Pedro Iriondo was born just 50 metres from the building that’s housed the Fomento del Turismo de Mallorca since the 1950s. His mother was Mallorcan; his father, a famous Basque Country pelota player who did military service here. When Iriondo was three, the family moved to Cuba for three years, then Mexico City, Acapulco, and Tijuana. Educated in Mexico and San Diego, he returned, aged 17, to the island he’s championed ever since.
After working for British tour operators Thomson Holidays and Clarksons, he started his company Viajes Kontiki in 1975. Fluent in four languages, he’s been president of local travel agents’ association AVIBA and the Mallorca Convention Bureau. He played an active part in the first ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) convention in 1983, others in ’93 and 2003, and – 20 years ago – made a promotional film about Mallorca.
Pedro Iriondo has great charisma and the obvious respect of the Fomento’s seven (including two freelance) staff. The Fomento’s unpaid committee comprises presidents of businesses in the various tourism sectors. “We meet to discuss tourism-related situations and come up with ideas for promoting the island,” he explains. The ‘Winter in Mallorca’ cultural programme was their initiative to stimulate winter tourism, but the current economic situation has reduced activities such as press and tour operator golf tournaments.
The Fomento’s international press department was set up 12 years ago. “I feel it’s perhaps the best promotional tool we have. We produce and send positive news to all media, but don’t overdo it. The small but effective department is really economical to run in relation to feedback, and we don’t want to lose it.” Last year, some 2,200 articles about Mallorca were published internationally as a result of its efforts.
Known as the Mallorca Tourist Board, the Fomento’s role has changed over its 105-year history and perhaps there’s some confusion about its remit, because it’s been on the receiving end of criticism that should have been directed elsewhere. For example, negotiations with airlines about winter flight schedules are handled by the Conselleria, not the Fomento. It’s a private, non-profit organisation, funded by member subscriptions, and not part of local government or responsible for implementing policy.
But it does have influence, “with the expertise of 17 top industry professionals on the board,” Iriondo says. If they need to criticise the goverment, they start by sending an appropriate letter, “or we go through the press, if we need to show our teeth.”
Although July and August saw a year-on-year increase here in room nights and incoming tourists, visitor spend didn’t reflect this.
All-inclusive holidays are widely blamed: “But it’s a popular format and without it we could lose 15-20 per cent of clients, who’d find it elsewhere. We should keep a good balance between good quality all-inclusive and non-inclusive.”
And Magaluf and the Ballermann? “The problems in these places are one of our biggest concerns. Security and safety have been advantages of Mallorca and are very important, so we’ll be taking the problems up with the government this winter.”
He recently raised the issue of Palma’s unfinished Congress Centre with Balearic President Francesc Antich: “Its appearance is ugly when coming into the city. Antich agreed it has to be finished and, if the government doesn’t find new partners, they’ll look for finance,” Iriondo reports. “It has to be done quickly to remove the uncertainty and insecurity.” Lead times for conventions are long, so a commissioning date is essential to enable advance bookings. “It’ll be one of Spain’s best convention centres – and important for the promotion of Mallorca. And the exterior, when covered in local stone, will look very different to what’s there now.”
Where are the new markets for tourists? “China is interesting. It has 40 million millionaires – almost the population of Spain!
They go to cities like London and Paris for shopping, and could come here for a stopover afterwards. This will happen one day, but we need a good budget for promotion.” As a result of Fomento communications, Mallorca has featured in China’s National Geographic magazine.
What are Iriondo’s hopes for 2011? “That the European economy will move in the right direction and give potential clients the possibility of travelling here. I think we will improve our visitor numbers. We also have to make Mallorcans aware that tourists are our clients and improve hospitality through education. Mallorcan staff are the island’s best promoters and we have a large number of non-native people servicing tourists who don’t have the same philosophy. Hospitality is our biggest asset.”
And Palma as City of Culture 2016? “I think we should go for all the possibilities. Palma has plenty of merits as a candidate and possible winner. The locals don’t see what’s on their doorstep. Go through the old streets and there’s evidence of all the civilisations that have passed through the city.”
Iriondo mentions Mallorca’s 66 bodegas: “We have to promote the island’s wines and distinctive gastronomy worldwide.” When Mallorcans travel, “we always take galletas Quely to remind us of the flavour of home.”
Would he leave Mallorca? “Having spent three-quarters of my life here, no. It’s a good way of life: there are so many things to do, day and night, culturally and otherwise – and we have a La Liga football team!” He particularly likes Sant Elm – location for 27 years of the Iriondo family apartment (he’s married with four offspring). “There are no discos or large hotels and it’s not so developed. The panorama is unchanged and waters crystal clear. With a boat you can travel in either direction and always find the right spot.”
Mallorca was historically the Mediterranean’s most important cartography centre. “They say that Christopher Columbus came from here . . . and I’m convinced.” Iriondo holds up a book which claims the 15th century navigator and explorer was born to a noble Felanitx family. “His ship’s log was written in Mallorcan/Catalan, and he named his first discovered island San Salvador – the same as our hilltop sanctuary.” He believes DNA tests will be done one day: “It would be good to prove it,” he says smiling. And then, Pedro Iriondo and the Fomento would spread the word . . .