It is cowboy landlords, not British tourists, ruining Mallorca

Tourists in Magaluf, Spain
Tourism chiefs said that the Balearics’ biggest problem isn't tourists but illegal holiday rentals - AFP/Getty

Last year the Balearic government sent a warning to British tourists, loud and clear. Misbehave in 2024 and you will be sent home. The idiotic sport of balconing could come with a £30,000 price tag. Some package resorts in Magaluf now impose a strict six-drink limit for British guests (under the “Law of Excesses”) which could expand across all of the islands. Last year, plain-clothes officers patrolled resorts to keep things in check.

But tourism chiefs this month said that the Balearics’ biggest problem, far greater than the follies of a few inebriated gentlemen from Braintree, is the issue of illegal holiday rentals that do not comply with local regulations or have the appropriate licences.

In October last year, Marta Vidal, the Balearics’ housing minister, said that there were as many as 235,000 unregulated holiday let properties across the islands, as reported in the Majorca Daily Bulletin. Nobody knows the exact figure, but what we do know from the most recent census is that there are around 26,500 legal holiday rentals across the islands. Even somebody who has just consumed their sixth allocated mojito can see that the balance seems a bit off.

How did we get here? The Balearic islands receive just shy of 14 million international tourists per year – that’s more than the whole of Egypt. The demand for holiday accommodation is high. The platforms to rent out your property are there. And with an affordable housing crisis and rising cost of living on the islands, some locals are looking to make extra income in the peak months. In other instances, the landlord is a non-resident who has bought a property as a second home.

Spanish civil guard in Magaluf
The Balearic government has been cracking down on misbehaving tourists - AFP/Getty

Regardless of who the host is, local protest groups say the unchecked rise in holiday rentals has led to a spike in car rentals across the islands, traffic congestion and a drain on local amenities.

Majorca’s tourist chiefs have had enough. At last week’s Exceltur Forum, ahead of the Fitur tourism conference, Gabriel Escarrer, the chief executive of Meliá Hotels International, said “the uncontrolled growth of tourist rental housing” is Majorca’s biggest problem.

Jorge Marichal, the president of the Spanish confederation of hotels and tourist accommodation, agreed. He said that hoteliers have wrongly become the target of local discontent: “I feel imprisoned for a murder that I have not committed. Problems have arisen that are blamed on us but that are the fault of holiday rentals.”

Even Steve Heapy, the head of smiley Jet2 Holidays, the UK’s biggest tour operator, piped up, and focused on one specific holiday rental firm. “If governments were knocking door to door at Airbnb properties demanding licences and payment of fees and fining those who don’t comply, the problem would end immediately,” he said.

Palma de Mallorca, Mallorca
The Balearic islands receive just shy of 14 million international tourists per year - Europa Press/Getty

A spokesman for Airbnb said: “It is always disappointing – but not surprising – to see mass tourism companies complain about new forms of travel that spread the benefits of travel beyond hotels to local families and communities. Around three in four hosts in the Balearics share one listing, and a third rely on the extra income to afford the rising cost of living. We remind hosts to check and comply with local laws before listing their space on Airbnb and we have worked with authorities to enforce local rules since 2017.”

Marga Prohens, the president of the Balearic Islands, has made the issue of illegal holiday rentals her main priority, and announced at last week’s Fitur conference that the islands would be working with to clamp down on unlicensed accommodation.

“The illegal offer represents unfair competition to both hotel accommodation and regulated holiday rental accommodation. It is detrimental to our quality as a destination and to our image for those who visit us and merely contributes to a surplus of tourists without any control,” she said. The Tax Agency of the Balearic Islands has joined the fight too, and will supply information it has on tourist rentals with local councils.

Marga Prohens, the president of the Balearic Islands
Marga Prohens, the president of the Balearic Islands, has made the issue of illegal holiday rentals a priority

This isn’t the first time that the Balearics have clamped down on holiday rentals. In 2018, Palma de Majorca legislated to ban almost all Airbnb-style rentals. In 2022, Majorca’s council threatened a €40,000 (£34,154) fine on anyone found renting out their property without the correct paperwork.

It is clearly a very complex issue. Should we, the tourists, be burdened with at least some of the moral responsibility when it comes to where we stay?

“I’m not convinced that tourists fully understand the harm caused by Airbnb,” says Elizabeth Becker, the author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism. “Tourists act like consumers and Airbnb has been pretty effective at publicly pushing back against the mounting evidence of the harm it causes.

“Tourists want to believe the Airbnb story that this is a ‘sharing’ business, not the predatory real estate enabler that rewards absentee businesses to buy up whole neighbourhoods, pushing out locals, harming the environment and increasing inequality,” she added.

Airbnb has indeed faced a global backlash in recent years, and the company has worked with local authorities to comply with new regulations on holiday rentals – just last year, tight measures were rolled out in Florence, New York City and Scotland. Since 2020, it has cooperated with the local authorities in Ibiza to remove illegal rentals.

The burden clearly falls on the local government to get the problem of unlicensed holiday rentals under control. And that project, judging by recent statements, is sharpening further in 2024. But there is an app, Holiday Rental Check Mallorca, that allows you to check if your accommodation is above board. Who knows. If you use it, stick to your daily ration of six mojitos and refrain from jumping between balconies, you might just be asked back.