Thursday, May 01, 2014

A New (Hoteliers') Tourism Policy

The Cercle d'Economia is a body of wise men and women (in fact, almost exclusively men) which from time to time dispenses the sort of wisdom aimed at Mallorca's tourism industry that is not always associated with the industry. It staged a conference earlier this week entitled "reflections on tourism policy". The star attraction was the director of the Mallorcan hoteliers federation, Inmaculada de Benito, someone who hasn't always appeared to be totally wise. It was she who in 2012 infamously referred to the economy of the Balearics being broken because there was not 100% hotel occupancy in high summer, an observation which ignored the fact that there never is 100% occupancy - not in Mallorca as a whole. This was an observation with the holiday-let market firmly in its sight. This market was helping to cause the broken economy. In July 2012, Mallorca registered its highest hotel occupancy rate for a July this century. So much for things having been broken.

Sra. de Benito produced one of those presentations of the type loved by consultants. You know the sort of thing - masses of charts and diagrams which are all terribly impressive but not always terribly meaningful. One diagram, however, was intended to be particularly meaningful. It was a funnel with a wide brim admitting tourist arrivals with a very much narrower stem from which tourist revenues were dripping. It was a diagram of which the federation's president, Aurelio Vázquez, would have only partially approved. In March he came out with the statement that between 2004 and 2012 there needed to have been a million and a half more tourists in order to merely maintain revenues. The funnel's brim needed to have been substantially wider and the tourist arrivals substantially greater.

Nevertheless, the diagram was making the same point as Vázquez had, and it has to be considered within the context of the hoteliers' current propaganda regarding wage negotiations. The narrative, for some years now, has been consistent. Revenues have stagnated and profitability has declined, while costs (labour being one of them) are too high. The hoteliers' offer on wages is a zero percentage rise.

Having reflected on tourism policy, Sra. de Benito has come to the conclusion that two key aspects of public tourism policy are not sufficient for guaranteeing long-term competitiveness in the industry. These aspects are what she refers to as offer policies (regulation, planning and taxation) and demand policies, such as overseas promotion. There has to be, she says, better co-ordination between these policies. Meaning what exactly?

Of the demand policies, there is precious little promotion as it is, so it is difficult to see how there can be better co-ordination when one part of the equation is all but non-existent. Of the offer policies, Sra. de Benito would like, it would seem, lower taxes, less regulation and less planning bureaucracy, to which we can probably all say amen and not just on the hoteliers' behalf.

In fact, these offer policies have already been introduced. The 2012 tourism law did so, while the decree on mature tourist zones (the first one of which was applied to Playa de Palma last year) is intended to relax planning regulations. But as ever, this is regulation which is not evenly distributed and does not serve the tourism industry as a whole. To take the current flavour of the moment (when hasn't it been?), that of all-inclusive, Sra. de Benito presumably would not support regulation. It would be pretty odd if she did, having intimated that she wants less of it in general.

The thrust of her reflection was that there should be integration of different economic sectors in order to add value to tourism and to build a "socially sustainable" model. These sectors would include health, the environment, technology, agriculture, education and transport. Which all sounds very laudable, but when she then goes on to talk about generating more and better employment and greater well-being among the citizenship, how does she square this with a de-regulated environment in which the all-inclusive is increasingly coming to dominate, thus creating a negative consequence for general economic well-being? Indeed, how does she square better employment with hoteliers' wishes to be able to engage in more contracting-out of services, more flexible employment contracts and zero wage increases?

Essentially, and cutting away the consultancy-style gobbledegook, what Sra. de Benito wants is for the private sector to have greater say if not the majority say in tourism policy. Which might not be such a bad thing, were it not for the fact that the private sector would almost inevitably mean the hotel sector assuming priority. She alludes to the political correctness of a "socially sustainable" model, but on whose terms would this model be based?

The wise men of the Cercle will have listened and reflected. Fortunately perhaps, only some of them are hoteliers.

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