Tourist is seen on the beach. | PLOZANO

Tourism matters in Mallorca can be oh so predictable. The time of the year will tend to dictate this predictability and so do the politics. These matters are often linked, and so three have been over recent days - all-inclusive hotel drinking; the British Embassy pledging its support to tackle tourism of excesses; and the tourism minister expounding on the nature of sustainable growth.

Let’s focus on the all-inclusives and therefore a story that has been popping up for the past few weeks but which is old news. It has to do with the Balearic government’s tourism of excesses decree. This was approved in January 2020. You don’t need me to tell you what happened not long after that rendered it somewhat redundant, but only for a short period.

It is now being said that awareness of this decree has only surfaced because things are pretty much back to normal, when this isn’t the case. Covid was a key factor, but the decree was also an element in the summer of 2020, when the government ordered that premises selling alcohol could not do so if they were on specific streets in those resort areas covered by the decree. In Magalluf, Punta Ballena was effectively shut down as a consequence, a move which didn’t fail to attract a hefty amount of attention in Mallorca and abroad. Last summer, the decree applied, and there was no Covid order.

If holidaymakers are not being advised of how this decree affects certain all-inclusives, then this is a failure of the hotels themselves or tour operators. There are then the online agencies, and they are less likely to be giving any advice. But is this advice (or its absence) what really matters? One has some sympathy for tourists who book what is marketed as all-inclusive, when it is not all-inclusive as they will understand the term - alcohol available all day and not just at meal times. Three alcoholic drinks with lunch and dinner, and the offer sounds more like a form of full board and not all-inclusive. The terminology, it seems to me, is what is at fault.

There can be confusion with the decree and how it applies to all-inclusives because it covers only certain areas of three resorts in Mallorca - Arenal (Llucmajor), Magalluf and Playa de Palma (plus Sant Antoni in Ibiza). But is any confusion being generated unnecessarily? Why were all-inclusives ever incorporated into this decree?

We need, I think, to go back to September 2017. The Pimeco small retailers association was demanding government regulation of all-inclusives. In supporting this demand, the association claimed that the majority of alcohol emergencies at Son Espases Hospital related to tourists staying at all-inclusive hotels - around 70%. The hospital subsequently explained that it didn’t have this type of information; it wasn’t relevant to patient care.

On top of what was unsubstantiated (and questionable) data, the then tourism minister, Biel Barceló, was lamenting the fact that there were drunken tourists with their plastic cups of booze in all-inclusives, while Alfonso Rodríguez Sánchez, a Calvia councillor and spokesperson for the Consubal consumers association and not to be confused with the mayor Alfonso Rodríguez Badal, was offering a similar lament and calling for action, with Magalluf particularly in mind.

And so a momentum was gathering. Barceló’s successor, Bel Busquets from the same party, Més, was pressing for all-inclusive regulation. There wasn’t any, Francina Armengol and PSOE brushing the idea aside with observations such as there being the need for dialogue and consensus within the sector, etc. Some months after Iago Negueruela became minister, though, and all-inclusives were now caught in the tourism of excesses decree.

No one is denying that there are holidaymakers at all-inclusives who get plastered or that there are those who then leave the hotels in order to continue drinking once the all-inclusive bar comes down (typically at midnight). But this isn’t just the case in the areas specified by the decree, while there are plenty of other holidaymakers who don’t get plastered and for whom the limitation imposed by the decree was something of an insult.

Confusion there may be, but it is avoidable. There is either regulation of all-inclusives in the whole of Mallorca and the Balearics, something I very much doubt will ever happen, or there is no discrimination purely on location.

Sob stories in the likes of the Daily Mail about British holidaymakers unaware of the Magalluf all-inclusive rule were unlikely to have been high on the agenda when the British ambassador met Francina Armengol the other day. Instead, there was the now familiar support for Balearic efforts against tourism excesses and which will doubtless result in further campaigns to inform mainly youthful tourists of the regulations as they apply, especially in Magalluf. How many campaigns can there be before the penny drops?

Tourist excesses and their eradication are part of the overall narrative concerning sustainable tourism. To this end, the ambassador was asked about the criticisms of certain political parties (Més and Podemos) regarding tourist "massification". Hugh Elliott was "aware" of the debate and said that any decision taken in this regard would be respected. Sure, what else was he going to say?

Meantime, Iago Negueruela was insisting that setting limits was the best way to protect tourism. He was referring to the moratorium on new tourist accommodation places. As well as not allowing new places (some 18,000), the tourism law decree, now being processed as a bill by parliament, also envisages some reduction - five per cent of places in exchange for hotels being able to expand their built area by 15% to accommodate new facilities (not rooms).

These legislative devices, said the minister, did not amount to "de-growth". While the tourism law may ultimately result in a decrease in the number of places, decrease is not the same as de-growth. This is Negueruela’s argument, as there will be sustainable growth through enhanced quality as envisaged in the law. And by sustainable growth, he means and hopes more and better jobs because of quality demands and the nature of tourism, i.e. one that is not founded on the type of excesses he is so keen to stamp out in Magalluf.

Indeed, and will this sustainable growth include all-inclusives? I think you can safely say that it will. In the future, though, will there be a need for limitations on booze in some hotels? Quality will prevail. Will it not. That’s the theory, anyway.