The Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands lie in the western Mediterranean some 200 kilometres from mainland Spain. They include four holiday destinations; Mallorca (better known in the UK as Majorca), Minorca, Ibiza (known as Eivissa in the regional Catalan language) and Formentera. Mallorca and Ibiza are nowadays associated with the excesses of mass tourism, with an image based on the five Ss (sun, sand, sea, sex and sangria). In fact, Mallorca, which is by far the largest of the islands, seemingly has the physical capacity to absorb most of the 11 million tourist arrivals a year received by the Balearics. Mass tourism � the �Majorca� of popular legend in northern Europe� is largely confined to a few mega-resorts around the Bay of Palma and the northeast of the island, while �the other Mallorca� continues to attract wealthy celebrities and the more upmarket tour operators. Tourism in Mallorca is not a new phenomenon � a tourist board was established in Palma in 1905 whereas it came to Ibiza much later and was grafted on to a poorer, less sophisticated society. In the years prior to the Spanish Civil War (1936�39), the island�s mild climate and beautiful landscapes attracted wealthy tourists and artists such as Joan Mir�, while the poetnovelist Robert Graves did much to publicize the island from his home in the mountain village of Deia. In the early 1950s Mallorca was promoted by the newly created Spanish Ministry of Tourism as a honeymoon destination, �the isle of love�, an image guaranteed to appeal to the countries of northern Europe that were still recovering from the Second World War. Large-scale tourism followed and soon spread to the other islands. This was made possible by developments in air transport and tour operation, while government controls over hotel tariffs ensured that the Balearics remained a low-cost destination. The authoritarian regime of General Franco saw tourism as the engine of economic growth that would lift Spain and its people out of poverty, but the regional culture of the islands was largely suppressed. In a few decades the Balearic Islands were transformed from being one of the poorest regions of Spain, with a high rate of emigration and an economy based on agriculture and fishing, to one of the wealthiest, boasting one of the highest rates of car ownership in Europe.
Most of this tourism development was poorly planned, and largely unregulated by the local authorities. Although the islands gained a measure of self-determination in 1978 as an autonomous region as part of the post-Franco democratization of Spain, it was not until the 1990s that serious efforts were made to control tourism development.
By this time there was an oversupply of accommodation, particularly at the cheaper end of the market, and a spiral of decline in the quality of tourism, in terms of spending per capita, which is proving difficult to reverse. The economy of the islands is precariously dependent on tourism, which accounts for 50 per cent of the regional domestic product. Moreover two countries dominate the market � Germany and the UK � with domestic tourists accounting for less than 10 per cent of arrivals. Much of the employment in tourism is seasonal and badly paid compared to other sectors of the economy in Spain. The negative impacts of tourism include:
_ A coastline damaged by badly planned development.
_ Pollution resulting from emissions of carbon dioxide from tourist coaches and hired cars, and inadequate waste disposal systems. Moreover, it is estimated that 100 000 tonnes of litter are left behind by tourists each year. Even the secluded beaches of Formentera are under threat from pollution.
_ A great strain on infrastructure that may be used for only part of the year owing to the seasonal nature of tourism demand.
_ Problems of water supply. The islands are of limestone formation and largely depend on ground water resources. Excessive demands have caused a lowering of the water table and penetration of the aquifer by sea water. Tourists during the peak season � which corresponds to the dry summer months � consume the equivalent of 440 litres of water daily, reaching 800 litres for those staying in luxury hotels. In Mallorca water has to be brought in to Palma by tanker on a daily basis.
_ The outnumbering of the 800 000 inhabitants of the Balearic Islands by tourists. In Magaluf, pubs such as Benny Hill�s, fast food eateries and tawdry souvenir shops cater for a downmarket British clientele, while the bierkellers of Arenal provide a similar �home from home� for the Germans. This, and the growth of second home ownership by the more affluent tourists, has led to a loss of cultural identity and the feeling among many islanders that they have been taken over by foreigners.
_ Some of the youth element in mass tourism, known to the Spanish as hooligans, are notorious for anti-social behaviour.