Lots of tourists seen sitting at a bar in Mallorca. | Nekane Domblás/R.C.


Hawaii has both a Senate and a House of Representatives. In this regard, this archipelago state differs from the Balearics, where there is just a house - the Balearic parliament. In certain respects, Hawaii is similar to Mallorca. The Germans in particular refer to Mallorca as the paradise island; Hawaii is known as the paradise of the Pacific. Otherwise, there are differences in size and relative population density.

The largest island is Hawai’i. It is almost three times the land area of Mallorca’s 3,640 square kilometres but has a population of just 200,629. Figures for July last year gave Mallorca a population of 956,785. Hawai’i has the second highest population in the archipelago. It is dwarfed in terms of number of people by O’ahu, the island with the capital Honolulu and with a population of just over one million. As for land area, O’ahu is 43% the size of Mallorca.

O’ahu is where most people live and is the island which draws in the most tourists. In 2019, Hawaii as a whole reached the ten million tourist mark, lower by over six million than the Balearics but with different population and land area circumstances. This ten million represented something of a tipping point. Sean Quinlan, a deputy in the House of Representatives, says that the “public thinks we have too many tourists and that residents are ending up being left out”. Hawaii was being managed for visitors and not for residents. Something needed to be done.

A solution that Quinlan has hit on is to do away with the Hawaii Tourism Authority. So successful has promotion been that no more is needed. The people of the islands need to be given greater consideration, so the authority can be eliminated, the proposal also including the idea of establishing a council to manage Hawaii as a destination. This council wouldn’t go looking for tourists; it would manage the likes of natural resources and residents’ needs.

Map of Mallorca

It all sounds somewhat familiar, does it not? In Mallorca we have political parties who argue that tourism promotion is unnecessary. As to getting rid of a “tourism authority”, a former tourism minister, Biel Barceló, did once suggest that there may come a time when the ministry wasn’t needed, but this wasn’t the same as eliminating promotion. This, where Mallorca was concerned, was in the process of being transferred to the Council of Mallorca, which is where it now is. Having fought for several years to have this responsibility, the Council’s not about to give it up. Or you wouldn’t think so anyway.

The Quinlan proposal, rather like the calls for no more tourism promotion in Mallorca, may well not make any difference. No, there would be no official campaigns as such, but in a world with as much ‘influencing’ as there is, does this really matter, especially if a destination has reached a point where it feels that it has enough tourists? Social media does authorities’ jobs for them. And if not social media, there are always also key tourism stakeholders willing to do so - tour operators and airlines, for instance.

Where the Council of Mallorca and the Balearic government are concerned, they do of course see the merit in promotion to new markets, or old markets being revived, i.e. the US, and in promoting the off-season in the hope that they can somehow shift part of the summer mass to the winter; a part, a very small part at best.

Promotion is fair enough, but it is something of a red herring, one that applies equally to Mallorca and to Hawaii. Sean Quinlan, I would very much doubt, has an idea as to the carrying capacity of O’ahu or the rest of the archipelago. Intuitively, however, especially given the very high population density, he will feel that it has been reached or exceeded. In Mallorca it is the same, even with a lower density. The carrying capacity is the crux of the matter, but for such an important indicator no one has a clue what it is. Intuition is all that one can go by, plus - as tourism minister Iago Negueruela has said - “a feeling of saturation”.

I’m in the intuition camp. The tourism limit has been reached. But then what do I know any better than anyone else? Antoni Riera, the director of the Fundació Impulsa private-public body for Balearic competitiveness and regular contributor to the tourism debate, has not wished to put a figure on how many tourists the islands should have. Why not? Because “no one knows the actual carrying capacity of the islands”. If anyone is likely to have stab at coming up with this, then he’s probably one of them. But where do you start or end? The variables are great, both today and in the future.

Perhaps though, it is unnecessary to determine this capacity. For Quinlan’s residents’ needs, read those of people living in Mallorca. Riera says of the tourist numbers that “the social and environmental impact is undeniable”. He’s right, and you just have to take the stresses placed on housing for starters, while you have tourists themselves reckoning that their numbers are too great. Managing islands for visitors and for residents. Something needs to be done.