Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Finality Of Tourism Law

When the previous government issued its tourism law in the middle of 2012, it was kind enough to do so in different languages. To Castellano and Catalan were added English, German and even Russian: those were the days, before Ukraine, a plummeting ruble and Russian tour operator bankruptcies.

The thinking behind this multi-lingual presentation of law was not one of altruistic education and information for the masses. It had to do with the government's desire to facilitate inward investment. The law, commonly referred to as Delgado's Law after the minister of the time, was just as commonly looked upon as an investor's charter. Despite faults with the law, a disparaging criticism of the avarice of commercial interests was largely misplaced. Delgado's version of tourism revitalisation was property-driven. It didn't meet with everyone's approval, but in general it has to be said that it was a worthy piece of legislation. Mallorca has been undergoing revitalisation, even if it has only been for the benefit of the hoteliers.

The current government has yet to issue its tourism law. It hasn't even drafted it yet. But we have some idea of the type of content insofar as advance publicity has been given to issues such as regulations for private accommodation and all-inclusive hotels. The chances are that it won't be multi-lingual. This is a government in property reverse.

But before we even get to Tourism Law 2016 - if indeed they can rouse themselves sufficiently to enact it next year and are able to reduce the legislative delays caused by the need for dialogue, consensus and general arseing around - we have pre-Tourism Law 2016. This is the law with the pompous title of the Sustainable Tourism Tax, a euphemistic name for tourist tax (or eco-tax, which, supposedly, we are definitely not allowed to use) and one applied in order to foster an impression of its general and common good.

You, or rather the government, can cover a multitude of lack of sins by coining the sustainable moniker. It is a word so widely used that it has lost any meaning it might once have had. Not that anyone has ever known what it means anyway - and still don't - but it sounds good and so therefore it is for the general and common good. The "selling" of a tax is achieved through the vagueness of an adjective.

Although this is a pre-Tourism Law, it has the feel of being the actual law. The government is at pains to describe the tax as "finalista", by which it means that it has specific aims: it is "purpose-oriented", even if we remain in the dark as to which purpose or purposes. It is, therefore, not a general tax, to which most us respond with a Christmasy "ho, ho, ho".

Finalista it may be, and it has the sense of being final. The finality of the tax is supposedly open to public consultation and yet more dialogue and consensus, blah, blah, but its final destination steadfastly ignores consensus with the villains of Delgado's Law, the chief generators of Balearic wealth - the hoteliers.

The discovery that, according to a survey, 80% of the populace agrees with the assertion of Alberto Jarabo of Podemos that hoteliers act against the best interests of the Balearics can only help in bolstering the government's inclination to go against its avowed principles of dialogue and consensus and so grant the hoteliers a diminished or non-existent role in the law's finality. But it is misguided in doing so.

Yes, Delgado's Law went too far in one direction, but the Sustainable Tourism Tax Law and what will be the actual Tourism Law are moving in the opposite way. The tax law feels like the actual law because it is so "finalist" in its hostility towards hotel interests. As someone who is not against the principle of a tourist tax, I find myself increasingly angered by the government's stance and stubbornness. What should be being sought is an approach to tourism, be it with a tax or without, that is genuinely predicated on consensus and not wished for by the banal repetition of government ministers.

Collective social responsibility through a coming-together of government agencies, interest groups and the tourism business sectors should be the objective. It should entail a grand strategy to set out a tourism future that takes account of the aims of various sectors in truly being in the general and common good.

Inma de Benito of the hoteliers' federation has asked Xelo Huertas, the Podemos president of parliament, that the federation be part of the parliamentary process for deciding the tax law. This would only be by committee, but the invitation should be extended. Whether it will be, given Jarabo's antagonism in particular, is doubtful. It would also be foolish. The island's tourism industry cannot be determined by the divisiveness of tax finality.

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