Friday, September 08, 2017

Pins On A Map: Interior Tourism

There is, you are doubtless aware, another Mallorca. You may even live in this parallel island universe, one - at this time of the year and at most other times - that moves according to the demands of the primary sector. This is tranquil rural Mallorca: small villages, some very small, enjoying the late-summer figs and thinking about autumnal mushrooms. Somewhere like Ariany, a place that no one goes to with the exception of some cyclists (they're creating some "routes" in the anticipation of more) and which has one of the island's more attractive parish churches - Senyora de Atocha.

A village like Ariany doesn't really concern itself unduly with seasonality: not of a tourism variety anyway. Tourism has skirted around Ariany, tourism has missed it almost entirely and deposited itself where seasonality is agonised over and has been ever since they invented tourism: well, modern-day tourism, that is, as in from the days of the jet plane and the swinging sixties. What do they - the population of some 850 - do with themselves? Are they still, thirty-five years after the event, compiling worthy epistles celebrating municipal independence from Petra? Time moves slowly in a place like Ariany.

Somewhere in the zoning war room of the Council of Mallorca they've probably stuck a pin in Ariany. The island has been remade in the form of a Monopoly board. The houses and hotels are being manoeuvred across this board of Mallorca plain, Mallorca coast, Mallorca mountain. Ariany is touristic Old Kent Road. What fate awaits it as it passes Go. No five-star Mayfair or Park Lane, no red hotel blocks for Ariany, but some green holiday rental blocks of Northumberland Avenue (the actual green of Oxford Street would be far too ambitious). Ariany will probably be content with some green blocks. Why wouldn't it be? But not so many. Otherwise they might have to start worrying about seasonality. All these years - thirty-five since independence at least - and it didn't matter. Now it might do.

Mallorca isn't alone in having a parallel universe. There are many others dotted across Spain. Away from the Costas (Sol, Brava, etc.) there is beach tourism: the Basque Country (where they've been agitating a tad about saturation), Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. All these regions have their interior tourism. The regions with no coastline only have interior tourism. They possess fine cities but only Madrid can have Madrid.

Interior tourism in Mallorca is a comparatively recent invention. Founded on agrotourism and lonely country villas, it is potentially on the point of undergoing a revolution. If, that is, the Council places most of its zoning pins in places like Ariany. Tourism wealth redistribution means geographical diversification as much as it does improved pay for tourism sector workers. Ariany (and I am only using it as an example) is a microcosm - a very microcosm - of mainland interior tourism. That has existed as long as the sun and beach boom. Indeed the Franco regime was keen that there should be wealth distribution from tourism. Or perhaps it had yet to acknowledge the coastal pots of gold it was sitting on when, in 1961, a poster was produced that extolled the virtues of a "Castilian landscape" - a blue sky over a wheat field.

This style of tourism was never as organised as the French gîte system, a holiday rentals' mechanism aimed at boosting rural economies and which grew handsomely without any need of intervention from Airbnb. Nevertheless, it became established in an uncoordinated fashion, aided - as a reference point - by the state-owned parador old piles that were converted into luxury hotels.

The secretary of state for tourism, Matilde Asián, recently said that regions in the interior, such as Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura, need opportunities from tourism and intimated that they were alternatives to issues of "massification" on the Costas or in the Balearics. It seemed a somewhat limp proposal. Interior tourism can only ever be a niche; it is not tourism to provide the Spanish economy with great riches.

Interior tourism has performed well enough this summer. In fact it is said to have been an excellent summer. Then, however, came the unemployment figures. Very abruptly, in the latter part of August, jobs were being lost in those regions which need Asián's opportunities. They will, with the exception of regions with skiing, fall quiet and inactive for many a long month.

Unless it is a great city like Madrid, interior tourism suffers from seasonality in an even more acute manner than the coasts. It has been an issue grappled with for years. Hence there are specific products, such as wine or religious routes, to try and bolster it. In Ariany they are perhaps already laying the foundations for dealing with something they haven't had to worry about previously. The cycling routes are seasonal diversification for something as yet only in the making. There is more to interior tourism than sticking a pin on a map.

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