Friday, August 11, 2017

What Is The Real Shock For Tourism?

Now that they've gone and done it there is almost a sense of shock. It's the immensity which can seem shocking, but do 30,000 illegal tourist rental apartments constitute immensity? This is the number that the tourism ministry reckons that there are in Mallorca.

If one assumes that these 30,000 apartments can accommodate four people, they represent 120,000 places. Another figure that the ministry has been desperate to let us know is the limit that there is to be on all (legal) tourist places on the island: 435,707 (isn't such precision a thing of wonder). The illegal apartment places therefore equate to more than a quarter of this legal figure. Or put another way, they are 25% more than there should be. Immense? I leave that to your own judgement.

More than shock, there is a sense of bewilderment. There is also, inevitably, confusion. The most bewildered are the unfortunate tourists who have booked apartments. There is no best time to introduce legislation, but the rentals' law has come in at the height of summer. People are naturally concerned that they may lose their holidays.

The Aptur holiday rentals association has issued advice to remove all illegal apartments from websites. The threat of fines will exercise many a mind. There will be owners who, to put it crudely, will be bricking it. There are of course those who argue that fines of up to forty grand won't get paid because of legal challenges and even lobbying of Brussels. Perhaps. But who is going to risk that the fines don't stick? Besides, it's not as if there weren't already fines; only that the level has been bumped up.

In isolation, the enforcement of the rentals' law wouldn't be particularly shocking. We have after all known for months that it was coming. But this enforcement isn't in isolation. The timing may be bad for poor tourists worrying about their reservations, but the law has come in against the timing of other events.

The president of the federation of travel agencies associations has described the anti-tourism protests as fascistic. The Fomento del Turismo (Mallorca Tourist Board) hasn't used the word fascist, but it has alluded to it. It has written an open letter to Arran in which it compares their protest actions (and the protests of others) to the "great tragedies of the twentieth century". The greatest of those tragedies was fascism.

The protests haven't of course gone unnoticed abroad. Abta and the European Tourism Association (the leading association for tour operators) have both commented. The foreign media have picked up on them. In Spain, they have become an issue for Congress. The Exceltur organisation is calling for an urgent meeting of the Spanish Tourism Council. And while Palma and Barcelona have been at the epicentre, San Sebastian in the Basque Country finds itself embroiled as well. Graffiti was daubed on the Basque Tourism Agency's building on Wednesday.

It could prove to be the case that this is all a flash in the pan, but the protests have an air of coordination. They aren't unique to Mallorca or Spain, but it is here where the focus is centred. It is here where the protests are becoming a matter for the state to get a grip on. The haven of safety away from terrorism in parts of the Mediterranean can appear to be less of a haven. It's terrorism without the violence, though concerns are being expressed about an escalation.

We have other issues, such as the passport-control queues, though these seem to now be being dealt with: passengers are whizzing through. Another is price. This isn't something that has suddenly emerged, given that the prices of holidays have been going up and indeed went up sharply this year. But for some tourists who are now looking ahead to 2018, there is a suddenness. Prices seem to be going through the roof.

Anecdotes on social media about giving Mallorca a miss because of the prices hardly constitute scientific research, but there are anecdotes from people who have been loyal to the island for years and years. They are looking at alternatives. At some point, the anecdotes might actually represent a critical and proven mass.

So ironically, all the fears about mass - tourism, that is - could be dealt with by the operation of the free market, the very market under attack from the protesters for having created saturation. Moreover, so it is being argued, the elimination of the illegal places could push hotel prices up even higher.

We can get wrapped up in all the agonising about a few idiots who are going around putting stickers with anti-tourism messages on hire cars, when in fact the real shock is to be seen on websites. Not adverts for holiday rentals hurriedly being deleted, but prices for holidays. Concern? Not for the government, as it will be hailing the limits on tourist numbers.

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