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Tuesday May 15, 2012

The sad fallout from holiday balcony deaths in Spain

At a central London underground station late at night three very tipsy middle-aged people swayed precariously on an escalator ahead of me, and then without warning, the woman pitched forward and fell down several steps. Thanks to the speedy reactions of another passenger her likely continued descent was blocked but she suffered nasty cuts and bruises.

Meanwhile in Majorca yet another young Briton has tragically fallen to her death from a hotel balcony, only hours after arriving in the holiday resort of Magaluf. Charlotte Faris, 23, was preceded by Benjamin Harper, 28, who two weeks before, while on a stag party holiday, fell to his death from a balcony. A few days prior to his demise, Adam Atkinson, 20, from West Yorkshire, tumbled down a hotel stairwell after partying in Magaluf with friends, and died. And just across the water in Costa Brava, Luke Parry, an Oxford University student, suffered severe injuries when he too fell from a hotel balcony.

Every year a handful of young Britons from different walks of life die due to balcony falls in Spain but three deaths in a matter of weeks so early in the holiday season is deeply concerning and many in the tourism industry are perturbed by the continuing trend. The Foreign Office website even alludes to balcony deaths, making the point that travel insurance will not always cover injuries and deaths as a result of such falls. Now new-build hotels are apparently considering making changes to balcony layout so that anyone toppling over will merely fall onto the balcony directly below. But surely the architecture of a building is the least of the problem?

More importantly there needs to be a focus on why the trend is developing and how to curb it, rather than finding solutions for lessening the physical impact. Of course what all these deaths have in common is alcohol. Or perhaps in other equally tragic cases, drugs. The problem in lively, sunny holiday resorts such as Magaluf is that alcohol is in ready supply and can be bought at a fraction of the price of that in the UK. Arriving from grey and cold Britain, young tourists hellbent on partying must feel that they’ve landed in one big candy store of freely available cheap liquor, dubious drugs, discos and pulsating heat. A significant number of them may never have consumed such quantities of booze before-particularly in a hot climate –a lethal cocktail when partying late into the night. Significantly, most deaths have occurred in the early hours of the morning.

Some young Britons claim that there’s too much pressure put on them in the resorts with reps outside bars goading them to drink to excess. There are even ‘all you can drink in one hour’ deals for as little as €10. So in the absence of common sense and the concept of personal responsibility, perhaps it’s time for the regional government to begin regulating resorts like Magaluf and putting a stop to irresponsible activity on the part of local bars and discos.

But the spotlight shouldn’t just be on our youths. As the three drunken and foul mouthed individuals on my escalator in London proved, drinking to excess is not just the preserve of the young.

Here in Spain, a publicity campaign targeting young Britons could be launched at airports and through local tourist offices highlighting the dangers of over-imbibing but would it cut any ice? Chances are that exuberant young holidaymakers would choose to ignore the risks and let the devil take the hindmost.

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