Talk this year of total tourist numbers in the Balearics increasing by two million. | Juan Luis Ruiz Collado


In the style of Aldous Huxley's novel, is there to be a Year Zero for Mallorca's brave new tourism world? Assuming that it is an after as opposed to an electoral continuation, will 2027 mark this year, thus making 2028 AP1, After Prohens, and when brave new measures have transformed the island's tourism model?

There is certainly a great deal of governmental bravery at present. We know this because the government keeps telling us there is. Vice-president and spokesperson Antoni Costa, for example, can't make a public statement without littering his announcements with allusions to brave measures. The extraordinary thing about this bravery discourse isn't that he keeps repeating himself but that he and others only stumbled across the path to the brave new world around four weeks ago. Or should one say the road? That which was congested and forming a blockade of Soller.

"Maximum possible consensus" for the brave measures. This was the Costa wish in informing us of the roundtable to seek a social and political pact for the sustainability of the tourism model. Well, he can wish this, as achieving it will be quite a different thing. Inviting 'social agents' to sit around the roundtable is to be welcomed, but some of these agents are subversive sorts; Huxleyan savages such as Extinction Rebellion chaining themselves to a Ryanair Airbus.

Even so, environmentalists GOB were among the social agents asked along for a chat, the invite more or less having coincided with a gathering in Sineu at which GOB and others came up with protest ideas, such as "collapsing" Palma Son Sant Joan Airport (whatever this means). In consensual as well as brave fashion, Costa voiced "respect" for GOB's proposals ahead of the roundtable. Which clearly didn't mean he agreed with them but was kind of conciliatory in a pre-emptive manner.

Brave initiatives were to be taken, the vice-president promised, and will be done so "hand in hand" with the entire civil society. Really? Well, there were a lot of invites, and there clearly wasn't going to be a roundtable as there isn't one large enough for getting on for 140 entities - political parties, business, unions, GOB, and so on and so forth. It was like the committee for deciding how to spend the sustainable tourism tax, except six times the size. Will it prove to be any less of a waste of time than that committee was under the last government, and when GOB walked out because the government had in fact already decided how the tax was going to be spent?

Much as I applaud the PP government for its Damascene conversion, despite claims there wasn't anything to convert, and sympathise with GOB's protesting instincts, how fruitful might any of this be? Protests do jolt the political establishment, as statements in light of the Canaries demonstrations indicate, but they are futile unless genuine solutions exist to back up the demands. These are not protests for which there can be ready solutions, e.g. better pay for workers with legitimate grievances; these are protests about a way of life, and one cemented over six decades.

GOB and others who gathered in Sineu wish there to be a shared social response to overtourism. Indeed, but this was a call led by the usual suspects of tourism protest. How appealing are they as self-appointed saviours to society at large? A shared social response implies a mainstream mobilisation of problem-solving, not least by business and unions, which is why the government sent out so many invitations.

Antoni Costa says deliberations and analysis will be concluded in months, not years. But what will be the outcome? In this regard, a recent interview with the tourism minister, Jaume Bauzá, was both underwhelming and far from convincing. There he was, once again, blaming the last government, referring to specific examples of "saturation" (the congested roads) and highlighting the use of technological tools to monitor the numbers of people at certain tourist spots. Both Bauzá and Costa advocate the need for data over mere perceptions, which is all well and good, but perceptions are what everyone else goes by.

Data, so the argument goes, will enable improved management of tourist flows. But there is one flow of tourists that matters above all - and that is the number of people arriving at the ports and at the airport. How do you control this? The Balearic government can't regulate flights or ferries. It can arrive at a goodwill agreement with cruise operators, but this is about all it can do. Aena has its shareholders to worry about, just as it is concerned with state revenue; ditto the Balearic Ports Authority. So you are left with seeking a reduction in the flow by eliminating a chunk of the tourist product. And that means accommodation.

The bravest of measures have to be directed at eradicating the illegal supply in all its forms, including hotels' undeclared rooms. If this means a whole army of inspectors, then so be it. In that interview, Bauzá reckoned that this supply is "gigantic". In truth, no one can put a figure on it.

Will AP1 become a reality? Or is the tourism model brave new world the stuff of fiction?