She was the friend of the daughter of some friends. German. Johanna was her name, and she and Lisa had decided to take themselves off to Arenal for the day (from the north of the island). They, aged 19 or 20, wanted to see what it was like. On return, I asked about their experience.
Johanna’s response was with a delivery that only German can truly conjure up - a curt and unquestionable statement of fact combined with astonishment. In translation: “There were many drunken tourists.” She didn’t appreciate why I found this so funny.
How many were the many? I never found out because I never asked. But if a percentage had been applied to the many, it may have been 39%. There again, it may have been much more. It depends on one’s perceptions of drunkenness (I’m guessing).
Why 39% you may ask. Well, this is the percentage that a survey has come up with. By the respected Fundació Gadeso research organisation, it is contained in the latest opinion survey about tourism. ‘What do you think about tourism?’ There were five possible answers. Fourth in terms of ranking was that tourists only come to get drunk - 39% was the result for Mallorca, ten percentage points above Ibiza, with Minorca and Formentera lower than Ibiza. Mallorca is thus more of a drunken tourist’s paradise than the rest of the Balearics.
Every four out of ten tourists being determined to get drunk isn’t how this result should be interpreted. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents thought this. They weren’t placing a percentage on the number of drunken tourists, but it is easy to see how it might be interpreted thus (and has been), and it is made easier by the fact that the question was asked. If I were to ask you to list the five main subjects for such a survey, would drunkenness be one of them?
Gadeso explain that images of drunken British and German tourists in Magalluf and Playa de Palma have contributed to generating a bad reputation for tourism among the Balearic public, and the public in Mallorca more than on the other islands. Punta Ballena and the Ballermann - “many drunken tourists” - and yet it can seem odd to have even asked the question, as it is, for example, 24 years since the German comedy “Ballermann 6” revelled in the drunkenness and 34 years since Ivor Biggun penned “The Mallorca Song”.
But as we all know, we are now living through times of a change to the tourism model (supposedly). Once the change has been fully effected, the question won’t need to be asked as Gadeso will realise that the response will be zero per cent.
Or so tourism policymakers might like to believe, as targeting a youthful drinking population certainly won’t eradicate drunkenness. As was observed in the Ballermann by Johanna and Lisa, the many drunken tourists didn’t comprise solely people of their own age.
Drinking has always been an aspect of tourism and it always will be. Drunkenness is a different matter, but it has been around for as long as there has been tourism in Mallorca. As I noted recently, it was the Americans who had the bad reputation in the years prior to the Civil War. One of Majorca’s most famous drunks was American - Errol Flynn.
Coming solely to get drunk. Bizarre, but yes, there are such visitors, and Gadeso felt this important enough to include in the five main subjects. But would this have been so ten, twenty or thirty years ago, or is it precisely because of the ease with which images can now be captured and their apparent abundance that it has assumed such prominence?
However, even with the availability of images, drunken tourism still only gets a 39% score. “Only” is pertinent, as there are more important subjects, none more so than tourism being the basis of the island’s labour market. With 82%, this was the highest ranked, followed by “total dependence” on tourism with 76%. A great deal of “massification” (overcrowding - 57%) and creating “tourismphobia” (17%) were the other two.
While there is concern about drunkenness, the far greater worry among the public is the hold that tourism has over the economy. Covid has reinforced what has long been the problem, but it can seem to me that it is the drunkenness that provides policymakers with a more direct, easier and short-term target than the very much bigger, less tangible, more difficult and long-term objective of reducing the dependence on tourism.
Hence, policy makes a beeline for the “many drunken tourists” rather than the many imponderables of a changing model. This can show that something is being done, when the fundamental issues don’t respond to ordinance measures like closing bars and whole streets.