The winter flight debate

08-02-2012NURIA RINCON

By Andrew Ede

THE problem of lack of flights in winter is not a new one. Raising the issue in The Bulletin is not new either. It is a subject we have visited over successive winters and is one that the naysayers insist can never be altered. Well possibly so, but does this mean we should simply accept the “dismal situation”, as one letter-writer dubbed it, or should we at least attempt to improve it? There is nothing to be lost by trying while there is plenty to be gained.
When Jason Moore asked for emails to demonstrate there is demand for winter flights, especially but not only from Scotland, the scale of the response could not have been anticipated. What is significant about this response is that it has gone way beyond evidence in the past. Three hundred plus letters demonstrate that this demand exists and also demonstrate the depth of feeling about the lack of flights. And to this three hundred or so, how many more visitors feel the same? The response is, one fancies, the tip of the iceberg.
From a selection of these emailed letters that have been posted on to our website, one gets a very clear impression of the frustrations that many of you feel. They also, those from property owners on the island in particular, raise an issue that goes very much wider than the normal debate. It is a national issue and not only a Majorcan one.
The Spanish Government’s national tourism plan states quite clearly that a “strength” of the country’s tourism is “residential tourism”. By this it refers specifically to the economic benefits of foreign property ownership - the holiday home. Majorca and the Balearics comprise one of three principal tourism destinations in Spain. Along with the Canaries and Catalonia, over 60% of ALL Spanish tourism is centred on these three regions. The Canaries have a flourishing winter season. Catalonia, thanks mainly to Barcelona being a major city, having a major international airport and being the busiest port for cruises in the Mediterranean, does nicely enough in winter. Majorca?
In terms of national tourism strategy, Majorca is vitally important and yet it suffers from neglect. The arguments about winter flights should be seen, therefore, in a much broader context. Why should it be that the island can contribute so much to the overall economic well-being of Spain only for there to be apparent contentment with this contribution being limited solely to the main season?
A problem with this national strategy is that it is not one that national government directly affects. It sounds ridiculous to say this but it is a fact and this is because tourism responsibilities are devolved to regional governments. Hence, you have a situation in which “residential tourism” in Majorca, while it is a strength, is one that, for several months of the year, loses virtually all its strength. It’s an utter nonsense.
The letters make this point over and over. “I have owned an apartment in Majorca for about nine years. I live in Glasgow and am no longer able to get a flight in winter.” “I bought a place in Santa Ponsa eight years ago and at that time winter flights were not a problem. However, the last few years have been awful.” “We have a property in Cala Fornells and used to regularly visit Majorca in the winter. This is now almost impossible from Manchester.” “The only airline that used to fly a decent schedule in the winter months was Fly Globespan from Scotland. The times I used this flight, I could not believe how busy it was.” “I have just returned from Majorca after spending a week there searching for a villa to buy. However, we have been put off by having to fly Newcastle to Barcelona then Barcelona to Palma.” I could go on.
While not everyone is a property owner, the majority of the letters were from owners. One comes back, therefore, to that so-called national tourism plan. Is residential tourism a strength or isn’t it? Or is it, where Majorca is concerned, only deemed to be a strength when the airlines are willing to fly, and it might be noted that one letter referred to a communication with Jet2, who said that there was not the demand in the off-season for flights.
On the strength of these letters that demand does appear to exist, but are there other reasons why airlines feel disinclined to lay on services? Several letters refer to landing fees and to the need for Palma airport to reduce them or even scrap them in the off-season. This is easier said than done. Palma itself cannot adjust its charges. It is a decision for the airports authority, AENA, and it would have to apply reductions to all airports that fall within the tariff bracket in which Palma is placed (the third highest in the network after Madrid and Barcelona). However, the national minister for development, Ana Pastor, whose ministry controls the now partially privatised AENA, has suggested there may be reductions in airport taxes. This may only be election talk but at least there is talk.
The ministry, even with requirements of its new shareholders to take into account, could, were it of a mind to, get AENA to reduce fees. But, this is a ministry for airports, not for tourism, be it residential or other. So, here is further evidence, I would suggest, of disjointed government. The national tourism ministry sees the great virtue of residential tourism, yet does nothing to assist it in Majorca, where the regional government has an antagonism towards residential tourism in its broadest sense (to include the “illegal offer”) and so does nothing to promote or facilitate it, while the development ministry is primarily concerned with airport profit and not the wider economic benefits (through tourism) from the travellers.
The letters show not only the type of demand that exists but also the heartfelt and at times desperate emotions that owners and others are experiencing. And perhaps here is a further lesson that should be appreciated. Emotional investment in Majorca is every bit as strong as financial investment in bricks and mortar, and it is an investment across the island and so not just Palma. Cala d’Or, Cala Fornells, Soller, Pollensa, Cala San Vicente, Cala Millor, Santa Ponsa; they are all name checked.
This campaign is going to continue and it is one that needs to go to the highest level. Majorca’s winter woes should be of concern for national government for the reasons I have noted. The airlines will do as the airlines will. They may say there is a lack of demand and they may be deterred by the cost of flying to Palma. Well, demand and cost are both factors that can be influenced, and a starting point for both would be joined-up government. Too much to ask?

Can EasyRider and The Ryan in Winter Save Majorca?

By Tom Leeming

THE lack of UK winter visitors to Majorca is, in my view, the sole reason for the greatly reduced number of flights from the UK in winter when compared to the number of flights available in summer. Not rocket science and fairly obvious you might say and you would be right.    Therefore the first problem is to get the reluctant British to accept Majorca as a good winter holiday destination and the second problem is then to convince the reluctant airlines that there is something in it for them by providing additional winter flights to satisfy the needs of visitors, residents and home owners.
The first is a sales and marketing problem and better dealt with by those who have far more experience in the subject then me; certainly Professor David Carson is the man to comment on this aspect.  I can see no reason, apart from the variation in flight numbers, why so many German visitors come to Majorca in winter and why very few Britons make the effort. The British and German people are very similar in many ways and both hail from Northern Europe.
 When walking in the Pyrenees I found that by far the greatest numbers were the British and the Germans. The British and the Germans enjoy golf and cycling so why the difference. Perhaps it is because historically, from about the 1960s, Majorca has been sold to the British, by tour operators, as a sun, sea and sand summer resort with a bit of fun to be had around The Strip area of Magalluf.  This is borne out by the numbers of Britons visiting in the summer period.   A large number of British know little else of Majorca other that what is contained in TV documentaries showing Magalluf in the worst possible light and A&E programmes centred around Magalluf. On the other hand the Germans have a much broader picture of what is available and, being free from the historical ties of the 1960s, are not restricted by out dated ideas. So, Majorca Tourist Board and all the other regional tourist boards, get together and make sure the British are fully aware of what Majorca can offer.  Currently, in mid February, there is an average of 15 flights per day from 11 German airports and less than 3 per day from  5 UK airports.  Accepting that there are equal numbers of British and German residents here and equal numbers of home owners, probably 4 flights per day to both the UK and Germany would cater for the travel needs of these people. That leaves 10 flights per day to carry the German tourists; about 1.700 arriving each day and, if they stayed for an average of 7 days each, that equates to 12,000 beds per day.   The less than 3 flights per day from the UK mean that many UK residents and home owners either do not travel or they have to make long connecting journeys.
 The second problem, concerning  the lack of winter flights, is more easily explained. Airlines, as I have pointed out previously, cannot afford to have aircraft sitting on the ground.  Short haul carriers, UK to the Mediterranean of example, can only expect aircraft utilisation rates of between ten and twelve hours per day.   This is because many airports have night curfews between 11pm and 6am or they make extra charges for using the airport at night time. Long haul carriers do not have this problem because their long flights, anything between seven hours and fourteen hours, take place overnight and over time zone  changes of between five and nine hours.
 These airlines would expect to achieve a utilisation rate of about eighteen hours per day without infringing night curfews. Also because they have just two take offs and two landings in that period, as opposed to the short haul carrier’s four to six, the air fares are relatively cheaper - London to Palma return with hold luggage and snacks average about 280 euros, London to New York with hold luggage, meals and drinks average about 740 euros, four and a half times the distance for two and a half times the price.
Having convinced the British tourists to come to Majorca in numbers during the winter, thanks to the renewed efforts of the Tourist Board, can the airlines now be persuaded to change their schedules to incorporate Majorca?   The answer is probably NO, because they are operating their aircraft over 90% full on their present scheduling, so why should they change to another route where there is no guarantee of passenger numbers.
One possible way is to offer incentives to the main providers of winter flights to the Spanish mainland, easyRider and The Ryan in Winter.   Both provide regular services from 13 UK regional airports (including the 5 which presently serve Majorca in winter) to Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga.   If these airlines could be persuaded to change some of these high frequency schedules to serve Majorca, this could provide a minimum of 18 more flights per week, or a total of over 38 flights per week from all UK airports.   In addition to the present airports of London City, Stansted, Gatwick, Bristol and Liverpool, this would provide flights from Belfast (1), Birmingham (2), Edinburgh(2), East Midlands (2), Glasgow (2), Leeds Bradford (1), Manchester (3) and Newcastle (2).   Currently, mid February, easyRider and The Ryan in Winter provide over 360 flights per week to Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga.   Is it too much, even with incentives such as reduced landing charges, possibly reduced passenger fees and perhaps a little financial help over the first month or so, to give Majorca just 18 of those 360 weekly flights?   The airlines should not incur additional expenses because the flights will be operated from the original bases and the flight times to Palma are similar to those to the main land airports.   Provided landing and handling charges do not increase by operating to Palma and passenger loads remain the same, nothing should change except a change in mind set.   The ball is in the court of the Majorca or Balearics Government to make sure the airlines do not lose out on this new venture.
If all fails there is still the possibility of the creation of a new airline operating out of Palma; and using, initially two or three aircraft, but if successful then who knows what are the limits with the possibility of operating services throughout Europe and Scandinavia.   Such a venture would require large financial inputs from the government and local interested parties, but let us see what happens in the near future.

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