Last week in this column, I pointed to the need to be aware of what might be behind headlines created by tour operators and airlines. One such headline has been that regarding Tui, Crete and Mallorca. All of a sudden, and it was all of a sudden, Crete had leapt above Mallorca as the preferred destination for German holidaymakers.
I can’t speak for Crete as it is today. It is a good thirty years since I was last there, when I only went to what were then very quiet places on the south coast. It was idyllic, no question. Someone who is familiar with the present-day Crete is a Greek professor of strategic management and marketing and an expert in the application of digital technologies in the tourism, travel, hospitality and leisure industries.
Dimitrios Buhalis, a professor at Bournemouth University, is one of the world’s pre-eminent tourism scholars and he has suggested that this Crete leaps Mallorca proposition was a one-off based on a single survey. In any event, everything can change quickly because of Covid. What if there were to be a spike in infections in Crete? And there has been.
Another expert is the founder and president of THR (Innovative Tourism Advisors), Eulogio Bordas. He has echoed what I said last week. “Any information from a tour operator must be interpreted with care.” Was the headline, for example, the result of a promotion made by Tui? For there to be solid evidence of the apparent preference among German holidaymakers, a trend would need to be present for at least three months.
It was surprising, in his view, that Crete would suddenly assume a leadership position, as the changes in preference tend to evolve slowly over years. Which leads him to wonder if specific promotions were at play. He also adds that if it is the case that German holidaymakers perceive Greece as having managed the health crisis better than Spain, what is making them apparently opt for Crete and not other Greek islands?
He doesn’t foresee any problems for Mallorca because of this apparent and sudden preference and he makes one very important point in this regard. Tui has received massive financial aid from the German government.
The tour operator needs to therefore start maximising profit however it can and as fast as it can. Where is there an abundance of hotel beds available to tour operators like Tui? Mallorca, that’s where, as Mallorca has an abundance that not all other destinations do;
Mallorca also represents a very significant proportion of Tui’s business. Hoteliers on the island will be looking for the best prices they can obtain from tour operators, but they can’t afford to be too demanding.
Not this year anyway. Or next. They have to most concern themselves with reactivation, even if this means that their bottom lines aren’t as strong as they would hope. The prices of hotel beds, those paid by tour operators, are likely to be favourable.
Buhalis has made a plea for summer bookings not to be turned into some sort of beauty pageant. Every destination is suffering and will suffer until the virus is truly beaten. In this respect, Greece, for all that it has been perceived (rightly so) as has having managed Covid better than most, has suffered an increase in cases. Crete, part of it, is rated very high risk.
The Robert Koch Institute in Germany, which is the body responsible for disease prevention and control, now considers the whole of Greece to be a risk area. This is at the same time as the German government is ceasing to classify the Balearics as a risk because of the falling incidence.
Everyone must by now know that the health situation can change swiftly. To this end, I really have to wonder about the apparent rush of German holidaymakers to Majorca.
The German government’s advice is changing, but as Fernando Simón, the director of the coordination centre for health alerts and emergencies, has observed, is it not a little odd that there is discouragement of Easter period travel within Spain at the same time as foreign visitors are being welcomed?
The rules aren’t the same where obligatory PCR tests are concerned. At present, people coming from mainland Spain (only five regions) are exempt because of an incidence of below 100. For the Schengen zone, this is 150.
There is even the possibility that the Balearic government will tighten this domestic requirement further and set a threshold of 50. Frankly, it doesn’t make much sense.
But will there be this rush of German tourists? While President Armengol told the online press conference for the ITB Berlin fair that the Balearics have the lowest incidence in the Mediterranean, it wasn’t the case that she expected there to be loads of tourists either at Easter or after Easter. Rather than there being a lot, she told a later press conference for local media that she anticipates the contrary.
This was in keeping with her message to the press conference and with what has been said consistently over recent weeks - it’s all about the main season, not Easter, not April, not May.
One had the impression that Armengol and Iago Negueruela were being pushed by Tui earlier this week into moving more swiftly than they wish to. They know that it is a contradiction to have differing PCR test requirements and that it is a contradiction to be talking about foreign tourism when Majorca is still some distance from normality, as with bars and restaurants, for example. They also know that there must be a much higher level of vaccination before foreign tourism can truly be entertained.
The vaccine passport and all that is something of a diversion when there remains such a low vaccination rate.
In this regard, the national tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, indicated on Wednesday that a “reopening” of tourism would occur once between 30% and 40% of the population (the whole of the Spanish population) has been vaccinated. She reckoned that this will be between April and May, which does sound somewhat optimistic.
There again, Spain can expect delivery of five million doses in April, she added, plus there will be the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, due to be approved any time soon, and it is a single-dose vaccine.
Otherwise this week, there has been the president of the DRV travel association in Germany, Norbert Fiebig, making reassuring noises at the virtual Berlin fair. “Germany will continue to be loyal to its preferred Mediterranean destinations.” And this meant Mallorca.
There was also Willi Verhuven of Alltours insisting that the Armengol government does everything to ensure that tourism reactivation isn’t “tarnished”.
Recalling what happened last summer, there can’t be a repeat of images of crowds of young, drunk tourists. The government, he said, needs to make “clear efforts” in prohibiting drunken tourism.
That was a tour operator headline-maker that left little room for doubt.