The Council of Mallorca, as if confirming a political opposition charge that too much tourism promotion effort is being directed at Germany and so at the expense of the UK, has been on tour in Germany. Like American presidential candidates (some), the tour has been whistle-stop, with brief halts in three cities to rally tour operator and media troops.
It’s the middle of June. Why do the presidents of the Council of Majorca and the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, plus various others, feel the necessity to nip off to Germany at a time when the season is under way – just about, and absent friends notwithstanding?
The reason is similar to US presidential candidates hurtling across the country in pursuit of votes only days ahead of the election; Mallorca’s last-minute efforts are designed to secure as many German ticks on the holiday ballot paper as possible. A delegation of the type that has gone to Germany wouldn’t normally be doing this in mid-June. But as we know, times are not normal.
Covid circumstances aside, there is something both odd and instructive about the timing of the Council’s brief tour. The delegation has gone to Germany armed with messages – as if we couldn’t guess – of quality, safety and sustainability and with a package of tourist products with which to entice German holidaymakers.
These “products” are, in general terms, why people go on holiday; what they look for in a holiday. Accordingly, the Council can reel off the usual suspects of, for example, culture, gastronomy and sport. But within the bundle of products is a less than usual suspect; less, far less in terms of products that have been prioritized for promotion in the recent past. The oddness and the instructiveness lie in the fact that one of these products is sun and beach.
It wasn’t so long ago that the official line on tourism promotion was to exclude sun and beach. This was for three reasons: 1). Sun and beach could take care of itself; there was no need for promotion. two). The less that sun and beach was promoted the better, as the imperative was to reduce “saturation”In the summer and to distribute tourist numbers more evenly. 3). The other “products” were key for tackling seasonality and also for attracting a “quality” tourist both out of and in season.
The main reason, let’s face it, for going to Germany on a promotional foray in mid-June is sun and beach. The timing of the visit tells all, and it is to press home the advantage that Mallorca currently and apparently enjoys (the other islands less so) of having secured a 60% majority of all German holidaymakers coming to Spain.
Meanwhile, consideration will have been given to rivals in the Med, Turkey most obviously. A week ago, the Robert Koch Institute in Germany reclassified Turkey as “normal” risk rather than high, which is how it had been classified, and as opposed to low, which is where Mallorca finds itself. Bookings for Turkey are therefore now said to be increasing.
Regardless of the desire to tackle seasonality by offering other products, regardless of talk of less dependence on sun and beach, regardless of other talk which even suggests that the days of sun and beach are numbered, there is only one product that matters to Mallorca – the very one to which the Council and the Balearic government have been paying all too little promotional attention. In vaguely gastronomic alternative tourist product terms, they will never eat it, but some humble pie is being served.
While there are all sorts of reasons why people go on holiday and why they choose the destinations they do, the reason above all for Mallorca lies with why the Council has gone to Germany now. If the island were on the UK’s green list, there would probably be a whistle-stop tour there as well. The Council and the government might not want to admit it, but people come to Mallorca for the sun and the beach – end of story.
At times, it can feel as if there is a perception of the island’s tourists which is greatly different to the reality. And this reality is so simple and so limited in ambition that it extends little further than going to the same beach, to virtually the identical spot on the same beach every single day of the holiday. Come the evening, and yes there’s a spot of gastronomy – resort steak houses, tapas restaurants – and that is about it.
Covid has made sun and beach the imperative. When the government talks about getting some 200,000 people back to work, what does it think will achieve this? With any luck, Covid will have planted the realization in the minds of tourism policy makers that there is one product more than any other that matters.