Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Frenzy Of Rentals' Colonialism

Another day, another survey. The Gadeso Foundation, which does a first-rate job in regularly surveying opinion on all sorts of topic, has been asking about holiday rentals. The fact that there is a survey highlights the importance of the subject to Mallorca and the Balearics. It has been remarked that it is one which attracts excessive attention, not least from the media, but the attention is necessary; this is a subject of fundamental importance.

Tourism, ever since the start of the sixties' boom, has raised a question about the way that people live in Mallorca. It is a question now seemingly being asked like never before, and there is a supplementary and just as important question - where do people live?

There are, it seems to me, some shockingly self-interested, patronising and ill-considered views regarding holiday rentals. They are held by those who can see no harm from unfettered development and availability. Holiday rentals are a part of the future, they give the hoteliers a run for their money, they generate greater revenues for certain business sectors. Agreed, albeit that they are the past as well as the future; holiday rentals in one form or another have always existed in the tourism environment.

But what is being experienced is a new form of touristic colonialism. If the development of resorts was principally a hotelier (and tour operator and bank) colonialism, both home-bred and foreign, then the current frenzy for rentals is a different wave, with the colonialists still a mixture of local and foreign. The owner of one or two properties is not really the issue; it is the speculative business and property acquirer which is. Nevertheless, and regardless of who the owner is, the frenzy is such that a wholesale distortion of the property market is being facilitated, leading to that supplementary question.

Colonialism implies some form of self-appointed interest, giving rise to a patronising view, similar to that which existed back in the sixties, that Mallorca should just be grateful for all these properties being available to tourists. That's one view. There is another which has it that workers can commute. So what if they have to, for example, live in Inca and travel to Alcudia each day? So what? Why the hell should they have to? The fact that people have to commute fair distances in places other than Mallorca is no argument. We're talking here not there. Moreover, we are also talking workers who aren't paid handsomely and who need to fork out more of their meagre salaries in order to travel on top of rents that are creeping up away from the resorts, a further consequence of the frenzy.

There was a time, and not so long ago, when I was in favour of pretty liberal regulations and when I sided with the view that the hoteliers shouldn't have things all their own way. This favouring still exists because it is only fair that an owner should at least have the option of how he or she chooses to rent out and also because there can be little question as to a benefit for the complementary sector, much though the likes of Exceltur (members of which include leading Mallorcan hoteliers) come up with reports suggesting that it is hotel guests who spend more on restaurants, etc.

What has changed my opinion is the frenzy, with Airbnb and others whipping it up and hiding behind the disingenuous argument that they are simply intermediaries. What? We're trading in holiday rentals? Not us, guv. What started out as a great idea now sucks.

The Gadeso survey reveals that just 29% of those surveyed are in favour of holiday rentals. There is a difference between Palma and the resorts. The greater opposition is in the city, which echoes a Gadeso finding about so-called saturation: it is felt more acutely in Palma than in the resorts. When it comes to type of property, irrespective of Palma or elsewhere, only 23% support apartment rentals.

The greatest drawback, according to the survey (59%), is access to housing for residents and workers. Half of the respondents consider that rentals are creating speculation and "gentrification", a word which has crept into the tourism lexicon in recent years. On the other hand, 47% believe that holiday rentals provide an important role in many families' finances. Which is true, but then ordinary families tend not to have whole portfolios of properties.

But it is ordinary families who might end up the victims of the frenzy. So much depends on how the government's regulations are finally worked up, on how zoning is determined, on how rigorously the tourism ministry and tax authorities then enforce regulations. And tax, now there's a thing. Gadeso found that 73% believed that obligation to pay tax should be the principal requirement for holiday rentals. Only 73%?

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