Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Embarrassing Lack Of Riches

Some few years ago now, I was chatting to a good friend who is in the excursions business about cultural excursions in the low season (sometimes also referred to as "the winter"). To cut a fairly long story short, there was no real mileage in the idea as it would to be too costly to arrange (by comparison with excursions in the summer), while the type of tourist who might be interested will go off on their own excursions anyway - they'll hire a car or maybe even cycle.

There was another potential drawback. While accepting that there is some fine "culture" on the island, does any of it have what might be described as a unique selling point? This chat was before the Tramuntana acquired its heritage status, and the mountains might just be said to be a USP, because of the mix of cultural influences that shaped the landscape. But where mountains and Unesco are concerned, the Tramuntana is hardly unique. There are the Dolomites, for example, a couple of parts of the Swiss Alps for others, the Meteora peaks with their monasteries in Greece for another. And then there's the rest of the globe.

How about the Talayotic culture then? Does this represent a USP? To an extent it does insofar as it was a prehistoric culture of Mallorca and Menorca. But then primitive civilisations like that of the Talayotic period existed elsewhere. They differed but they did have similar things in common, such as materials for building. There are bits of prehistoric stone all over the Iberian Peninsula.

Only since living in Mallorca have I come to appreciate the island's culture and heritage. It is rich and it is fascinating, but prior to living here I never gave it any thought. And much as I might be an advocate of what I have discovered, it's a tough call to try and assert that it outstrips cultural heritage of other parts of the Mediterranean or further afield in Europe. Everywhere has this heritage.

The numerous elements of this culture - architecture, archaeology, landscape, customs, fiestas - are to a large extent for those of us in the know. By that I mainly mean people who live here. For sure there is knowledge away from the Balearics, there are visitors who come, are inspired, and then return, but the culture does tend to be a reflection of insularity. As such, it is very important, it is something to be proud of, but it doesn't have major global resonance. Hard as attempts are made to, for instance, persuade an indifferent world that good old Ramon Llull was one of the most important figures of European mediaevalism, that world remains stubbornly more interested in the culture to be found on and close to beaches.

The insular perspective of the island's culture has bred the approach to its promotion. It is undertaken from a Mallorcan point of view and it has been under administrations that were unlike the current one with its strand of island eco-nationalism. This is understandable, of course it is, but it can create a barrier if there is to be a genuine pursuit of an appealing cultural message.

The title here - an embarrassing lack of riches - doesn't refer to any absence of cultural richness. Instead it is a statement of the approach, an indication of which is what appears to be going to happen at the Madrid Fitur tourism fair. The new tourism minister, Bel Busquets, who one fears is going to be completely out of her depth, has been saying that Fitur will all be about promoting the "successful" Better in Winter campaign and specifically cultural heritage. Success? Who says? I will say again that the only body that has had success has been Palma 365. With someone in charge who understands marketing a destination, Pedro Homar, the 365 foundation has eventually done some good. The government? No.

This evening there is apparently to be the presentation of a programme entitled “Mallorca Inspires Culture”, whatever this is. It won't be at Fitur itself; it's at the Hotel Barceló Emperatriz. Most of the presentations are at the exhibition hall. On the agenda for the other days of Fitur there are numerous seminars and what have you, certain ones among which very firmly reflect the government's tourism interests. There are panels of experts for these seminars. They come from local administrations, such as Lanzarote, Seville, Barcelona. Is there anyone from Mallorca and the Balearics? No.

But given the revolving door at the Balearic tourism ministry, this is hardly surprising. But even without the door, was the talent ever really there? It is, as I say, a very tough call selling Mallorca's culture and by extension Better in Winter. The private sector could probably make a fist of it, but the public sector? And as from April, the Council of Mallorca takes over the marketing reins. Insularity is about to get more insular.

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