Friday, May 06, 2011

The New Orthodoxy: Tourism

Today marks the first day of official campaigning for the local Mallorcan elections. Underwhelmed by the news? You're forgiven.

Around and about, the candidates for mayor and for higher office have already been having their say. And what they have had to say is all very similar. When it comes to one topic in particular. Tourism.

From the hinterland and from the coastal regions, candidates for mayoral office have been reaching for the little red book of tourism orthodoxy, mugging up on the subject as though they were heading off to a pub quiz night rather than to meetings with electorates desperate to hear something original.

In Sineu, something needs to be done about increasing tourism potential. Historic routes and itineraries, they say, as they also say cycling tourism, gastronomy and culture. In Ses Salines, they say there should be sustainable cycling tourism, more tourism promotion and complements to just sun and beach. In Capdepera, they want alternatives - gastronomy and sports tourism. In Alcúdia, there must be more promotion of culture and gastronomy.

You can be forgiven for being underwhelmed by the election campaign having started, as you can also be forgiven for despairing of any grain of new thinking.

It is not just the mayoral candidates (and one imagines the lack of wisdom is the same in whichever municipality you care to name), it is also those with their eyes on the regional doors of power. Jaume Font, he of La Lliga, wants to get rid of up to 35,000 obsolete hotel places. And why does he want to do this? Because this old hotel stock is responsible for low prices.

Font wants to modernise the hotels, but his idea is not in the least bit original. The Mallorcan hotel federation has been banging on about it for ages, so long as some arrangements can be found whereby the hotels can guarantee a good earner for themselves by either changing hotels' status or upgrading them. Whisper it quietly, but behind Font's idea lurks the "quality tourist". Modernise the hotels and, bingo, suddenly Mallorca is awash with millions of tourists brandishing American Express Platinums.

The poverty of thought suggests what is widely believed to be the case; that, when it comes to tourism, they really haven't got a clue. This isn't entirely true. They do have a clue, but they look for it in that little red book of orthodoxy. You will enjoy our gastronomy, you will ride a bicycle, you will take photos of some old ruin.

This orthodoxy is now being complemented by a different one. Tourism needs to be run by professionals, those who know about the industry. What an extraordinary idea. There is just one problem. Unless I am very much mistaken, you get mayors and councillors at town hall level and presidents and ministers at regional governmental level who require electing. If any of them happen to be professionals in whatever sphere, then this is a bonus.

There must be a tourism minister who is a professional, so the new orthodoxy demands. Tony Blair may have sidestepped the inconvenience of the democratic system by appointing those who had not actually been elected, but that was Blair for you. José Ramón Bauzá, and we may as well already name him President Bauzá, is unlikely to become a Blairite and install an Alastair Campbell-style tourism minister. Instead, there will be some Tory Boy meets Nice-But-Dim character at tourism after 22 May. Or, be very afraid (if you are the hoteliers who can't stand him), Carlos Delgado.

The fact is that behind a succession of tourism ministers there have been professionals. But look what happens to them. Mar Guerrero, arguably the best of the lot, resigned as director of the tourism agency because she didn't want to pull the wool over people's eyes; in other words, she walked because she wasn't allowed to do her job properly. Susanna Sciacovelli, another former director, was caught up in the purge of the Unió Mallorquina and went off to Italy to land a plum job with Air Berlin.

The campaign for the elections will be underwhelming, as will be what is said about tourism. But there is someone who doesn't suffer from the same old orthodoxy. And that's Delgado. He may be disliked for different reasons, but put him at tourism and wait for it ... Mallorca's politics and tourism would suddenly get a whole lot more interesting. And you know something? It won't happen.

Any comments to please.

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