Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Non-Governing Tourism Ministry

Germà Ventayol is a columnist with "Ultima Hora". His column is entitled "Es Mussol". The owl. But mussol can also mean sty. Not a sty as in pigs but sty as in an  infection on the eyelid. Through the eyes of many, and not only the owl, there is an inflammation in Mallorca's tourism industry, for which treatment seems simple but which is anything but.

On Monday, Ventayol said this: "To prohibit the commercialisation of tourist rentals is a political suicide which I cannot believe that any (political) party with a minimum of common sense would commit".

Hallelujah. Perhaps I have criticised the local Spanish press too much. Ventayol is the latest local journalist to wade in against the regional government: "the armed wing of the hoteliers", as another one has described it.

The context of Ventayol's "political suicide" is rather different to the one in which the arguments regarding the tourist renting of private accommodation are typically placed. Renting of accommodation provides "the bread" from which many families in the Balearics live. It gives money which can help finance studies for their children or the care homes for their elders.

Ventayol is making a similar point to that which Toni Reus, the mayor of Santa Margalida, has made. Reus has defended the right of an owner to supplement income through property rental and has so taken issue with the government's attitude when it comes to apartments.

The government's response to both Ventayol and Reus would be that owners do have this right, as it exists under the tenancy act. It is an argument with which we are now very familiar but it is one that is of no use to anyone who wants to optimise a return on a property by advertising it as a tourist rental and, moreover, advertising it as such through channels that will enable optimisation. It is a specious argument and one that only succeeds in adding to confusion.

The story of the tourist rental of private accommodation has long been a matter of confusion. It shouldn't be, but it has been, and the government has encouraged this confusion. It has now added to this confusion by alluding to the potential for island councils to take matters into their own hands by regulating accommodation. The government will say that it is being fair by giving the councils the chance to regulate while at the same time being as selective as it always is in citing the tenancy act. It knows full well that the Council of Mallorca doesn't want to assume any responsibility for tourism matters, so therefore this council will not regulate.

Were another council (Menorca's being the only likely one) to regulate and so permit the tourist rental of apartments, the confusion would be aggravated. It would be an absurdity were one island to have different rules to another. It would be an absurdity brought about by an abrogation of responsibility by the tourism ministry to regulate for the whole of the Balearics, but this is an abrogation which is a consequence of the ministry being too scared to adopt a common sense approach. It may be political suicide to deny commercialisation but it would be political suicide to agree to it; the hoteliers would never forgive the Partido Popular.

Carlos Delgado hastily called a meeting in August, a month when important issues are never normally considered. It was a meeting without representatives from business sectors, without even the president of the Council of Menorca. Yet, Delgado claims there is consensus: one to do nothing other than to hold out an olive branch to the island councils, one of which - Ibiza's - agrees with him and another of which - Mallorca's - doesn't want any responsibility.

The government's disingenuousness and dissembling are staggering. It boasts that some 4,500 houses have been registered in the Balearics since the passing of the 2012 tourism act. Houses, yes, but why not apartments?

The reason why has its roots in the hotel boom of the 1990s which concentrated on building self-catering apartment hotels and which led to the 1999 tourism act, the one which first prohibited commercialisation of private apartments for tourist rental. Hotelier power and hotelier objections helped formulate tourism legislation then (they hadn't bargained on there having been a similar boom in private apartments for rent) and still do. The government can't admit this, because to do so would be to admit that it doesn't run the tourism industry.

Delgado's conveniently called meeting and cynically contrived consensus have merely inflamed further a situation over which it has so little control that it seeks to let the island councils decide for it. It is no way to run a tourism industry. Not that the government does.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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