Monday, October 20, 2014

The Four Islands Of Tourism Promotion

Before being elected president of the Council of Mallorca in 2011, Maria Salom described the Council as an expensive and inefficient behemoth. At the height of the economic crisis, someone had seen the light. The Council had accumulated responsibilities which had meant that it had taken on a life of its own, duplicating efforts elsewhere and being a drain on the public purse. One such responsibility was for tourism promotion. In early 2012 this responsibility was formally withdrawn. The Balearics Tourism Agency (ATB) didn't assume this responsibility as such, because it already had it, but duplication had been eliminated. Eighteen months later, the Bauzá government decided to hand the responsibility back and to give the other three island councils the same responsibility. Salom was unimpressed. She said that she did not want the Council to have to take on the responsibility again.

Just over a year since the regional government decided that it would transfer responsibility, it has now formally approved the measure. Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera can happily set about their promotional plans and expect to receive funding from Palma in order to do so. Mallorca can do the same, but Salom refuses to accept the responsibility. She doesn't wish to revive the behemoth.

In announcing this measure, tourism minister Jaime Martínez appeared to suggest that Salom's rejection was a "different scenario" to one of previous agreement on behalf of the four councils. He is I'm afraid not portraying the "scenario" accurately. Salom has been consistent in her views. As if Bauzá couldn't get more opposition to his decaying administration, he now has it, and it comes from one of the most senior figures in the Partido Popular who, back in the days post-election when all was rosy for Bauzá, was totally onside with a governmental policy of cost-cutting and duplication eradication. Salom has stuck to her guns. Bauzá hasn't.

No doubt stung by the criticism of the paltry sums that Carlos Delgado had budgeted for, Martínez says that there will be a total of 5.3 million euros for tourism promotion in 2015. This is still not a king's ransom but it is twice this year's budget. So, the budget will rise as will other costs. They are bound to so that the island councils can have the funcionarios who'll spend their share of the tourism promotion dividend, while duplication will return. Why? Well, the ATB, though it will be pared back, will have to assume responsibility for Mallorca's promotion and it will still conduct promotion for the Balearics as a whole, while providing a supervisory function in order to ensure that the islands' efforts don't conflict with overall Balearics policy, which could well amount to requiring signing-off these efforts.

The islands have always undertaken some of their own promotional work, and they have been entitled to under the list of competences granted to them by the statutes of Balearics autonomy. Bauzá invoked these statutes in explaining why the responsibilities were being transferred in a formal fashion and with budgetary allowance from Palma. He was being disingenuous. These competences have always existed. The principal motivation was not doing things by the statutes' book but was a way of trying to keep Menorca and Ibiza sweet; they have both long lobbied for greater responsibility.

The devil as always will be in the detail, but as Martínez possesses an unerring capacity to make obscure what one would hope would be transparent (as with holiday lets for instance), there may well be scope for different interpretations of other aspects of this responsibility transfer: islands' own policies, their own development plans, their own organisation of planning of their respective tourism sectors. What actually might these mean? The government insists that it is not handing over the overall co-ordination and classification of tourism products and other elements of the Balearics integrated tourism plan, but there has been a suggestion that the councils could act independently on something such as holiday lets. Menorca wants to, though the government says that it can't. We'll see.

As a general principle the islands having responsibility isn't such a bad idea. Balearics branding and promotion make far less sense than branding of island names that carry greater weight in the minds of the tourism public. However, there should be a cautionary note, and it comes from Menorca. Promotion that has been undertaken by its council to promote the island's Biosphere Reserve status was slammed a year ago. Twenty years of this status and Menorca had made precious little of it, the consequence of a lack of skills as well as money and of bureaucracy that has constantly hampered efforts of businesspeople. Menorca will be getting more money (though not nearly enough) but it won't be getting more skills or less bureaucracy. In Mallorca, meanwhile, none of this will matter because Salom, wisely perhaps, doesn't want the headache or the duplication.

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