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In the summer it's too crowded and in the winter it's deserted: Mallorca's new government wants to find ways to spread tourist numbers over the year. But their attempts have so far not been successful.
It's getting more and more crowded - be it the beaches, the hotels, the yachting harbors and the hideaway bays. This is the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca: In July alone the Balearic island counted almost 1.7 million tourists. That was 300,000 more than at the peak of the season five years ago.
With one year after another setting a new record, the new leftist government of the Balearic Islands is worried. It wants to try to make Mallorca more attractive as a winter travel destination, thus spreading the load on resources.
Many a vacationer who slowly is getting fed up with the overcrowding might be thankful to the politicians. But the hotel industry is already skeptical, prophesying that it won't succeed. Mallorca, the hoteliers say, is the place vacationers go to for the summertime sunshine and beach fun.
Regular visitors think it's too crowded
Describing current conditions, a German vacationer, Bernd Grundmann, says he and his family only spend time in their hotel at the vacation site Cala Ratjada in the evenings, and for sleeping. "It was too crowded for us at the two small beaches," he laments. His wife Sylvia describes how the couple first met at the erstwhile small fishing village 25 years ago. Now they are shocked by the mass tourism. "They should have done something a long time ago to prevent this," she says.
"The tourism numbers are extreme in the summer months," Tourism Minister Biel Barcelo of the leftist party Mes told the German news agency dpa. "Vacationers themselves feel that too many people are crowding onto the island." Figures illustrate the seasonal contrasts. In August 2014, Mallorca had more than 1.7 million visitors. In December the figure was 122,000. But how do you make high-season guests come off-season instead? One possibility is to advertise the island as a place for hiking, bicycling and other sports activities, Barcelo says, knowing full well that this is not an entirely new idea. Mallorca's restaurants, markets and village festivals can be enjoyed without summer heat. "We have to make it clear to people that the island also has lots to offer in the winter," the minister says.
Airlines and hoteliers must be won over
But there's one hitch, one on which many a tourism minister has stumbled. As long as there are no better airline connections and cheap winter tickets, the number of off-season visitors will hardly increase. "We first have to overcome these obstacles," Barcelo emphasizes. Talks will be held with airline companies. At least one British discount flier has announced plans to start flying to Mallorca in February, instead of waiting till March.
One factor in the airlines' reducing their flights in winter is the fact that in the off season, fewer hotels are open for business, a situation that the Balearic government wants to address.
But it appears that the hoteliers, already miffed by plans for a tourism tax to be introduced in the fall of 2016, won't be very cooperative. "People want sunshine and beaches," Inmaculada Benito, chief of the island's hotel industry association, told dpa. For 2016 Benito is again expecting top tourism figures. "The prospects are good," she said, adding that "We hope that the number of vacationers won't decline."
Quality rather than quantity
One person who hopes the opposite is Miquel Ángel March, mayor of Pollenca, who says an end must be put to seeking ever-higher record numbers. "We have to get away from this fixation on tourist numbers," the former head of the environmental group Gob told the German-language online newspaper Mallorca Zeitung. The tourism offerings and the number of overnight stays in hotels and apartments should not be increased any further. "Everyone is clamoring for quality tourism," he said. "But in the end, if we have only 10 million vacationers instead of 11 million, then everyone gets upset."
One measure that could help prevent a further rise in tourist numbers would be a rigorously enforced ban on renting out of private apartments. Such rentals currently are taking place in a legal grey area and are getting out of hand. Pollenca mayor March doubts a ban can be enforced. "People would do it anyway," he says. Tourism Minister Barceló stresses that the aim is only to regulate the renting of private apartments and to establish certain minimum standards.
So it won't be easy for Mallorca to get the year-in, year-out rise in tourism numbers under control. Hamburg vacationer Grundmann shows understanding. "Fewer people would really be nice, but then, who do you select?" he asks. But he might already be answering that question for himself when he says: "If it gets any more crowded here, I am going to search for another travel destination."