Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Communicating The Tourist Tax

As I've observed before, the more times the word sustainable (or sustainability) is used, the more it will be hoped that it sticks. A different way of looking at its constant use is - like its lexicological partner in current Balearic tourism policy, quality - that it ceases to have any meaning. Everything is sustainable. Everything is quality. Meaning what exactly?

There is a desperation inherent to the government's incessant sustainable bleating, the philosopher's stone that is the key to the government's being. The government hopes to sustain itself beyond its natural four years and become a perpetual cycle of sustainable virtue. And at the core of this philosophy is the apparent alteration to a tourism model. This is unsustainable, despite contributing 45% direct GDP, because it is a monoculture. Agreed (the monoculture, that is), but can we please just stop going on about it?

There's little chance of such abatement. Not when there are tourists to convince as well as an electorate. The government, or at least the now deposed director-general of tourism, admitted recently that communications about the tourist tax were not good. Which is why, as I highlighted recently, the government brought in some professionals and came up with an amateurish website that gives some information about tourist tax spending. Actually, one suspects that no professionals were involved. If they were, then they require shooting. More likely, some job experience intern at the ministry with little grasp of website design was tasked with beefing up the rotten information about the tax.

Alerted to the fact that the communications have been abysmal, the government arranged for a communiqué. This informed us that the "tourist board" (sic) has revealed details of its sustainable tourism strategy and its sustainable tourism tax. Sustainable, sustainable, sustainable; and with an upper-case, just to make it all seem that much more impressive. Unfortunately, the communiqué started by shooting itself ever so slightly in the foot. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge of the history of Mallorca's tourism and indeed the current organisation of tourism will know that the "tourist board" doesn't exist as a governmental body and never has. The Mallorca Tourist Board is non-governmental, and has been for 112 years.

The long-term sustainable tourism model, we are told, is currently being served by 100 vital tourism initiatives. Really? Define vital. And while you're at it, define tourism, because these initiatives are for tourism in only a broad sense, if at all. But then, we knew this. Didn't we? We knew that the purposes for spending sustainable tourism tax revenue owed virtually nothing to investment directly in resort infrastructure or in general promotion. Didn't we? Well, the legislation stated as such. It's there on the statute book and clear as daylight.

Peculiarly, there is the not-the-tourist-tax revenue fund. This is the tourism ministry's stock fund, made up of all the contributions from hoteliers to legitimise hotel places that were illegitimate and to pay for subsequent ones. A nice kitty has grown over the years and the cash is used, weirdly enough, for tourism purposes - actual tourism purposes. The thinking behind it stemmed from the need to modernise Mallorca's ancient and crumbling tourist resorts. This thinking was sustainability, but they never called it that; they having originally been the Unió Mallorquina when they controlled the tourism ministry.

Am I alone in finding it curious that at the same time as the government is seeking to be shown as virtuous by attempting to highlight how it spends the tourist tax, it should also be making much of the latest round of projects from the stock fund? If there is any criticism about the tax not actually being used for tourism (which there is), then the government can always point to a different source of funding, albeit the amount on offer is approximately a quarter of this year's tax spending.

While the fund will therefore go towards, for example, embellishing the main road in Puerto Alcudia (good Heavens, a resort), the tourist tax will do nothing of the sort. Instead it will, inter alia, go towards extending and improving the Inca water/sewage treatment plant (Inca, that thriving tourism centre); sponsoring a mill; supporting technology-based entrepreneurs (whoever they are); providing water conduction between Petra and Manacor; boosting the social economy and "circular sustainable management of tourism waste and creation of jobs for people at risk of exclusion".

And no, I don't know what circular sustainable management means either. And yes, the list goes on: well-managed and energetically (sic) efficient forest management; management and conservation of natural areas by people at risk of social exclusion.

Can we just accept and can the government just admit that the tourist tax is simply a tax? Insofar as most things in Mallorca are associated with tourism, then the government can define the projects any way they want. And it does. But for tourism, as in the lifeblood tourist resorts? No.

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