The British continue to dominate the Balearic tourism market. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter

Commenting recently on the 2023 season in Mallorca and the Balearics, TUI’s director of communications, Aage Duenhaupt, said that it had been “a fantastic year”.

His sentiment will surely be echoed by senior management at other tour operators as well as in the hotel sector, for fantastic - defined in terms of tourist numbers - it most certainly has been. July pretty much summed it up. There were just over three million tourists in the Balearics, the first time that three million had ever been exceeded in one month.

Doubts had of course been raised. Would the post-pandemic travel and spending euphoria from April onwards in 2022 blow itself out in 2023? Would cost-of-living crises and inflation dampen demand and expectations for 2023? As it was to turn out, the doubts had been unnecessary.

Always allowing for travel restrictions as they had been in early 2022, monthly comparisons have shown an upward trend in the numbers of visitors. Record months have been registered. By end-August, the cumulative number of tourists was up by some 500,000 over the previous record. The forecast was and remains that the Balearics will have attracted more than 17 million tourists by the end of 2023.

Despite the recovery in 2022, it was the case that the two main foreign markets - the UK and Germany - were down slightly on pre-pandemic levels. In 2023, there has been a rebound, both on course to at least match figures before Covid and probably exceed them. For Mallorca specifically, the UK market has been running at ten per cent higher than in 2022, growth that has outstripped both that of Minorca and Ibiza/Formentera.

While there have been more visitors, how has this translated in terms of spending? Although some politicians and tourism industry representatives are reluctant to make a direct link between spending and a so-called quality of tourism, this relationship is often implicit. In August alone, as an example, total spending in Mallorca rose by 23%.

For the UK market in the Balearics it was up almost 18%; per person by over nine per cent and per day by seven per cent. The caveats have been inflation and higher prices that have been charged. Even so, that doubt about inflation isn’t reflected in the figures; the spending has been made regardless.

A question to have arisen concerns where the additional tourists have been staying. Hotel occupancy in Mallorca for the first eight months of the year was 70%, an increase of three per cent. Taking the example of August again, the occupancy was 89.9%, up by only 0.7%. Allowing for a flourishing legal holiday rentals sector, a conclusion to have been drawn is that the illegal sector continues undiminished.

There was political change in the spring. A government of the right, the Partido Popular, returned to power, and while it has policy differences to the former coalition of the left, it has equal concerns about the illegal offer. One proposed measure is to temporarily seal off any property found to have been used for illegal holiday letting. There is an issue as to whether this in itself would be legal, but it is a mark of how seriously the new government views this underground tourism economy.

On the face of it, 2023 has been a fantastic year, but challenges going forward are evident. Tourist overcrowding is one, a phenomenon that seems unquestionably to be linked to illegal supply. Another that is now really starting to hit home is climate change.

Meteorological data clearly show the extent to which summers are getting hotter. Temperatures of 40C or more are now regularly being registered whereas they used to be a rarity. There were three heat waves this summer. For the whole of the 1990s there was only one. This summer’s maximum (according to official met agency data) was 43.9C in Sa Pobla in July. An unofficial measure gave 44.8C, slightly higher than the all-time record that was set in August 2022 - 44.5C in Montuiri.

A report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre that was published in the summer suggested that the Balearics will suffer most among Spain’s regions from a loss of high-summer tourists because of rising temperatures.

This loss may not be huge, but nonetheless here was an indication that highlighted an imperative of seeking to redistribute tourism to other months of the year.
A further challenge continues to be the troublesome profile of a small minority of visitors. The new tourism minister, Jaume Bauzá, has insisted that negative images of unacceptable behaviour have to be eliminated. In this regard, he intends some reform of the Balearic tourism of excesses law.

Renaming it responsible tourism, he has said, is not what really matters. For him, the law has until now not focused sufficiently on the actions of individuals. It is true that the law as it stands is primarily concerned about businesses.

The reformed law is expected to be introduced before the start of the 2024 season, which isn’t to say that the law hasn’t had its successes. In Magalluf, incidents this year have been few and far between, a consequence of the application of both bylaws on behaviour and the law. The main trouble spot has been Arenal.

Challenges there are, but then challenges there have always been, the principal messages of 2023 having been how remarkably resilient Mallorca’s tourism continues to be and how much holidaymakers and tour operators love the island for all the positives it has and which far outweigh any negatives.