Meet the priced out Majorcans that want Britons off the island

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Palma de Mallorca last weekend demanding an end to over-tourism
Demonstrators marched through Palma de Mallorca last weekend demanding an end to over-tourism - SOLARPIX

As tourists in bikinis and board shorts lounge on a sandy beach on the coast of Majorca, passenger planes take off with metronomic regularity from the airport a few miles away.

It is a summer idyll: the water is an alluring shade of turquoise, the sun is beating down from a cobalt blue sky and a beach restaurant is offering cold beer and grilled prawns.

The planes are delivering some of the estimated 18 to 20 million visitors who are expected to descend this year on the largest of the Balearic Islands, known to generations of British tourists for sun, sea and sangria.

But 50 years after the beginning of the tourism boom, many islanders are now saying enough is enough.

Like the inhabitants of Venice, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam and Santorini, the one million inhabitants of Majorca have begun to struggle with accommodating such a huge number of arrivals.

Amid a growing sense of anger and frustration, islanders say they will occupy beaches on Saturday morning in a protest against the impact of mass tourism.

They plan to converge on the resort of Colonia De Sant Jordi, east of the island’s capital, Palma de Mallorca.

Protesters streamed past bars and cafes on the island
Protesters streamed past bars and cafes on the island - SOLARPIX

Under the hashtag “OcupemLesNostresPlatges” – Catalan for “Let’s Occupy Our Beaches” – a campaign group called Mallorca Platja Tour (Majorca Beach Tour) put out an appeal on social media: “We invite all residents near the beaches to go for a swim, recover our beaches and enjoy them as before. The beaches are for everyone!”

The planned protest follows a march last weekend in which an estimated 10,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Palma, carrying placards in English and Catalan that read “Enough Mass Tourism”, “Mallorca Is Not For Sale” and “Foreigners Out.”

In the Serra de Tramuntana, a rugged mountain range on Majorca’s west coast that is popular with hikers and cyclists, road signs were sprayed with the words “Tourist go home” this week.

‘There are some days when Palma is on the brink of collapse’

In a boutique hotel in the narrow streets of Palma’s historic centre, a concierge said: “Try buying a house here – the prices are like Switzerland.”

“There are some days when Palma is on the brink of collapse,” said Marc, the owner of a snug traditional wine bar in the city.

“If it is a rainy day then tourists from across the island come into town for shopping. It’s crazy. I don’t leave my house. Then we have days when three big cruise ships arrive – that’s suddenly another 12,000 to 15,000 tourists arriving on the island.

“There are bike tours, e-bike tours, Segway tours, jeep tours…20 years ago it was not like this. There are even night-time tours of Palma, so you find 40 or 50 people beneath your balcony at 11pm. There’s no peace.”

The promenade at Colonia de Sant Jordi where the march is expected on Saturday
The promenade at Colonia de Sant Jordi where the march is expected on Saturday - JEFF GILBERT

The scale of the protests is without precedent, said Humphrey Carter, deputy editor of the Majorca Daily Bulletin, the island’s English-language newspaper.

“There has been nothing on this scale. Rental prices were high enough pre-Covid, but post-Covid, as a result of global economics and geopolitics, inflation and the cost of living have really spiked. Plus, there has been a generational shift.

“People are more aware of the damage it is doing to natural resources, traffic congestion, their way of life. It has all come home to roost. Politicians on all sides have been banging on for years about sustainability. Now, people want to see some action.”

Locals accused of hypocrisy

Critics point out that there is a degree of hypocrisy on the part of islanders. They have grown wealthy on the back of tourism.

It was they who sold off their plots of land, town centre apartments and historic stone farmhouses, getting rich on the proceeds. The golden goose of tourism was fattened up over decades. Now, it seems, some of them want it drastically slimmed down.

“Mass tourism has been Majorca’s bread and butter from the sixties. A lot of Majorcans made a lot of money and they still are making money. Majorcans can’t afford to complain too much. All the fincas, the rural estates that were bought by Brits, Germans, Americans, Australians, Scandinavians, have been sold by Majorcans. They cashed in big time and now they are paying the consequences,” said Mr Carter, who has lived on the island for more than 30 years.

“There is a social divide. You have those who are extremely wealthy who make money out of tourism and you have those who aren’t and who struggle, even if they have a relatively good job, because wages don’t match the cost of living.”

Locals say some tourists have been put off visiting the beaches due to the protests
Locals say some tourists have been put off visiting the beaches due to the protests - JEFF GILBERT

Juan Jose Company Orell, an author, lawyer and commentator on social affairs, said islanders are architects of their own problems because for so many years they encouraged mass tourism.

“We have been building this economic system in Majorca, depending on the income from tourism. When there were no problems, we were very happy. Now, we are facing the consequences, good and bad.

“It’s a very complex problem and there are no easy solutions. People say: ‘let’s cut 50 per cent of flights coming to the island.’ Then what? Jobs will be lost. The protesters are not seeing the whole picture. I’m sure they have good intentions. But good intentions are not necessarily good ideas.”

High rents have driven people off the island

Islanders say they are not rebelling against tourists per se, but the impact of tourism.

They say they can no longer put up with the high costs, unaffordable rents, water shortages and traffic congestion that tourism, once seen as an economic miracle that lifted the Balearics out of poverty, has brought.

“There are far too many tourists on the island,” said Cristina Lucena, 38, a sales representative who was taking a break in a bar a few hundred yards from Palma’s magnificent cathedral. “Rents are way too high – it’s impossible for a lot of people to afford them.”

Low-paid workers cannot afford to live on the island as house prices have shot up drastically
Low-paid workers cannot afford to live on the island as house prices have shot up drastically - JEFF GILBERT

The hospitality industry is struggling with a 20 per cent shortfall of staff because low paid workers cannot afford to live on the island anymore.

The average cost of renting a small apartment in the Balearic Islands has nearly tripled in the last decade, according to Fotocasa, a property website.

For low-skilled workers on salaries of €800 a month, renting an apartment is simply out of their league.

Seasonal workers from the Spanish mainland are baulking at coming to the Balearics for the summer because of the astronomical cost of accommodation, according to Alfonso Robledo, the president of the CAEB Restaurants Association.

There is even a shortage of police – officers from other parts of the country struggle to afford accommodation as well.

The housing crisis is taking a toll on people’s mental health. “I see a lot of clients who suffer from anxiety and depression,” said Emilia Roig, a psychologist. “You have people who are 30 years old, they earn €1,200 a month and they still have to live at home with their parents. Even houses in villages an hour’s drive from Palma are being bought up by foreigners. We need to start controlling the number of tourists. We need to reduce the number of flights coming in but instead they are expanding the airport. There is now even a direct flight from New York to Majorca.”

I can understand where the protesters are coming from. I'm from Edinburgh and we have similar problems. There are lots of short-term lets, especially during the Fringe
Douglas Loggie, 35, an accountant from Scotland who was on his way to a wedding, says: "I can understand where the protesters are coming from. I'm from Edinburgh and we have similar problems during the Fringe" - NICK SQUIRES

Prices have risen across the board, far outstripping local wages.

There was anger recently when it was revealed that a beach near Palma was charging €70 a day for a “premium” sun lounger service. The offer did not even include a free drink. In another beach club, prices are equally startling: €38 for red curry prawns with basmati rice and €29 for a mushroom risotto.

“Mallorca is experiencing collapse,” Ferran Rosa, a local opposition MP, said recently.

Airports in the Balearics have broken records for passenger numbers “year after year” and that has to stop, he said.

Around one-fifth of the national airport authority’s profits come from airports in the Balearics, the politician said. “Enough is enough.” His socialist party, Més, is urging Madrid to urgently reduce the number of planes allowed to fly to the archipelago.

Protests could change Majorca’s entire business model

There has even been talk among some islanders of blockading the airport to stop aircraft from arriving. For now, that seems unlikely – protests so far have been peaceful.

“It would be ambitious but very dangerous,” said Mr Carter. “You’d then have the involvement of the Guardia Civil, paramilitaries. I think it might be a bridge too far. It could end in tears. Campaigners don’t want to be seen as rabble-rousers.”

The protests are forcing a rethink of Majorca’s entire tourism model.

“It’s too easy to get here – you can fly from Germany or the UK for 30 or 40 euros,” says Alberto, a taxi driver who spends much of his day battling congested traffic. “Majorca has become crazy. It used to take 20 minutes to drive from the airport to the city, now it can take 50 minutes or more.”

The dissatisfaction has made the authorities sit up and take notice.

Gerhard Hornburg, a retired businessman who lives in Majorca for four months a year, sympathises with the protesters. "Majorcans can't afford to live on their own island," he says
Gerhard Hornburg, a retired businessman who lives in Majorca for four months a year, sympathises with the protesters. "Majorcans can't afford to live on their own island," he says - NICK SQUIRES

The regional government of the Balearic Islands has set up a committee to study how to pivot towards a more sustainable tourism model.

“The time has come to make difficult decisions and transform the economic model,” said Marga Prohens, the president of the regional parliament. “Tourists are and always will be welcome,” but tourism in the islands “cannot continue to grow in volume,” she said. “That growth is no longer translating into wellbeing on our islands.”

That message was echoed by some in the travel industry. “We cannot grow any more in volume,” said Jose Luis Zoreda, vice president of Exceltur, an alliance of leading tourism and travel companies. It is in the interests of Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza to address over tourism, he said. “Islands that are more attractive to residents are more attractive to tourists.”

The mayor of Palma, Jaime Martinez, this week suggested a range of measures to tackle over tourism.

The mayor of Palma has plans that would shake up the city's tourism industry
The mayor of Palma has plans that would shake up the city's tourism industry - JEFF GILBERT

They include limiting the number of cruise ships allowed to dock in Palma, banning the biggest cruise ships altogether and imposing new taxes on passengers when they disembark.

One of the leading cruise ship ports in the Mediterranean, Palma attracts more than 2.5 million passengers each year.

A large ship can disgorge up to 5,000 passengers at any one time, putting immense strain on local services.

Islanders complain that passengers disembark for just a few hours on the island, spending little. They don’t even take taxis because the cruise ship companies lay on shuttle buses.

Opponents of mass tourism argue that in addition to cutting the number of cruise ships arriving, the number of rental cars hired out to tourists should be reduced.

Another suggestion is to stop aggressively marketing the Balearic Islands abroad.

As the debate grinds on, the planes arcing over Majorca’s silky sands bring in ever more tourists.

“What’s the solution? I don’t know because tourism is business and it brings people work,” said Marc, the wine bar owner, who has lived on the island for 22 years.

“The hotel groups and airlines are very powerful. I think it will be hard to reduce the number of tourists. But we don’t want to become like Venice or Barcelona. We don’t want to be a theme park. That would be horrible.”

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