The health crisis linked to Covid-19 has hit this sector hard, putting it almost at a standstill. During Holy Week (March 28 – April 4), only 11% of hotels on the island of Mallorca were opened according to Hosteltur.
While the summer tourist season 2021 will begin, with many questions (especially around a health pass), this focus on the Balearic Islands is an opportunity to ask whether post-crisis tourism will be able to resume as before or if the Covid will mark the advent of a new, more sustainable and resilient model. The reflections presented in this text are based on field observations made at the end of April.
During this period, bars and restaurants could open their terraces, respecting a maximum of 50% of their total reception capacity until 5 p.m. Today the situation has changed since the terraces can open without gauge until midnight with a maximum of eight people per table, and the interiors can be filled up to 50% of their total capacity.
Despite this development, the resumption of tourism promises to be gradual since half of the island’s hotel establishments are still closed. Foreign tourists, who make up the majority of tourists to these islands, are now missing. In 2019, 27.5% of Balearic tourists came from Germany and 22.4% from the UK, according to the site of the government of the Balearic Islands.
Hope for tourism recovery
The incidence rate on the island of Mallorca was 59.71 positive Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants at the end of Easter week, one of the most important periods of the year for tourism in Spain.
At the same time, Corsica, another tourist island in the Mediterranean, had an incidence rate of 138 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Balearics are thus the second least affected autonomous community in terms of Covid-19 contamination, after the community of Valencia, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Tourism professionals therefore hope to take advantage of this relatively favorable situation on the island to envisage a resumption of tourism activity as soon as possible, especially among German customers.
Under pressure from German secondary residents and entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, airlines, Lufthansa and Easyjet in particular, have reactivated around ten direct lines between Germany and Palma de Mallorca since March 2021.
Already, in June 2020, Germany had negotiated a “sanitary corridor” to transport 10,900 tourists to the Balearics. But in 2021, it was the German authorities who tightened up the travel rules (especially in terms of PCR testing).
But even if the Balearic Islands have adapted, the level of reservations remains low.At the same time, the arrival of foreign tourists is debated in Spain, where the instruction was not to exceed the limits of its province during the Easter holidays. .
At the end of Easter week, the network hospitable Juaneda claims to have tested 65% of foreign tourists before their return flight.
The manager of the hospital network Santiago Mascaro announces that the positivity rate on all the tests carried out during the week was 0.17%.
These reassuring figures seem to reinforce the prospect of a resumption of international tourism under control from a health point of view.
A sector in distress
This encouraging reality does not hide the fact that tourism in Mallorca is still far from its usual standards. The vast majority of tourism businesses on the island keep their curtains closed.
The challenges facing the Balearic Islands are unique to regions hyper-specialized in the tourism industry. To deal with this, Spain has put in place the ERTE (Expediente de Regulación Temporal de Empleo), a temporary employment regulation file that allows employers to suspend their employees’ contracts. The latter receive 70% of their usual salary during the first six months, then 50% in the following months.
This device, a sort of intermittent tourism status, could be tried in France this summer. A similar experiment is planned in Corsica.
For the time being, in France, partial unemployment has allowed since the start of the crisis the payment of 84% of the salary to inactive employees, without reduction after the first six months of compensation, but this does not cover the Contracts to determined time.
The majority of tourism workers in Mallorca have already passed this stage of six months of professional inactivity, in an island where the cost of housing remains one of the highest in the Iberian territory. Many are facing this crisis without financial assistance from the government.
By way of comparison, aid of 900 euros per month was created for precarious workers on discontinuous contracts in France, and Corsica, an island tourist area like the Balearics, has extended partial unemployment schemes to seasonal workers.
On April 18, 2021, Le Diario de Mallorca headlined: “Hoteliers protest against the government and demand an acceleration of vaccination in the Balearics”. This with a view to resuming international tourism activity as quickly as possible. Many Balearic tourism professionals are now united behind this common goal, under the banner of the collective SOS Turismo.
This organization brings together 901 professional entities from the region, from all sectors and sub-sectors of tourism. Companies then display the SOS Turismo banner on their storefronts or on their balconies in protest.
A significant mobilization
The SOS Turismo collective defines itself as “a cry of alarm to all administrations at all levels”.
First of all, it calls for clear, precise and transparent measures, but also for special attention to workers in the sector. SOS Turismo also demanded that the government of the Balearic Islands put in place a mass vaccination action to reach a total of 70% of the population of the autonomous community vaccinated before the summer.
Today, a few days before summer, the Balearic Islands are the region of Spain that has the lower percentage of people vaccinated. 17.7% of the population is immune and 40.6% received only the first dose of vaccine.
Internationally, the collective also wants Spain to negotiate the creation of a system within the European Union to facilitate travel based on vaccinations. Finally, SOS Turismo calls on the government of the Balearic Islands to reduce tax charges as well as more appropriate financial assistance.
The dream of a new tourism after the crisis
SOS Turismo therefore calls for support for a stricken sector pending an economic recovery, but other voices are dissenting, such as that of the workers’ union CCOO:
“This movement, SOS Turismo, be careful with that. It’s a catch-all movement of professionals […] who pride themselves on representing their workers, but worker representation is not only valid during a pandemic but also when companies are open … “
This caution towards the SOS Turismo group is also illustrated by the poster campaign SOS Tenible, created by Mallorcan street artist Abraham Calero. SOS Tenible takes the graphic codes of SOS Turismo by including the play on words sostenible which means sustainable in Spanish.
With this initiative, the local artist calls for not resuming the tourist activity as it existed before the crisis and asks to think about a new model of “post-Covid” tourism, more responsible for the island.
If Abraham Calero does not question the importance, even the necessity of tourism in Mallorca, he criticizes the total dependence of the island on this sector and agrees with the words of the CCOO union on the fact that the current crisis affects people much more. many precarious workers in the tourism industry than the big hotel chains from the Balearic Islands:
“It’s not for the big hotel chains that the crisis is most difficult. But rather for the invisible workers of tourism, those […] who have precarious jobs and short contracts. “
The recovery desired by SOS Turismo would revive the economy in the Balearic Islands, but would it not only recreate the difficult working conditions of tourist employment?
Thinking beyond tourism
The Balearic Islands find themselves confronted with the direct effects of their hyper-specialization in the tourism industry. In recent decades, the territory has focused on the diversification of the tourist offer (cycle tourism, rural tourism, culinary tourism), with the objective of spreading attendance over the year to alleviate the pressure associated with “over-tourism”.
Today, it is the redevelopment of other economic sectors that seems necessary to hope to emerge from this vulnerability induced by dependence on tourism.
Citizen associations are campaigning in this direction. The association ” Construction 21 “Advocates, for example, sustainable urban planning in Palma as well as the promotion of electric vehicles in Mallorca as part of a broad reflection on energy consumption linked to tourism. At the same time, however, the water consumed on the island comes mainly from a desalination plant running on fossil fuels.
As for the political actors, we seem to be aware of the situation and the issues. But the answers envisaged raise questions. The Economic and Social Council of the Autonomous Community of the Balearic Islands, for example, has just completed a report on the economic, social and environmental prospects in the archipelago for 2030.
The proposed tourism strategy aims to reduce reception capacities (hotel rooms, apartments, residences) while retaining the most spacious to ultimately make the islands a more upscale destination. This is presented as a sustainable development goal. But this tourism elitization project risks leading to the closure of mainly small independent structures and favoring the concentration of supply and, indeed, the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few large hotel groups.
Moreover, this strategy does not answer the question at all: what to do outside of tourism? The Balearics are totally dependent on the continent for their supplies. Only 15% of the food consumed in the archipelago is produced locally. Is there not a strategic reflection to be carried out around the primary sector (agriculture and fishing?).
Likewise, according to representatives of the association Palma 21, the service sector is frequently saturated, especially by the sudden influx of tourists when a cruise ship lands in Palma. We can consider the issue from the angle of reducing the tourist influx (but this dries up the financial windfall); but perhaps it would be necessary to rethink the tertiary sector of the Mallorcan economy as well?
Despite real will for change, the face of the post-crisis period seems uncertain. The shutdown of tourism in Mallorca is fueling some dreams of a more responsible tourism model – as soon as international travel has resumed. The vast majority of tourism professionals, in hotels, shops or restaurants which remain open despite the absence of tourists, use the same expression to express their expectation of the advent of “post-Covid tourism”.