Magaluf: the eternal hangover

Scandals only seem to increase the allure of the Mallorcan vacation resort New laws aimed at tackling drunken behavior look set to change nothing

Daniel Verdú
A drunk tourist falls to the floor in Punta Ballena, Magaluf in the early hours of a Saturday morning.
A drunk tourist falls to the floor in Punta Ballena, Magaluf in the early hours of a Saturday morning.Tolo Ramón

Around 10.30pm, a 58-year-old British man falls to his death from the balcony of his eighth-floor holiday apartment in the center of Magaluf, a resort town in Mallorca. The police arrive and cordon off the area, covering the body. A group of men pause for a few moments to see what is going on before heading into a strip club, while a group of tourists drinking at a nearby pavement café barely register the presence of the police and ambulance teams who arrive on the scene. It’s Saturday, May 2, the first weekend of the summer holiday season, and the hotels are freshly painted, with 60 percent of their rooms occupied. The British have arrived. There’s a beach competition going on involving around 2,000 rugby players, one of whom has just urinated on a woman. Pub crawls, prostitution, fights, muggings, drunkenness and even boat parties with up to 200 people aboard... in other words, business as usual in Magaluf.

Some business leaders accuse the town council of allowing the situation in Magaluf to deteriorate, with bars fighting a price war to stay in business

Last year, a widely seen video filmed on a smartphone of an 18-year-old woman performing oral sex on a series of men in return for free drink finally prompted the local council to take measures to impose some order on Punta Ballena, the 400-meter-long strip lined with bars, on which up to 20,000 people congregate on on summer nights. Pub crawls of more than 20 people are now banned, as is consuming alcohol in the street between 10pm and 8am. But the new laws won’t come into effect until May 22, and they will then be introduced gradually over the summer, according to an announcement made by Magaluf’s Popular Party mayor, Manu Onieva, on May 4.

La calle de Punta Ballena, en Magaluf, el pasado sábado.
La calle de Punta Ballena, en Magaluf, el pasado sábado.tolo ramón

In response, local shopkeepers, hotel owners, police and local residents are skeptical, saying that they expect little to improve. “Magaluf is the same today as it was 20 years ago,” says a police officer who prefers to remain anonymous. Not that the forces of law and order have been setting much of an example: Magaluf’s chief of police and two officers have been arrested and charged with corruption and extortion.

Some business leaders accuse the town council of allowing the situation in Magaluf to deteriorate, with bars fighting a price war to stay in business, in the hope of eventually selling off the Punta Ballena area to hotel chains looking to move in and create resorts offering all-inclusive holidays where guests have no need to leave the compound. “These companies are being given every type of advantage,” says José Tirado, president of Acotur, the body representing Mallorca’s tourist sector.

Magaluf: its reputation precedes it

In fact, Magaluf’s now legendary pub crawls were invented in a bid to lure tourists out of their hotels, says British businessman John Daly. In the basement of his striptease club, alongside his partner Paul Smith (it was on one of the pair’s pub crawls that the oral sex video was filmed last year), Daly says he has been targeted by the local police: “We’re not perfect. We’ve made mistakes. What happened last year wasn’t right, I agree. But I’m the only business here whose staff have proper contracts, I pay my taxes and have all the permits in order. So why are they making my life impossible?” At that moment, the manager comes down to say that the police want to see his permits, and are complaining about the touts Daly employs out on the street to lure passers by into the club. They are supposed to wear luminous waistcoats to identify them. But none of the bars obey the rules, says Daly. “You see, they only come after me,” he says in front of the officer, who has been sitting outside the bar in his patrol car for some time before coming in.

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Last year Daly handed over a video to the local public prosecutor’s office of a policeman placing a bag of cocaine on a seat in the bar. The footage shows the officer then going outside to bring in a sniffer dog. The police never filed a complaint, and Daly says it was just one of many attempts to intimidate him. When questioned, the officer said he was training the dog. He was never sanctioned, and immediately returned to duty.

Faced with increased police vigilance, some bar owners now organize parties aboard boats. The mayor says new legislation is underway that would require party boats to follow the same rules as bars. The boats can take up to 250 people, each paying €60 for as much drink as they can handle during the two-hour trip out to sea.

The touts selling party boat tickets tell the young men hanging out on Punta Ballena that there will be all kinds of sex games aboard, with prizes for those who take part. At the same time, they tell the young women that they don’t have to take part in those games and that it’s fun to watch. The leaflet advertising the party boats even promises dolphins: “The dolphins follow the boat, and you can swim with them if you want.” If the police show up during the trip, partygoers are told not to reveal the name of the organizers. “Selling tickets is illegal in Magaluf, so don’t let the police trap you. If they try, talk to us. But we haven’t had any problems with them for five years, so don’t worry.”

More than a hundred English tourists wait in line to board one of Magaluf’s party boats.
More than a hundred English tourists wait in line to board one of Magaluf’s party boats.D. V.

Magaluf’s appeal lies mainly in its pricing. Around 95 percent of visitors are from the north of England and are living on low incomes. For €400 they get a week’s fun in the sun, flight and hotel included. Far from putting people off, the scandals of last summer have attracted greater numbers than ever, with the added incentive of a strong pound. Most hotels say they expect a 10-percent increase in numbers this summer. After spending the opening weekend of the season here, a journalist for the British tabloid The Daily Star wrote: “They might prefer to go to Ibiza, but this is all they can afford.”

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