Mallorca is not for sale. | Pere Bota


Here's an oddity. Or perhaps it isn't. In August 2007, the Majorca Daily Bulletin carried a report about a survey which had discovered that residents of Mallorca and the other islands felt that there were too many tourists in summer. The consequences of all these tourists were overcrowding and saturation - seventeen years ago and when, for the record, Mallorca attracted 9.9 million tourists; in 2023 there were 12.5 million. (Figures from the Balearic tourism ministry.)

In that year, the government, then a coalition headed by Francesc Antich of PSOE, announced its 'Plan Turismo 2020'. The aim was one of greater added value. A stated goal was "fewer tourists and higher income". Antich couldn't of course have predicted the pandemic of 2020 and the virtual absence of tourists. But whatever became of this plan? Who knows. Perhaps it slipped into a tourism ministry black hole, the vacuum created by there having been four tourism ministers from 2007 to 2011, two of whom were destined to spend several years contemplating this plan in a prison cell.

Or maybe it was just so much political snake oil, a response to what had happened in March 2007. Who remembers this? Some of you must. There was a protest. Until the demonstration against José Ramón Bauzá's education policies in September 2013 (an estimated 100,000), the protest of March 17, 2007 was the largest ever in Mallorca. There were some 50,000 people.

From archive documents, one thing that stands out about that protest was that foreign media coverage was predominantly German. An example was the front page of the Berliner Zeitung. "Goodbye, Mallorca. 50,000 Mallorcans demonstrate against tourists. Why don't they like us anymore?"

That protest, though it was portrayed as being anti-tourist, wasn't specific to tourism. Some weeks ahead of the regional elections, it was a protest against policies of the Partido Popular government of Jaume Matas. These were policies to do with land. In part it was therefore tourism-related but not exclusively. Water resources were a further issue. And so, rather like the protest with 10,000 people a couple of weeks ago, the focus wasn't solely tourism, even if this was how it came to be reported.

Land also had to do with housing. Around the same time as Antich was unveiling his Plan Turismo, he was also talking about an agreement he intended to make with developers for "thousands of homes". One way in which this was going to be done was to "build upwards". Taller apartment blocks would create more homes and at lower prices. Or so he reckoned.

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Seventeen years on, the debate, the protests haven't changed. It is just that the factors have caused an intensification, inflamed - to a degree - by what wasn't a factor in 2007, namely a fundamental media requirement of web traffic. Sure, there were and had been Mallorca tourism news stories, but not on today's scale.

But to suggest that all the current angst or indeed that of 2007 is solely a phenomenon of the twenty-first century would be totally fallacious. Let me take you back to a Bulletin report from June 1967. On the 24th of that month, Maria Steiner, a Swiss citizen, and her husband Roger received a pleasant surprise. They were to be treated to a fortnight's free holiday in Palma, as Maria was the one millionth tourist to have arrived at Son Sant Joan Airport that year.

We are of course talking about the days of Franco and when Manuel Fraga was minister of information as well as tourism. The millionth tourist was thus a cause of celebration; Fraga would have made sure it was. But it wasn't as if there weren't rumblings even back then and which disproved the perception that no criticism was tolerated. It was, so long as writers steered well clear of certain targets, Franco himself most obviously.

Josep Alfonso Villanueva was to become a member of the Balearic parliament with PSOE when democratic government was created in 1983. In the mid-60s, he pursued a career as an economist and in 1969 wrote a socioeconomic analysis of the general hospitality industry. A conclusion he drew was that there should be a limit to the number of tourists.

An article from 1967 called for the founding of a university so that there could be a study of the sociological impact of mass tourism. A university, it was argued, should assist in guaranteeing social equilibrium, with culture as well as socioeconomics its chief concerns. There were also concerns about water resources - there was no plan for proper exploitation of water - and about the uneven distribution of wealth from tourism. This contained veiled criticism of the Opus Dei technocrats who had masterminded Spain's 'economic miracle'; the last thing the technocrats were bothered about was equitable distribution of wealth.

The university and the Tramuntana reservoirs were to come along during the following decade. While the university has provided important contributions to the understanding of tourism, the fact is that the social equilibrium has never been adequately addressed. The various implications of this explain why we are where we are today, and when citizens can exercise a right that was denied to them in 1967 - the right of protest.