Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Fourteen Years Of Silence: Holiday rentals

In February 2011 a news story that did the rounds dealt with a visit paid by inspectors from the Balearics tourism ministry to an apartment in Santa Ponsa. It was occupied by Russian tourists who had booked the apartment via a British website and had paid 4,500 euros for a fully equipped flat with various services including the use of a private pool. The inspectors went to a different apartment, one that had been advertised on the internet as a "luxurious" property, and there a British couple was renting it for 820 euros. Then they went to another apartment, this time in Illetes, where a family of five was paying 6,000 euros for two weeks rental. The inspectors didn't bother going to a house in Santa Ponsa about which German tourists had posted a review on the internet. The tourists' experience of the house couldn't have been better. They spoke about it as though it were a hotel and gave it a glowing recommendation.

The first of these inspections was the one that really drew the attention. The owners were liable to a fine of 30,000 euros. The apartment, as with the other properties, was being offered for rent illegally.

It is important to look at the date. February 2011. Almost a year and a half before the new tourism law in the Balearics was passed. It is also important to bear in mind what was explained at the time. The infractions that the inspectors had discovered, all of them in fact during 2010, contravened Article 72.3 of the general tourism law. The previous law. This stated that "the publicising, contracting or commercialisation of establishments, activities or businesses which do not have the required tourist authorisations" will be considered serious infringements of the law.

The 2012 tourism law merely reinforced what already existed in Balearics legislation. There are plenty of people who will know that this was the case, but to gauge the reactions in the wake of the reform of the national tenancy act, you might think that penalising owners of private accommodation was somehow new. It most certainly is not.

This reform strengthens the hand of the regional government but it doesn't fundamentally alter a situation that has obtained for years. But only now, or so it seems, are strong voices of opposition to the government's stance being raised by bodies other than owners themselves.

Much as I applaud the Chamber of Commerce having weighed in to the debate, I have a question: where has it been all these years? And the same question applies to the restaurant sections of the business association CAEB and of the small to medium-sized businesses organisation PIMEM. It also applies to the Balearics wing of the PSOE socialist party. Where have any of them been and why have they not raised stronger objections in the past?

And the past is worth taking into account. When was Article 72.3 set in legislative stone? The answer is 1999. The law was passed a couple of months before the elections that year; elections that saw PSOE form its first ever government in the Balearics. So, let's ask another question. Why did PSOE, if it is now against the stance on private accommodation, not seek a reform of this part of the tourism law during either its 1999-2003 or 2007-2011 administrations? Take note: the actions of the tourism inspectors were in 2010, when PSOE was in power.

There's a further question. 26 September 2006 was a not unimportant date in the history of Mallorca's rental accommodation. It was the deadline by which properties had to be registered as either tourist or residential lets. There was a category of accommodation which couldn't be registered as tourist lets. Private apartments. Why did PSOE not raise an almighty fuss about this at the time?

Political opportunism probably explains why PSOE has now jumped on the bandwagon in opposing the government's position, but this doesn't explain why business associations have seemingly been so mute in the past. 

Better late than never, but business, other than the highly organised hotels, has failed until relatively recently to show its muscle in anything like a co-ordinated and assertive fashion. Where holiday rentals are concerned, the penny has finally dropped and made a loud clanging noise of the damage that can be caused to businesses that form the non-hotel complementary offer. Previous silence can probably be attributed to indifference, complacency or lack of organisation. The noise now can be attributed to an awful realisation that members' interests could be harmed. It's a welcome noise, but why has it taken so long for it to be made?

Any comments to please.

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