these critics gloat and sneer, mass unemployment awaits, not mass tourism. You're making us feel unwelcome with all your holiday rentals' caper, all your tourist tax, all your anti-tourist protests, all your queues at the airport, all your three euros for a coffee. Ha ha, Mallorca, your time's up, and I'm off to Croatia. (Take care, all ye gloaters, for it will come to pass that the Croatians and others willst apply stiff rentals' legislation and elevated tourist taxes as well.)

Touristic nuclear winter is not about to descend. The winter itself may be better, but if it is, then it will only ever be moderately better. The summer, however, may well be better. Can Mallorca afford to lose some tourists? I would suggest that it can, given that the numbers have grown like Topsy over the past three or four summers.

You see, there can be such a thing as saturation. Or at least comparative saturation. Here are some more facts from last week which might prove the point. In July, there were 17,676 more guests in Mallorca's hotels than in the whole of Andalusia. And Andalusia is a damn sight bigger than Mallorca. In all of the Canary Islands combined, there were some 330,000 fewer guests than in Mallorca.

Better in winter? Nope. Better in summer.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 August 2017

Morning high (6.35am): 22.9C
Forecast high: 30C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 28 August - Sun, cloud, 33C; 29 August - Sun, cloud, 32C; 30 August - Sun, cloud, 31C

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

At the start of summer, Aemet forecast that there would be some "instability" during the second half of August. There hasn't been, and there's no sign of any for what remains of August.

Evening update (19.15): High of 32.8C. Clammy. Bit cloudy at times.

The Transparency Illusion

What should the ecotax revenue be spent on? Don't all answer tourism because that would be too simple. In terms of tourism, the best one might say is that the spend is tourism-related. There is no provision for full-on, direct tourism spending, such as with a massive ad campaign. This doesn't fall under the various "purposes" included in the law for the sustainable tourism tax (to give it its actual title). What with all the negativity flying around at present, however, any other government might think it worthwhile forgetting the law and splashing all the anticipated 60 million euros of revenue on such a campaign. Not this government, though.

Even if the government were minded to splash the cash on a huge ad promotional drive, it couldn't of course do so. And that's because of the law. Those purposes are set in legal stone. Or are they? Where the town halls are concerned, there should be some modification in order that they are guaranteed a percentage of the tax bounty. They were mightily miffed not to have received any direct funding from last year's loot. They have made their bids for this year's revenue. The committee that decides, headed by the tourism minister, will draw its conclusions later in the year. Palma, for example, wants the old Torres del Temple to be given a makeover. Alcudia would like its ballsed-up water recycling project reactivated. Tourism? In a related way, yes. The water was intended for hotels' loos and gardens.

But what does one make of a government project to be funded from tax revenue for treating occupational disorders? Around 900,000 euros, it is being said, will go towards treatment for back pain and other ailments suffered by hotel chambermaids. Tourism? Well, in a related way, yes. Hotels are for tourists, as Alcudia town hall recognises. Chambermaids work in hotels.

Where the Palma project is concerned, if falls squarely under the third "purpose" in the legislation: recuperation and rehabilitation of historical and cultural heritage. The Alcudia water recycling scheme is probably served by the first purpose, that of, inter alia, modernisation of the environment. Though to be honest, there would seem to be a bit of a stretching of the definition. When it comes to the chambermaids, the purposes are even more wooly. The only possible qualification is purpose five: the improvement of training and quality of employment.

This, however, would really represent a definitional stretching. Treatment for occupational disorders was not what was meant by quality of employment.

I'm all in favour of the chambermaids getting their treatment. It may be that the project isn't ultimately approved, in which case it will in any event be paid for by the health and employment ministries. But the very fact of the project having been raised begs more questions about the transparency surrounding the spending of the tourist tax revenue. The town halls argued that there was a severe lack of transparency when the projects were decided last time. Is there to be more? And it might be noted that the chambermaids have become something of a political cause célèbre for the government: treated badly by those devils the hoteliers, who haven't done anything for treating or preventing their occupational disorders. Something like this, anyway.

This is a government that has set great store by transparency. It even made it a ministerial responsibility. The relevant minister, Ruth Mateu, lost her job because of a transparency failure - the contracts awarded to Jaume Garau by ministries run by her party, Més. The responsibility for transparency now lies with the department for the presidency.

Either before Mateu resigned (or was sacked) or just after, it would seem that the transparency directorate intervened in a request to see documentation related to the contracts for operating the new airport to resort bus services. The request had been sent to the transport ministry by one of the taxi drivers' associations. The transparency people apparently thought better of letting the association seeing the documentation.

This apparent blocking of information has emerged along with the news that the companies operating the bus services will not incur financial losses. In other words, if the bus routes don't reach their budgeted turnover targets, there will be government compensation for the companies. And it seems that this provision was in the documentation that the transparency directorate blocked.

The association is outraged, so are other taxi driver groups and now also certain business organisations. It was always stated that the bus companies would assume all risk for the services. It would now appear that they do not. There is more than a whiff of scandal, and there hasn't been any comment yet from the government.

If the taxi drivers' association's version of events proves to be accurate, then the government's transparency will be revealed as a sham. And this will be before we get to decisions about the ecotax revenue.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 August 2017

Morning high (6.49am): 22.1C
Forecast high: 31C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 27 August - Sun, cloud, 30C; 28 August - Cloud, sun, 31C; 29 August - Sun, cloud, 32C

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

The last weekend of August. Blimey, where's the summer gone? Summer, meanwhile, very much continuing.

Evening update (20.15): High of 32.4C.

Tour Operators Holding Off On Hotel Contracts

Yesterday, I finished by mentioning that I had a startling "fact". This fact, as stated by Preferente magazine, concerns tour operator contracts with Mallorcan hotels for 2018. Negotiations for these contracts started, as they always do, around May time. At present, it is said that there are contracts for 15% of the available hotel offer. This is the fact. Why is it startling? In the recent past, such as last year, 80% of the offer had been signed up by now.

The reason for this massive discrepancy is simple. It's the price being demanded by the hotels. Mallorca isn't alone in Spain in setting higher hotel prices but generally speaking it is the pace-setter. Preferente adds that it is difficult to recall a precedent for the current contract negotiation situation. The tour operators believe that prices are exorbitant.

This doesn't mean they won't end up signing contracts. Mallorca has in its favour its capacity. Holiday demand is such that Mallorca will get its way, though it would be a surprise - given the current status - if the contracts matched those of this year. In order for that to happen, there will need to be some give on behalf of the hoteliers. But then one should bear in mind that tour operators were complaining about the prices this year.

Despite the prices as they are this year, figures for July show that hotel occupancy - in terms of overnight stays - was higher in Palma-Calvia than anywhere else in the country. (Palma and Calvia, for the purposes of this statistical exercise, are treated as one zone.) The rate was 92.1%. The number of stays was up by one per cent and prices rose by 6.9%.

So, things for the moment seem hunky-dory. It is 2018 that we have to consider. The revival of competitor destinations will be welcomed by the tour operators, and one only has to look at hotel performance figures to see why. In July (and these are numbers for Spain as a whole), the average daily rate (ADR) was 129 euros. The RevPar (revenue per available room) was 104 euros. In Turkey the ADR was 80 euros. The RevPar was 56 euros.

For tour operators, these types of difference are hugely attractive. And when one seeks to compare Mallorca (and Spain) with the non-EU destinations of Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and anywhere else, there is an additional and potentially important factor to take into account for next year. The EU's latest directive on package holidays will kick in. Because of increased tour operator liability to compensate for (legitimate) failures, the prices of packages will rise.

In one respect, the tour operators are to blame for the hikes in Mallorca's hotel prices. Because of disruptions elsewhere, they were buying up every available bed in Mallorca in order to meet holiday demand. Inevitably, the rule of supply and demand kicked in. Big time. Moreover, Mallorca's hotels were wanting returns on their modernisation investments. The tour operators had been demanding modernisation.

Over the past few years, because of the insecurity elsewhere, the traditional model was disrupted. The tour operators have essentially always ruled the roost. They have forced prices in seeking to maximise their profits. The hoteliers saw an opportunity to amend that model, and it could work under conditions of instability in other lands. A correction in holiday supply is now under way. The hoteliers are therefore banking on their investments in quality to demand and maintain increased prices. They are also banking on demand for Mallorca and on the island's security. Barcelona, although I don't believe it will have much of an effect, will at least have shaken the hoteliers. And there is something else lurking in the background: the negotiations for hotel worker salaries. Mallorca's hoteliers are under great pressure to come to a settlement that is advantageous to their employees.

It is clear that the cost of package holidays for next year has gone up in general. In some instances it has risen significantly. Holidaymakers, savvy consumers that they are, can bypass the package holiday, which - much to the tour operators' delight - rebounded markedly during the years of economic crisis. Buying the separate components of a holiday usually means that the overall cost is lower. The online booking agencies such as Travel Republic are being scrutinised closely.

We'll see how the contract negotiations pan out. But for now, 15% versus 80% is a massive difference.

Friday, August 25, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 August 2017

Morning high (6.01am): 21.7C
Forecast high: 32C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 26 August - Sun, cloud, 30C; 27 August - Sun, cloud, 30C; 28 August - Sun, cloud, 31C

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

More of the same ...

Evening update (20.30): High of 34.6C.

The Carelessness Of Facts

When I was at school, a general edict was that one could under no circumstances ever use "nice" or "a lot of". To use them on their own carried enough risk as it was. To have combined them, not that one did, would probably have resulted in an invitation to attend the headmaster's study. Only now, with the safety of many years' distance, dare I mention "a nice lot of". Thwack!

"Nice" might therefore have fallen by an etymological wayside, had it not been for "have a nice day". Nice, were it truly ever in danger of lexicological Dodoism, has been rejuvenated. Even test cricketers can be nice, as they are known to "play nicely". Ask Michael Vaughan, if you don't believe me. Ask him what it means, and he'll probably tell you that, erm ... .

There was much to be said for that edict. Meaningless is carelessness. Or put it another way, meaningless is anything you want it to mean, and the carelessness is the consequence of this meaninglessness. It is what the person on the receiving end takes to be the meaning. "A lot of people don't use the word nice." God, really? How many is a lot? Hundreds, thousands, millions? It all depends on interpretation and will almost invariably be wrong. That's careless.

This preamble is by way of introducing you to the following: "European families are seeking to cancel their holidays in Spain." What one can say of this is that it at least abides by the edict. But the absence of anything even vaguely quantifiable may well lead the person on the receiving end to conclude that "a lot of" European families are seeking to cancel and to make a mental note that this lot runs into the thousands or millions, when it might only be the odd hundred (if any). Not quantifying the number presupposes that there is a lot. And to compound this is the fact that "foreign tour operators" are saying this. How many of them are there? Two? Twenty? One hundred and twenty? One has no idea, but apparently they are all saying the same thing: exactly the same words. I don't think so.

The terrorist attacks will clearly deter some people. It is important, though, to know how much is the some who finally choose to indeed cancel. Only armed with actual numbers will we have any idea as to what impact the attacks have had. And, as importantly, where has been affected. I still find it hard to believe, as said two days ago, that the Balearics will be affected, but then those foreign tour operators ... blah, blah, blah.

What we have at present, in addition to the unquantified European families, includes Ada Colau, Barcelona's mayor, saying that there have been "very few" hotel cancellations in the city. So, there haven't been a lot of them. But how few is very few? Meanwhile, the president of the hoteliers' guild in Barcelona, Jordi Clos, says a reaction (a negative one) will soon be seen. He didn't wish to make a prediction and quantify the fall. What might it be? Very few, a few, some, a fair number, or a lot? We are left to wallow in vagueness and attempt to apply meaning to the meaningless. And in the process, there can be carelessness from misinterpreting this vagueness. One would be to over-emphasise the impact, the other would be to underestimate it and wrongly fail to apply remedial and preventive measures.

We are fed a constant barrage of facts that have little or no quantifiable meaning, but even when a quantity is offered, we can be forgiven either for not believing it or for shrugging our shoulders with a bewildered or indifferent so-what. I give as examples all the tourist spending stats. According to these, spending is up, then along comes an association like Acotur and says it isn't. Between twenty and thirty per cent of tourist businesses (bars, shops and so on, but not hotels) say spending is down. So, which do we believe? It will largely depend on what we want to believe. The fact is that the facts are usually elusive. We never get a true picture or one that we genuinely feel we can believe.

But if we want to get a feel for the state of the tourism economy, there are some very hard facts, and they have nothing to do with spending or terrorism. They are to do with prices. Look at examples of these and I defy anyone not to conclude that bookings for 2018 may be affected, and not in a positive way. But by how much? A lot? A bit?

I have a "fact" related to this, which I shall leave hanging for now, but it is somewhat startling. I shall share it tomorrow. Is it a lot? Yes. Is it nice? No. Whatever nice means.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 August 2017

Morning high (6.42am): 19.8C
Forecast high: 32C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 25 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 26 August - Sun, cloud, 30C; 27 August - Sun, cloud, 30C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 3 increasing East-Southeast 3 to 4 in the afternoon.

Sunny and hot again. A good day for Saint Bartholomew and a good evening (from 9pm) for the lanterns' festival in Alcudia town.

Evening update (20.15): High of 35C.

David, Goliath And The Bigheads Of Mallorca

As with any week of fiestas or indeed fairs, there are strange characters taking to the streets of Mallorca. Today, for instance, these characters will be dancing in Consell, while in Soller they will be part of a procession with the town's bagpiping xeremiers. Tomorrow they'll be joining more pipers in Randa (part of Algaida); in S'Arraco (part of Andratx), they will be parading and dancing with giants - to a piping accompaniment.

These characters are the bigheads - the "caparrots". No fiesta is complete without them. They parade and sometimes dance on their own. Or they appear with the other characters - the giants and, as is the case with some villages and towns, with yet more peculiar creations, such as dragons.

The giants of Mallorca first appeared in Soller in 1630. The then Bishop of Mallorca, Baltasar de Borja, was to take part in the village's procession for Corpus Christi. A cathedral clerk was charged with the arrangements for giants. The first heads for the giants - male and female - cost three of your old Mallorcan pounds. Originally quite simple, by 1645 there was a cost of 48 pounds. Later on in the century, palm fronds were being integrated into the giants' appearance and manufacture.

It had taken some time for the giants to arrive in Majorca. The first documented evidence of them in Catalan culture comes from 1424. Barcelona's Llibre de les Solemnitats (a guide for religious ceremonies, if you like) provided an exhaustive list of all participants in the Corpus Christi procession. One reference is to Lo Rei David ab lo Giguant - King David and the Giant.

The thinking behind the giants was essentially to make the religious occasion more popular. They have been referred to as providing the hors d'oeuvres for solemn ceremonies. Attract an audience with odd characters, and the public will more obediently take part in the true religious part. Further thinking was to introduce ancient elements of paganism and magic. The Catholic tradition is littered with examples of one what might describe as pragmatic appeal to long-ago folklore, even if these were to undergo periods of banishment for being irreligious.

Another strand of thought was that the giants should represent David and Goliath. Hence what was referred to in Barcelona in 1424. A small giant and a large giant; one good, one evil. But over the decades following this first gigantic manifestation in Barcelona, the giants started to move away from a biblical representation. So, the first female giant emerged. The idea of the giants as a pair, a marital couple in some sense, was planted. And it was this that came to Mallorca in 1630.

The original concept of giants as David and Goliath was lost along the way, but this old juxtaposition of the small and large was to eventually return. David and indeed Goliath had been forgotten about, but not the coming-together of characters with strange heads and with different heights and stature. Enter, therefore, the bigheads.

The caparrots are a comparatively recent innovation. In Palma in 1903 the town hall organised two giants for the Corpus Christi procession (the previous giants had been banned in 1780). These were the Catholic Kings - Isabel and Ferdinand - who were rapidly replaced, the following year, by the farmers Tofol and Bet Maria. On both occasions there were also bigheads. The caparrot was a complement to the giants, and that remains the case today.

In fact, there had been caparrots before this, though the actual evidence isn't great. It is known, however, that dwarf-like characters formed part of the island's folk tale tradition, as did giants. They were mythical protectors of the villages, and by the end of the nineteenth century they were being made real.

It wasn't, however, until 1953 that the bigheads took the giant leap forward. Sa Pobla, as is so often the case with Mallorca's traditional culture, included caparrots in the fiestas for Sant Antoni in that year. Nowadays they are all over the island - some satirical, some reflecting that folk tale tradition: oddball characters like the Mad Miller of Alcudia's S'Estol Rei en Jaume bighead troupe.

Tucked away amidst this bighead and giant tradition is another strange character. As far as I'm aware, it is unique to Manacor and one particular part of the town when it celebrates its fiestas for Sant Domingo in May. This is the Alicorn, which can refer to both unicorn and a stupid man. The Alicorn of Manacor is a religious person with a head like a unicorn. He, the Alicorn, is a story for another day. Meanwhile, there are the bigheads to be seen, a weird mix of the story of David and Goliath, local myth and local satire.

*Photo: The Mad Miller of Alcudia.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 August 2017

Morning high (6.30am): 19.5C
Forecast high: 30C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 24 August - Sun, 31C; 25 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 26 August - Sun, cloud, 30C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 3 backing East towards midday.

More of the same - sun, in other words.

Evening update (19.30): High of 32.9C.

The Politics Of "The"

The James the Third Foundation of the Balearic Islands in Castellano is La Fundación Jaime III de las Islas Baleares. But Castellano really won't do. Nor, to be frank, will English. How about, therefore, La Fundació Jaume III de les Illes Balears? Even worse; much worse in fact. It should be Sa Fundació Jaume III de ses Illes Balears. Which is what it is. Can you spot the difference?

Of the two latter usages, one is Catalan and the other isn't. It is Mallorquí. On such small detail are great arguments based. Whole societies and cultures revolve around the smallest of detail and words. In English we have a small word that generates no debate or discussion. The is the. The definite article is definitely the. Across the Catalan-Mallorquí divide there is no such definitiveness. The definite article is different.

Ultimately it is all to do with Latin. Without getting technical, separate or divergent linguistic development resulted in the "salat" article in Mallorquí - "sa" for the feminine form of the singular the and "ses" for the feminine plural. The use of the definite article is one of the more strikingly obvious differences between Mallorquí and Catalan, but it is far from being the only difference. There are at least 2,700 others. The foundation has an automatic translator system for Castellano into Mallorquí. This substitutes some 2,700 "continental Catalan" words for the genuine articles (sic) that are used in Mallorca. There are also hundreds of phrases.

The foundation takes its name from the last independent King of Mallorca, who died in combat in seeking to preserve his sovereignty. This happened an awfully long time ago - 1349 to be precise. Nowadays, Jaume III is the symbol for the foundation's mission, which is to dignify Mallorquí (and the languages of the other Balearic Islands as well).

Ah but, are they languages? The foundation pinpoints a time when Mallorquí was effectively relegated to dialect status: the establishment of regional autonomous government in 1983 and the adoption of Catalan as a co-official language. This is a somewhat contentious proposition. There are many of course who will argue that Mallorquí was always a dialect and still is. But the act of making Catalan official, the foundation argues, has led to Mallorquí being considered in a pejorative sense, as a form of patois.

Language or dialect is not an argument I have any wish to enter. Many are the philologists who have compiled worthy tomes on the distinction: it's for them to chew the fat. Let's just say that there are the obvious differences between Catalan and Mallorquí. But let's also say that there are great chunks of politics in the argument.

If one could just strip away the philological and political arguments for one moment, it seems - to me at any rate - perfectly reasonable and justifiable to defend Mallorquí (salat article and all). Be it language or dialect, this corresponds with culture and vice versa. In combination, language (dialect) and culture equate to identity, the roots of a society.

The problem is that politics, as much if not more than linguistics, intrude into the debate and totally dominate it. An article by Manel Soler Cases in "El Temps" last week took great issue with the foundation. Its title was "the ambiguous game of identity". Soler, in a nutshell, accused the foundation of being nothing but a politically motivated entity that it is anti-Catalanist. He explored the linguistic issue in depth, but then one has to ask how much he is influenced by politics - that of a pro-Catalanist nature.

The foundation has just drawn attention to a survey of linguistic uses in the Balearics that was conducted by the government in 2014. This discovered that only 31% of the population consider Catalan to be descriptive of their language. A further finding was that only 20% of young people (aged 15-29) predominantly speak Catalan. The foundation concluded that this was evidence of the "absolute failure of Catalan as a language of integration".

It is perhaps too simple to reduce the political argument to one of right versus left, but in general terms, there is a right-wing stance that favours the local languages, such as Mallorquí. On the left, a favouring of Catalan, at its most ambitious, involves the concept of pan-Catalanism and the Catalan Lands. When José Ramón Bauzá was president (a right-wing PP government), the IB3 broadcaster was made to use the salat article. There was a fair old stink; the policy has since been reversed.

When Bauzá stood again as leader of the PP, both he and the winning candidate, Biel Company, told the foundation that they were committed to teaching that uses Mallorquí. Company is not Bauzá though. But the very fact that he was asked thoroughly reveals the political nature of the argument.

I wonder if Jaume III used "sa".

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 August 2017

Morning high (6.15am): 18.4C
Forecast high: 30C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 23 August - Sun, 30C; 24 August - Sun, 32C; 25 August - Sun, 32C

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

All very settled, fine and clear skies.

Evening update (21.30): High of 32.1C.

Tourism Unity In The Face Of Terrorism

Nice is the fifth most populous city in France. It has the third busiest airport: Paris has the two busiest. Palma is the eighth most populous city in Spain. It has the third busiest airport: Madrid and Barcelona are the two busiest.

On Bastille Day last year, as if you need reminding, a lorry was driven into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Eighty-six people lost their lives. In the immediate aftermath of this terrorist attack, the number of visitors went down, as well you might have expected them to have done. But they started to come back, just as they started to return to Paris. By April of this year, French tourism in general was rebounding. France remains the world's top tourist destination.

Tourism is remarkably resilient. The Mediterranean countries affected by terrorism are showing signs of recovery, and they are ones for which there may be general perceptions that they are less inherently safe than, say, France or Spain. Given such perceptions, terrorism in Spain, one feels, will not have a major impact. Even in Nice, although the number of tourists fell, the promenade was back to its bustling self within a matter of days: Helen Welford, writing in the New Statesman, who spends part of the year in Nice, reported this to have been the case.

Palma, because of the population and the airport, bears some similarity with Nice. One thing it doesn't share is a terrorist atrocity. The last time there were any terrorist incidents in Mallorca, they did affect some parts of Palma, but the greatest effect was felt in Palmanova. In 2009, two Guardia Civil officers were blown up by a bomb planted on their patrol vehicle. The bombs that subsequently went off in Palma had negligible impact.

These were the work of ETA, a very different type of terrorist threat to the one posed by so-called jihadists. After those bombs went off, the travel editor of The Sun crassly opined that they signalled some form of end to tourism. When terrorism occurs, cool heads are needed; not hysterical over-reaction. The effect on tourism was more or less non-existent. Tourists themselves tended to react with resignation: the sort of the thing that could happen anywhere. Quite, but a bomb directed at the Guardia Civil isn't the same as a lorry ploughing into people on a crowded promenade.

Inevitably, the Barcelona attack has raised questions about Mallorca and its tourism. Of course it will raise questions, but questions were there before. There is no reason why Barcelona should have any impact on Mallorca. In Barcelona itself, there will be concerns, but Santi Vila, the Catalonian business minister, says there have been no cancellations or changes of plan. He may be over optimistic in this regard, but as the president of the European Tour Operators Association notes, there were very few cancellations in the UK because of terrorist incidents.

He, Tom Jenkins, accepts that some people may decide in the short term that they don't want to go to Barcelona (or indeed Spain), but he anticipates only a minor impact. He also makes the point that travellers are aware that terrorism can occur anywhere. No, it isn't the same as the ETA bombs, but the resignation and understanding are much the same.

What Barcelona will have done, though, is to undermine the reputation of safety in Spain as a whole. It is this reputation, with Mallorca very much to the fore, that has led to all the "borrowed" tourists and therefore the steep rise in tourism numbers. Any reduction in those borrowed numbers, one would suggest, will owe little or nothing to the Barcelona attack. Of greater relevance will be the recovery of other destinations and increased prices. Bizarrely enough, one sees comments on social media of anti-tourist protests being a factor. This is bizarre when set against acts of terrorism.

But these protests, and their impact, owe much to the same sort of hysterical media coverage as The Sun displayed in 2009. There needs to be some perspective, but in the pursuit of sensationalism, perspective goes out the window. Elements of the British media (and German) have long loved to try and do Mallorca down. Perhaps it should be taken as a compliment for the island's success.

The protests, however, should be considered in the context of the Barcelona attack. Considered by politicians, that is. The narratives of some, which it can be argued have helped to fuel anti-tourism sentiment, need to alter. Put into the context of terrorism, these narratives are pathetic. Saturation and massification do not kill anyone. It is more important than ever to portray a sympathetic face to tourism, not one that can appear indifferent or hostile.

Palma is similar to Nice. God forbid that it becomes any more similar.

Monday, August 21, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 August 2017

Morning high (6.40am): 19.4C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 22 August - Sun, 30C; 23 August - Sun, 30C; 24 August - Sun, 31C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 3 to 4 occasionally 5 during the morning. Swells of one metre.

Just about right. Plenty of sun, not too hot, some breeze and reasonably cool nights.

Evening update (20.00): High of 31.4C.

The Disappearing And Reappearing Rentals

The threat of hefty fines for advertising illegal rentals on websites such as Airbnb has clearly had an effect. Over the first four days following the rentals' legislation coming into force, one website - HomeAway - lost over 550 ads, 16% of the apartments in Mallorca that had been there. And the adverts are continuing to disappear.

But the websites themselves don't appear to be being especially proactive, despite the much higher fines that they could be liable for. An exception is Be Mate. It didn't have many apartments, but they have now all gone and so indeed has Mallorca. Anyone using that website won't even find the island let alone any apartments.

It could be that websites - the big ones with big pockets - will take a calculated risk. Hovering in the background is what has happened in Catalonia. Last December a court found in favour of Airbnb which had appealed a 30,000 euros fine imposed by the Catalonian government. The case revolved around the legality or otherwise of the website. The court deemed that it wasn't illegal.

A further case is in Barcelona. The town hall has fined Airbnb and HomeAway 600,000 euros each, greater than the maximum envisaged in the Balearic legislation. The outcome of appeals against these may prove to be of interest to the Balearic government - one way or the other.

The court's decision with regard to the 30,000 euros fine made reference to the difficulty of distinguishing between an accommodation service and a technological process. In terms of the latter there is no regulatory framework. The court erred on the side of prudence.

One wonders whether the Balearic government's fines of websites - as and when they are issued, which they are bound to be - will be enforceable. One thing's for sure, they will be dragged through the courts and may end up never been resolved. Where individuals are concerned, though, they will find it more difficult to challenge fines. A test case, one fancies, will happen sooner or later. And with Madrid minded to take aspects of the legislation to the Constitutional Court, legal process could well stall. To say the situation is a bit of a mess is an understatement.

In the meantime, though, it is clear that individuals have taken fright. Some are also looking to sell up or not go ahead with purchases that had been planned.

Back in Barcelona, the town hall has announced that since the start of this year it has opened 6,197 proceedings against owners of illegal rentals. The total number of sanctions, i.e. fines, is expected to be 3,473. In Barcelona the fines can be as much as 60,000 euros. In the Balearics, prior to the new legislation coming into force, there had been 600 proceedings.

Meanwhile, and in spite of "experts" having considered otherwise, there is evidence of owners shifting their flats to long-term rental. As an example, on one website - Idealista - the number rose from eight to sixty-one in the space of ten days.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 August 2017

Morning high (7.16am): 23.4C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 21 August - Sun, 29C; 22 August - Sun, 29C; 23 August - Sun, 29C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 4 to 6.

A sunny Sunday to be enjoyed. A nice evening for Havaneres songs and some fireworks in Cala San Vicente.

Evening update (19.30): Pleasant. High of 29.3C.

Barcelona: Like A Jewel In The Sun

Around five o'clock on a hot summer's afternoon it happened. Not since 2004 had such terror of this magnitude been visited upon Spanish territory. There will be no unexpected election result this time. There is no motivation to attempt to disguise the perpetrators. There is no attempt, for political purposes, to blame others; one that backfired. This time we all know. There is no disguise.

Such a beautiful horizon. Like a jewel in the sun. The horizon was shattered. The jewel turned into a corpse lying in the afternoon sun. Barcelona, now my dream is slowly coming true. Barcelona, open your doors to the world. The dream became a sudden, violent, irrational nightmare. The doors have long been open to the world. The world came, it comes and it will continue to come. But there is another world to which the doors have been opened. A world that arrives in a hired van, indiscriminate, warped and hateful.

For the politicians, there might be a dream of unity. Cast aside those thoughts of separation. Together we stand. United. Some political capital to be made out of the mayhem. For the anti-tourist agitators, their campaigning seems even more idiotic. Tourism doesn't kill cities. Vans driven at high speed kill the innocents of cities. How crass those slogans appear.

In 2004 there was the semblance of a recognisable and organisable force, even if Al-Qaeda was amorphous. There is now no recognition. So-called Islamic State will claim and does claim victory for its soldiers. But these are not soldiers. They are psychotic, aimless, corrupted destroyers for whom IS may or may not offer an assurance of identity. They form part of the new normal, the new abnormal, a curse of abnormality that has no conscience or civility. The one-time misguided romanticism of one man's freedom fighter being another man's terrorist is displaced by a nihilism. The absence of esteem, the inconsequentiality of life demand glorified suicide, be it with an explosive belt or through death by cop.

We are now appallingly used to the images of the aftermath. The flowers, the candles, the messages of defiance, the crowds of unity. We are now used to experts being hauled onto 24/7 rolling news programmes. These experts say the same things time and time again. They know everything, and they know nothing. We've heard it all, we've seen it all. The new normal.

And social media breeds yet more of what the destroyers crave. Hatred meets hatred. An entire collective is branded evil. Victory for the "soldiers" is thus assured in a different way. But their nihilism is not confined to one collective. Anders Breivik murdered 69 young fellow countrymen and countrywomen. How on Earth could anyone contemplate such a thing? It's simple if someone is deranged or has been made deranged.

The wise and calming words of politicians defend democracy, defend a way of life, defend a civilisation. They talk of defeating the enemy, one that is all too easily unrecognisable and unpredictable. With recognisable entities - ETA or the IRA - there could be some mediation, there could be some move to finality and closure. Not now. It was going to happen at some point. And on a hot summer's afternoon in Barcelona it did happen.

If God is willing, friends to the end, Viva Barcelona.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 August 2017

Morning high (6.54am): 25.3C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 20 August - Sun, cloud, 28C; 21 August - Sun, 29C; 22 August - Sun, 30C

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

A warm night and morning. Not a huge difference in temperature during the day; cooler than yesterday.

Evening update (19.45): High of 29.4C.

The Appetite For Division: Airbnb

A Bloomberg report earlier this year revealed that Airbnb expects to earn as much as 3.5 billion US dollars by 2020. This is profit before interest, tax and depreciation and is more, explained Bloomberg, than 85% of companies in the Fortune 500. It would represent a 3,400% increase in profit from 2016.

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, is said to have a net worth of 3.3 billion US dollars. For the head of a business that was only founded nine years ago, his worth and that of the company is truly staggering. If one is looking for some sort of vague comparison, the Mallorcan hotel chain Iberostar was founded in the 1980s. Its president, Miquel Fluxá, is reckoned to be worth the same as Chesky. In 1956, Gabriel Escarrer Julia started what was to become Meliá Hotels International. He is said to be worth half of this - 1.7 billion.

One isn't of course comparing like with like, but the figures nonetheless tell a story. Another figure is the net profit for Spain's largest hotel group (Meliá) in 2016. It was one hundred million euros. Airbnb's was roughly the same - in dollars - and it was earned from 1.7 billion in revenues. Meliá's revenues for 2016 grew by something over 3.5% to 1.8 billion euros. In the case of Airbnb, its revenues could be as high as 8.5 billion dollars in 2020.

Chesky is a classic of the American entrepreneurial dream. He and his co-founders stumbled across an idea - airbeds and breakfast - and realised the idea via the internet. The company spends money, quite clearly it does, and as of end-2015 it had almost 2,400 employees worldwide. But it doesn't have the physical real-estate assets (apart from some offices) that demand maintenance and investment. Its fixed costs are very low.

This is a business built on an idea, on good technology and marketing. It is a fantastic idea, but for all the worthy and grand words about the collaborative, sharing economy and the income this creates for private individuals, there's no escaping one simple fact. Its founders are making a hell of a lot of money out of not having properties.

The name Airbnb now defines an industry. There are numerous other accommodation sites, but Airbnb has become synonymous with a sector in a similar way that, for example, Xerox and Hoover came to define photocopying and vacuum cleaning. Reference to Airbnb is therefore short hand for an entire sector, for a concept - the so-called collaborative, sharing economy of accommodation.

One imagines that neither Xerox nor Hoover would ever have particularly divided opinion. Airbnb (and its industry) has. Grey area between black or white, where some Mallorcan politicians are concerned, gives a nod in the direction of a societally conscious collaborative economy by proposing that under the rentals' legislation some owners (in Palma, it would seem) might be able to rent out to visitors for a maximum of sixty days. This assumes that these flats are their habitual places of residence. Otherwise, you're either for or against, with most of the political class to the left against. With the PP on the right it's impossible to know where they stand.

But it obviously isn't only the politicians. They aren't the ones putting up Stop Airbnb stickers, even if some have been accused of fomenting anti-Airbnb attitudes. And these antagonistic attitudes might not have emerged had Airbnb remained what it was. But it didn't. The collaborative economy concept isn't now a total sham but it has gone a long way to being so. The voracious appetite for cashing in on the rentals' market dynamic, fostered to no small degree by Airbnb, and for Airbnb itself to grow in an extraordinary fashion has for the most part undermined and even destroyed what was once a fantastic idea.

There is no debating the fact that there is demand for short-term apartment rentals. There is also no debating the fact not everyone wants to stay in a hotel. The market has been like this for years. But a huge distortion has been created.

Chesky can demonstrate his consciousness and anti-Trumpism by offering to put up Muslim travellers, but one can't be blind to another fact: he has a business that is making vast profits and which needs to keep growing ballistically (with a possible stock market flotation that would make him astronomically wealthy). It is a business which disingenuously disassociates itself from any flouting of regulations. It is a mere intermediary. Yes, and look at the money rolling in and the societal divisions being created.

One doesn't exonerate the hoteliers from their at times less than wonderful labour terms and conditions, but their employment is on a wholly different level to anything that the Airbnb economy could ever hope to reach. Yes, there are very wealthy hoteliers, but so also are there very wealthy website CEOs. Surprised that some people might protest? I'm not.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 August 2017

Morning high (8.08am): 21.5C
Forecast high: 35C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 19 August - Sun, cloud, 29C; 20 August - Sun, cloud, 28C; 21 August - Sun, 29C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 increasing East 3 by midday.

Yellow alert for high temperatures especially in the interior.

Evening update (20.45): High of 35.1C.

A Red Carnation For A Tourist

As sure as night follows day, so philia follows phobia. Or should this be the other way round? Yes it should. There was a great deal of philia daylight before phobia darkness set in. And in case anyone had forgotten this, the Magic Costa Blanca hotel chain decided to remind them. On Tuesday, it staged a day of "tourismphilia".

As its name suggests, the chain concentrates on the Costa Blanca - Benidorm, for instance. This is an area of Spain, so the president of the Valencia regional government has been at pains to point out, which hasn't experienced tourismphobia. Ximo Puig, for it is he, has been singled out for praise in making noises different to certain other politicians. There is not one tourist too many in the Valencia region, Ximo has observed. Benidorm is not for phobia. In fact, bring on ever more tourists. There's a lot of all-inclusive awaiting them.

Tuesday, the public holiday for the Assumption, is an emblematic day in the Spanish tourism calendar. Thus explained Magic Costa Blanca's vice-president. It is the absolute height of summer. Around this date, the statisticians in the Balearics will have been poring over figures in preparing themselves to announce the day on which there were more people on the islands than on any other day. The Balearic politicians will hardly be able to contain themselves. How many more were there? Saturation, massification, blah, blah.

In Valencia, on the other hand, they opted - well, Magic Costa Blanca did - to focus on actions to "counteract the stupid campaign" in parts of the country. Javier García, the VP, explained that the hotel chain wanted to tell tourists that Spain wants tourists, that they will be taken care of in their pursuit of happiness. One way that they are able to is at the Middle Ages-themed Magic Robin Hood. Very Spanish, but then Spaniards know him from films.

All staff - from receptionists to waiters, cooks, cleaning staff and management - were handing out red carnations and asking for hugs. It was a way of "sealing friendship" of showing a "special feeling of respect and affection" that tourists always deserve. Friendship: a tourist, a friend as the old motto goes. The red carnation should become a symbol of tourism, García suggested, and good for him. Alcudia holds its tourism day at the end of the month. Will they be handing out red carnations?

In Ibiza, the president of the island's council who is also responsible for tourism, made reference to that old motto the other day. Messages, he said, must be positive. That campaign of friendship can't be forgotten. Vicent Torres added that there isn't tourismphobia in Ibiza. Or at least it hasn't been exhibited, thus contradicting certain elements of the media which suggest that it has been.

Torres added that in order to prevent this phobia, order needs to be created. Ibiza, it has been well reported, has a greater issue with housing than Mallorca. As an island there is only so much capacity. Mallorca is the same, just on a larger scale. The situations are somewhat different in both islands to that of Valencia. The island's president went on to explain that this order should come from a cap on the number of tourist places, and he had illegal holiday rentals firmly in mind. He made an interesting further observation, which was that way back when Gabriel Cañellas (of the Partido Popular) was president of the Balearics there was a move to limit the growth in the number of places. In the all current discussion of limits etc., the left is getting some criticism for wanting limits, when the right - the PP - first established the notion. The PP also referred to this in its 1999 tourism law. Later, when Carlos Delgado was tourism minister, he spoke about the possible need to reduce places.

Just placing limits on tourists won't make the kind of tourismphobia displayed by Arran and their chums disappear. That's because their agenda is much broader and isn't by any means focused only on tourism; they have used tourism for their own political, independence aims. But limits, to me, seem eminently logical. Can there be such a thing as too many tourists? Yes, there can be, and even tourists themselves - as shown from different surveys - think so.

In Valencia they've made a nice gesture. Torres in Ibiza is addressing the issue of tourismphobia in a sensible fashion. But much other reaction has been hysterical, and this includes Madrid. We have the secretary-of-state for tourism (for whom judgement is well and truly being reserved) confirming that the attorney-general is getting involved in pursuing anti-tourism protesters. What do they want to do? Create martyrs? Because that's exactly what the far-left, independence-agitating minor minority craves.

There's something of a summer madness. Keep calm and hand out red carnations.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 August 2017

Morning high (6.21am): 21.5C
Forecast high: 30C; UV: 9. Sun with minimal cloud
Three-day forecast: 18 August - Sun, from 32C to 36C depending on area; 19 August - Sun, cloud, 29C; 20 August - Sun, 28C

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

Evening update (20.45): High of 32C.

The Legal Hypocrisy Of Rentals

Adlai Stevenson was a great of American politics. He was the US ambassador to the UN for five years. His intellect and reasoning wouldn't go amiss in today's America.

That's by the by. Stevenson provided many a quote. One was: "A hypocrite is the kind of person who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation." Never let it be said that there isn't hypocrisy in politics. There's a great deal of it in Spain. Madrid is considering the chopping down of legislation designed in part to conserve but also to preserve - a society's well-being. If it does so, then it will speak of conservation: the status quo.

The additional hypocrisy is manifest. The Partido Popular has for years sought to prevent any liberalisation of the holiday rentals' market. It refused to do so in the Balearics. It has refused to do so elsewhere. The PP of national government in effect washed its hands of the looming boom in rentals by delegating legislation to the regional governments. A regional government, the Balearic government, has legislated. Now the PP is playing the constitution card. Conserve the status quo. It would wish to do so because it has been wholly inadequate in managing an issue that affects the whole country.

The Balearic rentals' legislation was probably always destined to find its way to some court or other. The Aptur rentals' association has yet to make its move, but it signalled before the passing of the legislation that it would be considering a legal challenge. There were two main reasons: conflicts with national law in respect of tenancy and of the so-called horizontal property regime (which at its most simplistic refers to living in apartments).

To be fair to Madrid, it does have a duty to ensure that regional legislation does not invade the competence of the state, if the state has superior competence for a particular matter. But exercising the right to challenge regional law and to take an appeal before the Constitutional Court can appear to be influenced by political thinking and differences. Bullfighting is a clear example.

The problem, constitutionally, that the Madrid government created with rentals is that it acknowledged regions' powers. Statutes of autonomy enable regions to determine policy with regard to tourism, and Madrid made clear that it was up to the regions to come up with their own rentals' laws. There was a total lack of foresight, not least because the government failed to modify its laws that could facilitate those of the regions. The Balearic government has asked Madrid to reform the tenancy act and to establish the principle of a minimum let. Madrid has vacillated and now seems stuck in neutral. Tourism chiefs - the minister and the secretary-of-state - have appeared to be working from different scripts. One says there won't be reform; the other says she'll be looking into it.

Madrid, interestingly, hasn't cited the two laws that Aptur has. It has referred to the law on the internal market, i.e. a nod in the direction of Brussels. While its potential appeal to the Constitutional Court has to do with specific articles in the Balearic legislation, it is this reference which hints that the court may - if it is asked to make a ruling - suspend the whole legislation. It would then have five months to decide whether or not to make the suspension permanent.

These legal niceties aside, one comes back to the apparent hypocrisy. The PP would be adopting a stance that it has long fought to avoid. The Balearic legislation, it could be argued, is over restrictive while at the same time hanging out something of a carrot of licences to come. But in principle it isn't so different to what the PP established under law.

The PP were accused - rightly enough - of favouring friends in the hotel industry. They are now lobbying Madrid to get a grip and establish some form of coherent national policy and law on rentals; just as the regions are also. The government has to take account of social developments - the saturation and now the protests. If it's in any doubt as to what is to blame for saturation, then it can ask Gabriel Escarrer of Meliá. Aptur may claim that rentals are not to blame for saturation, but it's difficult to disagree with Escarrer when he says that they are.

We now have the leader of the PP in the Balearics, Biel Company, saying that his party is open to a review of its stance on holiday rentals. Without giving an idea what this might mean, he has at least acknowledged market dynamics. The Bauzá government, of which he was a member, failed completely in recognising the realities.

Meantime, Madrid seems intent on conserving something to which the PP has been antipathetic. Yes there are market realities, but so there are also social realities.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 August 2017

Morning high (7.10am): 22.5C
Forecast high: 31C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 17 August - Sun, 30C; 18 August - Sun, 31C; 19 August - Sun, cloud, 30C

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

Big day today for Sant Roc, aka and variously Saint Rock, the closest fiery manifestations of whom are in Alaro and Cala Ratjada. Pretty hot in other ways as well today.

Evening update (20.15): High of 33.6C.

The 40-Year-Old Prediction Of Anti-Tourism

George Doxey may not be well known but he is important: where tourism is concerned, that is. Doxey was responsible for devising something that came to be known as Irridex. This might sound like treatment for mosquito bites or liquid for cleaning the loo, but it was an index - the irritation index. Forty-two years ago, George Doxey modelled the rise and fall in a society's affiliation with and affection for tourism. His model is probably only now truly being put to the test.

Think what it was like in 1975. Mallorca already had mass tourism, but it wasn't anything like on the scale it now is. Figures from the time show that in the Balearics as a whole there were around 3.6 million tourists per annum. There were 223,000 hotel places. Mallorca had the lion's share of both. By 2016, the number of tourists for the Balearics was up to more than 13 million. In Mallorca alone, the number of hotel places was around the 300,000 mark. The government wants to cap the total of all places in Mallorca at something over 435,000.

The mass has therefore advanced significantly since the time that Doxey was compiling his index. Also in 1975 there were continuing concerns about a downturn. The effect of the 1973 oil crisis took a few years to reverse. Mass had, for the time being, peaked or was being lowered. It was the year that Franco died. While there had been plenty of comment about and worthy research into the harmful impact of "Balearisation", this was not comment of the streets. Two years later, awareness took to the streets for the first time. Democracy had ushered in protest against the voracity of development, and not just for tourism. The Dragonera demos were staged.

Regardless of this nascent protest, the oil crisis had exercised minds. It disrupted the progression that George Doxey had set out. His was a four-stage model of societal attitudes towards tourism development. By 1975 Mallorca was certainly no longer at stage one - euphoria created by the anticipation of tourism benefits and from meaningful contact with tourists on a grander scale than had been the case prior to the "boom" of the sixties. It was probably somewhere between stages two and three. The second step is apathy, with tourism viewed as a source of income and investment. The third is annoyance - misgivings about the tourism industry because of increasing numbers, development and high levels of foreign investment.

Attitudes were modified because of the realisation of the harmful impact of recession on what by then had become the island's principal industry. Such modified attitudes, it can be argued, have prevailed for years. They would certainly have been around during the economic crisis that took hold in 2008.

Now, however, one can witness the presence of Doxey's fourth and final stage. Antagonism is defined as irritations with tourism being expressed verbally and physically. Politeness gives way to this antagonism. Tourists are seen as the cause of the problem. How prophetic Doxey had been.

There is another model, one that is far better known than Doxey's. It deals with the economics of tourism. Richard W. Butler produced his model five years after Doxey had come up with his. It was essentially a variation on the product life cycle model that business was already familiar with. Butler's model can be combined with Doxey's. The fourth stage of antagonism coincides with Butler's fifth stage of stagnation and potential decline. Implicit to Butler's stagnation are the ideas that tourist numbers have reached their peak, that capacity has in fact been exceeded, that tourism creates problems for the environment and society (and possibly also for the economy), that tourist resorts engender a sense of divorce from their realities - residents feel alienated, therefore.

None of this is earth-shattering insofar as Butler (Doxey less so) is tourism studies 101. Anyone who has ever taken a tourism course knows about Butler. Anyone in tourism industry management knows about him. Anyone in tourism government should know about him. The caveat of "should" is key. Butler and Doxey require the strategic management of tourism. Governments have singularly failed to do this. All the theory was established decades ago. Only now are governments waking up to the practical consequences.

The economic crisis, like the oil crisis of the seventies, was a blip. As it abated and the mass of tourism grew in comparative terms like never before, Doxey's antagonism began to kick in. One can chastise the Balearic government for its handling of tourism policy, but underlying this is (or seems to be) an appreciation of both Butler and Doxey. In order to prevent decline, there needs to be rejuvenation, even if this means a downward correction in the numbers of tourists. Magalluf, it might be said, is a stuttering attempt at this. Managing antagonism, however, is a different matter altogether.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 August 2017

Morning high (7.10am): 21.8C
Forecast high: 31C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 16 August - Cloud, sun, 32C; 17 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 18 August - Sun, 34C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 3 to 4, swell of one metre.

Happy Assumption. All fine for the Can Pic duck swim and pyromusical - loads of bangs in the bay.

Evening update (19.30): Didn't go totally according to plan as there was a fair bit of cloud at times. High of 32.6C.

The Nickname Which Became A Resort

They put up a plaque in Can Picafort the other day. It was to Llorenç Fuster Quintana. Llorenç died in 1899. There was another Fuster who passed away sixteen years before: Jeroni. Both had the nickname "Picafort". I'm guessing that Llorenç must have inherited it.

The story of Jeroni is central to the story of Can Picafort. He did, after all, give it the name. While he had the nickname, his shack was seemingly known as Picafort. Something to do with the strength of mosquito bites, supposedly. And quite believably. In the nineteenth century those bites could kill. There is in fact a completely different explanation - cholera - and also more to the story of why Jeroni went to live on the uninhabited coast of Santa Margalida some time in the mid-nineteenth century (probably the 1860s).

It's normally said that he was of humble stock and couldn't afford to live in the town. Well, he was from humble stock, but it would appear that he was given a job. He was the coast watchman. He was there to look out for clandestine activity. Smuggling, in other words. And Santa Margalida was to become famous for the biggest smuggler of them all - Joan March, he of Banca March fame.

Llorenç must have been a relative because the plaque is more or less exactly where the shack once stood. Jeroni had four children and is said to have been aged 105 when he died: a remarkable age for those times. He would indeed have been of fairly advanced age when he took that watchman's job.

There were actually two shack-type houses. The other was the residence of Llorenç Dalmau. His nickname was "Barret" (hat). He lent his nickname to the Clot d'en Barret, which is in the same area. It's also near to the Mar y Paz Hotel (Apartments).

Before Can Picafort there were two estates - Son Baulo and Santa Eulalia (aka Eularia). Son Baulo, it is often overlooked, was really what came first. It was partially developed as a garden city in the 1930s. In Can Picafort there was very little development. Nowadays, Son Baulo tends to be treated as part of Can Picafort, which it is in administrative terms, but part of it went into the development of Can Picafort in the 1960s. Can Picafort was really the estate of Santa Eulalia, and some might even today refer to the beach as Playa Santa Eulalia.

The Mar y Paz sits in the area of the resort where a notional boundary lies between Can Picafort and Son Baulo. It has a notable role to play on 15 August every year. It is from the Mar y Paz where they dive in to swim after the ducks. It's a symbolic choice, given the legacy of Jeroni Fuster and Llorenç Dalmau and also because it was the Son Baulo end which gave Can Picafort the ducks' swim.

The swim, also known as the release, dates back to the 1930s. It is normally said that the ducks (real ones, which they no longer are) came from the Son Baulo torrent and were gifts of a landowner to workers who had to swim for them. Well, a different version is that they also came from a Santa Eulalia landowner. Moreover, it wasn't poor workers who were necessarily swimming for them. It was young people in general.

This discrepancy is just one way in which the tradition of the duck swim has failed to ever truly be established in totally accurate fact. There isn't even any mention of it in what is otherwise an extensive history of Santa Margalida that the town hall produced some years ago. There's no question that there was a duck swim, but there is nothing definitive either as to exactly when it started or its continuity. Did it take place every year?

This matters to an extent because of the ambitions that remain for reviving the swim with real ducks. The law is most unlikely to be changed from being able to prove one hundred years of uninterrupted use of animals in a fiesta event, but if the threshold were to be lowered - which is what some would like in Santa Margalida - there would still be a problem of verification. Very little has ever actually been documented about the swim.

But it was around in the early 1960s; that's for sure. At the start of that decade, there were 173 residents in the whole of Can Picafort (including Son Baulo). There were, however, over 300 dwellings - chalets, villas, cottages. This was somewhere which grew because of summer holiday homes, most of them owned by Mallorcans, though there was also some foreign ownership: I know a German family whose chalet dates from that time. And there were other Germans.

The duck swim was therefore the highlight of the holidays in August. It is why it still is a highlight, because of all the families who have continued to summer in Can Picafort. The ducks are now plastic, but the tradition remains in the resort that takes its name from a nickname.

* The image is of the famous poster for the 2008 fiestas. The boy wearing the Power Rangers' mask was an acknowledgement of those who had released real ducks the year before, which was the first year that ducks were prohibited. They had worn Power Rangers' masks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 August 2017

Morning high (7.10am): 17.9C
Forecast high: 30C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 15 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 16 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 17 August - Sun, 32C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East 2 to 3 increasing 4 around midday.

A fine morning and a fine day to come.

Evening update (19.45): High of 31.3C.

The Rentals' Panic

Panic. This might be one way of describing it. Despite the provisions of the holiday rentals' legislation having been known about for weeks in advance of the law's enforcement, only now is the reality kicking in.

An alternative position is that things will calm down and the government won't act in as draconian fashion as it appears to be. This attitude is wishful thinking. The Aptur holiday rentals association is under no illusion. Remove ads for short-term apartment rentals on various websites immediately. Don't even think twice.

Puerto Pollensa, as we all know, stands to be greatly affected. But so also do Alcudia and the other bay resorts. Consequently, there is a great deal of chatter on social networks dedicated to the different resorts. And some of it is highly misleading, while the "keep calm, it'll sort itself out" message only clouds the situation. Listen to Aptur, it is an association which knows exactly what it is talking about. Follow its advice; no one else's.

I'm afraid that the misleading content persists in, for example, saying that an owner will be ok if an apartment has a licence. How many more times does it need saying? There is no such thing as a licence to rent out a private apartment to tourists. There never has been and the chances of there being licences in the future are, in my opinion, fairly low.

Once the zones for new holiday rentals are determined, my guess is that there will be only a limited number of licences available for the coastal areas of the two bays. Although it hasn't stated this, the government (and Council of Mallorca) will prefer to have zones for licences away from the coasts and thereby give a boost to tourism in the island's interior. It can't state this as specific policy in law, because if it did, it would run into the same problem that emerged in the Canary Islands. The regulations there were that rentals could only be licensed a certain distance from the coasts. A court told the Canarian government that it couldn't apply this because it was a breach of competition.

So there is, I'm afraid, a great deal of uncertainty as well as panic. Meanwhile, there is evidence of one-time holiday rental apartments being re-marketed as long-term rental, which is and always has been perfectly legitimate. There is talk of apartments being offered for a minimum of a month only. This gets round the 30 days minimum period in the legislation, though how practical it might prove to be is debatable. Moreover, even with a month-long minimum rent, an apartment still couldn't be openly marketed as being "touristic". Only if a licence is issued at the end of the current twelve-month moratorium for all new holiday rentals' licences would it be possible to market the apartment in this way. And much, indeed everything, will depend on the Council's zones, which is before one gets to issues such as standards required by the tourism ministry, individual meters, communities' rights of veto, licences of only five years duration that presumably would have to go through a process of renewal. Plus, there will be the cost to register an accommodation place - 2000 euros, it would seem.

I understand that some agencies are considering taking enquiries from known customers. They would then act as intermediaries with the property-owning clients. Nothing would be advertised, but the short-term renting would continue, until, that is, the inspectors find out.

A black market would therefore flourish (if flourish is the right word). Lets wouldn't have to rely on sites like Airbnb because of portfolios of clients that have been built up. It would be a risk, but one that some may wish to take. Let's hope they don't get dobbed in by a neighbour.

The notion that many of the short-term lets will become long-term rentals is not one that "experts" in the real-estate market subscribe to. Yes, there will be some, and there already are, but one can appreciate the logic that there wouldn't be a whole load: apartments were bought for holiday let purposes. These experts believe that the main options will either be the black market or selling. A sudden flood of apartments on the market? You can probably guess what that might mean for prices.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 August 2017

Morning high (7.13am): 18.5C
Forecast high: 29C; UV: 8
Three-day forecast: 14 August - Sun, 30C; 15 August - Sun, cloud, 31C; 16 August - Sun, cloud, 32C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 increasing Northeast 3 during the morning.

Clear morning sky. Should be a mostly cloudless day.

Evening update (20.15): Very nice. High of 30C.

Pin The Tail On The Tourist

Esporles. What do we know of the place? It is home to La Granja, it has a sweets fair every October and Mick of the Council was its mayor for ten years. Since ascending to the presidential throne at the Council, Mick and his cultural vice-presidential compadre Frank (Miralles) have been bigging up the island's fiestas. They are a means for tourists to get to know the real Mallorca, the authentic Mallorca. Not, therefore, the Mallorca with roads with all-summer-long jams, with every last piece of the streets of old Palma crammed with visitors, with locals ejected from their dwellings by Airbnb, with youthful tourists leaving trails of vomit between Magalluf and Playa de Palma. No, this is the authentic Mallorca with tranquil village squares cooled by Tramuntana breezes and where visitors can engage in cultural exchange with the locals and discover the limitless joys of bread with oil and tomato and of ball de bot, little-jumping folk dancers.

Esporles does have tourists. Not huge numbers but numbers nonetheless. They are swelled by cyclists overrunning the tranquil squares in springtime and excursion trips to La Granja. The right sort of place, in general though, for the Mick'n'Frank vision of touristic cultural harmony and appreciation of the rich and long history of the Island of Calm to flourish. However.

There are two bits to Esporles: the old bit and the new bit. The latter of these, Vilanova, has had its fiestas. Jolly little affairs, they will be more of an occasion for the indigenous population of the new bit than for outsiders. Which may be as well. Each year, the fiestas use a mascot for promotion. This mascot is the Boc, a goat. The poster took the word Boc and came up with "OverBOCking". How clever. Then there was a game to be played. Was this in the style of the "jocs tradicionals" that feature so heavily in village fiestas and can allow visitors to understand the traditions of jewel races and spinning tops? Well, it depends what you mean by tradition. There is a new tradition. A new craze. Everyone seems to be playing it. And so in the new bit there was "hunt the guiri".

The guiri of the poster didn't, it has to be said, look like a typical tourist. Certainly not one along Punta Ballena. He was an Inspector Poirot type of character carrying a rolled-up beach umbrella (not that you really need a beach umbrella in Esporles). Anyway, if the guiris could be hunted down, there would be a free supper for the winner. Goodness, they know how to make their own fun in the new bit.

No, it wasn't xenophobic, which had been a criticism. It was all a spot of humour with an ironic touch, said the organising committee, that took "massification" and holiday rentals as its themes. And humorous it no doubt was. Absolutely no offence was meant or indeed caused. It was all just a variation on a "joc tradicional" that isn't necessarily one here in Mallorca. Pin the tail on the donkey, with a tourist as the substitute. Mick'n'Frank, as far as one is aware, haven't commented.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 August 2017

Morning high (6.55am): 19.8C
Forecast high: 27C; UV: 9
Three-day forecast: 13 August - Sun, 29C; 14 August - Sun, 30C; 15 August - Sun, cloud, 32C

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): East-Northeast 3 to 4. Swells of between one and two metres.

Some cloud around first thing and may be about during the day. Decent enough, though.

Evening update (20.45): High of 29.2C. Cloud, then sun, then cloud ...

Candida Of Llucmajor

In terms of land area Llucmajor is Mallorca's largest municipality. Given its size, you might think it would be responsible for one of the island's grander fiestas. But Santa Candida tends to get a bit lost amidst Moors and Christians roaring around the north of Mallorca and the mid-August bangs and wallops for Sant Roc and the Mare de Déu d'Agost. In fact, it is said that Santa Candida is a somewhat solemn affair, which isn't entirely accurate. It has its night parties like other fiestas, but it is true that the religious aspect does carry rather greater weight than others.

This is due to Santa Candida herself, about whom there is - not untypically for saints - a spot of confusion. Being an August fiesta, this isn't one for Santa Candida María de Jesús, whose feast day is tomorrow. That Candida is a modern saint, who died on 9 August 1912 and was canonised in 2010. The Llucmajor Candida is very much older and her story is, in some ways, similar to that of the patron of neighbouring Palma, for whom there are altogether more riotous fiestas in January.

Palma's Sant Sebastià was, like many other saints, a victim of the Emperor Diocletian, whose contribution to Christian genocide outstripped more or less all the other pre-Christian emperors. Candida similarly fell foul of Diocletian. Also like Sebastian, there is a saintly relic, more than the one in fact. While Sebastian's bone supposedly brought about an end to the plague in Palma, Candida's relics are not known for having had any notably miraculous powers.

Three hundred years ago, on the day of Sant Bartomeu (Bartholomew), i.e. 24 August in 1717, the succentor of Palma Cathedral, one Josep Cardell, brought from Rome what were apparently relics of Candida. Well, there were those around who were prepared to authenticate them. Two days later, they were donated to the parish of Llucmajor, Sant Miquel (after the the archangel Saint Michael). Candida was thus installed, along with her relics, as the town's co-patron; Miquel is the other, and the original primitive church named after him dates back to 1235.

So the story goes, Candida was married to Arteme (or Artemis). He was a jailer in Rome. The couple had a daughter, Paulina, who was apparently possessed by demons. An exorcist, called Peter, was called in. His main advice to Artemis was to worship Christ as God. This would help to drive out the devil in Paulina. And this, more or less, is what is meant to have happened. Paulina, no longer possessed, joined her parents in converting to Christianity, an act that was to seal their fate.

A magistrate, acting under persecutory imperial orders, demanded that Artemis hand over a whole load of prisoners who had converted to Christianity and had been allowed to escape. Artemis didn't. Which was just one mistake, where the magistrate was concerned. And he, the magistrate, was doubly infuriated by the fact that Peter avoided an awful fate thanks to an angel who freed him. Artemis was beheaded. Candida and Paulina were thrown into a dry well and buried alive because of heavy stones placed over the well.

This jolly tale is therefore the background to Candida's relics, to her having attained co-patronage status in Llucmajor and to the fiestas. And the fiestas shouldn't actually take place in August. Candida's day is in fact 6 June. So, what prompted the fiestas to be allocated to around the second Sunday of August? Farming is the answer, and Llucmajor even now, courtesy of its grand land area, is highly agricultural, even if it is more known for accommodating part of the resort of Arenal and the headquarters of Air Europa.

The second Sunday of August was (is) between some crucial harvests, e.g. apricots and almonds. It is not the only fiesta for which the date was governed by agricultural activity. For example, Santa Margalida's La Beata (Santa Catalina Thomàs) being on the first Sunday of September owes a great deal to historical local farming activity.

Tomorrow, Sunday (13 August), is therefore the big day for Candida. But it won't be riotous. There will be giants, there will be pipers, there will be ball de bot. And there will also be the dances of the cavallets cotoners. As a tradition, these dancers faded away before being revived in 2000. They are in fact one of the very oldest of Mallorca's folk-dance traditions: Llucmajor's cavallets rival Arta's and Palma's in this regard. They were a Franciscan import from Barcelona in the mid-fifteenth century, and their name is derived from the Guild of Cottonmakers in Barcelona, to which ownership of that city's cavallets was ceded in 1437.

Santa Candida - fairly solemn but not overly, and certainly highly traditional.

* Photo of the cavallets cotoners from Viquipèdia.