Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Return To 2010?

Can I take you back to the summer of 2010? It was a World Cup year. Spain won. England didn't. On the streets the locals (Mallorcans or indeed Spaniards) went wild. The English, still smarting from the 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Germans and from the Frank Lampard goal which was but wasn't, had by and large thrown their lot in with the natives. Residents and tourists alike; they were all suddenly Spanish (Mallorcan).

It is worth recalling that summer 2010 was slap-bang in the period of economic crisis. In May of that year I wrote a piece which predicted the end of tourism life in Mallorca. Some had suggested that it would be on 24 September. I opted for 24 July. Why was I so confident? Because everywhere was doom-laden. The end was nigh; two months left, I concluded.

As things were to turn out, 24 July passed without the final day of tourism judgement releasing hellfire and damnation. The locals were still recovering from their 11 July World Cup hangover, but otherwise tourism life had survived this summer apocalypse. Survived, but only just. At the start of the following month, the tourism ministry announced that it was rolling out an emergency plan. It was one aimed in particular at the British. What was the emergency? The number of tourists, that was what. Over the first half of the year British tourism had slumped by eleven per cent. The ministry's emergency entailed forking out 1.5 million euros on getting Brits to book last minute and into October.

The Brits weren't the only ones to have been affected by crisis. But other core tourism markets - the Germans and Scandinavians - hadn't felt the impact anything like as much. Those other markets also didn't have to contend with a highly unattractive pound-to-euro exchange rate. As a consequence, hoteliers were beginning to rethink things. The rethinking was reflected a year or more later. Meliá unveiled the grand plan for Magalluf's transformation, an aspect of which was to be a lower reliance on the Brits and attempts to attract other markets, such as the Germans and Scandinavians.

That summer really was rather difficult. Thomas Cook was forced to issue a profits' warning. It wasn't the only tour operator to feel the pinch. The last-minute bookings emergency campaign that the ministry had in mind was assisted by offers of up to 60% off in September. Even in August you could get 40% off. Certain hotel associations representing resort areas were saying that as much as 30% was unsold in July and August.

If the summer eventually proved not to have marked an end, it had marked a beginning. It was that shift away from a British dependence. All those Brits who had temporarily become Spaniards and had cheered when Andres Iniesta scored with four minutes of extra time left were not to find that their loyalty was being totally unappreciated; just that loyalty was not being taken for granted.

But 2010 was forgotten as crisis eased, geopolitics intervened and there was no more need for hotels to have to close by early September (which happened that year). And so our attention now turns to 2018 and what, where some are concerned, will be another rather difficult summer but for very different reasons. Yet there are predictions of a further record year. How can this be, given tourist tax doubling, higher prices, bad exchange rate (where the Brits are concerned, if not others)?

The record is being forecast because of the length of the season. Building work is going to have to be completed very punctually, as hotels in the main resort areas - Playa de Palma, parts of Calvia, Alcudia - are planning on opening at the start of March, even though the Easter week isn't until the end of the month. The eight-month season, at least in some cases, is with us. Will there need to be a late-summer campaign as there was in 2010? It doesn't look like it, besides which the current government is not one for doing any promotion of a summer variety.

From a British perspective, there will be voices that pooh-pooh the possibility of another record year. True, not all visitors from other countries will be enamoured of a doubling of the tourist tax, but 2018 doesn't appear to be shaping up like a repeat of 2010. And even for the British, their economy, despite Brexit, isn't in the state it was eight years ago. More than anything it is the domestic economy which impacts on consumer decisions to take holidays or not.

Each year we have the same type of debate about tourism - good or bad seasons. Even if 2018 isn't a record and numbers do fall, it will really only be a downward correction on what have been two or three extraordinary years.

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