The protest was staged despite the Spanish government having, decided to halt plans for expansion. | M.A. CAÑELLAS


Irridex. I once suggested that Irridex sounded like it could be something for flushing out a blocked loo or pipe. Or perhaps farmers could apply Irridex to clean their water channels. Might pharmacists offer Irridex for treating mosquito bites or piles?

Irridex is none of these. The “irri” has nothing to do with irrigation, but it has much to do with irritation. Everything in fact, as Irridex stands for the irritation index, a measure that George Doxey came up with 46 years ago.

Doxey who? You may well ask and you would have every right to. He and his index are known in tourism research circles, but there is precious little information about him. Type George Doxey into Google and you’ll find his index, and that’ll be more or less that. But if you also opt for George Doxey images, you’ll appreciate how his name has come to be significant in recent years. “Tourismphobia” has attached itself to George and his index, and that’s because Irridex modelled how anti-tourism can come about.

A four-step model, it moves from the euphoria of tourism benefits, when tourism takes hold, to apathy, with tourism viewed in relatively neutral terms as a source of income and investment, then to annoyance - misgivings about the tourism industry because of increasing numbers, development and high levels of foreign investment - and finally to antagonism. Irritations with tourism are expressed verbally and physically. Tourists are seen as the cause of the problem, however this problem may be defined.

It is debatable when the latter steps of this model became applicable in Mallorca. There is an argument to say that antagonism had been reached before Doxey constructed his model. But as this was in 1975, verbal and physical manifestations would have been limited under the Franco regime. There was written criticism, but no more.

Step four has been far more evident in recent years; hence those references linking Doxey to tourismphobia, a relatively new term as far as general usage is concerned. And this step four has been greatly facilitated by means of communication and by the capacity for organisation.

This, the organisation, was made clear on Sunday in Barcelona, where there was a protest against the expansion of the airport. While the numbers taking part fluctuated wildly according to sources - anything from 10,000 to 90,000 - the number of entities was indisputable. Citizens groups of all sorts were represented as also were political parties on the left and the Farmers Union.

Collectives have of course long formed and expressed themselves in protest - one thinks for instance of the demonstrations against the Inca motorway in the 1970s. But the abundance is now much greater, their establishment enabled not just by sharing of information and communication media but also by a grassroots participation culture.

The protest was staged despite the Spanish government having, for now, decided to halt plans for expansion. There were additional reasons in any event - opposition to the Winter Olympics being held in the Pyrenees and to other airport plans, those for Madrid and Palma. Tourism is not the only source of grievance in Barcelona, but it is most certainly one. Among all the protesting entities was the Assembly of Neighbourhoods for Tourism Degrowth.

While the Barcelona-El Prat expansion would be for broader economic reasons than Palma, the Aena airports authority’s project for Son Sant Joan is very much more definable in tourism terms. It is said that what Aena calls remodelling rather than expansion will add some four to five million passengers to the 2019 total of 29.7 million. A rule of thumb is that 80% of Palma passengers are tourists.

I agree with the opposition to an increase in passenger numbers on the grounds that this island shouldn’t be subjected to further pressures that it can’t handle. That isn’t being anti-tourism as I most certainly am not. But what I think doesn’t matter. It’s what all the various opposing entities believe, united in their ever-increasing number and representative of Doxey’s fourth step - antagonism, with tourists the cause of the problem.

Sure there is political agitation, this is undeniable, but it is not the sole reason for the antagonism. And as it exists, it has to be recognised, because what George Doxey highlighted was a sociological context of tourism. But recognising the existence has thus far brought no solution, merely an entrenching of positions that both presuppose some destruction. Growth that stresses the island ever more or degrowth that lacks a viable economic alternative.

One of the slogans in Barcelona on Sunday was “fewer planes and more artichokes”. So Doxey’s Irridex is for farming purposes after all, but more artichokes are no remedy. Rational debate is needed, not misguided idealism. The problem, increasingly, is whether there can be such rationality.