Interior tourism has represented a growth segment in the winter. |


It was one of those add-ons you get with box sets. A behind-the-scenes look at filming for the Benidorm TV series in what was either September or October. One particular scene inside the hotel demonstrated how clever the crews and editors are. It seemed as if it was a bright and sunny day outside. The reality was that there were heavy clouds and it was chucking it down.

In terms of latitude, Benidorm is slightly further south than Mallorca; the latitude is almost identical to that of Formentera. Weather-wise, there isn't any real difference. When Benidorm and the Alicante province cop for bad weather, it's on a par with what we get in Mallorca. When the sun's out in Benidorm, the temperatures are much the same as Mallorca's - at all times of the year.

HOSBEC is the Community of Valencia hotelier and touristic business association. Originally the hotelier association for just Benidorm and the Costa Blanca, it is now region wide. Its history more or less matches that of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation; it was founded in 1977, a year later than in Mallorca. But while its Mallorcan counterparts are this winter pointing to the usual low number of hotels that will be open, HOSBEC has already announced that 88.7% of accommodation in the region will be open right through autumn and winter - hotels, apartments that are licensed in a similar manner to hotels, and campsites. In Benidorm itself, 88.4% of hotels will stay open.

The part of Valencia that will be least well served this winter is Castellón. But HOSBEC data still point to 65% of the hotels in this province being open. It's somewhere, if you get bored with Peñíscola, you can always head into the mountains, a peak 400 metres higher than Mallorca's Puig Major, or nip into Aragon next door, where the mountains are higher still - proper snow and skiing. The mountains are convenient for the city of Valencia too - 100% of hotels open.

Valencia as a region has certain things going for it in winter, but ultimately the winter success has been founded on the HOSBEC efforts to establish Benidorm as an all-year resort; efforts that go back many a long year. The impression will be that this is pure British territory. But that's a false impression, as Benidorm is very popular with the Spanish - summer and winter. With arrangements for Imserso Spanish pensioner holidays having been more chaotic than usual this winter, the hotels in Benidorm said they would put on their own programme, and then the Valencia government said that it would top up hotel payments in order to ensure Imserso - unlike the Balearic government.

For the British, however, there have been advantages in terms of flights. Some years ago, I looked at British resident populations (registered residents) in Mallorca, Alicante and the Costa del Sol and at winter flight schedules. Alicante's population was twice the size; the Costa del Sol six or seven times the size. Brexit notwithstanding, the different populations must surely offer an explanation as to why Alicante and Malaga get more UK flights in winter. Mustn't they?

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The Mallorca Hoteliers Federation has proudly announced that 50% of hotels will be open in November. No they won't. Not for the whole of November - a week, or two at best. A reason for staying open into November is because of half-terms in German states and the likes of Sweden. Come mid-November and they close. Twenty-five per cent over winter, says the federation. Maybe there will be, but that's 40% lower than in Castellón, the poor relation of Valencia winter tourism.

The weather obviously does matter, but HOSBEC has still managed to position Benidorm and the region as a winter destination. By contrast, when the official season comes to an end on the day of Halloween, the resorts of Mallorca, of the Balearics as a region, close down. The Day of the Dead follows two days later, when town halls with resorts should put up speakers and honour the most overworked of clichés applied to Mallorca's tourism - that of the ghost town - by pumping out The Specials. There again, no one really needs Terry Hall to remind them.

Yes, there was some shift in off-season tourism prior to the pandemic and which will now be continued - more interior tourism (and many of the establishments aren't linked to the hoteliers federation), an ever-increasing activities tourism segment (cycling and hiking most obviously), a liking for Palma's boutique hotels and for Palma as a conferences and exhibitions centre - but the contribution in percentage terms remains much as it has been for decades. Excluding April, as April is more often influenced by Easter than March, Mallorca's tourism from November to March has never been more than 15 per cent of the annual total.

This was so even in the days of a mythical golden age of winter tourism, which never really existed but when resorts were supposedly packed out with Britons seeking the winter sun. There was indeed a time when the UK supplied the largest or second largest winter market alongside the Spanish, but this was before tour operators reprinted winter sun brochures and sold the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida as well as Tenerife instead. Which coincided with the advance of a German market, partly because of increased residential tourism, and which has long been the mainstay of the island's foreign tourism in the winter.

But although the percentage has remained largely unaltered, the actual numbers of winter tourists have been rising in proportion to the figures for the whole year. For 2019, the five months combined brought in 1,379,575 tourists (slightly under 12% of the annual total), of whom 559,154 were Spanish and 455,156 German; from the UK there were 99,980. The lowest month was December - a total of 198,104 tourists.

The numbers in overall terms are not high and it's doubtful that they ever will be, regardless of the ambitions of the Balearic government and Council of Mallorca, but they do indicate that there is life outside Palma and Playa de Palma, even if it isn't life contemplating the whitewashed glass facades of resort hotels. Comparisons with Benidorm (and indeed the whole Valencia region) are pretty pointless. HOSBEC went for it in a big way; Mallorca never did.