In 2022, the Balearics attracted 16,475,579 tourists, only 397 fewer than in pre-pandemic 2019 and 76,000 lower than in 2018, when there was the all-time high. The figure of 16.5 million tourists is being taken as the limit by the Balearic government for the remodelling of the islands' tourism industry. It is the absolute maximum. There should be no growth above this; rather, there should be a decrease.
The repeated aims are increased quality, improved service, and a reduction in the number of tourists in the high-summer months, when a sense of saturation becomes suffocating for residents and tourists alike - a situation that not even the tourism industry itself denies.
The recovery of tourism following the pandemic has been all but total. It has also been exceptional. Up to September, the Balearics ranked sixteenth in the world in terms of tourist numbers - more tourists, therefore, than entire countries.
The government is clear in believing that the ceiling has been reached in quantitative terms. The tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, says: "We believe that it is feasible to have more occupancy with fewer tourists. Despite the theories of those who bet on quantity versus quality, it has been shown that we are going in the right direction." The 2022 number "is a maximum that should not be exceeded but should tend to decrease". "There must be a clear trend towards the reduction of tourist accommodation places."
For the minister, who is also in charge of employment, the full employment during the season underpins his argument: "If you can have full employment for six months of the year, you do not need to grow more." It is another thing, however, to be able to redistribute tourists to other months of the year and so boost the low season and relieve the overcrowding in the summer.
Antoni Riera, the director of the Fundació Impulsa private-public body for Balearic competitiveness, is reluctant to set a ceiling. "No one knows the actual carrying capacity of the islands. One cannot speak of a number, although the social and environmental impact that it has is undeniable. The important thing is to forge a tourism vision that hasn't been defined yet."