Playa de Palma in high summer. | Anja Schmidt


While Leonard Cohen once explained that his song First We Take Manhattan was a response to terrorism, numerous other interpretations have been offered, such as seeking world domination. The song's chorus, such as it is, completes the title by adding "then we take Berlin". And every year when the ITB Berlin tourism fair comes round, this is the line which, for some reason, comes to mind.

If Mallorca doesn't exactly seek a tourism world domination, then Spain does, and ahead of this year's fair, the Mesa del Turismo presented a report about "strengths, challenges and objectives to consolidate global leadership". This organisation, a translation of which - Tourism Board - gives a wrong impression, is essentially a tourism think tank of leading figures, companies, federations and others. When it speaks of global leadership, it does so in the knowledge that France is the world number one in terms of foreign tourist arrivals; Spain is number two.

But let's not quibble too much, the Mesa del Turismo seemingly hopeful of taking the number one spot thanks to what its president, Juan Molas, has said will be "the best first quarter in the history of Spanish tourism". This will be because of the early Easter, with all forecasts pointing to a very healthy Balearic contribution to this best ever first quarter.

The islands, as if anyone were still unaware of the fact, have placed their tourism promotional efforts into a low-season basket that is overflowing with product goodies like sport, culture and gastronomy. And in taking Berlin, these were precisely the types of tourism that the islands were speaking about. Again. But promotion for all seasons had first involved taking Manhattan in pursuit of American tourists with bulging wallets that put even a German wallet to shame.

Yes, the Americans are coming, but the Balearics are acutely aware that they must continue to take Berlin - 4.6 million German tourists a year demand this. In a sense of course, it isn't that the Balearics take Berlin, it's the other way round. Germany has world domination of the islands inasmuch as Germany is the largest tourist market of all and has been for years. The UK, the market leader back in the distant days of the sixties and seventies, now dawdles behind to the tune of more than 850,000 holidaymakers.

Although there are times in the summer when the UK and indeed Spain leap above Germany, it is the whole year that counts and gives Germany this leadership. And so while messages in Berlin were not dissimilar to those uttered in London at the World Travel Market last November, they are ones for a much larger low-season base.

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The product themes for 2024 differ little from those of previous fairs, except that the Balearics have now discovered a responsible tourism to appeal to a German sense of responsibility as acute as that of sustainability. This is a message which admittedly does struggle to be heard above the rowdiness of a Playa de Palma Ballermann in full drunken cry, but tourism minister Jaume Bauzá has most certainly not been entertaining this particular niche. What would it make of the tie-up with the Balearic agriculture ministry in promoting "the almonds of Mallorca"? What use would almond milk be, unless it were mixed with a gallon of vodka?

The individual island councils all made their pitches in Berlin, but how many of the gathered tour operators, media and others would have been paying particular attention to Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera? The Balearics don't take Berlin, Mallorca does, and the reciprocation is evident from the figures.

Leaving out the other three islands, Germany's domination is secured through Mallorca alone. In 2023, there were 4.22 million German tourists in Mallorca, some half a million more than the total number of UK tourists for the whole of the Balearics. Moreover, while the German number for Mallorca increased by almost eight per cent, it fell by 4.5% in Minorca (to 62,540) and by 2.8% in Ibiza/Formentera (to 310,735).

The UK gets as close as it does to Germany in overall Balearic terms because the UK market on the other islands is that much stronger - 481,390 in Minorca in 2023 (up ten per cent) and 898,962 in Ibiza/Formentera (up nine per cent). Last year in Mallorca there were 2.34 million UK tourists.

It's not for nothing that Mallorca is referred to as the seventeenth state of Germany, the taking of Mallorca having of course once been the subject of a Bild spoof in the 1990s for a German acquisition of the island. But it is perhaps curious that the Balearics aren't the seventeenth state; only Mallorca. This has always been so, partly because of historical arrangements between hoteliers and German tour operators; Playa de Palma alone has typically attracted around a quarter of all German tourists. Other factors have included Air Berlin's one-time massive commitment to German routes twelve months a year.

"I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them," Leonard Cohen continued. Was Jaume Bauzá offering a reward in Berlin? No, as he wasn't taking Berlin. Germany took Mallorca years ago.