In today’s guest blog Frank Leavers gives his views on winter tourism in the Balearic Islands.  Frank is a journalist and broadcaster who writes for the Majorca Daily Bulletin and other English language titles in Spain and beyond.

I have to say that the recent weather here across the Balearics has been wonderful, so much so that everyone I know has been saying the same thing i.e.……. it’s a pity that the islands seems to have shut-up-shop as if to spite themselves. To be perfectly honest I’m not sure what the authorities can do, but it seems such a pity that already tumbleweed is blowing through the streets of resort towns the length and breadth of our region. I know that I am not being particularly original, but could it be that in this regard, the local authorities and hoteliers are their own worst enemies?

Yes I know that you cannot keep a resort open upon the whim of a week of unseasonably warm weather, but it seems to me that sometimes we should be able to be a little quicker on our feet and think positively, so as to be more able to react to changing situations. In saying this, I can almost see the eye rolling and harrumphing reaction that last sentence will provoke within the ‘industry’ as it metaphorically stacks chairs on tables and closes its doors to the world. “We’re shut; now go away and find a place in another country that might appreciate your off-season business.” Could it be that local tourism and those who operate within it have become lazy and complacent and are quite happy for the island to operate on a four/five month per-annum calendar?

Looking back and trying to be honest; were we just a magnet for non-spending pensioners who would smuggle bread rolls into their hotel rooms, or is that something we have been ‘sold’ by the regional holiday industry in subsequent years as a sort of excuse, come alibi, to salve the consciences of the powers-that-be? Forget rose-tinted-glasses, if my memory is correct and properly intact, there was a lot more to winter tourism here than gaggles of pensioners escaping from northern Europe trying to keep warm in the winter.

Yes I know that I am being provocative on this issue; but has it ever occurred to anyone else that over the past decade, this industry has chosen to basically close the doors to the islands rather than to either suffer extra labour costs, or compromise other hotels within their large corporate groups elsewhere in the world? And then we have local and central government……aided and abetted by the trade unions, which because of their various inflexibilities are quite happy to pay out millions upon millions of euros in unemployment benefits rather than to stay open for winter business even if it was promoted on a bit-by-bit yet broad basis.

Indeed, it is only now that the authorities have woken up to the fact that many affluent mid-range tourists take winter breaks and are not wedded to the idea of lying on a beach for short week (or long weekend) but want an ‘activity’ holiday that might include cycling or walking in the mountains and along our many beautiful beaches whilst taking in Balearic culture and gastronomy. Come on, it really isn’t rocket science surely?

Quite rightly, amongst publications such as the Ibizan, Majorca Daily Bulletin and individual lobby groups and individuals there has been pressure brought to bear on budget airlines to continue flying over the winter period to regional and national outposts in the north of England and Scotland in particular, areas particular poorly served by winter flights. Yet, I suspect that I am not alone in thinking that unless you wish to stay with family or friends, or have a taste (or pocket!) for corporate 5 star hotels in Palma or Ibiza Town it would be hardly worth the effort.

I have a friend who is a very senior insider within the industry and he tells me that it wasn’t that long ago that in general the Balearic Islands had a “robust” winter holiday profile and it wasn’t any cyclical recession or financial downturn that put an end to that ten or more years ago. No, it was the industry itself that had grown sated by short-term profits and felt that winter tourism here in these islands was hardly worth bothering about given their growing ‘foreign’ portfolios, regional government apathy and local trade union intransigence.

Ibiza’s Winter Tourism Conundrum

As our island politicians return from an all-expenses paid trip to London’s World Travel Market the topic of winter tourism has raised its head yet again. 

This has been exasperated by the warm autumn weather that has seen Ibiza reach temperatures of up to 30 degrees in the sun and also the Sharm el-Sheikh tragedy that saw a jetliner bought down (apparently by a bomb) with a large loss of innocent lives. This tragedy along with the Tunisian lone gunman has seen traditional North African destinations become almost no-go zones for tourists leaving the travel market looking for more short haul options for winter destinations.

Even though the opportunity is right in front of us the commercial and political will of the Island suggests that despite the posturing our leaders are content with the status quo of busy summers followed by very quiet winters that allows for a great quality of life. Put simply, they earn enough in the summer so don’t need to open in the winter.

For those not in a privileged position, Ibiza’s unemployment queues get longer in the winter so why can’t the money spent on stemming the flow of poverty be used for creating jobs? The current situation sees many families on the breadline by January. Surely better to invest in people than effectively pay them to do nothing. 

On the island itself the subject of winter tourism is very polarizing with many wanting to carry on with the traditional 6 months on/6 months off and others moaning about the lack of work opportunities.

Those that denounce the idea of winter tourism saying such things as the island ‘needs a rest’ and ‘we love the peace and quiet in the winter’ obviously know very little about it as it’s completely different to the summer with an older more discerning tourism showing interest in local culture and society. 
Many miss the fact that Ibiza is already open for winter tourism but it isn’t doing it very well.
As a destination the island has a whole range of activities from cycling to walking to gastronomy to sightseeing to yoga to relaxing at spas: the spectrum is huge.

Most towns on the island have activities every weekend which are inclusive and fun yet they don’t seem able to advertise and get the message out there to anyone apart from an inner circle who seem to know everything. It’s all very last minute and tourism doesn’t work like that nowadays with forward planning needed to take advantage of lead-in prices.

Air Europa and Vueling have more flights, BA now operate a successful program of daily winter flights from London and Ryanair are opening an Ibiza base in March 2016 so as things are looking very rosy for an increased number of winter connections now would appear to be the time to push on. 

Ibiza in winter has the climate, it has the product and it has the location so we urgently need to to extend the tourist season not by making into a Benidorm or a December into August but by making March and November similar to April and October. The problem is that to do that the Island has to be open for business on a bigger and better scale and that right there is the biggest challenge. 

‘Ibiza Winter Residents’: You couldn’t make it up!

  When Facebook was just a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye could he have ever imagined the unstoppable train that he would unleash on the world for those wanting to share, to get things off their chest, those with a particular axe to grind and those with nothing better to do than surf social media all day whilst basking in the sun (that would be me then). Of all the social media groups and forums that I have joined and participated in, one is simply head and shoulders above the rest.

On a small island in a smallish sea there is a Facebook group called ‘Ibiza Winter Residents’ and I ask you, neigh beg you, to join it with the utmost urgency and become immersed in the weird and wonderful world of the Ibiza native: Those who love to share strange experiences, those who care more for animals than humans, no post is too sensitive for offensive remarks and those who can turn any gentle conversation into a slanging match. This group ensures that the term ‘pointless Ibiza question’ is now extinct. 

IWR has replaced the supermarket cafe with regards to recommendations, hearsay, conjecture, rumours and downright lies. Don’t take it too seriously and you will be amazed at the hourly posts and comments and I challenge you not to be doubled up with laughter on a daily basis. A word of caution though: Take this group too seriously and throw in a few bad comments about animals (especially cats) and you will have sworn enemies for life and an Ibiza Fatwa put on your head. 

Group admin Brian Beezwax told me “My friends were always asking for advice on how to do this or where to find that so a few years ago I decided to start writing it down in Ibiza Winter Residents whenever I had a little bit of success with Ibiza red tape, to give me something to refer to if I had to do the same thing again or if someone else asked. Thankfully it eventually started to catch on and other people started to share their experiences and advice too. Now in the space of a year the group has swelled from less than 3000 people to over 18,000 and we appear to have created a monster!”

Brian continues “There are lots of very different tribes on this island and Ibiza Winter Residents is one of the very few public spaces that they have to share. The odd verbal scrap is inevitable but most people seem to be able to look after themselves – at the end of the day it’s just words on a screen! Some people seem to think that the group should be heavily moderated like most forums on the internet but I’m adamant that it should remain lawless as it is – I think it’s important that there is a place where people are free to say whatever they like…….”

IWR reaches its target audience immediately (you’re probably reading this link now through it) and can be a fantastic source of information and a fact sharing site which can be very important on a small island but also no subject is too trivial and no comment is too gentle for it not to be misinterpreted by a diverse Ibiza population of different nationalities, backgrounds, languages and from contrasting social spheres. The group could almost have the sub heading ‘Lost in Translation’. 

Certain issues are no-go areas (cats again!) unless you are a true masochist and God forbid you suggest that the bus timetable in Santa Gertrudis isn’t good enough as this will unleash a tirade of ‘get back to your own country’ and ‘this isn’t London! ‘ type comments. I have even started using “IWR’s” as a collective term to describe a specific Ibiza demographic. 

Only Ibiza could give birth to this group and although some posts are cringeworthy and slightly mad it’s a fantastic medium for sharing first-person opinions and recommendations. I applaud it as a celebration of the islands dysfunctionality, and the strange thing is that I’m almost addicted to it so to all you IWR’s out there please keep on posting, ranting, swearing, informing, criticizing, praising, threatening, recommending, belittling, laughing and most of all championing our Island as I, for one, simply can’t get enough. MM