Drinking on Playa de Palma.

Drinking on Playa de Palma.

23-01-2020plozano

In the days well before Melía Hotels International came into being, a forerunner that Gabriel Escarrer Julià founded in the sixties was Hoteles Mallorquines. One of its establishments was called the Playa de Palma Hotel.

Playa de Palma was to become an administrative district of Palma and to consist of six separate neighbourhoods, not all of which conform to what we tend to think of as Playa de Palma: Arenal, Can Pastilla, Las Maravillas, yes; but Can Pere Antoni, Coll d'en Rabassa and El Molinar as well? Administrative district is one thing, Playa de Palma (Platja de Palma, if you prefer) as a "beach" is Can Pastilla to Arenal.

Playa de Palma as a resort concept didn't used to exist. Back in the day, e.g. at the end of the '60s, there was Arenal in much the same way as there was Can Pastilla. No one readily referred to Playa de Palma. The innocent holidaymakers of the early boom years went to Arenal, and they weren't in the least bit interested if Arenal was in Palma or in neighbouring Llucmajor. Arenal vied with Magalluf for holidaymaker attention, and certainly not just German attention. Arenal existed. Playa de Palma did not (in the minds of holidaymakers at any rate).

It was basically a marketing device. Hoteles Mallorquines would have been involved. Other hoteliers were involved. It was the hoteliers who were to create the concept, the brand of Playa de Palma. It was a sixties thing, even if the name was to take several years in becoming embedded into everyone's consciousness. In 1965, the Asociación Sindical de la Playa de Palma (hoteliers and other businesses) produced a poster. I believe that this was how it all started. The poster showed this vast beach next to the blue sea. The legend read: "Mallorca, Playa de Palma: Can Pastilla - Sometimes - Maravillas - Arenal".

Because it was Palma, this resort concept acquired a status and a cachet denied to other resort areas, including Magalluf. As an integrated whole, it had a presence in policymakers' minds rather more than it did in the minds of holidaymakers and indeed of residents of its component elements. The disgust at being bracketed into this marketing-led holiday phenomenon has never completely evaporated. There are times, indeed, when Arenal (some of its citizen representatives) seek to reassert a form of autonomy.

The integration most certainly worked. It created a de facto entity with an apparent life of its own, separate to the larger administrative district. When residents and also businesses now voice their regular discontent with Palma town hall about neglect and abandonment, they occasionally raise the possibility of there being a formal separate entity - one to run Playa de Palma's affairs. Are they referring to the administrative district? No, as that administrative district also includes Sant Jordi, which is a totally different world. El Molinar is a different world, come to that.

Such has been the disaffection with the town hall that there have been occasions when citizens and businesses have broken off what might be termed diplomatic relations. During the time when Helena Paquier of Més was the councillor with responsibility for Playa de Palma from 2016 to 2019, they stopped meeting her. Relations haven't exactly improved.

The town hall is clearly aware of the importance of Playa de Palma, but it has seemed - for far too long - that it doesn't really "get it". Playa de Palma is a thing, an entity that institutions know is of great significance and is also - in Majorca's tourism history terms - emblematic. Playa de Palma has thus been raised to the heights of policy necessity, but the institutions have singularly failed to understand quite what this policy is. Which brings us of course to the fiasco that was the grand plan for Playa de Palma's redevelopment.

In 2009, the consortium for Playa de Palma was established. To commemorate this, politicians and others gathered to have their photo taken. They included the then president of the Balearics, Francesc Antich, and Joan Mesquida, the Majorcan who was tourism secretary of state. The Spanish government knew how important this project for the emblematic "resort" was. Everyone knew. Funding there was to be. Millions of it, and the consortium - almost inevitably with hindsight - was to prove to be a disaster. And a reason why was because its factions could never properly agree on anything.

We now have the situation whereby the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid has ordered the Balearic government to repay the state (the Turespaña tourism promotion agency) eighteen million euros. This was money (with interest) which was forwarded but which wasn't invested how it should have been. It mostly all went on technical reports and studies, not on actually creating anything.

Playa de Palma, the marketing dream of the sixties, has once more been exposed as an institutional nightmare.

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