Today is the day when TUI start bringing German tourists to the island. | EFE

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The eleventh of February. Remember the date, as it will be looked back upon as the starting-point for what is being promised will be a nine-month season. Today is the day when TUI start bringing German tourists to the island. Watch out, drivers, the cyclist numbers are about to rise.

The 11 Feb kick-off is more than a month earlier than last year’s half-hearted affair. Half-hearted because the British were nowhere to be seen. They were locked away behind borders. Meanwhile, the German government was insisting that a lifting of advice against travel to Mallorca for the Easter period wasn’t an “invitation to travel”. Which was of course how it was interpreted.

Alltours, TUI and others were quick off the mark and there was a great howl of protest. Mallorca was being treated like a “colony” for foreign tourists (aka German tourists). An ironic hashtag appeared - #WillkommenGuiris. Spaniards were unable to travel to Mallorca and the Balearics unless for justified reasons. With the British confined to their own shores, some of the commenting - one felt - had a touch of jealous anti-German sentiment to it. All those German tourists heading for Mallorca, spreading more virus and ruining things for everyone.

Now we are almost a year on. TUI’s 11-F isn’t the absolute start because there are already tourists - some, including Imserso - but as TUI is TUI, the date is significant. It’s that nine-month season we’re supposedly going to have. Supposedly? Will have, unless something goes awry Covid-wise, as nine months are totally normal. It just depends how you want to define the season.

TUI’s Ian Livesey, head of the Balearics, mainland Spain, Portugal and Andorra, says that there is a normal start. Just as there was prior to the pandemic. The German market comes a little earlier than the British, for which flights will start on March 1. All very normal, and yet we get the rot that gets trotted out, implying that there is something different going on.

At the same time, there are the almost woe-is-me reports of low percentages of hotels being open. Firstly, it has to be noted that these percentages are from the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, which doesn’t represent every last hotel on the island. Secondly, the numbers the federation offers are actually quite decent - February 26% (201 hotels), March 42% (344).

A large number of the hotels opening in February are, and unsurprisingly, in Palma (58) and Playa de Palma (32). These are followed by Capdepera and Soller both with 14, Paguera 13, Alcudia eleven and Palmanova nine. Next month, and there will be notable increases, e.g. Pollensa from four to 25.

The fact is that the season will be as the season would normally be. In fact, the hotel opening percentages being quoted are higher than they were pre-pandemic. The Balearic tourism ministry’s own figures for all hotels in 2019 show that there was 11% opening in February and 21% in March. By May, this was 93%, a figure that will quite likely be attained so long as there is nothing to interfere with this pattern.

As to nine months, it’s more like eight and a half. When November arrives, it’s mostly shutdown. For those hotels which continue, mid-November is the usual cutoff. There are your nine months, if you will. As they always are.

The constant pressure on prices

The Balearic government’s new tourism law has yet to even be presented let alone be enacted, but hotels understand that it is going to cost them. If they hadn’t understood this, then President Armengol made it clear the other day that it will require investment, notwithstanding assistance from EU Next Generation funds.

The availability of these, as has so far been outlined, is said to be way short of what will be needed to replace beds, and that’s before hotels get on to what will be an obligation to introduce a circularity plan (reuse, recycling).

The investment, as and when it is made, will be a further factor to potentially affect prices. In general, these have been rising over the course of some years, the consequence - in part - of investment in the upgrading of establishments. As well as spending, there have been and are the costs.

The increase in the minimum wage should not be an issue for the island’s hotels as the collective bargaining agreement from 2017 set salaries above this level. Hotel workers in Majorca are, in general, the best paid in the country, and now will come a renegotiation of the agreement that has been stalled because of the pandemic.

Salaries are a cost that hotels can budget for, but then there are also the costs that can take them by surprise. Electricity is one. Hosteltur magazine has presented the example of a hotel in Valladolid which has seen its monthly bill not just double but treble by comparison to what it was pre-pandemic. This hotel will clearly not be alone.

Faced with this cost, other investment now becomes pressing - self-consumption through renewable energy (solar in the case of Mallorca).

While there will be pressure to contain prices, the ingredients point in the opposite direction. The hotel industry in Mallorca cannot compete on price with certain other destinations even if it particularly wanted to, and part of it does not. Labour costs are one reason. These are massively higher than in Turkey, for example.

Whatever happened to Russian tourism?

There was a time some years ago when the growth of the Russian tourism market in Majorca was such that you could come across examples of restaurants with their menus in Russian. Staff who could speak Russian were at a premium.

It was acknowledged that Russian travellers presented a particular challenge in that they didn’t speak tourist languages, English in particular, or Spanish.

Much was done in order to deal with this challenge, but then the Russian market began to dry up. Visas were an issue, as was the exchange rate. The latest issue, it might be thought, has to do with the geopolitical crisis, but of far greater significance is vaccination.

The Aviasales travel metasearch platform has presented figures for bookings by Russian tourists over the second half of 2021.

Spain is absent; as are France and Italy for that matter. Turkey heads the list with Cyprus second, the UAE third and Greece fourth. The reason is that these are among countries which recognise the Sputnik vaccine.

The platform points out that Spain remains highly popular in terms of searches, but the problem is that Russian holidaymakers are effectively barred.