Simon Calder in Palma last week.

04-05-2017Humphrey Carter

Travel writer, broadcaster and current senior travel editor for The Independent online, Simon Calder, was in Majorca last week on a lightning visit to answer the pleas of help from hundreds of British tourists affected by the AluaSoul Mallorca Hotel incident in Cala d’Or. Quite simply, people have been booked in but the hotel’s still being renovated and is unfit to stay in and they have been shipped off to other hotels, some superior, some inferior. Simon admitted that at some point Thomson, which has apologised, is going to have to pay out for the disruption.

However, during Simon’s brief stay on the island when he was also investigating a number of topics for himself, such as the problem of false compensation claims and tourist saturation, he made time to come and talk to the Bulletin. Simon, who to date has presented a host of travel shows for the BBC, written numerous travel books and is a regular tourism pundit on news bulletins, admitted that he is concerned about the effects Brexit could have on travel for the British market.

"The biggest carriers in Europe at the moment are out of the UK and Ireland, although Ryanair should be OK as it is a European airline, but who knows. However, there is going to a huge hunger within the European Union for countries to have a greater slice of their open skies.

"For example, two legacy airlines, Air France and Alitalia, have been really hard hit by the low-cost airline boom fuelled by UK carriers. You could say that the ratio of flights from the UK to France or many other EU countries by a UK carrier is 4-1. UK carriers are dominating something like 80 per cent of EU open skies airspace. So, what concerns me is that when the UK leaves the EU, certain countries could play hardball and deny UK carriers access to open skies. Think about it. It will give Air France and other struggling legacy airlines the chance to grab back a greater share of the open skies. They will be thinking why should easyJet, for an example, be operating flights from Paris, Berlin or Rome into Spain, when we could be doing it? It will be a golden opportunity for them to expand their business and the aviation industry is a very influential one in all countries.

"Ryanair, at the moment, is threatening to ground all flights for two weeks after Brexit is completed in protest if they get pushed out of the market which they currently lead. And there could be a great deal more red tape for travellers. At the moment, we can flip open our tablets or grab our phone and book a flight, holiday, car rental, whatever online - no problems and very few questions asked.

"Once we are outside of the European Union, and Brussels has already made it clear that it intends to erect electronic barriers protecting the EU, Britons may find themselves having to fill in a host of questions when booking a simple flight, such as who they are, where they live, where they are going, where they are going to stay, purpose of travel, etc. More barriers and red tape for travel are never a good thing; they quite simply put people off a destination.

"So, Brexit could lead to fewer and more expensive flights which will be more complicated to access. And that throws up another worrying question. There are going to be millions of Britons in 2019, Brexit year, booking holidays with no one really knowing what the flight situation is going to be. So it is a very cloudy and concerning area and I am sure that the UK carriers, especially the low-cost airlines, are having to make some serious decisions," Simon said.

"That said, and what continues to surprise me, is that currency fluctuation fails to disrupt Britons’ travel plans. Post-Brexit and the dip in the strength of the pound against the euro, the industry was expecting sales to slow up. But to the contrary, bookings are up again on last year with Spain being the top destination.

"Britons are inelastic to exchange rates and bookings are bullish. Greece is doing well, simply because Britons will still not go back to Turkey yet, not in droves anyway, and Egypt is still off the radar. But Spain is again doing well, in particular the Costa Brava this year. Traditionally, it always did well but this year it is enjoying a revival and I’m pleased because it really is a beautiful destination.

"But I would like to see Britons exploring Spain more and in greater numbers. For example, I would love to see half a million Britons going to Galicia or other regions in northern Spain every year. It’s wonderful up there, but it’s not going to happen because the vast majority of Britons coming to Spain - holidaymakers in general to be honest - come for the sun."

And this is where Simon sees the problem with winter tourism in Majorca and mainland Spain as a whole. "I think we’ve got to be practical. Your average Briton sitting at home in the middle of winter and thinking of a winter break is after one of two things, snow to go skiing on or sun, and that in Spain means the Canary Islands. However, I fully understand why the Balearic government has decided to cut money spent on tourism promotion. We all know Majorca is a lovely, sunny destination for most of the year and the government no doubt believes that the money would be better spent on infrastructure, health care, social services, etc.

"Look at the likes of Paris, Amsterdam or Barcelona, they don’t spend money on tourism promotion, they don’t need to and Majorca is pretty much in the same boat. I know the island is becoming increasingly popular for cyclists, I was sitting next to one on the flight over, and hikers etc., and that is where more effort should be being made. Breaking up the stationalisation of the industry, summer sells itself but it’s the low season which needs to be brought alive. Majorca should be thinking about filling all its lovely fincas and rural retreats and I know Palma has undergone something of a revolution over recent years and is making a name for itself, but I would still like to see a few more people in the city during the winter."

He also agreed that, as competing destinations which have been hit by security problems gradually come back online, the Balearics need to be getting ready to spring into action and start fighting to retain the millions of "borrowed tourists" which have come to the Balearics and Spain as an "alternative currency" to the no-go destinations over the past few years.

"The traditional destinations like Greece, Turkey and Egypt will eventually be back online and there are new destinations like Bulgaria and Croatia creeping into the market so Majorca cannot afford to sit back and take its eye off the ball. A lot could change over the next few years, particularly with Brexit. And this uncertainty is diverting people back to the high street travel agent. Booking habits appear to have balanced out and there is an equilibrium in the market.

"I think the fact that online booking agency LowCost Holidays went into liquidation and incidents like the one we’ve got down in Cala D’Or have served to remind people about the benefits of being on a package holiday. On a package holiday you are covered, hence why all those guests due to have stayed at the AluaSoul resort have been relocated; it’s the tour operator's obligation. Should any guests have made their bookings independently then they would have no one to turn to, so the market has settled down."

On the problem of false compensation claims, Simon has a simple solution, as those making false claims are breaking the law in both Spain and the UK, then they should be prosecuted. "But we haven’t seen a single case come to court yet. I would say the same to airlines which have to divert their flights due to rowdy and drunken behaviour on board - make the culprits pay. If a flight from Gatwick to Palma, for example, has to land in France to get a group of drunks off and it costs the airline 10,000 pounds to do, then hand the bill over to the stag party, that will stop them."

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Andy Rawson / Hace over 4 years

Questions like would you like extra baggage, do you have skis or musical instruments, want a hire car, a hotel, a text message, a new travel case... and 101 other money milking questions. I never found it a problem being asked if I had been a member of the Nazi party, a drug addict, had mental issues, etc when flying to America. Get over it... it is not a problem just media hype.

+8-

Ann morrison / Hace over 4 years

We used to holiday in Mallorca before Spain was in EEC and the only difference was filling a card with your details whilst on the plane. Also moved to live here before Spain had full membership, a few hurdles to jump over on the way but it was all possible. I'm sure Spain will still want and need British holidaymakers.

+10-

Steve, Palma Nova / Hace over 4 years

Don't see any problem with British holidaymakers that want Mallorcan beaches and sunshine having to fill a form in, they've been doing it for years when going to the USA and other places, why the fuss ? Maybe they could also be required to pay a returnable deposit bond to cover fines for any offences committed here too.

+8-

Henry James / Hace over 4 years

Irrespective of what might happen to some airlines after brexit,if the EU make it hard for Brits to travel to EU countries then we will simply go elsewhere,especially families with young children who don't want long queues and form filling that make travel even more stressful than it already is. If they are subjected to this once,they won't come back again. I can see many more people holidaying in the UK after brexit,which will be good for the UK and our economy.

+-5-

s / Hace over 4 years

Perhaps when Brexit is finally completed, and all the warnings Simon is advocating. The British may return to UK Holidays and their resorts, that urgently need revenue and tourists.

+-8-