Boom or Bust?

What does the future for Mallorca hold?
How does the massive tourism impact on the Mallorcan people?

Only a decade or so ago, if you had walked into a regular supermarket in Mallorca, then you would quite likely have found a cafe just inside where you could have a beer followed by a carajillo chaser (espresso with a spirit) for breakfast. Venture further in to buy anything specialised such as cilantro (coriander) and you’d have received a puzzled look. You could probably have taken up the special offers they had on collecting puntos on your purchases to swap for greixoneras (a traditional cooking pot), but not on an electronic store card, no these points would have been stuck into a paper wallet. That was Mallorca even in 2005, more or less the same as the UK had been in the 1970s. Fast forward to today and things have radically changed: Mallorca is keeping pace with its mainland neighbour Barcelona in terms of commerce, but it’s fighting to maintain its own identity and preserve its culture in the face of increasingly high property prices and foreign investors who are hoping to get themselves a slice of that good old Southern Mediterranean lifestyle.

It’s predicted that by 2030 Palma’s population of registered foreigners will reach 40%, but some would say that figure is well below what is already there today. There’s certainly a trend for immigrants to live here without registering themselves on the Empadron at their local town hall making it difficult for the authorities to have accurate figures. The markets reports of 2016 for house sales show that he biggest groups to buy property in Mallorca are the Germans, British, Scandinavians and French. The smart money, according to established real estate agencies such as First Mallorca or Engel & Völkers, is on Espanyolet in Palma (to the NW of Santa Catalina), or El Terreno as being the next hotspots.

Mallorca’s biggest industry continues to be tourism. Last year during the summer holiday season 65 flights an hour landed at the Son Sant Joan airport, this year it’s suggested that this should be increased to allow for 80 flights an hour. That’s about 30,000 people every hour arriving in Mallorca, and you wonder why you can’t get a hire car in July. Kate Mentink, a former councillor for Calvià and an expert in the Mallorcan tourism market thinks it will change. “It tends to move in seven year cycles, at the moment we are in an absolute boom based on the unfortunate circumstances in other parts of the world where people don’t want to visit because they don’t feel safe going there.

Mallorca is becoming increasingly expensive to visit and I’m seeing tour companies already having to slash their prices this year.” The luxury travel market however continues to grow. Mallorca now boasts nine restaurants with Michelin stars and is the European hub for the Super Yacht industry. Finding an available private villa is near on impossible in the holiday periods, and each year we are seeing more spectacular and exclusive hotels, such as the Cap Vermell Park Hyatt Mallorca in Canyamel, opening their doors.

How does this impact on the Mallorcan people? It’s a hot topic on the island, and if you talk to anyone in their twenties or thirties who works in Calvià or Palma they will tell you what a struggle it is to find an affordable place to live within striking distance of their workplace. “A lot of my friends have moved out to Inca, Santa Maria, or Sa Pobla. For the same money they pay to have a 50 m2 place in Palma they can get a whole building of their own with parking and a garden”, says Lidia Villalonga, born and bred in Mallorca. “Young Mallorcan people are suffering because of this, but then it is also the Mallorcan people who are selling their properties for high prices to foreign investors, so it is like a dog eating its own tail”. How can it be turned around? Planning departments are resisting the continued development of the island with the deliberate blocking of any building along the Serra de Tramuntana and the issuance this year so far of only three licenses in Palma for the building of large houses much to the frustration of many developers.

The average wage in Mallorca is only 23,770€ for men and 19,008€ for women which has caused a “brain drain” of professionals moving to work in other countries where the wages are better. The UK in particular has benefitted from this, but Brexit, and even perhaps the collapse of the European Union, may be about to change all of that. Possibly the best thing about Mallorca is something it cannot change: its geographical position as one of the most accessible islands in Europe. That should play to its advantage, attracting back its professionals and families who could live here but work remotely online or even commute to other European cities for work. But then what about where they will live, will they be able to afford it, what about healthcare, and schools…. time for another carajillo whilst we think about that one.

Writer: Vicky McLeod

Photos: Pernilla Danielsson