Monday, June 02, 2014

Falling Out At The Hoteliers Federation

All is not well, it would seem, in Mallorca's hotel world. For once, this isn't because of occupancy, seasonality or the usual hotel-related subjects. It is to do with the Mallorcan hoteliers federation and what it is up to.

It isn't clear exactly what the problem is, but three former presidents of the federation have come out and said, more or less, that they consider that the federation is only concerned with the interests of the big hotel chains. They have intimated this but haven't enunciated the reasons why they think this.

But, if one takes a look at the federation's history, one might start to get an idea. It was created in 1976 and has had, over the 38 years of its existence, seven presidents. It is the background of these presidents that lends support to the complaints about the big chains.

The first president was Miguel Codolà. His hotel group - he died in 2012 - was Valentin, never more than a middle-ranking hotel chain in Mallorca. Following him came José Forteza Rey, Ferràn Porto, Pedro Cañellas, Antonio Horrach and Marilen Pol. What these all had in common was that they were involved, through ownership, with relatively small hotel concerns. Horrach's family hotel chain, for example, is HM. It has five hotels in Mallorca and one in Mexico. It isn't very big, therefore.

When Marilen Pol died in January last year, there was the possibility that Inmaculada de Benito, then the director of the federation, would succeed her. This, though, was ruled out on the grounds that she wasn't involved in hotel ownership. She wasn't, as was said at the time, a "hotelier". It had been the case, since the federation started, that a president had to be a hotelier in the sense of being an owner.

The federation, in seeking to find a successor to Pol, wanted someone for whom there would be a consensus of support. It had to adapt its statutes. Inma de Benito stayed in her post (before recently being promoted to vice-president), but Aurelio Vázquez, who is not an owner, was made president and he is CEO for Spain and the Mediterranean with Iberostar, having previously been with Riu. He has experience, therefore, of two of the "big four".

Vázquez and de Benito were recently in Madrid, where they set out fifty measures that they want the national government to adopt and which would create a special "regime" for the hotel industry. Among these measures are those to do with tax advantages, limitations on strike action and incentives for modernisation. Concerns expressed by the three former presidents - Forteza Rey, Porto and Cañellas - appear to have come in the wake of the Madrid announcement. Yet, and one would have thought, they would be measures which would be beneficial for all hoteliers.

The three ex-presidents have all said that they think Vázquez and de Benito are doing a good job. There again, for diplomacy's sake, they probably would say this. But they obviously have some disagreement, Forteza Rey having said that proposals should not be allowed to generate any controversy, without stating what this controversy might be.

The Madrid announcement has taken the tourism industry by surprise. Vázquez was asked why the Mallorcan federation had opted to go it alone in calling for the measures, when they are essentially the same as those called for by the Spanish federation. He replied that the means are not important but the end (i.e. it doesn't matter who makes the proposals), adding that previous proposals had not been of the "calibre" of those made by the Mallorcan federation.

One detects in all this a feeling that the Mallorcan federation is getting above its station and so therefore may indeed be pressing the case of its big hotel chains. Mallorca does have, relative to other parts of Spain, a concentration of the country's largest hotel companies, but this still doesn't explain why former presidents of the federation might take issue.

Is it, therefore, all linked to the traditions of the federation, one that had been presided over by those from smaller family concerns? Vázquez is a hotel career professional, while de Benito is the closest one could get to what could be dubbed a tourism industry politician, having spent most of her career knocking around hotel associations. And the politics of the hotel industry, specifically the attitude of the federation towards wage negotiations, may be what is worrying the old guard. Of a previous round of negotiations, Antonio Horrach, by then no longer president, took issue with de Benito, saying that wage increases should be accepted. Does this give a clue as to why the ex-presidents have expressed their concerns? Whatever the reason, the hoped-for consensus in the appointment of Vázquez seems to have been shortlived.

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