All the talk of a change to the tourism model can be too simplistic in willing a higher “quality”. | Manuel Lorenzo - Manuel Lorenzo

In 2010, a report was published on behalf of Thomson Holidays. The report was entitled ‘Sustainable Holiday Futures’, and a conclusion it drew was that, in terms of environmental management and the use of resources, it is preferable to pack tourists into a relatively confined area. Clustering tourists into what the report termed “super-holiday hubs” meant less environmental damage, so long as a resort was geared up for monitoring and managing resources.

I don’t know that the report coined the term or whether it had already come to be referred to in discussions about sustainable tourism, but it most certainly added to the knowledge. Ten and more years ago, Thomson, the compilers of the report, The Future Laboratory, and others were talking about the “Benidorm Effect”. As far as resorts being geared up for monitoring and managing resources, then Benidorm was a prime example.

In the resort, environmental measures had been adopted, such as lights switching off automatically in hotels, low-energy lighting on the promenade, foot pump-operated taps to save water. Everything was pretty much in walking distance and there was local sourcing of food.

The Future Laboratory pointed to the benefits of Benidorm when it came to carbon. A family of four travelling from the UK consumed 2.2 tonnes of carbon by going to Benidorm, as opposed to 15.8 tonnes on a seemingly more environmentally-friendly hiking tour of Chile.

The reference to this hiking tour was because there was also much discussion about so-called eco-tourism. The head of tourism research at Sheffield Hallam University, John Swarbrook, had come up with this play on eco-tourism. There was the trend towards tourism in parts of the globe where the eco-system is fragile - in Africa or South America, for instance, or the Antarctic, and why would anyone want to go there anyway?

Benidorm was the absolute antithesis of eco-tourism, and yet it had distinct environmental advantages. There may have been self-serving on behalf of Thomson (and therefore Tui), but the Benidorm Effect was being backed up by others who didn’t have these interests. Geographers, environmentalists, tourism researchers were paying great attention to a resort that often provoked negative connotations.

As this was all over ten years ago, some of what had been introduced in Benidorm is now old hat. Low-energy lighting, for instance; that is now commonplace. But while the environmental management mechanisms have been widely adopted, the principle of the Benidorm Effect remains highly pertinent - and that is because of the density of tourists in a specific area, to which one might (should) add the social base of Benidorm’s tourism.

Picking up on what I wrote about on Wednesday (’A tourism elite - is this what we really want?’) and on opinions offered by a geography professor at the University of the Balearic Islands, Macià Blázquez, I was strongly reminded of the Benidorm Effect when Blázquez spoke in a recent interview about a study of water consumption. A villa on a luxury estate consumed six times more water than a hotel room in Santa Ponsa, somewhere with high-density tourism.

This was the sort of thing that they had figured out in Benidorm. Obviously there are more tourists, but consumption per tourist was massively lower by comparison with isolated, or comparatively isolated estates with villas. There have been other studies along these lines that point to the challenges of resource management (water especially). It is far more efficient if users are in limited areas and not spread out all over the place.

In Mallorca there have been examples of town halls all but sending out an SOS because they’re struggling with resources as a result of the explosion in the number of holiday rental properties. This has happened in Selva and Fornalutx, for instance. While holiday rentals bring great benefits, undeniably so, to village economies, there are also drawbacks.

The Balearic government and the Council of Mallorca are party to this through the PIAT plan that predominantly denotes the resorts as saturated and therefore with holiday rental limitations (or prohibitions) while classifying villages as ripe for development. This is fine, but Blázquez and others are pointing to the inefficiencies. He has also suggested that there can be aquifer contamination caused by estates littered with luxury holiday villas.

Moreover, there is the style of tourism, which comes back to the argument in favour of a broad social base and not one narrowly defined in what Blázquez considers to be elitist terms, which itself can have negative consequences for the resident population owing to an ever advancing gentrification making the cost of living even more unsustainable than it already is.

All the talk of a change to the tourism model can be too simplistic in willing a higher “quality”. It ignores the legitimate social make-up of tourists themselves, while - as Benidorm has shown - there can be benefits to mass being concentrated. That, in itself, doesn’t preclude this higher quality, but it does have implications for what we know is the challenge presented by climate change and water resources.