Majorcans say no to any more tourism

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The Independent Online
SEVEN MILLION tourists come to Majorca every year, but by November the Mediterranean island is reclaimed by the 600,000 people who live here all year. On Wednesday, when up to one in 10 of the indigenous population will march through the streets of Palma to demand a halt to all further tourism development, few foreigners will be around to witness the protest.

"We want the Balearic government to stop the island being destroyed, and protect what is still left of it from speculators and developers," said Miquel Angel March, one of the organisers. "That means saying no to more hotels, no to splitting up any more large farms into building plots for holiday homes, no to the motorway planned for the south of the island, and no to more golf courses. If we carry on bringing more tourists we will be saying farewell to a whole way of life."

The Bishop of Majorca, Teodor Ubeda, has called a synod this month which will discuss environmental concerns among more traditional issues. "We have to find a way of living off tourism while respecting the environment," he said.

Although tourism is almost the only way to earn a living on Majorca, the demonstration is proving so popular that it is being supported by the church, civic groups, every opposition party, and even leading members of the ruling Partido Popular. It began as a protest against soaring land prices, ugly concrete tourist developments and environmental damage - water has to be shipped in from the Spanish mainland, and a newly built incinerator is already unable to cope with the 39,000 tonnes of refuse generated every month during the summer. But social concerns are also fuelling the protest.

It is widely believed among teachers, for example, that many secondary school students in coastal areas have discipline problems because their parents work endless shifts in the tourist industry. Some don't get a single day off all summer.

Many immigrants have settled in the Balearics to look after the tourists, reinforcing the feeling of Majorcans that their culture and identity are under threat. The Catalan language has been replaced by Spanish in coastal areas, and the local government has had to pass a law banning signs and menus which are only in English or German.

Majorca has just put into effect a moratorium on new construction of tourist accommodation and curbs on rural developments. But this is not enough for Mr March. "We do not want half-hearted solutions that allow the problem to get worse," he said, pointing out that 50,000 Germans already own holiday homes on the island. Another 25,000 are thinking of buying one in the next five years. One radio station alleges that about 100 new urban developments are planned.

Majorca is beginning to share its experiences with other Mediterranean islands swamped by tourism. Carles Manera, professor of economic history at the University of the Balearic Islands, attended a meeting in Sardinia last month which also attracted specialists from Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus and Malta, which together receive at least 10 million tourists a year.

"We need to define indicators of growth which will show when development is going the wrong way or too far," he said. "The classic indicators of economic health will have to be supplemented by factors such as the high rate of heart disease, the increasing percentage of salaries spent on the purchase of homes and the low number of university-level students on the islands." A centre for island studies is being planned for the Balearics.

According to Prof Manera, the plight of island societies can largely be solved by developing a more diversified economy. The Balearic government is promoting high-tech service industry, and has signed up Richard Rogers to design a cutting-edge residential and industrial complex called ParcBit, but smaller initiatives include the Insula scheme on Sardinia, which encourages tourists to buy locally produced souvenirs.

"Co-ordination between the islands," said Prof Manera, "will help find solutions to the drain on resources which tourism is proving to be. The islands have never had much contact. We hope to break this isolation and work together on these problems."