Opinion: Have the Spanish found a way of addressing British binge drinking?

Opinion: Have the Spanish found a way of addressing British binge drinking?

Industry consultant Andy Cooper wonders whether attempts to crack down on unruly behaviour linked to alcohol in Magaluf will work or just push the problem somewhere else

The topic of anti-social behaviour by young tourists is back on the agenda.

The local authorities in Calvia, which covers Magaluf as well as various other resorts in Mallorca, have announced they are introducing new rules in an attempt to “clean up” the resort during the summer season.

While this issue is not one that is confined to the British youth market, we seem to be seen by most tourism destinations as the cause of most of their unruly behaviours.

So why should that be, and what is the right answer?

Misbehaviour among the young is nothing new. In fact, the historian in me thinks back to the Middle Ages when agitators found it relatively easy to incite “the mob” in London to riot, often with the aid of strong and cheap alcohol. How little has changed over the past 500 or more years.

Nowadays, most of the stories we read in the tabloids talk about dodgy drunken behaviour in the youth resorts of Greece, Spain and Cyprus in particular.

In fact, for the past 10 years, we seem to have seen one resort rise to the top of the charts for trouble each year, with a disproportionate number of these being in Greece.

While I was in a previous role, running the Federation of Tour Operators, we spent a lot of time working with the Foreign Office as well as local authorities in various Greek towns to attempt to understand the causes of the problems, and to try to address them.

I can remember attending a meeting in 2003 in Rhodes when the summer headlines related to drunken misbehaviour in Faliraki. In successive years, the headlines have focussed on Kavos (Corfu), Malia (Crete), Laganas (Zakynthos), Kardamena (Kos), Ayia Napa as well as Magaluf.

I found the discussions in Rhodes really enlightening – the British tour operators lined up on one side of the table, and the Greek mayors and police on the other side – each believing that the other had caused or significantly contributed to the problem.

The Greeks believed, and probably still do, that tour operators promote the night life and cheap alcohol in their destinations and then encouraged their customers to drink excessively, often during pub crawls organised by some of the operators.

The British, on the other hand, regarded the problem as being caused by the relative lack of effective policing in the resorts, combined with incredibly cheap, low quality alcohol, and bars which encouraged their customers to drink copious amounts of that product.

As is so often the way, there was some truth in both arguments, as well as an argument that the problems were created elsewhere, and simply moved themselves to wherever the trouble spot was in any given year.

For me, one of the more interesting trends of social media is that the first time holidaymaker market – the 16 to 18 years, no longer need to rely on tour operator or travel agent advice to choose their holiday destination.

They have a huge number of “friends” and other contacts on social media sites who have visited the main resorts, and are able to recommend where to go for the best deals, and some of those deals are incredibly tempting to a first-time traveller on a limited budget.

A couple of years ago, I went on holiday to Mallorca. My teenage son took a friend, and they had a night out in Magaluf.

On his return, he told me that the first bar he visited enticed them in by an offer of all they could drink in 1 hour for €7 per person, and the next bar had a similar type of offer.

When 18 year olds, or younger, get that opportunity put in front of them, they are not going to turn it down.

This is then made worse by the fact that the products supplied at that price are often little better than industrial alcohol, and the consequence on those drinking it is almost inevitable.

This problem is then coupled in some resorts with a practice of less scrupulous individuals of doctoring drinks.

A young person may decide to try to stay relatively sensible and stick to beer – while they will still get drunk, the effects are often less immediate and less dramatic than for those drinking cheap spirits.

However, their “friends” and others in the bars sometimes resort to adding shots to their beer to try to liven them up – which of course ultimately has the opposite effect.

Some years ago, the Foreign Office ran a campaign in a number of Greek resorts which included supplying a non-return valve device (whose name now escapes me) which could be put on the top of beer bottles to prevent them being doctored.

The Spanish campaign in Magaluf seems to be focused on restricting the availability of alcohol:

  • Banning the consumption of alcohol on the streets after 10pm;
  • Ban on shops selling alcohol between midnight and 8am;
  • Imposing rules on the operation of pub crawls.

As well as adding a significant additional police presence on the streets, and imposing hefty fines for misbehaviour.

It’s good to see that destination is looking at the problem as needing more than one solution, but until we get a more consistent approach across Europe, as well as a recognition that if you make cheap alcohol readily available to young people, they will drink it, then the problem will not go away.

In any event, with our long cultural heritage of binge drinking, I would question whether the problem will ever go away entirely.

Furthermore, unless it is addressed consistently across Europe, the youth market is always going to be able to communicate the best places to go for binge drinking more quickly than the authorities can take action to prevent it.

What is clear, though, is that any attempt to find a solution is going to need cooperation between all the parties involved in tourism, and we should certainly not expect too much too quickly.

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