There are fewer Union Jacks flying, but the essence of ‘Shagaluf’ still permeates the resort

The popular Mallorcan party resort has made efforts to clean up its image in recent years

October 14, 2023 6:00 am(Updated 3:15 pm)

I had just finished lunch in a café on the promenade of Platja de Magaluf, in Mallorca’s liveliest resort. Before lunch, I’d been on the beach where tourists were making the most of the still hot and sunny October weather.

There were groups of families, friends, couples. A mix of ages and nationalities: sunbathing, chatting, playing. The background noise was punctuated by beach vendors selling cold drinks or offering massages. It is a scene I have encountered many times in Magaluf and its neighbour, Palma Nova.

Making my way back to my hotel, I encountered something new. On a square are two tower blocks, the Hotel Innside. The square beneath is shaded by a swimming pool linking the tops of both buildings. Here, a crowd was enthusiastically cheering and dancing to a live music performance.

This was part of the the Magaluf Literature Festival (Festival Literatura Expandida Magaluf, or FLEM) now in its third year. I passed some stalls selling books and souvenirs, a postcard read: “Boring readers go the library. Cool readers go to Flem Magaluf.” But this is not aimed at the British tourists traditionally associated with Magaluf. It is an attempt to change the landscape and patronage of the resort.

Palmanova and Magaluf have been popular British package tourist destinations for decades. Attracted by the guaranteed sunshine, cheap prices and the knowledge that their tastes in food, drink and entertainment would be catered for as signalled by the many displays of the Union flag, millions of British package holidaymakers have flown to these resorts.

Part of Magaluf’s attraction has been its nightlife. The main street, Punta Ballena, is tightly packed with bars and pubs that pump out loud music and cheap drinks. Young visitors, intent on having a good time, have been the main patrons.

The partying, frequently encouraged by commission-earning reps, often involved excessive drinking and casual sex. Many of the party games played, the postcards and souvenirs on sale referred to a sexualised body and particularly the sexualised bodies of women. Such was Magaluf’s notoriety that it earned the nickname Shagaluf.

In 2014 Magaluf became the focus of intense interest when a young woman was videoed in a bar taking part in an organised “game” involving multiple sex acts, shared widely on Facebook.

The ensuing public outcry entrenched an existing desire by local authorities to change Magaluf. The tourism of excesses law was used to curb alcohol consumption and help reposition the resort’s image.

Professor Hazel Andrews Professor of Culture, Tourism & society Liverpool John Moores University Image supplied by Andrews, Hazel
Professor Hazel Andrews is Professor of Culture, Tourism & society at Liverpool John Moores University (Photo: supplied)

FLEM is part of this change. It currently stands in strange juxtaposition to Magaluf as Shagaluf. But there are other noticeable changes: fewer Union Jacks are on display, menus cater for a different clientele, there are fewer drunk people roaming the streets.

More significantly, so far this season there have not been any of the tragic deaths caused by “balconing”, the practice of climbing or jumping between balconies or into swimming pools, thanks to a campaign “Don’t leave a friend behind” and the threat of hefty fines.

However, sexualisation – especially of female tourists – continues: the lap dancing clubs aimed at “gentlemen” and stag parties, scantily clad young women offering shots for sale in bars, countless souvenirs depicting breasts and buttocks, T-shirts referring to “sluts”, “bad girls” and their “pussies” still make up the landscape of Magaluf. And so, for now the party continues.

Hazel Andrews is Professor of Culture, Tourism & Society at Liverpool John Moores University and author of “The British on Holiday: Charter Tourism Identity and Consumption” (Channel View Publications)