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Saturday November 8, 2014

Is Mallorca really up and running?

Visitors seek authenticity in Mallorca

The key to Palma’s tourism apparently rests in a pair of running shoes. At World Travel Market this week the Majorcan capital’s tourism foundation (FTPM365) announced that Palma was to be repositioned as the ideal destination for a sporty city break. The Capital already has designated cycling paths and a bike loan scheme so creating running routes appears to be the next big step.

Of course cynics would say that this is yet another desperate bid by local tourism chiefs to keep tills ringing once the summer season ends and the winter months herald a long hibernation for the island as a whole. In the good old days, visitors would throng to Majorca throughout the year and hotels and restaurants didn’t close for months on end. Part of its success was that a good number of hotels stayed open and offered value for money packages to those who wanted to flee the UK during the cold season. Since then hotel prices have risen steeply and the days of cheap winter deals are long gone.

Now through lack of apparent demand fewer flights operate from autumn to spring, swathes of hotels and restaurants give up the ghost as soon as October arrives and many resorts resemble ghost towns until March beckons. Declining footfall out of season coupled with tough competition in other markets has given Majorca, the Sleeping Beauty of the Med, a rude awakening and finally it is having to get its act together.

In recent years the island has lacked a coherent and innovative tourism strategy largely because it has lazily rested on its laurels, believing that tourists will loyally keep returning regardless of what’s on offer. When tourism exploded in the sixties, Majorca had never had it so good as thousands of new visitors descended on resorts in search of sun, cheap booze and golden sandy beaches. Happily since then the island has attracted a different kind of visitor keen to explore Majorca in the raw – its wild and beautiful Serra de Tramuntana mountain range (a UNESCO Heritage Site), wildlife, hidden coves and caves, culture, history and gastronomy. These visitors don’t want gimmicks and hat tricks. What they seek is authenticity, in effect the real Majorca. And every month I receive more than 1000 e-mails from readers telling me just that.

So if Palma wants to create a little window dressing with a touch of sporty spice that’s fine by me but at the same time the regional government must address the more serious and fundamental issues concerning hotel pricing, private holiday rentals, closure of restaurants and hotels during the winter and diminished flights. There’s also the little matter of giving incentives to employees and businesses to stay open. Currently the government provides unemployment benefit to hotel and catering staff out of season so there’s little motivation to keep working. Increasingly employees in the hospitality industry are upping sticks and working in other international resorts during the winter, returning to Majorca when it deigns to wake up.

Never has there been a more urgent time for Majorca to grasp the nettle and reboot its tourism strategy. If it wants to stay on its toes, it cannot afford to stagnate but must instead find effective and meaningful ways to keep wooing back regular visitors as well as attracting new ones. Majorca has had a good run for its money but now it needs to think long and hard about its future.

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