The airport clearly plays a crucial role. This was a protest against expansion in September 2021. | Miquel À. Cañellas


The first Civil Society Tourism Congress, which was held in Palma on Wednesday, had been arranged before the Balearic government organised its large gathering of numerous entities to launch the pact for social and economic sustainability.

While the Forum for Civil Society comprises well-known critics of the tourism model in the Balearics, e.g. environmentalists GOB and the Palma XXI association, it can also count on business - the Pimem federation for small and medium-sized businesses. The congress wasn't confined to representatives of the Forum. President Marga Prohens spoke, so did Rosario Sánchez, the Mallorcan who is Spain's secretary-of-state for tourism, and Maria Frontera, president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation.

From different political, social and economic perspectives, those attending were in agreement on one thing - the Balearics have exceeded the limits of tourism growth in terms of volume. Differences concerned the scale and causes of overtourism and possible solutions.

Over the past few weeks, there has unquestionably been a shift in the tone of the debate where the islands' right wing is concerned. President Prohens is reaching out to the Forum's critics in a way that might have previously seemed inconceivable. She said that the islands have "lost the social profitability of tourism". "We can no longer grow in volume. It is essential to listen to the citizens." She promised to integrate the conclusions from the congress into the sustainability pact.

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Margalida Ramis, spokesperson for GOB, observed that "one of the most reliable indicators of saturation on the islands is the discomfort on the streets". She argued that tourism hasn't been poorly managed, as it has in fact been managed with a very clear intention to make the Balearics a laboratory for tourist experiences. "When the sun and the beach have run out, we have invented gastronomic tourism or spiritual tourism in Lluc - tourist diversification strategies."

Pedro Mas Bergas, the Council of Mallorca's director for tourism governance and sustainability, acknowledged that "right now we no longer feel visited, but invaded". He pointed out that a contributory factor to saturation comes from friends and family who are invited by residents. (This is something that tends to otherwise be overlooked.)

One of the most forceful presentations was that of Fernando Valladares, a professor at Spain's National Research Council. He was of the view that "there is much to be gained from degrowth and two things are clear: that this is inevitable and that it brings prosperity". He insisted that "genuine prosperity is only possible through degrowth". "A society that is exasperated or grumbling will do us no good." He casted doubt on whether the wealth generated by tourism has a proportional impact on its citizens. "That wealth flows downwards is an urban myth. It is false wealth because investors are very delocalised."

Valladares advocated planning for degrowth instead of waiting for it to happen suddenly, as with recessions. "It is possible to prepare compensation measures, but this would need a change to constitutions, which put economic growth before the health of the citizen."