Camping Son Bou in Menorca. | Gemma Andreu


While I tend to be somewhat sceptical about reports from named websites, which do after all have an interest in their own publicity, one from the camping website, Pitchup, may well be valid - an 11.3% increase in bookings for Spanish campsites this summer compared with 2019.

At the start of July, the association of camping businesses in Alicante was saying that bookings and occupancy for July were running at 2019 levels - 75% occupancy for pitches and 90% for cabins. In August it expects 80% and 95% respectively. The Alicante figures appear to dispute the Pitchup figure, but then the website is talking about the whole Spanish market.

Alicante is one of the main camping centres, and this includes Benidorm, where there are campsites that approach what one might term luxury, but not excessively so and not in an exclusive style. The market for camping is well understood - it is solidly a family market. And from what Pitchup says (it is a London-based website), three-quarters of bookings are foreign, with the British way out ahead - 44% of all bookings.

It is said that camping has become more attractive because of Covid. Perhaps this still is the case, though it was more so last summer than this. The Alicante numbers don't point to a Covid effect. Rather, they indicate an enduring popularity of a style of holiday that is unavailable in Mallorca.

In Menorca and Ibiza there are some campsites, but only some, and their existence, I suspect, may owe something to specific island regulations. As it is, the Balearics as a whole are principally governed by legislation that dates back to 1986 and which helps to explain why there aren't campsites in Mallorca.

One of the so-called Cladera decrees (after the first Balearic tourism minister, Jaume Cladera), the 1986 regulations effectively made campsites untenable from a business perspective. There were various requirements for services and infrastructure, but the real killer was that licences could only be for three years. It wasn't a terribly appealing prospect - invest in a campsite but with the risk that the licence wouldn't be renewed.

Then there were land and urban planning regulations, which since 1986 have become progressively more complex and subject to revision through reclassification. One set of regulations made it almost completely impossible for there to be camping in resort areas. POOT was the acronym for what was basically a quota system of municipal land dedicated to tourist accommodation purposes. And that meant hotels or similar. Away from resorts and into the countryside, the rustic land qualifications have been a minefield for any potential developer - a scrupulous one or not.

There have been "campings", a category that is somewhat misleading. The most celebrated was the San Pedro in Colonia Sant Pere. This may have had camping at one point, but the site was developed and housed 88 bungalows. It was very popular in the 1990s. In 2002 it was denounced. In 2006 the Council of Mallorca ordered its demolition. Closed for years and in a state of total abandonment, the Supreme Court ratified the demolition order in February this year.

The site was denounced because it was illegal in terms of urban planning. There apparently wasn't a means of making it legal - retrospective legalisation is certainly not uncommon. Although it wasn't a campsite as such, the bungalows plus pool and certain facilities were reminiscent of the cabins at campsites on the mainland. The San Pedro was unusual in offering this type of holiday. Popular it was, and not just among holidaymakers. Local businesses benefited greatly.

Camping, of whatever type, will generally speaking always offer an economic alternative to a hotel or a villa. But it doesn't follow that camping holidaymakers don't spend. Figures from the Valencia government for 2016 indicate that the average spend per foreign camping holidaymaker was 1,148 euros. For all foreign holidaymakers in Valencia this was 957 euros. However, the length of stay by camping tourists was longer - up to as much as five days (a total of 15.3 days to quote the government's estimate).

The Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, has rightly said that quality of tourist cannot solely be judged in economic terms. Determinants of quality include respect, e.g. for others and for the environment. Camping tourism is not known for being conflictive. It therefore meets certain "tests" of quality. But in Mallorca there isn't any camping tourism, and one doubts very much that there ever will be. In Alicante and the rest of Valencia, meanwhile, and in various parts of Catalonia, not to mention Andalusia and Galicia, there is plenty.