Thursday, January 23, 2014

Who Knows What They're Doing: Tourism strategy

Before the Fitur travel fair kicked off in Madrid this week, the seventh annual "Foro Exceltur" for "touristic leadership" was held in the capital; Exceltur being the Alliance for Touristic Excellence. It all sounds, therefore, incredibly grand and important, and grand and important was what it was. How about this for a roll-call of forum attendees? Taleb Rifai, the secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, Mariano Rajoy (hmm), Peter Long of TUI, Miguel Fluxá of Iberostar, Carmen Riu of Riu Hotels, Gabriel Escarrer (junior) of Meliá Hotels International, José Manuel Soria, the Spanish minister for tourism, and ... José Ramón Bauzá, president of the Balearics. These were just some of those who took to the stage on a star-packed day.

José Ramón's away-day at the forum was in order that he could take part in a roundtable (actually there was no table, just some chairs in a row) to discuss public and private-sector collaboration to strengthen Spanish touristic competitiveness. On the stage with him were two other regional presidents, those for the Canaries and Galicia, Juan José Hidalgo of Globalia and the aforementioned Sra. Riu and Sr. Escarrer. Three minor politicians lined up with three of the most powerful and important people in Mallorcan and Spanish tourism. Boys versus men (and one woman).

Of course it's all good stuff for a rising star of the Partido Popular to be seen to be rubbing shoulders with tourism industry leaders in a location other than Mallorca, where typically he would be rubbing shoulders with these same leaders on a not infrequent basis anyway. But Madrid, centre of government, is a very much better location for any self-respecting regional president who might harbour ambitions of relocating to Madrid and getting his feet under a ministerial table. Possibly. For José Ramón, the key thing was to outdo the two other presidents, especially the one from Galicia. The chap from the Canaries isn't a member of the PP, but Alberto Nuñez Feijóo of Mariano's home region of Galicia is. And he has been spoken of in terms of higher office. Everything to play for therefore between José Ramón and Alberto.

So, what did they have to say for themselves? The man from Galicia reckoned that a national tourism promotional strategy was needed which was based on co-operation rather than competition. Meaning what exactly? Well, meaning that all the lovely regions of Spain would work together in fraternal fashion for the greater good of national tourism. The words cuckoo, land, cloud come to mind. Why on earth would the regions co-operate? Had Paulino Rivero from the Canaries said the same thing, one trusts that José Ramón would have told him to stick his co-operation. Galicia may not get any tourists, other than those who traipse off to religious sites and get soaking wet on the Atlantic coast, but the Canaries and the Balearics do. Great bus and airloads of them, and competition is the name of the game.

It is often overlooked, when talking about competitor destinations, that the Balearics have competition much closer to home than Turkey or Egypt. Some of it is staring across the sea in Catalonia and Valencia, and some more is lounging around on the Costa del Sol or in Tenerife. This internal competition between regions of Spain makes co-operation and therefore national plans somewhat if not totally redundant. The nation, where the Balearics are touristically concerned, can go hang.

This idealistic but unrealistic suggestion from the man from Galicia should have given José Ramón a clear shooting chance. However, never let it be said that a president can't miss an open goal and hit the corner-flag instead. Talking about Balearics tourism politics, El Presidente said that the Balearics haven't spent anything because tourism is in the hands of the private sector. Which sounds like a lopsided public-private collaboration and sounded even more lopsided when he added that the Balearics place projects in the hands of those who know what they're doing.

José Ramón was admitting, more or less, that they (the government) don't know what they're doing. Is this not the conclusion one draws from his saying that there are those who do know what they're doing, namely the private sector? This being the case, why then does the Balearic Government bother pretending it does know what it's doing and bother having a tourism minister, tourism ministry or agency for tourism promotion (one that doesn't spend anything).

Of course, this might not have been the missed goal that it sounds. Doubtless lurking somewhere was Rajoy, who would have been nodding with approval at José Ramón's strategy of public-private collaboration that doesn't actually involve the public part. Music to Mariano's ears, even if to other ears what amounted to not having a clue about tourism would have sounded distinctly odd coming from a president of some islands which, without tourism, would have long ago sunk into the Mediterranean.

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