Friday, October 30, 2015

The One Peseta Tax

It is 1931. Mallorca, as with the rest of Spain, is enduring the upheaval that had characterised most of the century to that point and would continue to. The Second Republic had been declared and was to survive for only five years before it became a notional government during the years of the Civil War. Despite all the endless turmoil, Mallorca had been able to develop its tourism industry, and by the start of the 1930s it had become a successful industry - in relative terms of course - though one which the Depression most certainly didn't assist. Nevertheless, from 1930 to 1935, the number of tourists to the island doubled from 20,168 to 40,045 (yes, incredibly, they had accurate statistics then, or seemed to have). Between these years the number of cruise ships also rose from 83 to 109, but the passengers they carried increased dramatically from 15,991 to 50,363.

Tourism facilities were mainly located in Palma. This wasn't exclusively the case, as there were pockets of tourism, such as Puerto Pollensa with the Hotel Formentor and other hotels of some antiquity - the Illa d'Or and the Miramar - as well as Soller, which had been opening up to a largely French tourism market for some years. There was the development of the early resorts, some that survived, such as Palmanova, and one or two which never really took off - who now knows about the Pueblo Español that was Alcanada near Alcudia?

But it was Palma to which tourism looked to create anything approaching volume of tourists, and the city contributed this thanks in no small part to the boom in cruise shipping. In those days the passengers would most certainly come ashore and spend not a few hours but a day or more. They could take advantage of the excursions to various parts of the island - to the Caves of Drach, to Formentor and elsewhere - for the princely sum of eleven pesetas (why eleven?).

Between 1930 and 1935 the number of hotels in Palma increased from 48 to 69. Here was then something of a tourism success story, but with this success came the interests of politicians which were at variance with those who were the ones who made this success possible - the businesspeople who formed the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board.

Local government in those days was anything but stable. Mayors came and went and sometimes lasted only a few months. One such mayor was Lorenzo Bisbal. He was a PSOE mayor between April and October 1931, and during this period the town hall in Palma announced something that made the tourist board shout with horror. There was to be a tourist tax. It would involve the charging of one peseta per day per tourist who was staying in the 48 (and increasing) hotels in the city.

The tourist board set about attempting to prevent the tax being introduced or to at least get it scrapped as soon as possible. Whatever happened to this tax is unclear. But Bisbal was replaced by another PSOE mayor, Francesc Villalonga Fabregas, who in just as short order as Bisbal was replaced by Bernat Jofre, and he was a hotel director and, most importantly, the boss of the Hotel Victoria, which is now the Gran Melia Victoria. It's probably safe to assume that the tax didn't survive once Jofre assumed the mayoral seat.

This story just perhaps goes to show that success can be risked by the intervention of politicians. Tourism in the 1930s was on a steep upward curve. Why potentially stall this with a tax? Tourism today is not on such an upward trend, but there's no questioning Mallorca's current popularity, into which have wandered the intentions of politicians.

The Mallorca Tourist Board, often confused with being a government body, which it has never been, is opposed to the tax now just as it was opposed to Palma's tax in the 1930s. Perhaps there do have to be checks on the ambitions of the private sector, but is a tax the way to do this? Was it the way in the 1930s and is it the way now? It's doubtful.

Lorenzo Bisbal was not to be a victim of the Civil War: he died in 1935. There is one slight coincidence between him and the current day. His first surname was Bisbal, but his second was Barceló, the same as the tourism minister who is so intent on introducing the latest version of the tourist tax. Perhaps Biel has leafed through his tourism history and discovered that a Barceló was involved in the old one peseta tax. Or perhaps he has also looked at what happened in Ibiza in the 1930s. There, tourism development was well behind Mallorca's. Its tourist board wasn't founded until 1933, and unlike its Mallorcan counterpart, what was suggested? A tourist tax to help fund tourism development.

No comments: