The Fomento del Turismo de Mallorca (Mallorca Tourist Board) is one of the oldest organisations of its kind in Europe. It was the first tourist board in Spain and was created by a group of local businesspeople, the Chamber of Commerce, and visionaries who could see that tourism was going to become very much the future of Mallorca and therefore needed special attention.
Now 116 years old, and with President Eduardo Gamero at the helm, the tourist board, which has 600 members, holds the very same beliefs, although it no longer has the financial support it used to get from the local authorities; since the economic crisis of 2008, it has had to stand on its own feet. However, it continues to thrive and plays an extremely important role in Mallorca’s tourist industry and in promoting the island across the world. “We have our 600 members, who all pay their membership fees and we’re continually thinking of new and innovative ways of generating extra income, such as this week’s launch of the vintage posters used to promote the island over the past 100 years or so.
“We also have our excursions group, which is very active and dedicated to not only promoting the island’s natural heritage but also protecting and conserving the environment.
“We are also the first port of call for international travel journalists. Whereas the government is only operational five days a week, we take care of incoming travel writers at weekends. We organise their accommodation and transport and provide highly experienced guides to show them the very best of Mallorca and explain what the island is all about and has to offer.”
But while the tourist board does everything it possibly can to promote the island, maintain and boost relations with key source markets, in particular the United Kingdom, Gamero laments the failures of the current government in the way it has approached tourism since it came to power. He recognises that there is an underlying anti-tourism attitude and that, he says, is a great shame.
“I get a sense that the powers that be are a bit lost when it comes to handling tourism. There are too many mixed messages and this does not help, especially in the present climate.
“I don’t understand, for example, why very little, if anything, has been done during the pandemic with regard to the British market. All the emphasis has been put on Germany. But one must not forget that Mallorca’s tourist industry and all the businesses involved either directly or indirectly in tourism were built on the British market. Many of the hoteliers who now have huge global empires built their first hotels here in Mallorca for the British. After the Second World War, Germany was having to rebuild the country and its economy. Very few Germans could afford holidays, but the middle to upper-class British could, and they started coming to Mallorca long before other nationalities.
“Plus, thanks to likes of personalities like Robert Graves, who referred to the island as his little paradise and invited all his celebrity friends to Mallorca, the island quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best places in Europe, if not the world, to come on holiday.
“I have worked in the tourist industry all of my life. I started at the very bottom at the age of 16 as a bell boy at the Nixe Palace and worked my way up to qualify to become the hotel director; nearly all of our clients were British. I remember bidding guests farewell at the end of their stay, and they would tell me that, as soon as they got home, they would start saving in order to come back the following year; generations of British families have been coming to the island for over 60 years.
“And this, as a tourist board, is something we’ve always recognised and paid a great deal of attention to. When we did receive money from the local administrations, we used to hold numerous fairs and events here in Mallorca for holidaymakers and in the UK, and later elsewhere in Europe. We also ran a programme called ‘A Winter in Mallorca’ to help encourage and boost off-season tourism. But, like everything, many things have changed during the pandemic.
“That said, the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to ignore tourism. This past year could, or rather should, have been used as a period of reflection. We should have all been working together with regard to looking at how Majorca, as a world-leading tourist destination, can emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position while correcting some of the faults that have been made over the years.
“The tourist board has also maintained that value for money is paramount. We should not be so obsessed with numbers but providing quality services. I think too many people don’t realise, or have forgotten, that tourism is the driving force of our economy. It revolutionised our way of life, which was once based on a struggling agricultural industry and artisans. We’ve never had any other mass industry and probably never will, so like it or not, we’ve got to take great care of our tourist industry, and the key to that is looking after holidaymakers.
“We have to remember that it is the holidaymaker who chooses to come to Mallorca and spend their money here. We can’t control the market, but what we can do is meet demand. So we must cater to the needs of tourists to the very best of our capabilities.
“I remember in the '60s when Harold Wilson was prime minister, he tried to prevent Britons from taking more than 50 pounds with them on an overseas holiday. But it didn’t stop the British from coming to Mallorca; they always found a way of finding more money to spend here and the same will happen now. Boris Johnson may be trying to encourage Britons to holiday at home, but those who love Mallorca, and there are millions, will come; the British always have and always will.
“But the best promotion is word of mouth. The tourist board has always believed in that and we’ve made a great effort in making sure that everyone who comes here is treated with the maximum respect and made to feel welcome. The Mallorcans, traditionally, have always welcomed tourists with open arms, so I don’t understand this new anti-tourism attitude. Without it we’d have nothing; we certainly would not enjoy the comfortable lifestyles we’ve been privileged to over the past 40 years.
“We have to make sure that when visitors return home they tell all their friends about the wonderful time they’ve had and how well they’ve been looked after and treated. That’s not only the best promotion for the island, it is also the least we can do for people who have chosen the island as their preferred destination to come and spend their holiday and hard-earned money.
"Sometimes it is the simple things that work best, but I worry that certain sectors of society have forgotten that.”