If you have been in Spain for a while you may have noticed the mention of the phenomenon of “balconing” which happens every summer in coastal regions such as Ibiza, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol.
Balconing seems to be a phenomena occuring most commonly among young British males who feel compelled to launch themselves off their hotel balconies and into swimming pools or more often, to their deaths.
Balconing also involves people trying to climb from one balcony to another and a recent study by surgeon Juan José Segura in collaboration with the British Foreign Office paints the profile of what kind of tourist partakes in this deadly trend.
Young, drunk and reckless
The tourist is usually male, 95% of the cases have been males between the age of 19 and 25 and in 95% of the cases they have consumed large quantities of alcohol. In 30% of cases drugs were also consumed along with alcohol.
The strange phenomenon is that this seems to be almost uniquely a trend amongst youths in the United Kingdom, the surgeon noted that in Mallorca, there are the same quantity of German and British tourists, yet British tourists run 8 times more risk of being involved in Balconing than German tourists. There are 2.5 British cases of Balconing for every million British tourists, while the ratio remains at 0.3 for German tourists.
A study that was carried out in 2010 – 2015 covered patients who were treated in hospital (and not deaths) due to Balconing, in total, the hospital treated 46 patients at the time, more than 60% of whom were British. The study also states that Germans ranked second and Spanish ranked third in balconing cases, but in my research I failed to find any news reports of other nationalities who were involved in balconing incidents and deaths.
The average height for the fall in most cases (according to the study) was eight metres (26 feet).
This trend is not only deathly but expensive, with the true cost estimated at around €1.5 million ($1.7 million) in hospital fees, as patients can remain in intensive care for a long time, whilst some become paraplegic.
This year alone there have been 11 hospital incidents and 6 deaths related to balconing.
What drives this trend?
Aside from copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, social media is said to have a role to play in balconing. A search on Youtube brings up many videos of people jumping across balconies and into swimming pools.
Aside from the daredevil aspect of showing off for social media, the tribe mentality of young people off on a group holiday seems to drive incidents where dares are done as a ritual of initiation.
In a video released by the British Foreign Office in an attempt to curb this trend, 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 states 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.”
Most of the recent cases “are not balconing in the strict sense”, said a source who worked in the Mallorcan civil guard, “Although in some cases it’s people trying to get from one room to another.”
What is the solution?
Authorities are seeking to stem alcohol consumption, in the Balearic Islands, the government is concerned about package holidays which include all food and drink, and copious amounts of alcohol that can be consumed at all hours which encourage risky and antisocial behaviour.
The media have been quick to blame the height of balconies in Spain for this phenomenon, stating that they are much lower than the UK standard heights. Many hotels have reacted to the spate of balconing deaths by raising the height of railings and balconies. Some have resorted to placing groups of young holidaymakers on the ground floor to avoid deaths.
Fines have also been introduced to discourage tourists, in Magaluf fines of between €600 and €1,500 for people caught balconing has been implemented as a deterrent.
ABTA’s Director of Destinations and Sustainability Nikki White urged British tourists: “With many people heading off on their summer holiday in the coming weeks – we strongly advise them to take care when on balconies and be aware about the potential risks. A moment of carelessness can have a devastating impact, not just on the holidaymaker themselves, but also on their family and friends.”
Barcelona Posters urge tourists to take up balconing
The most recent mention of Balconing occurred just this August when a twitter account called Balconing is Fun put up posters around Barcelona city centre urging tourists to try balconing.
posters read: “balconing is fun” and says that the spate of deaths linked to its practice are improving the quality of life for local residents and that it “prevents gentrification”.
The British press have responded by calling this anti-tourism campaign “sick”. This is just the latest in reactions to the spike in tourism in various cities and the phenomenon of Airbnb taking over the city centres, driving up rents and making cities unaffordable for residents whilst landlords seek to make as much money as possible through holiday rentals.
The balconing trend will still be around when next Summer comes, having been an installment in summer news in Spain for the past decade. It looks like with social media this trend is here to stay and more deaths will be expected despite campaigns and warnings from the government.
Sadly, the behaviour of British tourists in areas such as Magaluf have earned them a reputation for debauchery, drunkenness and recklessness and it has done little to make them desirable tourists in the eyes of many Spanish people.
What do you think is the reason that so many British tourists die from Balconing incidents?