Spanish authorities struggle to counter ‘balconing’ trend
Number of young people falling to their deaths when attempting to jump from balconies
A spate of accidents in which young holidaymakers in Spanish tourist resorts have fallen to their deaths from hotel balconies has alarmed hoteliers and local authorities, who are trying to find effective measures to stop the trend.
The Spanish media coined the term “balconing” around the beginning of this decade, when tourists started filming themselves jumping off balconies into hotel swimming pools, or climbing from one balcony to another.
As video-sharing has increased, so the trend has grown in popularity.
“We’ve seen more cases this year than last year,” said a source from the Balearic government’s tourism department. “This is a serious problem.”
A 23-year-old British man, named as Tolga Aramaz, was hospitalised on the island of Ibiza after falling off a balcony on to a restaurant awning. And another 23-year-old man was said to be in a serious condition after a fall from a second-floor balcony on the island of Formentera, also in the Balearics.
In an educational video sponsored by the British Foreign Office, Spanish doctor Juan José Segura Sampedro described how young people ended up taking such risks.
“The typical story is a guy, maybe 19, 20 years old, that has come here with some friends and they are having fun, they are drinking maybe a bit more than usual,” he said.
He explained that they climb “from one balcony to another or jump into a pool [from a balcony] and due to the alcohol, due to the excitement around, they do it wrong and they fall and normally the most frequent accident is going to be a spine injury and even more severe, a head or neck trauma.”
The expression “balconing” is now often used to refer to any incident involving people falling from a height in a hotel, even when the person was not aiming for a pool below or another balcony.
Most of the recent cases “are not balconing in the strict sense”, said a source from the Mallorcan civil guard, which has investigated most of the recent deaths. “Although in some cases it’s people trying to get from one room to another.”
This source added: “It’s important to work on making people aware [of the dangers] in their own countries. We can’t put a guard on every balcony.”
The vast majority of cases involve young men and most are British, the nationality that visits the Balearics in the greatest numbers. The civil guard and local authorities both agree that there is a common factor: alcohol.
Controlling alcohol consumption is a priority for the authorities as they seek to stem the spate of accidents. The Balearic government is concerned that “all-in” package holidays, where food and drink are often included in the overall price and can be consumed at all hours, encourage drunkenness and antisocial, often dangerous, behaviour.
“We can’t ban alcohol but we want to try and ensure people drink alcohol at mealtimes and not all day long,” said the regional government representative.
Hotels have also started taking practical steps such as raising the height of walls or railings that surround balconies. Four of this summer’s deaths have been in the Mallorcan resort of Magaluf, and three of those were in the same hotel, the Eden Roc.
A recent case saw an 18-year-old from Cardiff fall around 20 metres to his death in the early hours of the morning.
The UK’s Safer Tourism Foundation has called for operators not to use the hotel, but it also made a wider appeal.
“These tragedies are not unique to the Eden Roc,” the charity said in a statement. “All travel companies and booking platforms selling accommodation in high-rise buildings in Magaluf, and in other destinations popular with young travellers, should remind customers, especially groups of young adults, of the potential dangers of falling from height, especially for those under the influence of alcohol.”
Another measure hotels have introduced is to put groups of young men in rooms on the ground floor, where possible.
The town hall of Calvià, which manages the Magaluf resort, has also implemented a more punitive deterrent – fines of between €600 and €1,500 for people caught balconing.