Monday, April 21, 2014

Tourists Are Just Raw Material

Joserra and the faithful architect Martínez went walkabout in Calas Millor and Ratjada last week. President Bauzá, having recently attempted (and largely failed) to charm a discontented Partido Popular part forana in Campos, has now attempted to show that he is a man of the people - the tourism people. Whoever they might be.

This is not an idle question. President and tourism minister deigned to leave their southern cloisters and venture into the neverlands of the east coast of the island (neverlands because they never normally go there) and to see tourism in the raw - as raw as it can be in the pre-season and, in the case of Cala Ratjada, without the lebensrauming youth movement of summer in full lager mode. Of course, they saw no such rawness. They met hoteliers, they met mayors, they admired the new sports centre in Cala Millor, they contemplated the mural in Cala Ratjada's port, they uttered the typical bland statements about tackling seasonality and increasing the quality of tourism, and they strolled along the prom-prom-proms, tiddly-on-pom-pom.

They would have seen something of this thing called tourism, but they would have heard only from hoteliers and local politicians. They wouldn't have heard from those tourism people - tourists themselves. One doesn't necessarily expect Bauzá to be slumming it some bar with a bunch of drunks, listening to moans about the rising price of cigarettes, but is it too much to expect that he, and indeed other politicians, might actually attempt to engage with tourists once in a while?

Tourism is a curious industry. Its raw material is not hotel buildings, not airports, not bars or restaurants. It is people. Without people, there is no tourism. But consider how this human resource, with its attendant feelings, needs and wishes, is treated. It is as if it were mere raw material. Its movement from airport to hotel to room, its supply of food and drink, its processing at airport or reception can be depersonalised as a production line and characterised as a diagram of ASME symbols to denote specific steps along the line.

Much as it might try and convince otherwise, the tourism industry abhors infinite variety and customisation and applies the marketing spin of satisfying customer demand while simultaneously packaging it in ways which are determined by its supply-side process management. Packaging. Never has a term been more apt. The holiday package. The tourism of pre-determination that eliminates as much non-standardisation as possible with the objective of minimising cost and maximising profit. Tourism may not adhere to Henry Ford's customer focus of any car you want so long as it is black, but the principle of the standardised production line isn't so far removed from the general ethos of the tourism industry.

Mass tourism was a Fordist system of human processing. It still is, though to be fair, the industry has gone some way in correcting the standardised model. But it can't rid itself of the model entirely. Of course it can't. There are very good managerial reasons why not. But tourism in its human form and in a Mallorcan style is remote. It is divorced from those who legislate and from those who create the palaces by the sea.

The essential nature of Mallorca's tourism should mean a far closer relationship. But there are so many layers between the raw material - the people who matter - and the decision-makers. Where politicians are concerned, those at government level hear from island councils, who hear from mayors, who hear from their own councillors, who hear from ...? Well, I don't know who exactly. And into all of this are added the voices of the tourism powerful - not tourists themselves - but the manufacturers, namely the airlines, the tour operators and, most significantly in a Mallorcan context, the hoteliers.

A consequence of this process management of tourism is that it gives birth to political processors as opposed to those who, it might be said, operate more by instinct or by understanding or by being told what to think by the tourism powerful. Martínez, the faithful architect, is a tourism technocrat. Go and look at his CV on the regional government's website. His is a background in urban planning. As I mention above, buildings are not tourism raw material; people are.

But buildings are more important and they are easier to deal with, too. They don't talk, they don't have needs or wishes. It is utterly depressing that Martínez can, as he has, trot out the technocratic apologetics for dismissing out of hand proposals regarding holiday lets. You would expect him to, though, as he is representative not just of a government which refuses to consider less standardisation of the tourism model but also of an industry which disregards what the raw material of the tourism people have to say, or might say if they were ever spoken to.

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