“We cannot continue to measure tourism seasons just by the millions of tourists and stays per year. Nor should we believe that these indicators must grow year after year. We have to change our outlook. Quantity and short-term profitability, thanks to volume, will not mark the success of our future seasons. It will instead be medium-term competitiveness linked to the quality of the tourism offer and to service as well as to environmental, economic and social sustainability.”
Thus spake the mayor of Calvia a couple of weeks ago. On the occasion of the opening of the Santa Ponsa fiestas, Alfonso Rodríguez stated that the suitability of the current tourism business model needs to be questioned, and urgently so.
It was symbolic, as indeed it is each year. Commemorating the landing of Jaume I and thus the prelude to the conquest of Mallorca and to the conversion of the island to Christianity with a Catalan tongue, the Rei en Jaume fiestas ooze history. They are also, in geographical terms, the closest that the mayor and other speakers over the years have been able to get to a very different symbol – Magalluf.
If Magalluf (more so than Santa Ponsa) provides a shorthand for what the mayor had to say, then the fiestas offer the platform to invoke and assert a heritage now 792 years old. Oh, Mallorca, whatever happened to that paradise of mediaeval slaughter? Well, we know what happened. They decided, something over 100 years ago, that the “industry of the foreigners” was the future. And in the second half of the twentieth century, paradise succumbed to the construction industry.
This was to such an extent that in 1969 (note the year) a famous article discussed ‘The Invaded Island’. Seven hundred and forty years on from Jaume’s invasion, another one was being assessed. Not just assessed. Berated and torn into in a manner which probably didn’t curry great favour at Franco’s ministry of information and tourism.
Eliseo Bayo examined the problems generated in Mallorca by the enormous influx of foreign tourists – “our incomparable island, whose placid and far-away tranquillity has been replaced by a fast-paced life, promoting both riches and vicissitudes”.
The urgency with which Mayor Rodríguez was saying the tourism model’s suitability needs to be addressed is that urgent that others have been making the same point for years. The stage for the Santa Ponsa fiestas is one from which great pronouncements of the repetitiously obvious can be made, with one very substantial omission. What does or should this changed model look like?
Politicians from the left are not unique in craving a change. The right have been wishing the same, as have the hoteliers. But with the left, I have always felt, there is an ideological conflict with advocating a tourism that is ultimately (or so it can seem) about elitism. Go back to the early years of the last century, and elitism was exactly what the island’s entrepreneurs had in mind. It couldn’t have been anything else, as only the wealthy had the money and, as importantly, the time to take vacations. There was no such thing as paid holidays for the working or middle classes.
Elitism is where (eventually) I fear this is all going, and I do fear this, as I don’t believe in it. Nor, one might be surprised to learn, do certain spokespeople from the ecologist lobby. At the Santa Ponsa fiestas six years ago, Macià Blázquez, a geography professor at the University of the Balearic Islands and a one-time president of environmentalists GOB, stated that Magalluf was being “demonised”, that the changing model was a “beach club project” and that working-class tourism was being removed and replaced by an “elitist” model.
Blázquez is an advocate of tourism degrowth (Alfonso Rodríguez was basically supporting this), but – as he said in an interview a few days ago – this shouldn’t be accompanied by a form of segregation. Looking down on working-class tourists because they don’t spend huge amounts of money is an “injustice”.
Tourism should retain the objective of having a broad social base, and in this regard he was alluding indirectly to the time when pioneers like Vladimir Raitz believed in the rights of everyone to enjoy a foreign holiday and when the 1938 Holiday Pay Act finally began to have some meaning in a post-war Britain.
We have of course advanced a long way from the first package holidays of the 1950s and from what Eliseo Bayo had to say in 1969 when he was scandalised by the fact that Mallorca had been cheapened to such an extent that tourists were getting by with spending no more than the equivalent of thirty euros. But is a tourism that is like a greatly upgraded model of what existed in the early twentieth century what we really want?
There’s more to be said … .