Tuesday, November 05, 2013

What The Butler Saw?: Turespaña

The name Marta Blanco Quesada will probably mean very little to you. Do not worry if you have not heard of her though, as very few people in Spain had heard of her. And among those who hadn't heard of her were a fair number in the tourism industry. They hadn't heard of her until only very recently.

You might, on the other hand, have heard of Manuel Butler. Those in the tourism industry were long familiar with Butler. He had been in charge of the Spanish tourism offices in Berlin and London, centres therefore of Spain's two largest tourism markets. Having been director of these offices, he was made director-general of the Spanish Institute of Tourism, better known for its promotional name, Turespaña. Butler took the world of tourism by surprise at the end of September by announcing his resignation. It's still not entirely clear why he resigned, especially as he had a contract that would have seen him stay in his post until 2020. He had in fact only been in the post since the start of 2012. Resigning less than two years later was not just a surprise. The tourism industry suspects there was rather more to it than a possible job with the UN's World Tourism Organization.

It wouldn't be hard to arrive at certain conclusions as to why he might have resigned. Government budgets were being drawn up; they would have been known even before they had been made public. Tourism did not get a particularly generous budget. Of course, it may well be that he was eyeing up other employment, but the timing of his resignation was bound to have raised suspicions. Butler, on announcing his departure, made complimentary noises about the minister to whom he was reporting, José Manuel Soria, but then diplomacy often requires that such noises are made, if only for public consumption.

All of this brings us to Marta Blanco Quesada. She is Butler's successor. When her appointment was announced, the tourism website preferente.com described her as an "unknown". It went very much further. It called her appointment a political one. Sra. Blanco has been knocking around government circles but she has had very little direct involvement with tourism. Unlike Butler, who, thanks to his previous experience, would have known who was whom in the industry and, as importantly, what was what with tourism, Sra. Blanco starts from a much more disadvantaged position. She is not known and she doesn't really know anyone either; not those who matter, such as major figures within the tourism industry in Spain and overseas and especially in the two key markets of Germany and the UK.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Sra. Blanco's competence, but this isn't the issue. What is, is the fact that a job as critical as the director-general of tourism should go to someone who doesn't seem to have the right sort of credentials, other than political ones. And the job is especially critical given that tourism is seemingly undervalued in governmental circles. There has never been a cabinet minister or a government department solely dedicated to tourism. Instead, tourism has been moved around departments, amalgamated here, joined on there. The current minister, Soria, combines tourism with industry and energy. One can just about see the connection with industry, but with energy? How can he really be expected to oversee two such different areas of specialism?

Tourism was, from 1996 to 2004, deposited in the economy and finance departments. During the 1980s it formed a three-headed ministry with transport and communications. If there ever was an appropriate place for tourism, it was when the first ever national commission for tourism was established in 1905. Then, it was with the Ministerio de Fomento (development), and this association gave rise to the Fomento del Turismo in Mallorca, i.e. the Majorca Tourist Board.

So, governmentally, tourism has never been given the recognition it probably should have been. And with Butler's departure from the tourism wing of government which actually does something for tourism, an essentially political appointment has been made to go along with that which was made when Soria's number two, the secretary-of-state for tourism, was appointed. She was and is Isabel Borrego, a Mallorcan. Her background is property law. Useful perhaps when keeping up to speed with government moves regarding tenancy acts and the like but not necessarily as useful as it might be.

There are plenty of people in the tourism industry who have long despaired of governmental treatment of tourism. They have called for one dedicated minister, but these calls have never been listened to, and now, at Turespaña, there is a further reason for tourism professionals to wonder quite what the government is playing at.

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