An excursion to Soller. | I. HERNANDEZ

Here’s a curio from Mallorca’s tourism history. It comes from the early 1930s and from a time when tourism activity on the island was organised almost solely by the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board, a grand alliance of companies, associations, individuals and certain town halls.

At 9.15am each morning, seven days a week, excursions arranged by the tourist board departed from the Paseo Borne in Palma. Coach excursions, these went to different parts of the island. On Mondays, there were two excursions to choose from. For eleven pesetas, tourists could go to Valldemossa, Miramar, Deya, Soller, Puerto Soller and back to Palma or they could head to the east of the island and to the Caves of Drach (with concert) and the Caves of Hams.

Excursions to Soller were also available on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. On Wednesdays, there was another excursion to the caves. The weekly programme was completed by Pollensa, Puerto Pollensa and Formentor on Tuesdays and Fridays; Esporles, Banyalbufar, Estellencs and Coll d’en Claret on Thursdays; and the Caves of Arta and Cala Ratjada on Saturdays. This latter excursion was the only one that didn’t cost eleven pesetas; it was thirteen.

In 1928, Joan Servera Camps, the proprietor of Caves of Drach and its tourist board spokesperson, had made a plea for better roads - the road to Manacor and Porto Cristo in particular. Manacor town hall was brought on board, and improvement there was. Caves of Drach was one of Mallorca’s premier attractions, and there were transport operators willing to serve it.

Ninety or so years ago, therefore, an economy was already developing which was inter-dependent. Hotels, bars, travel agents, attractions, transport providers: a tourism industry infrastructure had been established, albeit that there was to be a rude and tragic interruption. The Caves of Drach, as was reported at the weekend, have had to close for the first time since that interruption - the Civil War.

The rest of the tourism industry, as we know all too well, has been decimated, but it is attractions and transport which most concern me here, although there is another common link that these different sectors of the tourism industry for the most part share - one of their business size.

Son Amar, which has been forced into making layoffs, is a very different attraction to the Caves of Drach. It appeals to a different segment insofar as it is a nightspot, but the circumstances are the same. Coach operators have been deprived of a significant part of their activity by businesses which cannot be defined as big. They fall into the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) category, and the same goes for most transport providers. Mallorca has its big tourism businesses, the likes of Globalia, Iberostar and Meliá, about which we hear so much, but they are not representative of the vast majority of companies in the tourism industry.

Luis Buzzi is the KPMG Spain partner in charge of tourism and leisure. KPMG is advising the Balearic government among others, and Buzzi has called for there to be a national strategic plan for tourism that takes far greater account of the SMEs than is currently the case. He says: “Tourism is really a business for SMEs. This is a country of SMEs ... They are the ones which, along the entire value chain, make a tourist feel attracted to come to our country.” He has advice for the big companies. They should be aware of “social profitability”. They have a responsibility to the country in contributing to the welfare of society. Buzzi appreciates what the big companies bring, but his message is very clear: take care of the smaller businesses, as “it is profitable for everyone to help this country get ahead”.

Tui is not of course a native big business, but it has long had its intimate links to Mallorca. The tour operator has had its various strategic iterations in defining the degree and type of integration. Within the mix of hotels, airlines and what have you, there have also been the excursions, but Tui is now taking this to a whole new level.

In 2018, Tui announced the acquisition of an Italian tech start-up called Musement. Tui Musement, as it is now known, is viewed as a source of growth for the tour operator. Some 170,000 excursions and activities in 140 countries can be booked online, and these excursions obviously include Mallorca. It makes perfect business sense and I’m not knocking it, except to ask - is this not representative of what Buzzi is talking about?
Sure, the tour operators have always looked to secure their parts of the excursions market, but there are also homegrown SME excursions operators which function as part of the network of inter-dependence that emerged way back before the war and which partner with attractions and transport providers. But big will always want to be bigger; Buzzi will have a challenge convincing them otherwise.