It’s almost impossible in the age we live in to find a city or country, on this continent especially, that is untouched by globalization and mass tourism.
Much like any airport you might walk through, Palma de Mallorca International Airport is packed with people.
It’s also very clear almost all of these people are tourists. There are groups of young men wearing matching t-shirts containing a slogan or nickname inspired by drinking beer.
There are also older couples standing around waiting for bags on the carousel. Most of them are wearing shorts and a t-shirt even though they’ve just come from the much colder climate in Germany or Britain. They seem to have tans already even though they haven’t stepped outside yet. But maybe that’s the effect of visiting Mallorca as much as they do.
“We come here every summer for the whole summer and then usually a couple times in the winter as well,” says an older men standing with his wife and their friends.
The man wished only to be known by Garry, but says he, his wife, and their two friends own a place on the island and come here as often as they can.
“We love it here. The weather’s great and everyone is able to speak english.”
“We see that a lot of young people from back home come here and (they) are a bit disrespectful in regards to drinking and partying, but we just enjoy Mallorca for the sun.”
As you make your way through the mass of people and head towards the exit you realize Garry has a point in something he said. You don’t hear much, if any, Spanish or Catalan being spoken. It’s almost entirely English. You can also hear some German and Dutch every once in a while though.
Even the people working at the airport will say “hello” in English, or the bus driver will speak to you in English before you even have a chance to say a word. It seems as though Mallorca knows, and maybe accepts, that it has become a tourist hotspot. Millions of people come through the airport every year. But it hasn’t always been that way. Before the 1950’s Mallorca was not a destination for many tourists.
But after the end of World War II, Europeans began to make some money and receive paid vacations. So they began to look for somewhere they could experience sun and sand in the summer. With that in mind they looked to Mallorca, says Miguel Munar, a front desk attendant at the tourism information centre in Palma de Mallorca.
“It started with honeymooners in the 1950’s and then there was a boom in the 60’s,” says Munar.
The Effect On Locals
“Forty-Eight percent of our GDP is related to the tourism sector so as you can see our dependence on tourism for the economy is so huge,” say Bartolomé Deyá Tortella, the Dean of the Faculty of Tourism at Universitat de les Illes Balears (The University of the Balearic Islands) located in Palma de Mallorca.
Tortella says that the Balearic Islands have a total population of around 1.1 million people – 900,000 live in Mallorca – and the area as a whole receives around 16 million tourists a year.
That is more tourists than any single African or South American country saw in 2017 according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Mallorca itself is roughly the same size as Trinidad and Tobago but the island still has to deal with the effects of mass tourism. The locals are almost dependant on tourism to make a living. But they have both a good and bad relationship with this huge segment of their economy.
“There are both positives and negatives effects of tourism here. It generate a lot of wealth for the island, generates a lot of employment for our population,” says Tortella, “but it also generates negative effects, overcrowding and environmental concerns.”
Most people who live in Palma are employed in the tourism industry, and within that industry it is mostly bars, restaurants, and the construction of new apartment buildings that provide opportunities for employment according to Munar.
“It’s good for business but not for community,” says Munar.
“It’s hard for people here to have a job for six or nine months that is dependant on tourists because when that ends they have to go on unemployment insurance.”
The six to nine month period Munar mentions is Mallorca’s high season. High season lasts from the beginning of April until November 1st. The four month period of June to September experiences the absolute peak number of tourists.
Munar says that there is a big difference once the high season ends.
“Everything is more quiet. You can feel it in the city. It’s just a completely different story.”
During the peak period of high season – June to September – Mallorca sees a lot of young Irish, British and German visitors that just come to party says Tortella.
And this type of tourist, specifically those looking to simply blow off some steam after exams, is the one segment of the tourism sector that the locals wish they could reduce or get rid of entirely. This segment of tourism is known as “party tourism”, and Mallorca experiences this kind of tourism every year.
“There is a common agreement in our society that party tourism must be reduced or maybe eliminated, but it is not easy because we can not forbid it because it is present in many of our societies around the world,” says Tortella.
Mallorca is attempting to increase the quality of their tourism sector in order to also reduce the amount of tourists who come just to party.
“We are increasing the quality of our accommodations and restaurants in order to increase the quality of the guests we receive. If you increase the quality and price this is a good way to reduce the amount of tourists who are coming just to party.”
Tortella says this process of improvement if only focused in ethics.
“Any society in the world needs to be ethical. It can’t be about partying or drugs, this kind of tourism is not ethical.”
“Most days consisted of waking up at some point in the afternoon and going for a swim, then we’d go eat and meet with some of our other friends, we usually started drinking then,” says Carl Flood, an Irish student who visited Mallorca last summer.
“After a few drinks we go home, shower and then start pre-drinking, then we’d head out at maybe 1 a.m.”
Flood says it’s common for young Irish people to go to Mallorca when they finish their high school exams.
David O’Farrell, another Irish student, says he did the exact same thing.
“I went in July of 2016, straight after I finished my school exams.”
Flood says he went to Santa Ponsa – a coastal town in western Mallorca – but he also knew people that stayed in Palma and of course, Magaluf.
“It’s also known in Ireland as ‘Shagaluf’,” says O’Farrell.
Flood and O’Farrell are not unique in regard to the kind of trip they took. The amount of students that have to come to Mallorca in the past has led the island to become internationally famous for nightlife. Along with the other three largest Balearic Islands, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, Mallorca has become a hotspot for young people to come party.
“The party segment generates a lot of photos and videos that appear in the media and generates a negative reputation of the destination because you relate it with drunk people,” says Tortella.
“But this is not representative of the 16 million tourists we receive each year. It is only a small part.”
Even if it is only a small part of the tourism Mallorca experiences the locals are starting to crack down on party tourism, and the days of Magaluf, or “Shagaluf”, acting as a hub for drinking and partying may not last much longer.
Just recently, the all-inclusive resorts on the island banned alcohol as a statement against the atmosphere created by the drunk tourists.
Part of the reason to implement this ban was to bring down the number of instances of ‘balconying’, an activity that young people regularly do while in Mallorca. According to Britain’s The Independent, ‘balconying’ refers to when “inebriated travelers jump from balcony to balcony inside hotels.”
This ban on alcohol is an attempt to get rid of Mallorca’s “unwanted and negative reputation” says Tortella.
In the same article from the Independent it states, “tourists and bars in Mallorca could be fined up to €3,000 as part of a new crackdown on alcohol consumption.”
Along with the changes introduced in the law due to mass tourism and the party culture specific to some tourists in Mallorca’s, the area has also seen protests towards the effects of these aspects of tourism.
The Socialist Party of Mallorca recently proposed that Mallorca introduces a reduction to the number of party boats given out for use by tourists.
Mallorca has also seen protestors wait at Palma de Mallorca International Airport with anti-tourism signs. An article in Conde Nast Traveler detailed how protestors brought “signs bearing slogans like ‘One Airline Every Minute is Not Sustainable!’ as planeloads of visitors arrived from Germany and the United Kingdom.”
Both Flood and O’Farrell say they wouldn’t return to the island for a holiday, but O’Farrell thinks the culture of party tourism in Mallorca will continue.
“I would do a similar holiday but in a different location. It’s kind of run down in the less popular places and it’s very small. If you want to drink all day and party all night, then I would say it’s definitely the place to go to,” says O’Farrell.
Locals vs. Tourists
As Tortella mentioned, tourists have been coming to Mallorca for around 60 years now. The relationship between locals and tourists has been harmonious for most the history but recently this relationship has become more adversarial.
“I think the locals know to steer clear of the sorts of places (me and my friends went to),” says O’Farrell, “the only time I met a local was when I got a taxi to and from the airport. Everyone that is employed by the hotel, clubs and bars around Magaluf and the strip are young Irish or English people who go to work and party for their summer.”
O’Farrell makes a good point. When you arrive in Mallorca you can feel the presence of English speakers here. Most people will immediately speak to you in English, and Flood thinks this isn’t helping local culture.
“Locals also have to encounter the English language in their everyday lives, in shops and restaurants, so I would say it damages the Spanish culture in a big way in these areas.”
Flood says party tourism also might not the best type of tourism.
“Every day there were young lads doing stupid things and causing a hassle. At night there’s a police presence keeping an eye on things so you can’t deny that these kind of tourists are changing the way the town operates.”
Tortella says Mallorca is changing the model of tourism they experience.
“We are trying to increase the quality of our product and then we increase the benefits we obtain from the tourists.”
“It is important that we control this tourism. We have to grow, not in the number of tourists but in the valued added that theses tourists generate when they visit Mallorca. This is the change we’ve been trying to do in the past few years.”
It is undeniable that Mallorca is experiencing change right now due of the effects of tourism. The days of party tourism may be under threat but the full effects of mass tourism will most likely continue. The locals on the island seem to understand how vital tourism is to their livelihood and look like they will continue to put up with the negative effects on their culture that the industry brings.
The situation the locals are faced with may become easier to empathize with once you’ve visited Mallorca for yourself.
“I spent like 10 days there and by the end of it I was happy to be going home, I can’t imagine what it’d be like to live through that for a whole summer as a local.”