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It seemed like it would be an early tourism recovery success story for Mallorca when a pilot scheme rolled out for German tourists in June 2020, ahead of Spain’s wider reopening.

In partnership with tour operator TUI, the local hotel association and the Balearics government, the first batch of German tourists spread out across the popular beach-blessed Balearic islands. Protocols were limited to temperature checks and health screenings on arrival, plus the promise of “bubble tour groups” to keep the virus from spreading.

But the unorthodox safety marketing campaign failed. Case numbers rose on Mallorca as well as in source markets, including the UK and Germany which were quick to list Spain as a risk zone. Germany also began requiring quarantine upon return from Mallorca, effectively freezing travel despite the Balearics’ reopening efforts.

Nearly a year since Covid hit, tourism is anything but back on its feet. The Balearics’ tourism industry stakeholders are now fighting back to save their industry — this month, an SOS Tourism campaign launched with over 500 signatories so far, including hospitality groups, bars and restaurants, asking the government to establish transparent and consistent health protocols balancing the economy with the public health, plus a vaccination roll out plan that would result in 70 percent of the population being vaccinated before summer.

Should the shutdown of tourism continue, the group asks that the government provide relief and tax reductions to save tourism businesses and employees. Skift reached out to the Balearics and Mallorca tourism offices but did not receive responses at publication time.

The example of Mallorca should resonate across destinations with economies heavily dependent on tourism as what to avoid.

“We will use all the means at our disposal so that this message of help is not erased from the retina of our leaders and we will keep alive the heartbeat of the people who dedicate ourselves to tourism until our requests are heard and effective and fast mechanisms are articulated to achieve all the goals we set,” SOS Tourism’s statement reads, while calling on readers and tourism stakeholders to join the effort.

There’s a chance Mallorca could recover its summer if vaccinations roll out in time and reach a wider section of the population both at home and primary source markets such as Germany and the UK. British travelers have also shown pent up demand for Mallorca as the UK government could loosen restrictions by May.

But full recovery remains a distant goal for the year, and with the pandemic hitting mass tourism the hardest, how will Mallorca reinvent itself?

Lack of Vaccination Plan Will Delay Reopening

Mallorca, alongside Menorca and Ibiza, ranks among Spain’s most tourism dependent and hardest hit destinations. In 2019, the Balearics archipelago received close to 14 million tourists, contributing approximately 35 percent to the archipelago’s gross domestic product, and earning the second spot as Spain’s most tourist-heavy destinations after Catalunya. Mallorca itself received just over 11 million visitors in 2019.

The Balearics’ gross domestic product has fallen by over 25 percent as tourism remains closed for the most part, including on Mallorca where businesses have remained shut since the last high season or October 2019.

If anything, this second pandemic year is proving to be harsher with the UK’s borders restricted plus the lack of efficient vaccine distributions on the Balearic Islands. Thus far just 1.9 percent of the archipelago’s approximately 1.1 million inhabitants has been fully vaccinated.

Yet just this week the government indicated that it plans to turn the Balearics into a test destination for implementing vaccination passports, a plan it says will be reiterated during Spain’s upcoming FITUR conference from May 19-23. A vaccination passport could allow travel between Spain’s islands and the UK, but any new regulations surrounding post-Brexit travel remain unpronounced.

The Mass Tourism Dilemma

With Covid and the absence of tourist crowds, Mallorca has been forced to reexamine the kind of tourism it wants to receive while also taking in stock the danger of its sticky reputation as a footloose, booze-heavy and party-favoring beach destination.

Pre-pandemic, tourism officials had already begun to have a change of heart in the kind of visitors they wanted to attract. In 2018, Mallorca rolled out a series of ordinances outlawing crude tourist behavior such as public nudity, binge drinking and jumping from hotel balconies into swimming pools.

The archipelago had also begun leaning towards a more responsible tourism approach by introducing a sustainability tax. But it’s a gargantuan challenge to rebrand as a safe and healthy beachside destination after years of being known as Europe’s party hub.

During Mallorca’s short lived summer reopening, Balearics’ tourism minister spoke out at circulating media showing visitors crammed in bars and nightclubs while violating mask wearing and social distancing, which led to night businesses shutting down.

“We don’t want uncivil tourists in our islands, we don’t want them to come,” Iago Negueruela said at a press conference, announcing the closing of party spots.

In the complete absence of crowds, however, and facing a decimated industry, no plan B seems to have surfaced on how to reinvent tourism for the Balearics.

Covid’s Big Tourism Divide

As the pandemic crushed the mass tourism concept, destinations dependent on this model have suffered a worst fate than diversified economies. Unemployment soared by over 45 percent in Mallorca, with the hospitality sector the worst hit. News reports have emerged of previously tourism earning households resorting to daily food banks, while bar and restaurant owners have taken to the streets to protest the government’s continued closures.

Amid the struggle, locals’ misfortune in the absence of tourism stands in sharp contrast to the life of European residents of Mallorca who are able to rent luxury villas — which are now more affordable to lease than in the past — and live the remote life on an uncrowded Spanish island.

Mallorca’s rush to reopen last June and outsmart Covid pre-vaccination is a cautionary tale for destinations that rely primarily on tourism. Once vaccination becomes more widely distributed, there’s hope for Mallorca’s eventual rebound. But the road is long as source markets remain uncertain on the near future, and whether Mallorca will be able to shift away from mass tourism will prove to be its next big challenge on the other side of recovery.

Photo Credit: Mallorca's tourism industry continues to suffer as stakeholders campaign for government action. ellobo1 / Getty Images