The general election campaign is creating a good deal of debate regarding tourism: debate and recrimination. Podemos have unleashed the one-man battering-ram who is co-founder Juan Carlos Monedero. In the Balearics this week, he described the islands' tourism businesses as "predators" who think only about financial benefits. He was, one suspects, mainly aiming his ire in the direction of hoteliers.
While Monedero has been in full rant mode, the Podemos tourism thinker, Eric Labuske, has been outlining the party's line on tourism. This is something that has been a long time coming, as the Podemos tourism strategy has until now been largely unknown. Labuske's vision includes a fifteen-year strategic plan that would incorporate "social, cultural and environmental values". It would be one to rectify the mistakes of the past forty years (he could have made that fifty or more), with an independent regulatory body to supervise state regulation of tourism sustainability and tax incentives for all sectors of the industry in order to achieve this. Whatever it actually is. There would also be public participation in organisations such as Turespaña (the national tourism promotion agency), with the whole plan aimed at breaking the "monoculture" of sun-and-beach tourism, which he sees as the "main culprit" in having caused seasonality, a lack of innovation and property speculation.
As a manifesto, it is a fine set of platitudes, albeit that a fifteen-year strategic plan and the involvement of different agents in the tourism sector (plus the public) does have some merit. But it is one which, not unnaturally, has drawn some criticism. One of the sources is the tourism consultant, Antonio Garzón. You wouldn't expect him to side with Podemos, and nor does he. For example, he challenges the whole argument about forty years of mistakes. Without those years (of tourism development), where would the welfare of a majority of Spaniards be? Labuske argues that the sun-and-beach model is "obsolete", a charge that Garzón firmly disputes. The need is for complementary models of tourism, not the dismantling of the primary one.
It is on the whole issue of sustainability where Garzón lets fly. On the sustainability concept, he calls it a "hackneyed tourism myth", saying that the tourism sector doesn't need anyone (such as Podemos or indeed Més in the Balearics) to come up with a plan for it, when environmental management is "highly developed" in most of Spain's tourism destinations. And on this, Garzón is right. One only, as an example, has to think of the checks and balances that have prevented the development of the hotel complex near Es Trenc beach.
The other new(ish) kids on the political block, Ciudadanos (C's), have had rather longer than Podemos to come up with their tourism policy. As a party they are almost ten years old now, and it might be suggested that it is this greater maturity which has pushed them well ahead of Podemos in the polls. The C's and the party leader, Albert Rivera, derive a great deal of support from the tourism sector: they are the polar opposite of Podemos in this regard.
One of their candidates for Congress, Francisco de la Torre, has been speaking this week about the C's programme for tourism, and fundamental to this would be the granting of hoteliers' wishes in cutting the tourist rate of IVA (VAT). It has been the failure of the Partido Popular to do this which, more than anything, has driven the tourism industry towards the C's. (The performance of Mallorca's Isabel Borrego as national secretary-of-state for tourism has been another.) Their plan is one for competitiveness.
The PP had promised prior to the last election that the tourist rate would go down to the super-reduced level of 4%. Instead, the Rajoy government put it up from 8% to 10%. The hoteliers were far from impressed. The C's are saying that there would be an intermediate reduction to 7%, with the aim of applying the super-reduced rate later. The party would also pursue a policy of language training and teaching, primarily with tourism in mind. Tourism professionals of the future, the C's say, must have a strong grasp on languages as a means of advancing tourism competitiveness. If they get into government, one can imagine some of the Balearic teaching brigade will prepare itself for another battle over language.