This article was originally published in VICE UK.
Of all the plastic paradise holiday resorts with a reputation for pissed-up British tourists, Magaluf on the Spanish island of Majorca roars the loudest. Thanks to its status as one of the most popular destinations for young people from Glasgow to Southend-On-Sea to go drinking, vomiting and shagging ever summer, "Maga" is never too far from the front pages.
In 2014, the Magaluf "Blow Job Girl" video went viral, sparking global horror at the debauched state of British youth. Subsequent clampdowns on pub crawls, nakedness and street drinking on Magaluf's main strip of neon-lit bars and clubs have since evaporated. So this summer, the place was again buzzing with tales of hellfire and brimstone, and the newspapers loved it. Tabloids salivated over the resort's "hideous glory" with endless photos of half naked, drunk young women; footage of a street fight recorded on a mobile phone; and video of a young British woman in a bikini getting beaten up by hotel security guards.
Teenagers were warned about catching the "Maga Clap", about "creepy" foreign porn filmmakers waiting to pounce on drunk young women and even "a giant African who bear-hugs his victims until they pass out". There were reports of "deadly" hippy crack, crystal meth sellers and drink-spiking gangs, and two British tour reps were arrested for being part of a Magaluf cocaine smuggling ring that sold drugs to tourists.
Of course, all of this likely works more as an advertisement than a put-off to young Brits looking for a hedonistic week away. But beyond that, what is it that keeps people going back for more year on year and, in some cases, getting jobs out there?
Ethnographer and criminologist Daniel Briggs, a Londoner who now lives in Madrid, has been documenting young British holidaymakers abroad for several years, initially in San Antonio in Ibiza and this summer, alongside colleague Anthony Ellis from the University of Salford, in Magaluf. As a result he's gained unprecedented, below-the-surface insight into what makes this industry tick. So I decided to speak to him.
VICE: Why did you start researching Brits abroad?
Daniel Briggs: I remember reading a newspaper article ten years ago about how young working class British tourists were an embarrassment to the middle classes. It was making fun of people lower down the social chain, looking down on working class holidaymakers. They get STDs, they get injured in fights, they're found dead floating in swimming pools. It didn't sound like fun, so I wanted to find out a bit more about why people went to these places.
You spent a lot of time on a previous research project hanging out in crack houses. Did your research into Spanish resorts follow the same gonzo methodology?
In a way. A lot of the existing research into British tourists abroad consisted of surveys done at airports, asking people how much they had drunk and how often they'd had sex on holiday. But this was flawed, because no one can remember in hindsight. I thought it would be much better to go there and throw myself into it, do what the tourists do: get drunk, go to strip clubs and wake up at dawn on the beach.
So as part of your research you spent a week going native in Magaluf?
A colleague and I were there over the first week of August. We spent most of our time in Punta Ballena, also known as the "strip", where most of the nightlife in Magaluf is centred. We recorded what we saw and the conversations we had, and interviewed 150 British tourists for a survey about their attitudes, intentions and what they had got up to. We also looked at the amount they were spending and how the tourism industry worked on the ground.
What did your interviews with the British tourists tell you?
Most were English, Scottish and young. Two-thirds were aged between 17 to 20 and for most it was their first holiday they had been on without their families. Less than one in ten of them were interested in "seeing the sites" of Majorca. They told us coming to Magaluf was all about taking advantage of opportunities and seizing what is on offer. One in four admitted they were going to take illegal drugs. One in six had been in a fight, and the same proportion had been involved in an accident, from small falls to hospitalisation. Their motive was about the bars, clubs and cheap booze; about committing themselves, and their money, to the Magaluf resort.
How much is spent on the strip?
Our estimate is that, from April to July this year, British tourists aged 16 to 30 spent €88 million (£78.6 million) in Magaluf's main resort. That's €700,000 (£625,000) a night being spent almost entirely on the strip. It is this intense spending that dictates everything about how Magaluf operates.
A big presence on the strip are the PRs, the people employed by bars and clubs to drag in punters with cheap booze offers. What part do they play?
Tour reps and PRs are a bit like mini-celebrities here. To be a PR in Magaluf is to be seen to possess a higher social status than the tourist. Working holidays are sold by a number of different private agencies in the UK as something you should do if you want to live a fulfilled life. Agencies say you can work and play at the same time and get free drinks, which sounds great to impressionable young people who are bored with their lives at home, and where the job market doesn't offer them a lot. So this work for them becomes quite important.
But your research found that often things don't quite work out for those working in Magaluf, whatever their smiley Instagram pictures might show.
The PRs are seen as fodder. They quite happily accept these jobs for a bed and €20 a night – if they're lucky, depending on how "bubbly" they are. Some I met were working in oppressive circumstances, having to bunk up illegally with other PR workers, managed by people who in some instances have taken away their passport so they are obliged to stay and prevented from leaving. They don't register with authorities, so they are completely stuck.
You have a small group of PRs who come though agencies: they're official and registered and usually wear pink bibs. But the problem is, such is the demand for revenue during the peak season that a lot of bars and clubs will risk fines to employ PRs illegally. On the surface the PRs are having a great time, but when you ask them whether they enjoy what they are doing, it falls apart quickly. Many of them told us they don't enjoy it, as it drains them of their energy and health. The reality of working as a PR can actually be pretty miserable. But it can lead to trouble, too.
Drug culture goes hand in hand with some elements of the PR industry here. PRs are much more likely to take and sell drugs than the regular tourists. Because of the shitty wages they get, PRs will often look to augment this in some way. So when they sell boat party tickets, some will sell a bit of cocaine on the side. It's a nice way to top up. A lot of them will consume what they are dealing as well. Coupled with wanting to spend more and more and seize as many opportunities they can, they get completely towed away by the lifestyle. The ideology of the good life becomes so much of a pull that their grey existence at home is forgotten and they stay out there and live this kind of party lifestyle. For some it becomes too much in that they struggle to manage the drugs they use. They can fall into debt and end up selling or smuggling drugs, like I believe the Peru Two did while working in Ibiza.
Is there an undercurrent of crime in Magaluf?
A lot of incidents in the resort go unrecorded; there is a massive hidden crime rate here. I photographed a huge amount of blood on a wall one night, and by the next day it had been washed away. It was a small symbolism of the violence that goes on here every night. There is a fear of reporting crime – police are not that interested, they don't take it seriously and there's hardly any police on the resort anyway. About 25 police officers are charged with dealing with thousands of people in this resort. Outside the minuscule police presence, a lot of crimes are permitted: drug use and drug dealing, prostitution, robbery and victimisation. There is widespread corruption on the island. In fact, the chief of police has been suspended over claims of corruption and extortion linked to clubs on the strip.
Who runs the drug trade in Magaluf?
The police and tourists unfairly blame a lot of robbery and drug crime on African immigrants. But the big part of the drug selling is done by the British. The drug trade there is haphazard; there's no hierarchy with one big top guy sitting on top of a pyramid. There are the Brits – those who go there intentionally to sell drugs who will have good connections on the island already – who are higher up the chain. Then you have the individual entrepreneurs who will drive cars from the UK with drugs hidden away, or plug themselves with drugs on a flight.
Why did Magaluf become so popular with young Brits in the first place?
It became more youth-oriented in 2007 because of the economic climate around that time. Families spend less because they budget. Young people on holiday do the reverse. The resort needed a new marketing strategy around the tourists most likely to sustain it: young people. Tourist companies drove the price down of the holidays, upped the marketing around a youth scene and increased the number of all-inclusive hotels.
This did several things. It put off families and deterred other international tourists, as the culture of tourism clashed with that of young working class Brits whose lives revolve around nighttime activities such as drinking and drugs. It also turned up the heat on existing businesses such as tourist shops and local Spanish restaurants, which shut down as all the tourist spending became concentrated in bars and clubs on drink and drugs. New businesses start offering exactly what the British tourists wanted: 2-4-1 drinks and cheap breakfasts. So essentially the space reinvented itself around the demand for young British tourists. Recently, this has been bolstered by the lack of interest in other tourist destinations because of terrorism and political instability. Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia are no-gos for many people now.
But now, in an attempt to attract a different set of tourists, the authorities in Magaluf are making it more upmarket, including opening the resort's first five star hotel. Will this put the usual crowd of Brits off?
No. The authorities think they are going to solve it by building plush hotels and increasing alcohol prices. But as proven in San Antonio, it invites the same category of tourist back, just to spend more money because they want to afford what is on offer. The motive to go back and return is linked to the ongoing need to maintain an ideological social status and be seen to be participating constantly in activities or at places which reflect the good life.
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