Es Trenc - focus for a carrying capacity study and for a protest. | Patricia Lozano


A pact for tourism sustainability

'Massification'? There most certainly was on Wednesday at the University of the Balearic Islands hospitality school, where representatives of every entity with something conceivably to do with tourism had gathered to form a pact. Or so the advance publicity went.

'The political and social pact for Balearic Islands sustainability' was on the table, the previous day's proceedings in parliament having given a pretty clear indication as to one direction in which this pact would not be heading. "I never speak about or will speak about decrease," stated President Prohens, the left having responded by saying that it was an error for her not to be speaking about decrease. Mallorca and the Balearics are at a state of "collapse", opined the Més spokesperson, Lluís Apesteguia, thus restating a collapse thesis that Més had already thrown into the pot for Wednesday's great debate for the great pact.

On Monday, a Més member of parliament, Ferran Rosa, said: "Mallorca is no longer overcrowded, Mallorca is experiencing collapse." Berating the airports authority Aena for only having profit and shareholder dividends in mind, Rosa called for a reduction in the number of flights arriving in Mallorca and urged the Balearic government to speak to the Spanish government about regional involvement in the management of Balearic airports and state ports. "Having the keys to the entrance and exit doors of our house is essential."

Perhaps so, but implicit to talks about airport management was a reduction in flights, which equalled decrease. As Marga Prohens has never spoken about decrease and never will, there wasn't much chance of this. Besides, there is the slight difficulty caused by the 49% private shareholding in Aena. This makes involving a regional authority nigh on impossible, and the Sánchez government in Madrid has made this abundantly clear in the past.

Not enough hospitality workers

What were the 140 or so potential pact-makers doing at the hospitality school? Couldn't a decent hotel conference room have been found? Or would that have seemed like turning the whole event into a hoteliers' do, given that the whole of society is supposedly to be involved in the transformation of the tourism and economic model? But as they were at the hospitality school, they may have been interested to learn that some 20% of all jobs in Mallorca and the Balearics are in hospitality, the largest of all the employment sectors.

However, as the president of the CAEB Restaurants Association, Alfonso Robledo, lamented, problems with hiring for this season are greater than ever because of the increasing cost of accommodation. Seasonal workers from the mainland aren't coming to the Balearics for this reason. This is despite salaries in the Balearics generally being the highest in the country.

Up, up and up - the cost to rent

They are, but this isn't much good when rents keep going up. A study by the property website Fotocasa has revealed that the average rent for an 80-square metre apartment in the Balearics was 562 euros in April 2014. In April 2024 it was 1,451 euros. The Fotocasa director of studies, Maria Mateos, offered this week's statement of the blindingly obvious: "It is a trend that highlights a very great difficulty in accessing housing."

Another trend is the renting of rooms rather than flats. Prices for flats have to be a reason, but there are some ridiculous prices for rooms in Palma. One is advertised at 1,900 euros a month. Owners are looking to cash in by, for example, converting living rooms into additional rooms to reside in. And the vice-president of the API association of estate agents, Natalia Bueno, reckons that tenants are also wanting to cash in. Subletting is becoming a way of life - "with or without the owner's permission". Bueno wonders about the "fiscal" implications. Is any tax being paid?

A bigger splash - renting out pools

A further rental trend, one that has nothing to do with finding somewhere to live, is that of swimming pools. A company called Cocopool has around 250 pools on offer nationwide, and the Balearics represent a "strategic target". The CEO, Gerard Xalabardé, believes that renting pools will be "the business of the summer". All that owners with a spare pool have to do is set a price, specify any rules (music or not, alcohol or not, kids or not) and off they go. No licence is required. Hmm, one presumes that owners accept absolutely no responsibility in the event that there is an accident.

The (loud) music sounds of the city

Music blaring out courtesy of a group of ten or so individuals having a pool party in the neighbouring villa wouldn't go down very well with quiet holiday rental tenants or indeed owners. And nor does it with residents if the music is emanating from the bullring in Palma. One resident says that DJ events at the bullring produce decibel levels of up to 86. According to him, this is more than double the municipal ordinance maximum of 40 during the day (30 at night). Or is it?

Events of this sort have attracted criticism in the past. Last May, the town hall insisted that the decibel level at a two-day German Schlagermusik festival did not exceed the 65 decibels limit under municipal ordinance. The town hall also pointed out that decibel readings using apps are only indicative. The police use expensive and sophisticated sound meters. Nevertheless, and regardless of the permitted noise level, should there be such events in a Palma residential zone?

Fewer police, greater demands

Demands on the police, especially in the summer, are enormous. Checking noise levels is just one task they could do without in pursuing more important matters. And it's not as if the island's police forces are at full strength. Government figures indicate that there are more than 200 fewer officers than there were ten years ago. At the same time, there has been population growth in virtually all municipalities.

Police sources blame a lack of political will as well as infrequent recruitment drives and the excessive bureaucracy involved in the processing of new places.

The police wouldn't necessarily have been factoring in tourism protests over the summer, but it looks as if they will need to. At last Friday's meeting in Sineu convened by the Menys Turisme, Més Vida association (Less Tourism, More Life), there was strong support for protest action that will "collapse" the airport. What form might this collapse take? It wasn't clear, but probably some form of blockade - preventing people getting to or into the airport. We'll doubtless find out in due course, assuming that there is such a protest. But as there was talk of setting up a resistance fund to pay fines, it would seem as if there is a strong will for action. Meanwhile, Mallorca was preparing for a protest on Saturday.

The collapse of Es Trenc

The meeting suggested that there could be "collapse" elsewhere. Es Trenc beach was mentioned. Again it wasn't obvious what sort of protest this might be, and in a way it isn't perhaps necessary as Es Trenc is prone to collapse in any event - the sheer number of people travelling there.

The government has selected the beach and the Es Trenc nature park for its first pilot scheme to measure precise numbers of visitors by installing digital sensors. This scheme is intended to determine carrying capacity, including that of accesses. Other sites will include the Foradada mirador in Deya.

Greater volume, less quality

Talk of carrying capacity has been given additional relevance by forecasts for the total number of tourists this year. In the Balearics in 2023 there was a 1.3 million increase to 17.8 million. It is being suggested that there could be a further increase of some two million this year. Is this an exaggeration? It sounds so, but indications thus far this year certainly point to more tourists, which takes us back to the gathering on Wednesday and to President Prohens' assertion that tourism cannot continue to grow in volume. Yes, but it is, and massively so.

And while the government wants there to be growth in tourism value (quality) as opposed to volume (quantity), the low end of the quality food chain stubbornly refuses to go away. Take Cala Ratjada, for example, where there is apparently a craze among German tourists for nude balconing.

Capdepera town hall was given the opportunity to be covered by the tourism of excesses decree but turned this down, saying that excesses are confined to only around a month. Maybe so, but Cala Ratjada has been suffering from them for years. As it is, though, the illegality of balconing (nude or dressed) isn't restricted to the decree; it is prohibited island-wide.

(Note: this news round-up was written for the Bulletin weekly paper and so before the tragic events in Playa de Palma on Thursday evening.)