COVID-19: Mallorca’s businesses desperate for British tourists to return
Think of Magaluf and your mind starts spinning with chaotic images of raucous summer holidays.
Even if you haven’t been there, it is a word synonymous with parties, sunshine and boozy breaks; of lurid tales about drunk British teenagers collapsing on the beach.
But today, as I walk along the Magaluf sand, it all looks very different – peaceful and relaxing. The sea is an enticing light blue, the sun is beating down, and the beach is almost deserted. A few isolated sunbathers, a couple of young children strolling down together and a family group looking through their bags for snacks.
It is all disarmingly genteel. And that, of course, is the problem that now faces resorts like this one.
Magaluf should be getting busy, with bars and restaurants filling up. Instead, walking around its streets is like being in some kind of disaster movie, where a town is left deserted. When the sun is out, a tourist town without tourists feels odd.
Along one quiet street, Alfonso Sanchez is inside his deserted supermarket. He has run it for decades, but never known a time like this.
He tells me that, in normal times, he would be dealing with hundreds of customers per day. Now, he hasn’t bothered opening up, let alone stacking the shelves. There is nobody to sell to.
What he, and the rest of Magaluf’s businesses want, is the return of the British tourist trade.
“Well, here we are prepared to open when we can,” he tells me.
“We just need just 10 days. As soon as we know – in any way – that we can guarantee that a system is going to work, then I think we can be open in 10 days.
“We are ready to work. All the workers are waiting to work. Businessmen are ready to open their businesses. We have passed a very bad year and we are ready to re-start.”
But he knows that the key to all this is a sense of security for visitors. Across Europe there are people pining for a beach holiday, but plenty need reassurance that the resorts are safe.
“The most important thing is that we control the pandemic,” says Mr Sanchez, with a nod.
“I think that is the key to the question. If we don’t have control of the pandemic then it would be very difficult to have a usual season. People have to feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t leave home to come here.”
A short walk from the sea, Diego Belmonte is sitting outside his takeaway shop. It was founded 50 years ago and Diego is a veteran on the Magaluf scene. But the past year, when he has paid wages, utility bills and taxes but earned next to nothing, has cost him a fortune.
“The British, for me, are my life. I pray. I pray for the British all the time. Because for me, for my family, they are the most important. The British tourists who come here in Magaluf are 100% necessary for us. Very important.”
We travel out of Magaluf and follow the road further north to another of Mallorca’s resorts – the picturesque bay of Soller.
Lluis Rullan Oliver is a hotelier in the town. He says the past year has been a “rollercoaster, mentally and physically” but says he now sees a “light at the end of the tunnel”.
He says that at this time of the year, hotels in the area should be working at around 98% occupancy rate. Instead, it’ll probably turn out to be somewhere between 35% and 40%, with hopes that it will rise over the course of summer.
There is quiet hope here that, as long as COVID-19 cases remain low on the island, then Mallorca may be allowed to create some kind of travel corridor with the UK, even if mainland Spain does not receive the same privileges. But what’s not yet clear is whether that is a hope born of realism, or simple hope.
What is obvious is that Mallorca is desperate to welcome back its British tourists, the benefactors of an economy that is dependent upon holidaymakers.
“It is going to be a good feeling when you see British tourists again,” says Lluis. “Generally, we want to see all tourists back, enjoying their holidays here. It’s a kind of show that we are a step closer to going back to normal life.”
Behind him, the water in the bay twinkles under an impossibly beautiful sky. The resort looks stunning and inviting. Look out and it is beguilingly easy to forget, for a moment, the sheer misery of this pandemic. And that sense of escapism, of course, is what tourism is all about, and why so many people are desperate to get away to places like Mallorca.
But, for the moment at least, there are no British tourists here to enjoy the welcome, bask in the sunset and spend their money. For Mallorca’s tourist industry, the return of the Britons simply cannot come too soon.
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