Thursday, May 02, 2013

Tourism Promotion In Reverse

In August 2011, the Partido Popular, making efforts to eliminate duplication in public administration on the islands, ensured that the governmental bodies it dominates in Mallorca - the regional government itself and the island's council - agreed on the removal of one example of this duplication: tourism promotion and affairs. The Fundación Mallorca Turismo, part of the council, was wound up, its responsibilities passing to the government's tourism ministry. At that time, the president of the Council of Mallorca was admitting that it was 330 millions in the red. Getting rid of certain duplicative responsibilities, such as those for tourism, was not only a sensible and pragmatic move it was also one that was long overdue. Opponents of the PP insisted that it was a change that was evidence of some unstated agenda on behalf of the PP to centralise different responsibilities, which was nonsense. It was evidence of a desire for greater efficiency, but as one opposition party, the Mallorcan socialists, had previously advocated more not less duplication through responsibilities passing to the Council of Mallorca, such organisational common sense was always unlikely to be understood.

That was August 2011. In May 2013, the government is putting things into reverse. The islands' councils are to be given responsibilities for tourism promotion. The Balearics Tourism Agency, part of the tourism ministry, will retain responsibilities for market research, quality and co-ordination with the central government's tourism promotion agency Turespaña. Otherwise, it's going to be as you were.

Why is this happening? It isn't happening because the government particularly wants it to happen but because the councils in Ibiza and Menorca have kicked up such an almighty great fuss. (Note, by the way, that the Council of Mallorca hadn't been making a fuss.) Their wish to take charge of their own tourism promotion was made clear at the recent travel fair in Madrid where representatives of the two islands (three, as Formentera is linked to Ibiza) were angered by the small amount of representation they had at the Balearics stand. Similar disquiet had been expressed at previous travel fairs. And there was particular anger because Palma, now with its own tourism promotion campaign and organisation, had separate representation at the stand. Things got so bad in Madrid that tourism minister, Carlos Delgado, was told to get lost and stay away from their minimalist booths by the Menorcan and Ibizan representatives.

I can understand that there was and is resentment at the special treatment reserved for Palma, but there again, and in pure population terms, Palma is considerably bigger than Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera put together. It might stick in the craw with some, but they should just lump it; Palma is far too important for it to not have some special treatment. Complaints about the city being portrayed as the "fifth island" are probably convenient ones in any event. Behind Menorca and Ibiza's dissatisfaction is a political stand-off between members of the PP in both islands and with President Bauzá. This is especially so in Ibiza where some PP people consider the president to be persona non grata; all due, it would seem, to disagreements over Bauzá's attitude towards regionalism.

The government's decision to backtrack on the organisation of tourism promotion smacks of politicking. The previous rationalisation was correct, but the government appears to be bowing to the political necessity to maintain or regain support in the other islands. So much for tough decisions. By performing a U-turn, the government will undermine Delgado's role and also that of the Balearics Tourism Agency, and it is not as if Delgado wasn't perfectly aware of the need to promote the various islands separately. He had been that rare beast in Balearics tourism politics who recognised that the branding of the islands as a job-lot made little sense; he said this even before becoming tourism minister.

The Mallorcan hoteliers federation is just one organisation that is unimpressed by the reversal in policy, arguing that, because the islands have the same markets to promote to, this promotion should come under one authority. So long as the individual islands are branded as distinct entities with distinct attributes, then the federation is right to argue this. But then it has its own agenda, one that has differed to that in Menorca, the island which attempted to obtain a far more relaxed approach to holiday lets and apartments in the new tourism law. Shifting responsibilities for promotion won't change the law in this regard, but this difference in attitude just went to emphasise the lack of harmony when it comes to tourism matters. Giving the councils more of a say is not going to resolve this.

Any comments to please.

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