Tourists want to have space and freedom to enjoy their destination. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter
The headline topic for the past few years in the Mallorcan tourism industry, or rather among those who are of the opinion they can influence the industry, is sustainability. But what does that actually mean?
Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also need social and economic resources. Sustainability is not just environmentalism.
However, there is another school of thought. It is not new and it has been brought to the surface by Briton Anna Pollock, an award-winning tourism guru who has been successfully visualising the future of the industry for forty years.
She has devised a new model that is regenerative tourism and has recently been back in Mallorca to explain and discuss it with other local experts and sectors of the industry.
She told the Bulletin that the current tourism model is considered outdated, not only in Mallorca but in many other destinations around the world, and that the Balearics needs a new regenerative model.
“It will combine a good country to live in with a good country to visit: landscape, environmental and social quality that benefits everyone,” she explained.
“It is all very well taking about sustainability, but its true meaning is sustaining what we have. But simply tinkering with it on the grounds that this will be enough to ensure that tourists continue to come to a destination like Mallorca, for example, is the wrong approach. We need to be thinking and talking about regeneration.
“We need to recognise that the economic engine of tourism, as currently practised, is unsustainable and that this is slowly entering mainstream awareness.
“In times of such rapid and radical change on every front (environment, economy, politics, society and technology), tourism is proving far more vulnerable than many want to admit; hence why we need to change our mindset. This will involve making tough decisions, but we need to be asking one fundamental question - “How can tourism contribute to the vitality and flourishing of the people and nature of this place?"
“It’s as if this sector is stuck between a rock and a hard place. More success, in terms of numbers growth, brings with it problems of congestion, resentment from local residents and environmental stress, along with the start of a long decline in visitor satisfaction, the number of repeat visits and or referrals. At the same time, a host of external factors can all cause demand to stop - be these climate-related, natural hazards (fires, floods) that result in infrastructure damage; food or water shortages; economic slowdown in source markets; growing political instability; and rapid changes in public values. Elsewhere, I have likened the current scale and scope of demand to a ‘tsunami’ that we cannot control. It’s worth noting that, in nature, tsunamis cause as much damage on their retreat from a shoreline as they do racing up it.
“In response to these increasingly wicked challenges, a small but growing number of thinkers from within and outside tourism are now applying their time, imagination and brain power to conceive of an alternative way of ‘seeing/framing’ and delivering hospitality services at a scale and in a manner that delivers positive net benefit to all participants (commercial and non-commercial hosts and guests). In fact, we go further, believing that tourism has the potential to become an agent of positive transformation that can contribute to a better quality of life for all.
“Tourism is not a numbers game, not anymore. The world is becoming an increasingly fragile place. The perfect example is climate change. When nature hurts, the natural world is in pain, it reacts in an extremely violent way and we’re seeing that. We’re desperately trying to correct it and tourism has an important role to play in that. Governments can introduce all kinds of measures to try and address climate change, but what is the private sector doing?
“One thing I have noticed over the past 45 years I have been explaining and introducing the idea of regeneration around the world is that tourist don’t like tourists. When you are trying to take a picture in an overcrowded, over-saturated destination, another tourist will wander into your photo and, for all you know, you may be blocking a tourist from taking a picture behind you. This makes the experience of being a tourist, visiting and exploring destinations frustrating.
“We all get visitor numbers and vague figures of how much they spend and bring to the local economies but there is much more to it than that.
“We need to adopt a more positive objective. This needs to include quality of life, by which I mean that of the tourist to that of the people who live and work in the destination.
“What we can’t have is local residents being charged tourist prices and being treated like tourists.
“There has to be a net benefit for the local community and society as a whole, otherwise this can spark a backlash, a resentment to the tourist industry. That is not healthy but can happen in destinations which simply follow the route of sustainability, when we need to be talking regeneration.
“We cannot allow destinations to lose their essence, their traditions. In a destination like Mallorca, where the best part of 80 per cent of the economy is hinged to and driven by tourism, we can’t adopt mechanical solutions. But that is quite often what arises from sustainability - which is short-term results in business as usual.
“There needs to be a willingness to learn,” said Anna, who is based in the West Midlands but is constantly on the road trying to help tourist destinations regenerate.
“We need to be looking at the root causes, we need to be bringing all the wonderful destinations we have lost to mass tourism back to life.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not anti-tourism. If properly managed, tourism provides huge benefits. But by its nature, tourism can be an extractive industry and if it has been so well established in a destination such as Mallorca, which has become a world leader in the industry, there comes a time for a radical rethink because when old models and attitudes are allowed to continue, it does more harm than good,” Anna stressed.
“Mallorca is one of the most perfect tourist destinations in the world. It has the climate, the scenery, the coast, the environment, but I fear it’s reaching a tipping edge and it cannot continue growing forever. Just because it has enjoyed great success in the past, does not mean it will in the future. On its current path, more negative problems will arise.
“We need to be smarter, we need to be more in tune with nature and society. Mallorca is getting full like many other popular tourist destinations, and one has to remember that while the world is extremely large, it is getting smaller thanks to technology and travel. There are many other places to visit and with a growing global population, the potential tourist market is only going to expand.
“So, we need to be thinking how best to manage that as we move forward while protecting and preserving what is true to the destination.
“Mallorca has the wonderful Tramuntana Mountains. But how are the professionals who repair and build dry stone walls looked after, for example? How do the hostelry staff feel? Are they well looked after, do they have access to a good quality of life? And that goes for the local community as a whole. Are local residents happy wandering around Palma when it is overcrowded and the cruise ships are in port? Another important question is - does the industry pay for the external costs of tourism?
"There may well be cheap flights, but what are the airlines contributing to Mallorca? How are they and the hoteliers helping to offset the carbon costs, tackling pollution and helping to protect natural reserves? Is the private sector helping to create a skilled workforce, are people employed on proper, long-term contracts? Like I said, we need to be looking at tourism in a way that everyone benefits, not just a few. What do all the multinational offshore investors and global hotels chains which are buying hotels in key resorts bring to the table? Do they really respect and care about the well-being of the local environment and community?
“Do the large cruise lines really care about the damage they are causing the marine environment? There are a host of problems in the States, for example, especially down the West coast, which was once a haven for whale watchers as they migrated from north to south. Giant cruise terminals have done untold damage to the whale population and whales are vital to the welfare of the sea. These issues need to be addressed.
“I remember a case of a small island in Hawaii which only had one road but was a magnet for tourists. The island was hit by a huge storm and the road was knocked out for six months leading to a dramatic reduction in tourism. At first it was hard for the local community, but eventually they got used to the new way of life with fewer tourists and liked it. As a result they now have a cap on tourists. The same goes for a number of the mountain states in North America. They were always popular tourist destinations but after the pandemic and the restrictions were lifted, they were flooded by people wanting to get out of the cities, back into the environment and the fresh air; they couldn’t cope. What they do now is, when the state budgets are drawn up, they are put up for a public vote.
"So, for example, if the majority of the people don’t want a certain amount spent on tourism promotion but would rather have the money spent of an issue closer to the hearts and well-being of the local community, they can veto the proposal.
“That is local participation in democracy and there should be much more of it in tourist destinations like Mallorca, which depends so much on tourism because otherwise it will lose its DNA.
“Politicians can harp on about the benefits to GDP but does that translate into a better way of life for the majority of society and better protection of nature and the environment? More often than not no.
“Take Cancun, as another example, it has been transformed into a mass tourism resort and the majority of people involved in that are not local. They are either from other parts of Mexico or overseas and they’re only interest is the bottom line - profit - and that is not the way forward. What it will do is kill the golden goose.
“Everybody effected by tourism needs to be involved in participatory democracy when it comes to tourism. We need to be more humble, show more humility as we move forward.”