Eight o´clock in the morning on an average Tuesday this June in the centre of Magaluf: a group of hardly-dressed girls walks across a zebra crossing, cackling and giggling. Two of them hold a half-empty bottle of vodka. One hundred yards ahead two young fellows are walking on the pavement – they are stark-naked and only hold a towel in their hands! In front of them dangle certain body parts normally only visible in intimate moments. Other pedestrians walking by don´t care at all about the impudent young men. Everybody seems indifferent. Looking high up at the cheap hotels´ balconies one spots more naked youngsters leaning dangerously over the balustrade.
This is a place on the island that´s got nothing to do with “quality tourism” – a slogan willingly used in publicity by the Balearic government and tourism association IBATUR. Mallorca is Mallorca – as the mass media in the UK and Germany have liked to show it for decades – as German “Ballermann” and English “Magaluf”, the mecca of hedonism and excess.
Summer 2008 came late to Mallorca because of the rainy weather and many hotels had low bookings between April and the beginning of June. All at once, they were much sought-after again; all these graduating classes, carousers and skittles clubs on the German side, and the crazily-dressed hedonistic gangs of “hen night” and “stag party” revelers from Britain. In England and Germany there were more bargain offers made by travel agencies than in previous years. The number of wild party tourists “increased considerably”, as Fernando Pareja confirms. He´s a manager of local entertainment company “Grupo Cursach”, which runs famous nightclubs like “Tito´s”, “MegaPark” and “BCM Planet Dance”.
Pareja thinks that the short-term party boom is “exclusively positive”, because it was possible to “lengthen the summer season, which is usually much too short, with ‘hen and stag’ groups in spring”. So local economy gets a stimulus in problematic times. Magaluf is a marked-off territory where alcohol excesses, nudism and other encroachments simply are part of the game. Pareja: “Those who’re looking for calm should go some 500 yards further to Palmanova.” Jack Weston, a travel agency owner in Magaluf argues in the same way: “Magaluf has always been like this. In spring 2008 more party people came and so there were more problems. They stay three or four days and don’t want to waste a minute.”
Some residents are fed up with all this, as a critical comment written by Frank Leavers in the “Majorca Daily Bulletin” (May, 30th) proves. Author Leavers, who also writes for abcMallorca, sickens at the “invasion of noisy primitive crowds” leaving waste, broken bottles, “their urine and vomit” all over the place. A friend had told him that those things are becoming worse in springtime.
“We don´t want them here, lumbering over our beautiful island and dangerously deteriorating Mallorca´s image.” It had taken years of effort to transform the island into a “clean and desirable dream destination”. Besides, bad behaviour begins as early as at the stags´ departure airports and bothers other passengers during the flights.
The “Bulletin” received lots of e-mails and letters to the editor concerning this article. Almost all of the British full-time and part-time residents agreed with Leavers and thanked him for taking a firm stand.
Mallorca has also returned to its origins at good old Playa de Palma. In the “German zone” Arenal drinking bouts were rampant from April to June: it´s the annual period of cheap travel offers for tourism groups. “In spring and autumn the situation is always worse because so many young people come, breaking the limits”, a German medical assistant explains. Many German doctors situated at the “Playa” avoid talking to the media about the severe issue, because the rowdies are important clients. One of them told abc, that it´s “business as usual in the end”. There are few problems with drug abuse but more cases of physical injuries following alcohol abuse. Furthermore the security staff of bars and discotheques is said to be very aggressive and violent if there are conflicts during the night.
The “Ballermann” is losing ground as a party zone, though, because of the high price policy and the strict music switch-off time regulations. “The atmosphere is much more extreme in Magaluf”, one physician remarks. Once he felt a drunk Briton´s knife at his neck after insisting on cash payment following treatment.
All together, these symptoms indicate that things get harder in Mallorca when there´s an economic slowdown. The average real estate market is tumbling into crisis. A strong example of this is the bankruptcy of local man Vincenç Grande. He recently put his first division football club Real Mallorca up for sale. His property development company “Drac” is said to have reached overdrafts amounting to 600 million euros!
Tourism business will compensate for the estate sector´s loss. It´s obvious how brutal this business can be, when two- and three-star hotels´ occupancy has to be assured. The call for cultural tourists, golf players and luxury resorts must wait. The island´s economy is in need of the big crowds, even if they´re rowdy and badly-behaved. Mallorca´s tourism managers have to compete for the party tourists with Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. In Amsterdam and Prague, for example, local authorities are starting campaigns now to stop the rowdy-invasion destroying the historic cities´ reputation.
Mallorcans have learned to ignore and endure over the years. The tills must keep on ringing. Every stag and every hen spends an average of 40 euros a day in Magaluf on alcohol and fun – at the “Ballermann” it´s only 15 euros. England has won this game against Germany.
We don´t want to be fuddy-duddy. Fun is not banned. But the prospect is alarming. Mallorca can relapse into past decades of pure booze and redneck tourism. The entrepreneurial patterns have to change to maintain the island´s status as a first class destination for the Jet Set. Let´s hope that the real estate sector recovers – and hopefully the summers of 2009 and 2010 will arrive earlier than this year. Sunshine is the best guarantee to attract affluent and desirable tourists. Until then the motto will be “One more beer, please!” in Arenal and Magaluf.