Will there be a return to normal for tourism? | M.A. CAÑELLAS

Milestone numbers. Their relevance is perhaps greatest as media fodder. Nice round numbers (or not so nice) trip off a headline rather easily. In the near future, the Balearics will reach 100,000. A boost to coronavirus news, as these 100,000 will be the number of cases since the start of the pandemic. It may take rather longer, but the Balearics are likely to also reach 1,000 - deaths since the start of the pandemic.

There is nothing at all celebratory about either, but they act as a reminder that it - the virus - is still out there.

Interest has flagged in Covid status along with the great improvement in numbers, but these are nevertheless meaningful amidst reporting that has started to refer to the pandemic in the past tense. On Thursday last week, a 50 milestone was attained. The 14-day cumulative incidence per 100,000 in Spain dipped below 50 for the first time since late July 2020. The precise percentage, 48.92, wouldn’t have made for much of a headline, but under 50 did.

It is a mark of how much of a slog it has been to come down to this level that it took only some four months from the start of the state of alarm in March 2020 to go below 50 but that it has since taken almost 15 months for this to be attained once more. For the Balearics and Majorca, there is still a way to go before the headlines can declare a low risk of 50 and under. Minorca, meanwhile, and largely unheralded, is hovering around the new normality of below 25, the point at which the scientific community considers the spread of the virus to truly be under control.

This community and the politicians will continue to issue the warning of not lowering our guard. In this regard, “measures” are still in place, even if they can seem to be forgotten. It is still, for instance, obligatory to wear a mask outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be assured.

How much observance of this is there? A lower interest there may be in the daily data, but there is sufficient awareness of these data to allow us to feel that the worst is over. One can never be sure. The virus could yet come back and bite us, but the worst does indeed seem to be over, and there is a degree of confidence that the worst is in the past. For Majorca, an end to the worst is as vital to the tourism industry as it is to the capacity of the health service and to public health in general.

The same applies nationally, even if the tourism contribution to GDP - in percentage terms - is greatly lower than on the island.

The vice-president of the Exceltur alliance for tourism excellence, José Luis Zoreda, was moved to remark last week that “the worst seems to have passed and it does not seem that it will be reversible”. This was a confident statement (perhaps guardedly so) with which the scientific community might not entirely agree with, but confidence is everything for the tourism industry.

An Exceltur survey indicates that businesses expect a slight improvement in revenues in the fourth quarter. This will be relative in different respects, e.g. the types of business and where they are. In the Canaries, where high season starts next month, they are anticipating recovery up to 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

In Mallorca, for all the talk of seasonal extension, it will be situation normal - all closed up until the cyclists arrive.

But such short-term prospects are in a way unimportant in the context of the bigger picture. The worst is over, but there is to be a return to health new normality, which bears great similarity to the new normality we were promised (and briefly experienced) after the original state of alarm. This is a normality still guided by the numbers, whether we choose to maintain any interest in them or not. For how long does new normality persist until it can be abandoned in favour of the good old normal?

This normal, in health terms, may return some sunny day. For tourism, however, will there be a return to normal? The pandemic, in one sense, has been beneficial. It has enabled a drawing of breath and a deep reflection on the nature of this tourism. Such has been this contemplation that it can seem almost inconceivable that the normal will be fully revived. The expectation is of a new normality, a permanent one, the March 14, 2020 declaration of the state of alarm now perceived as the moment when the line was drawn in the sand of a precious beach assailed by human pressure.

The worst of the pandemic is over. Is the worst of tourism, as some (many) see it, also over? Perhaps. But meanwhile, don’t neglect the lesson of all the months of the virus numbers. A tourism new normality can be as ravaged as its former normality.