In April 2019, the Balearics attracted 1,299,509 tourists, foreign and Spanish. The year before, there were 1,159,927 tourists. The difference of 139,582 could have been attributable to a variety of factors, but there would have been one above all - the timing of Easter.
If the Catholic Church ever gets round to establishing a fixed date for Easter - and it would be content to do so, if other churches could agree - it may wish to consult the tourism industry. Or rather, the tourism industry would hope for consultation.
The church has higher matters to consider than the scheduling of flights and the opening dates for hotels, but in showing solidarity with earthly issues such as the positive impact of tourist spending on local economies, the industry would be grateful for divine intervention of a Holy Week nature. It would make planning that much more straightforward.
Were there to be a fixed date (or as fixed as the annual movement of the calendar allows), when would it be? An Easter Sunday such as that of 2019 has its advantages. It was April 21.
The proximity to the “official” start of the summer season, the first of May, eliminates much of the hiatus between Easter and May and can be beneficial for employment contractual purposes. An Easter Sunday like 2016 (March 27) creates a headache because of the hiatus.
This said, an earlier Easter is potentially good news for addressing seasonality, and it is undeniable that in recent years - prior to the catastrophe of 2020 - there was a trend towards an earlier season, courtesy of, in no small part, the demand for cycling tourism.
There is undoubtedly an Easter effect.
Taking 2019 and 2018 as examples, there was a three-week difference between the dates for Easter Sunday - April 21 in 2019 and April 1 in 2018. The influx of tourists is principally over the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The tourist numbers for March 2019 and 2018 therefore reflected this - 532,245 in 2019 but 571,295 in 2018.
These general figures for the Easter period conceal a far from unimportant specific trend - that to do with Spanish tourists. If one goes back to 2014, by when there was recovery from the financial crisis, the total number of Spanish tourists who came to the Balearics over the course of the whole year was still some 940,000 lower than had been the case in 2008.
While there were falls with the two main foreign markets - Germany and the UK - recovery was such that the German number for the whole year was over 80,000 higher than it had been in 2008 (it was 4,142,954 in 2014) and the UK figure (3,385,173) was only 33,000 lower than it had been in 2008.
Easter was late in 2014; Easter Sunday was April 20. In all, there were 843,482 tourists in April 2014, a figure which in itself shows how much tourism grew until 2019. Of these 800,000-plus, Germany provided 310,000. The numbers for the UK and Spain were very similar - 157,211 and 155,320.
Despite the fact that economic recovery was slower in Spain and held tourist numbers down, there was an Easter effect, and it has tended to repeat itself each year. In 2019, with another late Easter, the UK and Spanish figures were again very close. There were in fact slightly more Spanish tourists than British - 217,920 versus 217,398. Over the course of a year, there isn’t this sort of parity. In 2018, as an example, there were 3.7 million UK tourists and 2.7 million Spanish.
Always allowing for the Imserso senior citizens’ holidays having given the Spanish numbers something of a boost, the point is that the national market is every bit as relevant as the UK’s when it comes to the Easter period, whereas in summer it has less weight. This highlights why there has been hope that there could be national tourism this Easter and why, despite coronavirus data from regions of Spain indicating the contrary, there has even been talk of this emanating from the national tourism ministry.
The ministry has of course also offered the caveat regarding the “health situation”, but mere talk of Easter tourism has been bound to raise expectations which surely can’t be and shouldn’t be met. Why risk what there is far greater hope of - the summer - for Easter? And for what number of national tourists anyway? It certainly wouldn’t be like 2019.
With the national ministry of health not wanting Easter travel, regional governments are coming together in looking to limit mobility. They are wise to do so, and in the meantime it makes little sense for the Balearic government to set 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants as its threshold for requiring a PCR test prior to travel. It should be at least half this.The power of Easter, for the Spanish traveller, will have to be delayed another year.