Tourists walking around Palma's Cathedral

Tourists walking around Palma's Cathedral.

03-08-2020ATIENZA

In 2011, the total number of tourists who came to Majorca was 8,860,221, of whom 7,664,400 were foreign tourists. In 2007, the numbers were 9,716,091 and 7,723,558 respectively.

No doubt like all of you, I can recall the dreadful sinking feeling as the financial crisis started to unfold. The subprime mortgage crisis had in fact begun to be evident in 2006, but it was during the spring and summer of 2007 that things became more serious. The Northern Rock panic in September of that year hinted at the magnitude of the crisis, and yet it was to be a full year before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

Recovery, in some respects, was quite rapid, but the effects endured, and tourism took a hit. The tourism of 2007 hadn’t been affected. In 2008, there were 9,631,054 tourists; 7,908,507 were foreign. It was 2009 when the slump occurred - 8,545,581 tourists; 7,056,044 foreign. By 2012, the total was back up over nine million (9,146,966), with 7,956,971 foreign tourists. The tourism recovery had begun. By 2018, the total was 11,947,328, with 10,435,746 foreign tourists; 2019’s numbers were much the same.
The reason for mentioning all these numbers is to make the point that the current crisis cannot be compared with the financial crisis. Comparisons are regularly made, but they are fallacious, and obviously so. There was decline, whereas now we are faced with almost total collapse.

The financial crisis is being taken as a point of reference to somehow place what is now happening in some sort of context, but I fail to see the sense in doing so. This is a situation without comparison except in the manner in which it rolls on, day after day, with more being added. This was rather like how it was with the financial crisis. Each day seemed to bring a new shock, but desperate though things got, there was always the feeling (knowledge even) that the ship would be righted through interventions in markets, in banks, and in economies. Alternative interventions are now required. The health-economic-social scenario is wholly different, and it is truly global in a way that the financial crisis was not.

Observations made by politicians, businesspeople, journalists can at times be staggering because of the statements of the obvious. Majorca’s tourism is, without doubt, facing its worst crisis. This was one such recent observation. Why even bother making it? Despite the irrelevant inclination to hold up the financial crisis as a point of reference, that crisis was of a completely different order. We all know this is the worst crisis.

Maria Frontera, president of the Majorca Hoteliers Federation, said the other day that “we have never worked with the current rules of the game”. Of course we haven’t: none of us, whether a hotelier, a worker in the tourism industry, a writer for the Majorca Daily Bulletin, a health professional, or anyone else one cares to mention. At least for Frontera, apart from the drastic fall in the number of tourists, there are specific rules that are novel. The cancellations’ policies have indeed changed the game.

Economists are probably the worse. Armed with vast data, they can bombard us with GDP and spending comparisons with the financial crisis and wisely observe that current figures have never previously been known. Who could possibly have thought otherwise? Then there is the World Health Organization. “The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come,“ said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the other day. One guesses that he was making an allusion to the Spanish flu pandemic, but even this as a comparison doesn’t really hold up. That pandemic faded because of collective immunity, while its effects were not felt for decades. What is the WHO trying to tell us exactly?

The rules of the game have changed, and fundamentally so. The sinking feeling was far more intense when the state of alarm was decreed than it had been with the financial crisis. The day after the announcement, I spoke to a friend on the phone. “You do realise how f****** serious this is, don’t you?” There was that view that it would all be over by the end of March.

Is the “worst crisis” ever for Majorca’s tourism to be confined to one year? I’d like to believe that it will be. I’d like to believe that vaccines - effective vaccines - will be ready by next year. I’d like to believe that anti-vaxx idiocy and conspiracy would cease, as stupidity can only serve to prevent a solution. I’d also like to believe that we can move on from the financial crisis comparisons. However, they are likely to remain. The figures will tell all. How long will it be before they are like those quoted above?

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