Coronavirus: Mallorca trapped by mass tourism as poverty increases | Business | Economic and financial news from a German point of view | DW


Tom Mardorf considers himself to be one of the wealthiest and most privileged parts of the population of Mallorca. He owns two houses on the famous Holiday Island where he has lived since 1996 as a part-time resident. The German businessman sells organic cosmetics and nutritional supplements.

Mardorf is officially registered as a Maltese citizen as this is where his primary residence is located. But the 58-year-old German says he feels drawn to Mallorca and comes to the Balearics as often as he can. His visit last September, however, was a “shock” for him, he told DW.

“The canceled summer season has left nasty wounds everywhere,” he said, adding, “Poverty is increasing rapidly.

After the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, Mallorca was the first Spanish tourist resort to be allowed to reopen. But it was only a brief period that lasted no more than two months.

Amid the rise in infections in Spain over the summer, the four Balearic holiday islands were closed again and have been in permanent detention ever since. Mallorca is said to be suffering the most of all Spanish seaside resorts from the collapse in tourist arrivals.

It is estimated that 75% of all income generated on the island is directly or indirectly linked to the travel industry, which has resulted in both an increase in the standard of living and an increase in the cost of living for its residents. . “These drawbacks of mass tourism are now suddenly becoming visible,” explains Mardorf.

Despite the current difficulties induced by the pandemic, the government of the Balearic Islands region plans to extend the drastic measures until March, insisting that “the balance” is necessary to avoid the risk of continuing the shutdown during the popular Easter holiday season.

Majorcans increasingly express anger over lockdown measures, including curfews

To make matters worse, national and regional governments have announced they want to spend the 140 billion euros ($ 169 billion) set aside for Spain as part of the EU’s pandemic rescue plan in for purposes other than tourism. The money must be injected into “forward-looking industries”, according to Madrid, and the regional government is prioritizing funding for universities, culture and agriculture.

Citizen initiatives alleviate the situation

Given the drama unfolding in Mallorca, Tom Mardorf believes his professional skills as a trader and fund manager are needed more than ever. In collaboration with the community church of Santa Ponsa, he organized a food bank and a fundraising campaign. With the help of private donations that he and his team of 27 local caregivers collect, they buy food to support around 70 families in Santa Ponsa.

Most of his fellow fundraisers are outsiders like him, and Mardorf fears some of them themselves will become dependent on donations for their livelihoods if the pandemic continues.

Tom Mardorf with Santa Ponsa Food Bank staff

Tom Mardorf (center) with his team at the Santa Ponsa pantry

Former hotel worker Paul Cameron is one of those delivering food to the needy in Santa Ponsa. The 40-year-old British citizen says growing poverty in Mallorca is not manifested by a higher number of beggars on the streets or squatters in empty hotels. Poverty is coming on “furtive feet,” he says, affecting not only unemployed workers in restaurants and hotels, but increasingly architects and lawyers as well.

“We see more and more people in Palma [de Mallorca] living in tents along the streets, ”he told DW, adding that he, his wife and their three children were barely making ends meet living on their savings.

For Bart Mooji, a 55-year-old restaurateur from the Netherlands, the financial pressure of the foreclosure is also becoming more dramatic by the day. He has already accumulated € 23,000 in debt to cover running costs and says help from the Spanish government is slow in coming. “I have received around € 2,000 in direct aid so far. The situation is really dire.”

A photo of Bart Mooji with a worker in front of his Sa Finca restaurant in Paguera, Mallorca

Restaurant owner Bart Mooij (left) is just one of many who are unsure whether their business will survive the pandemic

The fateful dependence on mass tourism

As most Mallorcan people blame Palma’s regional government for their difficulties, the problem of the Holiday Island’s unbalanced economic development runs much deeper and goes much back to the past.

In the 1970s, former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco attempted to make Mallorca a primary holiday destination for residents of the wealthiest and most industrialized countries in Northern Europe. The concept of mass tourism was born, fostering the long-standing image of Mallorca as a place of unbridled festivities and excessive fun in the sun.

The destination has become a mine of money, enriching many Mallorcans as well. In the 1980s and 1990s, more and more foreigners were drawn to Treasure Island, trying to reclaim some of the new wealth as hotel and restaurant owners, doctors, lawyers and real estate brokers. .

After Spain joined the European Union in 1986, Brussels fueled the boom by financing road and bridge projects as well as high-speed rail links and airports.

But now, after Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the collapse of travel company Thomas Cook in 2019, Mallorca’s fortunes appear to be reversed and the boom appears to be ending. The global coronavirus pandemic is likely to put an end to the island’s mass tourism model forever.

In the small town of Santa Ponsa, located near the rich tourist centers of the southwest of the island, poverty is not directly perceptible in the streets. The province of Calvia, in which it is located, is home to many large hotels with around 60,000 tourist beds. And yet, some 1,500 households in the province depend solely on social benefits at the moment, says Mardorf.

Santa Ponsa Pantry Food Packages

The number of food packages delivered by the Santa Ponsa point of sale is constantly increasing

The majority of the richest inhabitants of the province are foreigners, including many British, Scandinavians, Germans and Americans. Living in their luxury condos and vacation rentals, he says, they barely realize the plight of the locals. It’s like a parallel world, he finds, in which hardly anyone speaks Spanish or tries to integrate into society.

How to take advantage of a pandemic

Hardly surprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic also offers rich choices for some people living in Mallorca. Real estate agents are currently riding the wave of virus foreclosures and bankruptcies, negotiating lucrative deals for investors looking for cheaper deals, especially in the lower and middle segments of the market, where prices have fallen.

In contrast, the luxury real estate market has remained stable despite the crisis, showing that the demand for high-end properties on the island is far from weakening.

But renting a luxury villa has never been cheaper as operators don’t want to leave their first-class homes idle even during foreclosure. Fabian Dudek, the founder of Berlin-based startup Glassdollar, took the opportunity in Mallorca last fall, when he moved part of his business to the island. The foreclosure is “easier to maintain near the beach,” he says, and the rent he pays for his finca in Deia is “really affordable”.

For food bank assistant Paul Cameron, there is little solace in all of this. About 35% of those who line up to eat at the Santa Ponsa distribution point every day are doing so for the first time in their lives, he says. “They have enormous fear and uncertainty about the future.” He would only return to Britain in an emergency, he said, as Mallorca is “actually a safe place to raise children without drugs and social conflict”.

Leaving Mallorca is also not an option for Bart Mooji, the Dutch restaurateur. He has invested in his business and wants to raise his children here, he says. But at the same time, he thinks the crisis is “definitely changing” the vacation island.


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