Observatory

Observatory

25-08-2020

The Consell went to Consell the other day. Linguistic and toponymic origins conspire to create confusion in Majorca. The Consell that went to Consell was the Council of Majorca. Their destination, or the destination of the Council’s Majorca Tourism Foundation at any rate, was the municipality called Council. The confusion is all the fault of the Romans and of Latin. “Concilium” eventually gave us Consell (as in the Council of Majorca) but way back in time it also inspired the place name of Consell. The Romans, it would seem, used to meet there - concilium also means meeting; it was a meeting point between the cities of Palma and Pollentia.

The Consell might instead have gone to Costitx, which is near to Consell - Sencelles keeps the two apart - as Costitx might have been more appropriate. This is because Costitx has an observatory, the astronomical one, which would appear to now be in the process of being rescued from its bankruptcy and obscured observations of the stars. But the Consell, the Council, had chosen Consell instead. The Majorca Tourism Foundation held a meeting on this ancient meeting ground, and the meeting had to do with an observatory.

There was a presentation as well. It was a surprisingly low-key one. That low-key that hardly anyone was aware that there had been either a meeting or a presentation. Perhaps this was because it was only for a candidature. Not that this would typically hold an institution such as the Consell back from letting us all know. Nevertheless, it was a mystery, for this was the presentation for Majorca’s candidature to be a UN Observatory of Sustainable Tourism.

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has thirty of these observatories dotted around the globe. Majorca wishes to accommodate the thirty-first. The network of observatories, the UNWTO informs us, “was created in 2004 with the main objective of supporting the continuous improvement of sustainability and resilience in the tourism sector through systematic, timely and regular monitoring of tourism performance and impact”. Last October, representatives of the network gathered in Madrid (the UNWTO is based there) and considered “impact monitoring at destination level”.

There had been a pre-presentation presentation, which wasn’t in Consell. The president of the Council, Catalina Cladera, announced the candidature some three weeks ago. The observatory will be an “important” tool for “positioning Majorca as a sustainable, safe and modern destination and one of quality”. Through this “tool”, she added, “we will be confident in committing to a change of model, without giving up tourism but with the aim that it will be more sustainable, safe and modern and of quality”. She therefore repeated the message, just in case it hadn’t been heard the first time. And the message would no doubt have been echoed in Consell at the rather subdued presentation.

The candidature, it’s reasonable to assume, is a shoo-in. It’s not as if there is a competition, while to make the candidature even more secure, Majorca will be admitted as an active member of the UNWTO in September. The observatory, one can be sure, will soon be with us, and if there is any slightest doubt that it might not be, Majorca can certainly rely on one of its own to guarantee it. Maybe we can begin to understand why Bel Oliver, the former tourism secretary of state, was so hurriedly taken on by the UNWTO, while there is also - if one recalls - the Council’s desire for the UNWTO to hold its events (or some events) in Majorca. Perhaps Oliver hadn’t been dismissed after all; that she genuinely did have something lined up at the UNWTO. All seemed pally enough on Monday in Palma when she was lunching with the tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, and the national government delegate in the Balearics, Aina Calvo. A power lunch for three of the PSOE women; Catalina Cladera must have had something else on.

What will this observatory be precisely? I honestly can’t say, but I’ll wager that officials (from the Council) and experts will be involved, as officials and experts normally are involved, and that there will be reports, each of them designed to confirm that Majorca is ever more sustainable, safe, modern and of quality, but without giving up tourism. What a strange thing to have said. One accepts that translation can be lost, but “renunciar” was the word used in despatches, and renunciar does mean to give up. Peculiar.

Whatever the observatory is, it is obviously important, because the Council says that it is. But its importance was such that the presentation merited just a barely reported gathering in Consell. Maybe, and despite the constant sustainable tourism mantra, it was decided to keep it low-key.

Sustainability of tourism is one thing; right now, it is survival of tourism which matters.

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