Once upon a time, the beach was about the extent of the holiday experience. | Archive


So asked the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1967. They were to come to Mallorca - Heaven knows what the Franco regime made of them - and to almost literally bring the house down at Palma's Sgt. Peppers, such was the volume. For any tourists of a psychedelic rock persuasion, they offered an experience, one unlike all others in the Mallorca of the times, when popular music was scrutinised for its acceptability and traditional folk troupes like the Algaida cossiers were removed from fiesta squares and plonked on hotel terraces for the entertainment of holidaymakers.

For the majority of visitors, the experience lay with the sheer novelty of a holiday in the sun somewhere foreign. What greater experience was needed than getting burnt to a frazzle, applying gallons of calamine lotion as a consequence, and getting drunk by spending a fraction of what you would do on a fish and chip supper back home in Manchester, such was the cheapness. Even cheaper than chips. Those were the days.

Those days were of course to change. Twenty years after the Experience had posed the question, Ivor Biggun - temporarily escaping the censorious codpiece clamped to his Doc Cox alter ego by Esther Rantzen - released the unexpurgated version of The Majorca Song. Laden with innuendo, an end-of-the-pier, ooh-err missus update for holiday climes with three S's, Ivor did perhaps allude to at least certain aspects of the Hendrix enquiry. Are you experienced? No? You will be once you've been to Majorca (with a 'j').

Simple pleasures, you could say. As the British were being bombarded by Boxing Day telly ads for summer escapes to the sun or as they and their counterparts in other countries were thumbing through travel agent brochures the size of telephone directories, did any of them have 'experiences' on their mind? Not exactly. Whatever their holiday desires were, they equated to going on holiday, although there would have been, as there indeed have long been, those who weren't solely interested in frying for six or seven hours a day on Magalluf beach but who wished to "experience" the culture, for instance.

For experience, one could substitute "sample". Therefore, the less sun-and-beach-inclined could sample what we now have to call gastronomy. Back in the day this was simply food. Or cuisine, if one was being posh (pretentious). Such is the gastronomic experience awaiting holidaymaking seekers of gastronomic experiences in present-day Mallorca that the most basic of local sustenance has been elevated to the ranks of haute cuisine - pa amb oli, sobrassada, as examples. Some bread with oil rubbed with tomato, who would have thought ... ?

The holiday parlance nowadays emphasises the holiday experience. Apparently, this isn't only to do with holidays, as consumers engage in 'experiential purchasing'. I have to thank someone called Trifon Tsvetkov for explaining what this is. On the Regiondo blog, an article says that buying a new kitchen floor isn't just about buying x number of new tiles. It's about the benefits and experience, making you feel good and being proud to show the floor off to family and friends. Hmm, are we sure that this didn't used to be the case before experience entered the consumer equation?

For holidays, adds Trifon, the experiences are life-enriching, such as swimming with sharks. Let's hope no one promotes this in Mallorca, as the Express will be full of "killer shark" horror stories, when the sharks in question are as docile as blue sharks.

In Mallorca's Pla (Plain) region, the various municipalities have combined to create a guide to tourist experiences. And these are? Well, culture is one. Then there are heritage, nature, rural, active and of course gastronomy. In respect of the latter, life-enrichment can be gained through "sustainable experiences" related to agri-food products. Learning all about zero-kilometre agriculture and both traditional and contemporary production, such as with high-quality wines.

Excellent. I'm all in favour. But while it is fair to say that once upon a time the Pla attracted very little tourism - experiential or otherwise - were all of the above totally absent? There has always been a holidaymaker profile attuned to 'finding out'. It's nonsensical to suggest that experiences have suddenly been discovered, just as it is equally nonsensical to claim that holidaymakers are deserting the beaches in their hunt for life-enrichment in the Mallorca outback.

Paul Dalgleish, Hyatt's vice-president for sales, revenue and development in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said recently that customers don't only want a room to sleep in; "they are looking to live experiences". I don't doubt for one moment that there are more and more holidaymakers who conform to this profile. But how truly different is it and to what extent might it be driven by what was once dubbed "egotourism" (a take on ecotourism), if a or the motivation is to Instagram an encounter with a zero-kilometre goat in much the same way as a new kitchen floor is shared in social media style?

In memory of Jimi Hendrix, an experience of Mallorca could be a tour along the watchtowers. An experience yes, but would it really be anything other than selling alternative and more product?