The risk is no longer saturation but that tourism can no longer generate wealth and well-being. | MDB


Professor Antoni Riera has been given a huge responsibility. A leading economist, he is the coordinator of the working groups formed under the Balearic government's aim for a social and political pact for sustainability and is in effect the architect for redefining Balearic tourism strategy over the coming decades.

In broad terms, he says that the mission is to establish a sustainable tourism growth pattern at a time when it is accepted that the current one is not. "The carrying capacity of many relevant factors has been exceeded, giving rise to economic, social and environmental problems."

Tourism, he says, contributes to development and prosperity, but tourism also has to be "proactive and decisive when it comes to facing and responding to global challenges, mainly those related to economic inequality, climate change and pollution, technological innovation and global connectivity".

Professor Antoni Riera
Professor Antoni Riera. Photo: Jaume Morey.

He refers to demographic pressure, a combination of resident and temporary populations and believes that it is possible to reduce this pressure. "Not only do I conceive it, but I believe that society is demanding a future scenario of less demographic pressure. And if I am right, we have to identify ways of achieve this. I can only think of one way: decoupling the annual economic growth of the Balearics from the growing increase in population, workers, international tourists and other production factors."

A big issue is whether or not to limit the number of tourists arriving in Mallorca and the Balearics. Professor Riera argues that it is not a question of whether a strategy is easy or difficult, but whether it is possible, viable and socially efficient, whether it is the best and least costly response for society.

Related news

"Limiting arrivals is not possible because the Spanish and European legal system does not allow it. But even if we imagined it were possible, I can assure you that it is not viable. It is not the best solution to the big problem we face. Acting in isolation or partially on the number of cruise ships, tourists, residents, fairs, cars - whether to increase them or reduce them or reallocate them - cannot be done without taking into account the complex interrelations that exist within the Balearic tourism system. There is no simple and straightforward relationship between cause and effect, but a complex interaction that can lead to unpredictable results.

"Saturation is one of the many symptoms that society suffers as a consequence of a big issue, one we have not faced up to for more than 20 years: the way in which the Balearics grow and generate well-being. We cannot continue to deal with the problems in the ways we have - simplistic, fragmented and partial.

"We have been getting poorer for 20 years. In 2000, the per capita income was 22.8% higher than that of a European citizen, today it is 10% lower. The gap has widened. And we will continue to become poorer, year after year, whatever we do, until we banish a pattern of economic growth that has been in place since the 1960s and that has been unable to move from volume to value when it should have - and that was in the mid-nineties.

"With the first tourist boom, the Balearics were able to bring about a productivity revolution that placed the islands among the 50 most prosperous regions in Europe. Productivity increased in the 60s and 70s. But after reaching a peak in 1994, it began to decline. After 30 years we have still not recovered that maximum level of productivity and the negative impacts of tourism have only increased. In the last decade we have barely recovered enough productivity to maintain the well-being to which this society legitimately aspires.

"The risk is no longer saturation, demographic growth, housing prices, noise, and social, spatial and cultural inequality, but that we lose the possibility of continuing to progress. It is necessary to recognise that tourism has been a social elevator, but after a long period of prosperity it has also created elements of rupture that are compromising tourism's ability to continue being a driver of progress. Today, the risk is that tourism can no longer continue to generate wealth and well-being."