What next for the Balearics?
- Posted by Julia Burns
- On July 3, 2021
- Balearics, Spain
By Anna Nicholas
As a leading Spanish holiday destination, the cluster of islands, comprising Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera, has suffered greatly as a consequence of the pandemic. A long term resident author shares her experience and hopes for better times.
The tourism industry has been left reeling and grappling for a life raft, while the economy lies in tatters. The situation has been made worse by the absence of Britons, the largest group of yearly visitors.
Living as I do in Soller, in the idyllic northwest of Majorca, I have probably had an easier time of it than many of my British counterparts. My days are mostly spent at home writing, so being unable to travel had little impact on my work. Although during the initial tough months of lockdown I dearly missed our customary freedoms and being allowed to exercise, I enjoyed my garden and spectacular views to the Tramuntanas, a UNESCO Heritage Site, from my desk, instead. Rather like a dotty Doctor Dolittle I immersed myself in nature and even reared nine one-day old chicks in my study, much to my husband’s despair!
An interesting phenomenon during the worst of the pandemic was that some shrewd Germans and Scandinavians who were able to work remotely, set up temporary homes with their families on the islands. This underlined the serendipity of the pandemic for some here while for the majority it proved devastating.
There were, undeniably, huge advantages to having no tourists on the islands. Nature took a breather, the sea became squeaky clean, the beaches pristine and without planes scribbling across the skies, the air was pure and sweet. Traffic, queuing and noise ceased and parking was easy. The peace was palpable. My orchard became a playground for genets, pine martens and countless fowl. Ducks became the only tourists, cheekily landing in the pool and refusing to leave. Another advantage was that communities became kinder and more neighbourly. Collectively, we donated to foodbanks and helped those in dire straits.
Overnight, we lost the 14 million tourists that visit the Balearics annually. It felt odd and alien not to see hire cars, yachts and cruise ships or visitors roving the beaches, esplanades and mountain tracks. As destination expert for Telegraph Travel, I know many in the local tourism industry and felt their pain. Hotels, travel companies, restaurants and tourist attractions saw their revenue plummet and there was no safety net in sight. Many businesses simply died quietly while others valiantly struggled on in the hope of a summer revival in 2020 that never came.
Cappuccino, one of the leading restaurant and hotel groups in the Balearics, managed to surf the wave of change. Oliver Trugsnach, Marketing Director, told me, ‘The pandemic hit our industry hard but we used the time to rethink and improve, and re-opened our branches gradually. Our Balearic establishments are now up and running and Palma, for example, is booming. Tourists are arriving and our hotel is fully booked most days. As they say in Majorca, ‘poc a poc.’
Claire Hyde, owner of Distinctive Ceremonies Mallorca, spoke of the need to adapt to the times. ‘Destination weddings have really been affected by the challenges of the last year but we’re seeing a real growth in elopement and micro-weddings which allow for greater flexibility and spontaneity.’
As the pandemic loosens its grasp on Spain and the vaccine roll out continues apace, second home owners have now been allowed to re-visit their island properties. Countless Britons have booked holiday villas and hotels in the desperate hope that the UK will grant them the freedom to travel here. For Majorcan hoteliers like Toni Duran of rural haven, Can Beneït in Binibona, it has been a rollercoaster year. He told me, ‘Covid has taught everyone to value free time, and staff now prefer to work fewer hours. This means that hotels need more resources and prices will inevitably rise in the mid-term. Guests now want more space, healthy options, privacy and personal service. The current trend is to book late in the day so forecasting and revenue management pose a big challenge. Thankfully, we have many bookings but we long for Britons to return.’
Despite the economic downturn, there is light at the end of the tunnel. While British tourists are yet to return to our shores, Scandinavian, German and Swiss visitors have arrived in their droves. Inevitably, the Balearic tourism sector will take some years to recover and that will rely largely on the UK’s support. Crucially, the islands needs their loyal British visitors back. The sooner the better.
Note on the author: Anna has lived in Majorca for 20 years. She is the most prolific British author and journalist writing about Majorca today and has published eight island-based titles with Peacocks in Paradise, her ninth, launching in July 2021.