Friday, November 03, 2017

Transferring (Winter) Tourism Promotion Powers

They've been having a bit of a ding-dong over tourism promotion, to which you might well ask what tourism promotion. Well there is some, which is why they're off to the World Travel Market next week. Travel fairs are the chief beneficiaries of what promotional spend there is, but even this will dry up when the island councils fully adopt promotional responsibilities and what remains of the Balearic Tourism Agency becomes the agency for managing the tourist tax.

In terms of jobs for the boys (girls), it's hard to imagine a more worthy body: managing funds and projects that are in theory managed by others. This revamped agency already has its own budget - 85.4 million euros for 2018. Where are the other 35 million or so from expected tourist tax revenue next year? Best not to ask. But this agency will have more cash at its disposal than the tourism (and innovation and research) ministry will have. Its budget is identical to that of the SFM rail operator. Nice money and work if you can get it, and you can if you're the current government.

The row over tourism promotion was about money. The PP and PSOE traded millions (comparatively small numbers of millions) across the parliamentary arena in arguing which one had a better plan for transferring responsibilities to the councils and funding their promotion. The amounts mattered less than some of the detail of this transfer. President Armengol, in attacking what the PP had once pencilled in for the Council of Mallorca under its plans to transfer responsibilities, suggested that the amount was so low that the Council had refused the offer. That, however, was not how it was.

As with the regional government, the Council from 2011 to 2015 was under the control of the PP. Maria Salom was the president. One of the first things she did was to scrap the tourism foundation at the Council, its body for tourism promotion. Austerity and therefore cutbacks were one thing; duplication was another. When the government started talking about the transfer of responsibilities, Salom made it clear that she didn't want them back for precisely the same reasons why she had got shot of them in the first place.

This is now all going to change. The Council of Mallorca will receive an endowment of 4.4 million euros to crack on with promotion next year, assisted by the ranks of senior officials that it will be employing to do so. And what will the Council be doing with this money? The details one doesn't know. The principle one does. Winter tourism. Whoever would have guessed?

The current government has crafted some sort of myth about its focus on low-season, winter tourism. Wrapped up in all the nonsense about diverting tourists away from summer sun and beach and the additional narrative of saturation, it has used the simple measure of a slogan to make it appear as if it is doing something that previous governments haven't.

"Better in Winter" is the latest generation of what has been considered ever since the first Balearic government and first tourism minister came on the scene 34 years ago. You can of course go back earlier than 1983, but the first minister, Jaume Cladera, had a cunning plan. And what did it entail? If one mentions the likes of cycling, you will understand that not a lot has changed. To come more to up to date, though, it was the PP tourism minister Carlos Delgado who in 2011 took a damn great knife to the tourism promotion budget and, moreover, came up with a strategy to spend what little budget there was to be on winter tourism promotion.

One of the final throws of the promotional dice by the Antich 2007-2011 government was to chuck 22 million euros at promotion. Delgado was having none of that. The budget slumped to around 3.5 million and it hasn't fundamentally changed ever since. Delgado's view, in addition to having been guided by austerity, was that summer as good as looked after itself. He was considering promotion from a different perspective to Biel Barceló's "saturationist" one, but the principle was basically the same.

"Better in Winter" is therefore a sloganised piece of government PR in order to create some distance from what that the PP had been doing. And this slogan is being handed over to the councils which, remarkably enough, will between them have more promotional money than the government has had.

The combined total for the four councils will be in the region of eight million. It is money, you can rest assured, that will never once more go near a Rafa Nadal TV advert or anything of similar marketing frippery. Each island will, by means of responsibility transfer osmosis, be that much better in winter. Meanwhile, and just out of interest, Andalusia have recently announced that they're spending 28 million on promotion.

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