Saturday, November 21, 2015

Clear As Decayed Sea Grass: Sustainable tourism tax

No more must we refer to the tourist tax as the tourist tax or indeed the eco-tax. Sustainable tourism tax is the name, but what is it going to sustain? The answer is still as clear as a Majorcan shoreline muddied by an accumulation of decayed sea grass - a vital ecosystem element for sustainability.

Biel Barcelo's admission that the purpose (or purposes) to which it will be put will not be determined until 2017 merely heightens frustration and suspicion. While he refers to ongoing consultation, there is no doubting who holds the whip hand when it comes to the final decisions as to how the revenue will be spent: the politicians.

But before coming to the constitution of the Commission for Sustainable Tourism, the body that will make these decisions, there is the lingering concern about the tax being simply a way of assisting to balance the government's books. In an interview last weekend, the finance minister, Catalina Cladera, who insisted that the tax isn't an eco-tax because that was something of a previous era, was unable to give an adequate explanation as to why, if 50 million euros revenue are being allocated to the 2016 budget, the spending on tourism was going down to a figure roughly equivalent to this projected revenue. Would there not be more money for tourism, courtesy of the tax, as part of the highest ever overall budget that a Balearic government has devised? The island councils will be getting more money for tourism promotion, she said. Oh, and the tax is not just for tourism. It's also for the environment and for patrimony. Clear as decayed sea grass. As ever.

To add to the obfuscation, there is Barceló intimating that the 50 million shouldn't in any event be reflected in the budget as the tax hasn't yet formally been approved, despite his insistence that it will come in on 1 May next year. Inma de Benito of the hoteliers' federation, in a separate interview, again criticised the fact that there had been no prior warning of the London announcement of the tax's starting date and that there had also been very little consultation full stop, before arguing that the revenue, in her opinion, will go into the current account for 2016 and be distributed to various government ministries.

The commission, once it is constituted, may be able to allay Benito's fears (ones shared by opposition parties, among others), but the hoteliers are unlikely to have a great deal of say on this commission. A majority of its membership will be politicians (probably not from the Partido Popular), while the hoteliers and tourism-sector businesses will have a say equivalent to that of the unions and the environmentalists GOB. You'd love to be a fly on the wall when it meets for its deliberations.

Meanwhile, we do at least have the draft bill with its identification of exempt groups: the under-14s; those needing to stay over because of travel for medical treatment; the senior Spanish citizens in the Imserso subsidised, off-season vacationing scheme. How can this latter group be exempt if senior citizens from other European countries on subsidised programmes (Scandinavians principally) are not? Indeed, how can they qualify for exemption full stop? Brussels, one fancies, will be taking an interest.

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