The 2016 summer season in Mallorca was the busiest on record and, according to major tour operators and hoteliers, 2017 looks set to be even busier. By March this year several hotels had virtually sold out for high season and British and German tour operators were racing to snap up any beds that were still available.
On the face of it, a bumper tourist season would appear to be just what Mallorca needs to shake off the last traces of the economic crisis and move into a more prosperous future. But is a filling the island to maximum capacity really the best way forward? Based on the confirmed flights landing in Mallorca this year, airport authorities calculate that the island will receive around 15 million visitors. That’s two million more than last year – and more than 14 times the permanent population of the island.
This massive influx of tourists may be good for the economy, but it doesn’t come without a cost. Anyone who has experienced peak season in Mallorca is familiar with the scenario: long queues, crowded beaches, heavy traffic, and restaurants that are fully booked for weeks in advance.
But when visitors arrive in the numbers they did last year, it results in more than overcrowding. It puts the infrastructure and services under tremendous strain. By August last year, it was impossible to buy a simple fan because every shop on the island had run out of stock.
When a few drops of rain fell in high season, tourists left the beaches in droves and flocked to Palma to shop and sightsee. They arrived in such numbers that the streets in the city centre became gridlocked, every car park was full, and cash points ran out of cash completely. The system was literally collapsing under the weight of so many people – and with greater numbers predicted to visit this year, the problems could become more acute.
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According to the councillor for tourism, trade and labour, Juana María Adrover, the town council is well prepared for the influx of visitors and additional services have been laid on to ensure all systems run smoothly in peak season. “In summer Emaya reinforces operations in the city center and the Playa de Palma to ensure the city is as clean as possible,” she says,“and extra buses will be scheduled on routes through tourist areas and to the airport.”
However, it is not only the municipal services that come under pressure in summer. It is also the island’s natural resources. After a dry winter, with reservoir levels low and the desalination plant unable to operate at full capacity, the Gobern has already said that it cannot guarantee it will be able to supply the whole island with drinking water throughout the summer. Insufficient water to go around is not just an inconvenience. It’s a clear indication that there are more people on the island than it can cope with.
A certain amount of overcrowding may well be the price one pays for having a thriving tourism industry, but when systems and services start to break down, something is not right. Ultimately, it forces us to address a far more serious issue: the question of whether such a high number of tourists descending on one small island is in fact sustainable in the long term.