Special Report: The challenge for destinations to be green

Special Report: The challenge for destinations to be green

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Magaluf is synonymous with some of the worst aspects of mass tourism. Yet Calvia, of which it is part, saw the first serious attempts at a more sustainable development. Ian Taylor reports

The Majorcan municipality of Calvia, which includes Magaluf, has drawn tourists in their millions since the 1960s.

Martin Brackenbury, former president of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) and now a director of Classic Collection Holidays, recalls the region in the 1980s.

He said: “Protection of areas simply did not happen. Spain and the Balearics, in particular, were going downhill. Visitor numbers were going down, buildings were decaying.

“Hotels were built extraordinarily badly in the 1960s. There was no regulation or planning and it wasn’t what customers wanted.”

The federation became central to a project aimed at turning the situation around – the European Community Model of Sustainable Tourism (Ecomost).

Brackenbury said: “We wanted to ensure the local population prospered and kept their cultural identity, to provide a good experience for tourists and to do nothing to damage the ecology.

Initial errors

German Porras, a former director of Spanish tourism authority Turespana, said: “Spain was probably the first to develop mass tourism in the Mediterranean. We made a lot of mistakes. In the 1980s, there was overcapacity. The market was declining. We started to think about how to reverse this [but] lacked a general framework. That is what Ecomost provided.”

Esteban Bardolet, a retired economist, academic and lawyer, was also involved. He said: “People were eager to have more tourism in Majorca, but there was such investment the regional authorities were trying to apply a brake.”

Brackenbury said: “There was acute concern about loss of identity in Calvia – also hooliganism and drunkenness. There were concerns about plastic in the sea and rubbish. There was a significant shortage of water, so hotels were bringing in tankers from the mainland. Sewage disposal was poor. The situation was very bad. A lot of hoteliers realised they needed to change. There was a conjunction of interests that said ‘We can’t go on like this’.”

Bardolet said: “One of the problems from the birth of the destination was that there was no planning. It was the Wild West. The first tourism development plan was only in 1995.” Porras added: “Lack of regulation was the real problem.”

Operator consensus

Bardolet said: “At the time nobody could imagine tour operators on the side of responsibility.”

Yet the Ecomost project came about, recalled Brackenbury, from “a combination of political will and the tour operator market saying ‘It can’t continue’”. He said: “We looked at the carrying capacity, at tourists and the extent to which they were satisfied [and] at the awareness of environmental issues. What we produced was a way to examine any resort. Most of the legislation [which followed] still exists in some form.”

Porras said: “The local municipality, even residents, worked with the tour operators.”

Brackenbury added: “Restrictions go against a lot of private interests so you need commitment to make things happen. There are always entrepreneurs who find ways around them. Regulations need to be robust. You need arrangements that are respected.”

Porras agreed: “There are a lot of difficulties to this kind of project – high costs, negative attitudes, inertia, short-term interests. But Ecomost was very successful.”

Bardolet said: “It demonstrated cooperation between private and public organisations for the first time.”

Brackenbury said: “Nowadays people expect things to be properly organised. In high-density resorts you have to deliver these things even if you don’t talk about it.”


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