An emply Playa de Muro. | P. PELLICER


In all resorts in Mallorca there is a great deal of real estate that is unproductive in winter: hotel real estate. This observation of the blindingly obvious first really struck me when walking along the beach in Playa de Muro many years ago.

Land that was once largely worthless had become highly valuable, and much of it was occupied by hotels that were empty for several months. I had three questions: Why are they empty?; What has been the impact of this hotel construction on land values and property in general, including therefore homes?; Should there not be another use?

We know why they are empty. There are no tourists in winter, or too few to make it worthwhile opening. Massive hotel construction has contributed to a massive increase in land values over the decades and to ever more expensive residential property because, in part, it has been made more scarce by the very existence of hotels.

There wouldn’t be another use, because for all that there is absence of productive use in winter, there is huge productive use in summer that hugely outweighs the losses of winter.

These questions are now all coinciding in generating a debate surrounding these questions that is now far more focused than it has ever been. And Covid is the reason.

Last week I had cause to wonder if something important had just happened where Mallorca’s tourism future is concerned. While the news was dominated by the immediate short-term future and by green list speculation, there was a development regarding the longer-term future.

The Civil Society Forum presented a document to the Balearic parliament. It was not a paradigm for the future but it was an ingredient for the debate of that future.

There will be a view, and I don’t entirely dismiss this myself, that there will eventually be a post-Covid correction that renders much of the post-Covid contemplation irrelevant - things will get back to what they were.

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However, there are enough voices saying otherwise that it is clear that a highly considered debate needs to be had; and these voices have included those of the hotel sector.

Reduction in demand, altered consumer demands and perceptions; these are two direct Covid factors. They arise against the background of what has, in any event, been the growing debate surrounding sustainability, diversification and the nature of Mallorca’s economic model. This has been horribly exposed by Covid; it shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

The Civil Society Forum’s document didn’t address the big picture elements. It focused on the specifics of hotels and of housing, which are part of the bigger picture. Part of me thought, oh God, here we go. This had to do with the components of this forum. There were the usual suspects, e.g. the environmentalists GOB.

Business had representation, but two of the chief spokespeople were Celestí Alomar, the PSOE minister responsible for the original ecotax, and David Abril, once a member of parliament for Més who has devoted much energy to “rethinking Mallorca” from what some might argue has been an anti-tourism standpoint.

This scepticism aside, an observation by the speaker of parliament, Vicenç Thomàs, was well made. The document offered a good starting-point for “a calm, plural and technically grounded debate”. Well made and also timely, as Covid - it seems to me - has taken a great deal of heat out of the debate. There is momentum towards greater objectivity, with Thomas’s “plural” in evidence, by which one can mean political.

A very good example of this has been given by the Partido Popular’s Jaime Martínez, the tourism minister from the end of 2013 to May 2015. In an interview, Martínez has not only said that there needs to be a reduction in the number of accommodation places, he has also argued the case for the conversion of hotels into accommodation. This wasn’t contrary to the PP’s 2012 tourism law, he stressed, and he was right.

While that law was liberal in allowing redevelopment, it was all about modernisation and quality and the phased elimination of obsolete hotel stock, with conversion one clear objective.

Such is an apparent similarity of thinking, Martínez could easily have been occupying a chair in parliament last week along with Abril, Alomar and Margalida Ramis of GOB. Likewise, he could be welcomed for talks by Francina Armengol’s government, which has created a legal framework under its emergency economic reactivation measures that is essentially what was in the 2012 law - conversion of obsolete hotel stock.

Fundamentally, and this is the view of the Civil Society Forum and Martínez, the four stars and above of Playa de Muro are not the issue because of their quality. It is what lies below, and as there is a good deal more to be said about this, there will be a follow-up article tomorrow.