Tourists arriving at Palma Airport. | MDB

Another month and another set of tourist statistics. They appear at the same time as the employment (unemployment) figures and are given more or less equal billing. It’s not surprising, given the weight of employment in tourism and thus the significance for the Balearic economy.

But for low season months, such as February, these stats don’t have the same power as they do in the summer. The Balearics typically come in sixth in the list of regions with most foreign tourists over the winter months. This February was no different. The Canaries take top billing, because winter is the high season in the Canaries. Andalusia has its Costa del Sol, and there’s a clue in the name of this Costa as to why Andalusia ranks third. Valencia has Benidorm, a resort of such significance (for the British and the Spanish in particular) that it merits being singled out and constantly reported on as though it were separate to the rest of the region. Catalonia has Barcelona and Madrid has, well, Madrid.

The Balearics, according to Balearic government numbers, attracted 149,627 foreign tourists in February, a total some six thousand more than given by the National Statistics Institute’s Frontur report. Either way, the total isn’t great, but then no one expects it to be - not by comparison with summer or even Easter.

Almost secondary to the numbers of tourists is what they spend. The foreign tourist spending statistics have admittedly been the target for much questioning over the years, but they are pretty much as good as you’re going to get. They aren’t without rigour because the Bank of Spain won’t allow them to be. These are stats to be fed into the balance of payments equation, so there is rather more to them than adding up a few numbers on the back of a fag packet.

The questioning typically arises because of anecdotal evidence. The figures indicate an increase in spending and they are then disputed because such and such a place has been “dead” or a bar owner insists otherwise.

Something similar happens with who is doing this spending. Over the years, I’ve taken the anecdotes not entirely with a pinch of salt but with scepticism. It can depend on location. I have variously been told, as examples, that the German market in Puerto Pollensa doesn’t spend whereas the British market does or that the Scandinavians in Alcudia don’t spend. Go somewhere else and you’ll be told something different. The only common ground can be found with the Spanish market - the lowest spenders of all, or so it is said.

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In February, spending by tourists in the Balearics, according to the government’s stats, was 195 million euros, 44 million of which was Spanish. Of all tourists in February, 36% were Spanish. They had a daily spend of 82 euros, which was by far the lowest. But then, who were these Spanish tourists? A good number will have been Imserso pensioners.

Topping the list by nationality were the Swiss with a daily spend per person of 166 euros. Then came the Germans (133 euros), the Scandinavians with 123 euros, and the British with 119 euros, ahead of the Benelux countries with 117. The average for all tourists was 113 euros.

How does this compare with the summer? In August last year, there was an average daily spend per tourist of all nationalities of 141 euros. The Swiss were again number one - 197 euros - but Benelux was second (180), followed by Scandinavian 178, French 157 and then British with 155.4 euros and Germans with 155.2. The Spanish were way off the pace with 94 euros, and there wouldn’t have been any Imserso senior citizens.

Some explanation is required, and this can be found in the methodology. The government explains that tourist spending covers expenditure during a stay but that it also includes “pre-departure expense necessary to prepare and undertake the trip” as well as any that might be incurred on arrival - the cost of a taxi, for sake of argument. So the cost of the holiday is a factor and a not insignificant one.

The methodology isn’t the government’s as this is the approach for the National Statistics Institute’s Egatur report on spending, and it is a methodology which unfortunately doesn’t provide a clear answer. If there are greater (or lower) costs in terms of getting to Majorca, dependent on country of origin, then these are inevitably going to be reflected.

Consequently, it isn’t possible to state with certainty who spends most once in the destination. There’s an indication, yes, but one is still left with falling back on the anecdotal evidence.

These stats could do with being presented in such a way that spending in destination can be identified separately. They would no doubt still be disputed, but at least there would be greater clarity.