By Andrew Ede

PLAYING the statistics game is one fraught with the danger that comes from disbelief. In Majorca we know only too well that this is true. But as it is a game so beloved by the regional government, hoteliers and others, then I don’t see why I shouldn’t join in.

Research by the university and Sa Nostra Bank revealed that in August last year Majorca received 1,355,241 tourists. Research isn’t required in confirming the total number of hotel places in Majorca. These are a matter of record, and the total stands at 284,956.

The more observant among you will have noticed that there are 31 days in August. Consequently, the daily average of the number of tourists in August is 43,717. But this doesn’t correspond to the number of tourists who are in Majorca on any given August day. Calculating this number with any accuracy isn’t straightforward, but one way is by using standard methods recommended by the European Commission’s Eurostat division.

Eurostat gives an average length of tourist stay for Majorca of 6.5 nights. From this, one can make an admittedly simplistic calculation as to the average number of tourists on any given day - 284,160, a figure which is remarkably similar to the total number of hotel places. Average hotel occupancy rates, though, were in the order of 90% last August, so there were getting on for 30,000 tourists who were not staying in hotels.

For once, and quite remarkably, I find myself agreeing with Carlos Delgado. He has said that the level of tourism accounted for by rented accommodation is 9%. His sidekick, Jaime Martínez, has elaborated on this and places the figure at between 9% and 12.4%. My simple figure is 10%, so we are in a similar ballpark, though none of us are saying how much is actually illegal.

These figures are a good deal lower than ones that have been claimed by others. At roughly 10% of total tourism, they are significant but they by no means represent the sort of competitive threat that the hoteliers keep claiming. The hoteliers would of course like to capture this 10%, but this is unrealistic, as tourists want a choice, and there are many who want anything other than a hotel. Moreover, there will be times when the total number of tourists is higher, while the number of hotel places that are registered is a number for maximum capacity. Not all hotels operate under conditions of maximum capacity; you can probably lop off a good 10% from the total 285k number in order to arrive at a real figure, meaning that, as has been said many times, there aren’t, certainly in the height of summer, enough hotel places to go round.

The government’s quoting of 9% is very interesting. In a way, because it isn’t that high, it undermines some of its own rhetoric, and begs a question as to why there is such an almighty great fuss about rented accommodation and why the government is loathe to extend commercialisation rights to private apartments. It is also interesting to note that the government is shifting its arguments. But they aren’t that strong. For instance, Martínez says that apartment rental threatens "co-existence" in apartment buildings and communities, ignoring the fact that the tenancy act permits rental of a non-commercial variety that might do just this. He is also ignoring the fact that communities can agree to there not being rentals which might otherwise disturb this co-existence.

He also says that permitting more rented accommodation would result in a saturation of resources and infrastructure. How can this possibly be the case? If a building is built, it is reasonable to assume that there are resources, otherwise why was the building built in the first place. And were the hotels to ever achieve the unlikely and to command maximum capacity with 100% occupancy, a similar saturation would occur.

Furthermore, Martínez argues that property prices would be pushed up (though the property market might also receive a boost), that there would not be quality standards as defined by the tourism law (well, impose them then) and that local authorities would lose their power to determine ratios of land for tourist accommodation (no they wouldn’t because they have, in any event, to apply the quotas as agreed with the Council of Majorca and could be given the right to deny licences).

From all this, I form the distinct impression that the government knows that it has been backed into a corner. It might have thought that its meeting the other day was the final word, but it most certainly wasn’t. The arguments are now only really starting.


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