Friday, August 23, 2013

Islands Of Tourism Promotion

Article 30, item 11 of the Balearics statute of autonomy grants the islands' autonomous community exclusive competence in respect of tourism, namely organisation and planning of the tourism sector, tourism promotion, tourist information, tourist offices overseas, the regulation and classification of tourist establishment businesses and the regulation of public means of support for tourism promotion.

Chapter Five of the same statute deals with the councils in the Balearic Islands, and Article 70 addresses their own competences (or responsibilities). Item three of this article refers to "tourist information" and "tourist organisation and promotion". This is all it says. It doesn't explain this information, organisation or promotion, but it is this item which led President Bauzá to agree at a meeting of island presidents at the end of April to the transfer of tourism promotion responsibilities to the island councils.

Bauzá said that he was complying with the provisions of Article 70 and with a desire to eliminate duplication of responsibilities. This justification seemed somewhat strange, in Mallorca at any rate. Tourism promotion, indeed anything to do with tourism, had been taken from the Council of Mallorca as a means of cutting cost and eliminating duplication, but here, only eighteen months after this had been done, it was being handed back again.

The Council of Mallorca's president, Maria Salom, has said that she doesn't want to have the responsibility back. Her justification is the cost, but the first stage of the official process to transfer responsibilities has been started.

The Esquerra Unida (United Left) has taken issue with Salom's stance. It accuses her of using funding problems to cover up her opposition to the decentralisation of responsibilities. This is a familiar theme. The Partido Popular is branded as being centralist, while the broad left in Mallorca (except PSOE) has, in the past, agitated for all responsibilities for tourism to be handed over to the council.

While it is sensible that individual islands should have a say in tourism promotion, why does this necessitate the islands' councils having this responsibility? The Balearics Tourism Agency (ATB) is the organisation which currently looks after all promotion. It doesn't have, as is well known, a vast budget for tourism promotion at present. Transferring responsibilities away from the agency will require looking at how this small budget is to be allocated. As the agency will continue to take care of promotional activities for the Balearics as a whole, the transfer of responsibilities sounds like a recipe for a return to duplication of effort and one also for a watering-down of all promotional efforts because resources will be spread too thinly.

Ibiza has been the island that has been the keenest to have this responsibility, and Ibiza has been an island where Bauzá has encountered a few problems with his own party. There may well, therefore, be a touch of self-preservation about the transfer of responsibilities, but what really seemed to push Bauzá into what he said was a promise to effect this transfer was what happened at various travel fairs over last winter. Ibiza was joined by Menorca in demonstrating opposition to the way that promotion was being handled. Ibiza arranged for its own stand and, at the fair in Madrid, the Menorcans threatened tourism minister Carlos Delgado with doing the same. One thing that had really got the goat of the Ibizans and the Menorcans was that Palma was being treated as a "fifth island".

At the time of the April announcement, it was intimated that the four presidents of the islands' councils, including therefore Maria Salom, "celebrated" the decision because it was a "political compromise". Salom's "celebration" may also have been a bit of politicking, one for show and for unity. She soon changed her tune, though in fact she probably hadn't changed it all; she was, after all, the one who, in August 2011, had got shot of tourism promotion responsibility and handed it over to the regional government.

Salom is joined in her opposition to this latest transfer of responsibilities by the hoteliers. They argue that co-ordinated promotion is essential because the islands' markets are the same. This is true, but each island does have its own identity and so therefore its own marketing message, and this could be developed within the framework of the ATB. The Council of Mallorca has, for example, been discussing the creation of a specific Mallorcan "brand" with the agency.

The statute of autonomy has led to duplication and conflicts. There is no reason to believe that by transferring power these will be eliminated. The agency should be left to get on with promoting the individual islands with what little budget there is.

Any comments to please.

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