What do you think? | R.L.

I had to go to Manacor to get the car key reprogrammed. It was one of those pleasant winter mornings in Mallorca. Cold to start with but clear skies promising warm sun. A friend came with me for a road trip. The plain of Mallorca looked especially delightful that morning as we headed for the Llevant.

Things were through at the garage by around 9.30. We drove back and were passing Petra when I asked - “Have you ever been to Petra?” No, came the reply. Nor had I. So Petra it was, and Petra, on a weekday morning in winter, was in a state of hibernation. There was barely a soul to be seen or heard.

It made for a pleasant amble along the streets and past the houses with their Friar Juniper Serra plaques. These streets were bookended by the Serra museum -closed and only ever open by appointment, as one discovered - and the gigantic parish church. Petra’s Sant Pere is like so many churches on the island. Way too big for the number of residents but fascinating precisely because of the scale.

Of what little evidence of life there was, the church offered it. A fellow came along on his bike and opened the suitably massive portal. Pleasantries of a largely indecipherable nature were exchanged, though one had the distinct impression of his wishing to point out the donations bowl. Loose change was dropped in and created a faint echo in the vastness of Saint Peter’s interior. Peaceful it otherwise was. Not a sound. Until.

It wasn’t that we were driven out of the church or indeed out of Petra, but that was how it felt. The peace and quiet of this village with its monumental Gothic structure had been shattered. Who by? Spanish pensioners. That’s who by. Out on a trip. Just our luck that they hadn’t been to Petra before either.

The Imserso holidaymakers, for Imserso these pensioners were, are useful for going some way with addressing the curse of seasonality. Some way, but not very far. We hear the complaints every year from the hoteliers. It’s barely worth our while, given what he have to charge per night. Not very much.

The president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, Maria Frontera, spelt it out the other day. “Imserso requires tourist establishments to offer a service for twenty euros a night plus IVA (VAT) and which includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner, water, wine with meals, entertainment and medical service. Great damage is caused to the hotels that work with Imserso, and at the end of the day, hoteliers are sustaining the programme based on losses.”

Imserso needs reforming. The hoteliers say anyway. But reform isn’t for the hoteliers to give. Imserso is political. The Spanish government runs the programme. If all hotels withdrew, this might just prompt meaningful reform, but they don’t all withdraw, some seemingly being involved out of a sense of duty rather than profit.

Given this lack of enthusiasm, what will the hoteliers make of the government not proposing reform but putting forward the idea of a European Imserso? At a meeting of EU tourism ministers last Friday, the secretary of state for tourism, Fernando Valdés, floated this Euro-Imserso plan. It would be, he explained, a project for addressing seasonality (and yes, secretary, it always has been) and for quality and sustainability.

He went on to say that the 65+ population equates to 21% of the EU’s total population and this age group spends 5.6% of its income on tourism. He wasn’t therefore proposing that all of Europe’s pensioners descend on Spain, though one imagines that he would hope that a sizeable percentage would do. No, Euro-Imserso would be part of tourism being a “new pillar of European construction” and of Europe continuing to be the world’s main tourist destination.

Well, whatever the secretary meant by any of this, what in practice might a Euro-Imserso look like? Very much like the Spanish Imserso, one imagines, with legal challenges the normal annual occurrence, because of squabbles between provider consortiums over contract conditions and hotelier organisations beating a path to the courts to complain about the specifications they are expected to endure.

If the secretary of state believes that Imserso is that wonderful for quality, sustainability and mitigating the impact of seasonality, then he should start with examining Spain’s system before looking to get the rest of Europe involved.

But hasn’t there already been some experience of this approach? There used to be a Europe Senior Tourism programme in Spain. Whatever happened to that? And haven’t Scandinavian countries been subbing long-stay breaks in Mallorca over the winter for pensioners? Where has been the real benefit to other than a very limited number of businesses, and not even the hoteliers, if one takes them at their word?
Do churches’ donations bowls overflow? Doubtful.