Tourists in Majorca.

Tourists in Majorca.

20-07-2020David Arquimbau Sintes

In this heat? This was apparently President Armengol’s response when the proposal was made for masks to be obligatory. “Is it really necessary?”
The decision was being driven from within the regional health ministry, as you would expect to have been the case. The leading advocate for mask-wearing has been Marga Frontera, who heads the technical group advising the government on “deconfinement” in the Balearics. In recent weeks, she has become more of a “face” for the health crisis, whereas during the state of alarm this was Javier Arranz, the head of the coronavirus management committee, who has expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of masks.

There has been an implication of difference of opinion between the parties that make up the government. This is because Frontera is said to be within the Més sphere. I would very much doubt that political ideologies play any part in mask-wearing (they may do in certain parts of the world, but not in the Balearics), and Frontera - it is understood - enjoys the support of Armengol. Nevertheless, the PSOE president was aware of the potential ramifications, while she was seemingly unconvinced of the need.

The decree which made the wearing of masks obligatory went through various iterations. At one point, a distinction was to be made based on population size. This would have meant the obligation being confined to Palma and to municipalities with more than 20,000 people. In the end, of course, the order was applied everywhere.

I relate this because it is important to highlight the fact that the Balearic government clearly didn’t take the decision lightly and that there was an awareness of the impact on the general public and on tourism. The government has faced criticism for having harmed tourism, which is ridiculous when one considers how much it pressed for tourism to be reactivated through the air corridors and the tourist test plan.

Masks do have some influence on holidaymaking decisions but only some. Of more significance in explaining why the season remains slow is a combination of ongoing anxieties about travel from a health point of view and uncertainties about the continuity of travel, with these uncertainties including decisions to close borders again and the need for quarantine.

Occupancy of hotels which have reopened is in general running at between 30 and 40 per cent: no better than breakeven, therefore. If there had been an expectation of greater occupancy, this was surely misplaced optimism. It is perhaps worth recalling that several weeks ago, and before the tourist test plan, the Balearics tourism minister Iago Negueruela was envisaging a scenario of some tourism in July (but very little), of a degree of growth in August, followed by a decent enough September. It may well be that he was right in his assessment.

EasyJet provides an example of the slowness. Even with fewer flights being scheduled, it is reporting only around 20% of the number of passengers compared with the same time last year. This is the percentage for Majorca and also for Alicante (Benidorm, etc.) and Malaga (Costa del Sol).

Where hotel cancellations are concerned, Meliá gives an indication as to how these have been going. In overall terms, it - and the same applies to many hotel chains - has experienced cancellation levels of up to 60%. However, a distinction is made between “old” bookings, mainly prior to the crisis, and “new” bookings since some sort of normality started to emerge: cancellations for these are only 20%. Like other hotel groups, Meliá is hopeful about September, assuming that the virus is controlled.

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