A hell of a lot of water has passed under the bridge over the past six months, and this is water under the bridge as the saying truly means - something in the past that is no longer relevant. Much of it is indeed irrelevant. For tourism there is the hope that air bridges can be rebuilt over troubled waters. These bridges retain relevance, but they have become redundant (for now, anyway), and because of this redundancy, so much - if not all - of the talk stretching back to March has been rendered irrelevant.
An aspect of this talk was resilience, for which tourism is renowned. The bouncebackability of tourism, especially in the Balearics, has been displayed down the decades. Oil crisis, recession, financial crisis; tourism could always be relied upon to recover and to come back stronger, which was the case as the financial crisis passed, courtesy of insecurities in other parts of the Mediterranean.
At the end of March, there was a lengthy report that I have been reminding myself of. Its title was the “resilience of tourism”. It was acknowledged that this was resilience required for what was being viewed as tourism’s darkest hour, but resilience was almost being presupposed. Look at what has happened in the past, it was being said. Tourism will come back, and there were worthy consultants who took the view that things would be returning to normal by the third quarter of this year. The coronavirus outbreak would have run its course, and the global economy would be - as we speak now - well on course to recovery.
For all the economic damage that has been caused, for all the hardship that has been brought about and which will endure, there is also the emotional and psychological damage. Felt at an individual level, I wonder to what extent it exists in the minds of governments and business as well as in the minds of consumers; to what extent it may have passed into a collective psyche.
For the Balearics, this particular damage - I would suggest - is likely to be felt more acutely than elsewhere in Spain. This is because that famed resilience has been exposed. When there was the financial crisis, which region led the way to recovery? It was the Balearics. Tourism came back (it had never gone away of course) and the economy grew faster than in the rest of the country and in much of Europe. The resilience was proven yet again. In tourism we can trust, as it will never let us down.
The shock in the Balearics is immense. The truths from the past have not just been shattered, they have been annihilated. There are voices which seek to provide reassurance, but are these voices much like they were six months ago? Optimistic forecasts for recovery, predicated to no small extent on the resilience of tourism, are again being offered.
The national tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, is one of these voices. The situation is currently “disastrous”, but “we all agree that next year there will be a rebound effect, if confidence recovers”. “All that has been lost can be recovered in one or two years.” The dependence that the Balearics and Spain have on tourism will turn from a huge disadvantage to a benefit. In an interview with “La Vanguardia”, she was of the view that the rebound will be faster in Spain because “the tourism value chain will be oiled up very quickly”. There will be a “positive effect”.
So, the very fact of there being so many businesses that are linked into tourism in one way or another (the value chain) will bring about fast recovery. Or so the minister hopes. Note that she did use “if”, while elsewhere in the interview she spoke about a vaccine being ready for the end of this year or in early 2021. In vaccines we now have to trust.
But how can she be sure? She can’t be. No one can be sure. No one can give certain forecasts because there is nothing to be certain about. One prays that she is right, but are these voices in a way those that speak with a forced resilience? Are they voices responding in the best way they can to the emotional and psychological damage, as I don’t believe we can ignore the degree to which politicians and business leaders have been - to use a cliché - put through an emotional wringer over the past few months. We’ve all been through this wringer, every single one of us, but how has it been for these leaders?
There will doubtless be those who have no sympathy. Well fine, but the resilience to tough things out will have needed to have been huge. There will be scars, though. There are bound to be, and especially so in the Balearics, where that old resilience, that in which so must trust has been invested down the years, has been shown to be a terrifying weakness.