By Ray Fleming
Oil and Troubled Waters
A week that began with impressive protests In Palma and throughout the Balearics against plans for oil and gas exploration in local waters ended in confusion as a vote in the national Congress confirmed the Partido Popular
(PP) government’s support for legislation introduced by the previous PSOE socialist administration that favoured such explorations. When these drilling plans first came into the news a few weeks ago the PP President of the Balearics, Jose Ramon Bauza, spoke strongly against them and insisted that tourism was the economic priority. There was therefore some anger in local Balearic political quarters as it became known that PP votes in Madrid in favour of oil and gas development had included those of local PP representatives who had previously spoken against it. One local politician said that PP members in Congress who said one thing while in the Balearics and another when toeing the party line in Madrid should resign.
In the midst of these political uncertainties and public protests the company undertaking oil and gas explorations in the Mediterranean, Cairn Energy (Capricorn Spain), issued a detailed statement about its operational methods and its commitment to “develop and manage complex exploration and drilling projects successfully, while aiming to set the highest possible standards in terms of environmental and safety records”. Cairn Energy also pointed out that at least two hundred wells had been drilled in the Mediterranean over the past forty years and that it is “working at the invitation of the Spanish government”.
In his almost daily reporting of these developments Humphrey Carter noted that despite the thousands who are against oil drilling it also has supporters who have first hand experience of the industry in other parts of the world and know that it can boost local economies without being a threat to the environment. In a Letter to the Editor, Mike Lillico said that after the discovery of oil the former neglected colony of Equatorial Guinea was now “catching up with Saudi Arabia in the riches league” and that “If the Baleares was lucky enough to follow the Equatorial Guinea route the boost to the economy could be tremendous”.
The average pedestrian or car driver on the Paseo Maritimo gets only glimpses of one of Majorca’s most impressive craft businesses -- the servicing of yachts from all over the world which are often hidden under scaffolding or enclosed in covers. The Bulletin reported the current presence of one of the world’s most expensive and luxurious yachts which is having her two-months winter refit at the STP shipyard, one of Europe’s most secure and advanced shipyards. Ilona is owned by one of Australia’s richest men, Frank Lowry, who runs 124 Westfield shopping centres in Australia, New Zealand, US and UK. The 73.81 metre yacht has a helicopter landing pad in her superstructure and a fully retractable system which stows the aircraft in its own fireproof hanger.
Winter Tourism Gloom
Amidst a mass of statistics one thing was very clear in the figures of tourist spending in Spain in January -- that the Balearics had lost out in the Winter Tourism stakes to other destinations in Spain both in terms of hotel bookings and actual expenditure despite an overall increase in the country of around ten per cent on 2013. In his Blog entitled “January Just Got Worse” Andrew Ede interpreted the figures in this way: “Majorca lost over 20,000 tourists. Put another way, tourism in Majorca was down by over 11 per cent. In Andalusia, by contrast, it was up be over 23 percent In Catalonia, tourist tax and all, it was up by 13.5 per cent. Nationally, it was up by over 12 per cent. Majorca (the Balearics) was the only one of the major tourism regions to have experienced a slump.”
A couple of bright spots were reported in the Bulletin. Against the general trend the Hotel Sis Pins in Pollensa had kept open in January and was encouraged by the result. A Letter to the Editor from Martin Page said: “I am very pleased to read that the Hotel Sis Pins has had a successful Winter season and will be opening again next Winter. However, they are not the only hotel in Majorca open all Winter. We own an agrotourismo in the centre of the island. We find that although we are not as busy as the Summer, we do have a steady stream of visitors all year. Maybe because we are not a beach hotel, we seem to attract guests that are more interested in walking and exploring and are not so dependent on perfect weather. The Germans seem particularly keen on this time of year, although this may be because flights from Germany are better than those from the UK and other parts of Europe.”
This letter and Andrew Ede’s Blog appeared in the Bulletin on Wednesday and there was a similarity between their final words. Addressing the Balearic tourism minister, Ede ended: “Tourists have to have the idea placed in their minds that there is more than sun and beach and once their minds are changed the airlines will schedule more flights... Have you seen the numbers for UK and German tourists in January? The number for the latter is four times greater. Now, why do you think that is?”
Majorca’s Anglican Chaplain, David Waller, has been appointed Area Dean for Northern Spain, Andorra and the Balearics and will be in charge of about ten chaplains in this area. The Rev Waller was too modest to mention this in his regular Bulletin article but he was named Person of the Week on Sunday’s page 2 anyway.
A short article by Andrew Rawson described a ceremony at the Mur de las Memoria at the back of Palma cemetery which commemorates the hundreds of Majorcan men and women who were killed by the Franco regime. On this occasion, attended by about 150 people, four men who were shot on 24 February 1937 after being held prisoner in Bellver Castle wee remembered; the Republican mayor of Palma, Emile Darder, was one of them.
The cost of renting a country house in the Balearics is higher than anywhere else in Spain, according to a new report. On average it costs 68 euros per person per night in the high season, compared to an average of 26 in other regions. Only the Balearics and Canary Islands have increased prices recently while other regions have reduced them.