Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs were among the early visitors who paddled onto Mallorca’s shores – although the seeds of tourism weren’t sown until the 19th century, when Europeans began to travel abroad for pleasure. Archduke Ludwig Salvator loved Mallorca so much that he stayed; Frédéric Chopin and George Sand enjoyed it somewhat less. We all have different tastes, and that must surely be tourism’s greatest challenge.
In 1966 (when the number of visitors here first reached one million), most people came on package holidays, escaping cooler climes for Mediterranean sunshine, somewhere “foreign” but not “too foreign”. Where the air was heavy with unfamiliar aromas, but they could find chips on the menu, something vaguely resembling tea, or a favourite beer.
More recently (until the current global recession), around 9m tourists a year have come to Mallorca; tourism’s been the driving force of the island’s economy. But the heyday of the traditional sun, sea and sand package holiday ended when people began to make their travel arrangements independently. In July and August, the demand for coach excursions plummeted by 30 per cent; independent travellers don’t want the constraints of organised trips.
Mallorca seems to have successfully adapted to change. In 1989, the launch of “Agroturismo” was the birth of rural tourism, bringing a new breed of tourist for pursuits like walking, cycling, and bird watching. Staying in restored fincas and farmhouses, they discovered the “real” Mallorca. There are now more than 100 “Agroturismo” members.
In the past 10 years, “cyclotourism” was boosted by local government investment in dedicated cycling routes. In 2007, more than 87,000 cyclists saw the island from a saddle and it’s fast becoming one of Europe’s top cycling tourist destinations. It’s also a popular training venue for top athletes: some of those who cycled, swam or sailed for their country at the Beijing Olympics, trained here. And, as you’ll have read elsewhere in this issue, the island is now one of Europe’s top five golfing destinations.
A Mallorca far removed from stag-and-hen binge weekends and all-inclusive package holidays has been promoted this year in Germany, Britain and Spain, as part of the latest Balearics’ tourism media campaign, organised by Ibatur and the Consellería de Turismo, and featuring Rafael Nadal.
Despite such proactivity, summer 2009 wasn’t a good one for Mallorca. This July and August, passenger numbers through Balearic airports and sea ports were down by several percentage points, and the hotel sector’s revenue reduced by 25 per cent. Fortunately, cruise and nautical sectors fared better; the Spanish Yacht Charter Federation even reported an improvement over 2008. But the island’s car hire fleet was reduced by around 20 per cent, and rental prices soared. The recession’s bitten hard but will Mallorca’s tourism industry recover along with the economy? Are there opportunities still to be exploited?
Palma has much to offer the city short break tourist, but falls short of being a satisfying weekend destination because so much is closed from Saturday lunchtime until Monday morning.
Whilst not advocating that shops should open on Sundays (I’m personally in favour of keeping this day special), surely the retail sector could organise all-day opening on Saturdays? A few more restaurants and bars open on Sundays would also make a weekend away in Palma a more attractive prospect.
The lucrative business tourism sector of meetings and conventions – which increased by more than 50 per cent in the four years to October 2008 – will be even further boosted when the new Palma Congress Palace opens in 2011. Its capacity for up to 2,400 delegates, translates into a lot of hotel bednights.
Bettina Klos, sales and marketing manager at the Son Julia Country House Hotel near Llucmajor, doesn’t expect the mix of business and leisure guests at her hotel to change substantially “because the focus is on Palma.” Klos believes that Mallorca will generally become more attractive for meetings and incentives, particularly larger ones, because of its strengths: “Very good year-round flight connections within Europe; good weather, hotels with business facilities and technical equipment, restaurants, night life and entertainment.”
It’s a sector that Klos thinks will become increasingly important: “Especially in the low season, when a lot of individuals are no longer coming for their second or third visits of the year because of the crisis,” she says.
Mallorca could also become a top gastronomic destination. At London’s World Travel Market in November, the Balearic Islands will promote their new membership of the Spanish Association of Wine Cities. Miquel Nadal, minister for tourism, recently announced the current development of a new tourism product, combining nature, culture and gastronomy, and an official Mallorcan vineyard route is being created. This is quality tourism that will bring visitors who’ll spend money on wine, in gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels, and on the wide range of goods “Made in Mallorca”. Bring them on!
But important issues also need to be addressed. Value for money, and quality of service and facilities are key factors, in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Palma must be more welcoming for weekend visitors – not just short breakers, but also conference delegates who extend their stay to enjoy some leisure time here.
Mallorca has a wealth of assets – as those early visitors to our shores discovered – but maintaining competitive advantage in the face of changing tourism trends is imperative if the island is to be a destination for all tastes.