Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Seven-Year Window That Closed

There is a misconception that Mallorca's tourism boom of the early 1960s was all the product of central commands from the Franco regime. This view overlooks the roles played by the island's entrepreneurs and foreign tour operators and investors and the way in which they either ignored or worked around official policies of the Franco administration or of other governments, the UK's for instance. Nevertheless, it is true that there was a great deal of central control and so there was, as a consequence, a vacuum that was created when the regime ended and while Spain and Mallorca initially struggled to make sense of what would be its new democratic era.

This tourism vacuum was abhorred immediately, though. It was easily enough filled because Mallorca had a ready-made tourism government-in-waiting, the Fomento del Turismo, aka the Mallorca Tourist Board, which in truth had acted in this quasi-governmental fashion for some years. What changed, though, was the nature of official governmental command, and so the board assumed a role which belied its essentially private make-up. This was a board with an eclectic mix: businesspeople, tourist entrepreneurs, engineers, artists, journalists, they all featured.

In the mid-1970s the island's tourism had to contend with the repercussions of the end of the regime and the effects of the oil crisis. This gave rise to a reassessment, included in which was the consideration of an over-dependence on foreign tour operators and of, for the first time, the effects of tourism on the environment. What emerged was a Mallorcan tourism industry which sought to take charge of its own destiny and not have it determined by others.

This might have provoked a parochial attitude but it didn't, and a reason why it didn't was the fact that local business was so intimately involved with the island's tourism organisation and that this business was complemented by those from that eclectic mix at the board whose world view was, generally speaking, just that - world, rather than insular. In addition, other organisations came into being, such as the Mallorcan hoteliers federation and what was known as the Balearics Co-operative Federation. Both these bodies were founded in 1977 and they both went a long way to eradicating what had been a fragmented tourism industry which had lacked a sense of unity.

In January 1979 a week-long event took place which defined this era. It was the first Congress of Mallorca's Tourism. It was an event conducted in an open and democratic manner and one which brought together pretty much any organisation, association or individual who mattered to the island's tourism industry. It set out areas for co-ordinated effort going forward, one of which was tourism promotion.

The congress was the clearest example of what occurred during the roughly seven-year period between the end of the Franco regime and the establishment of regional government in the Balearics. It was a period during which the tourism industry, no longer shackled by an overbearing regime, was able to think for itself and to move the island's tourism forward. It did of course need government, but it was government to deal with technicalities of land approvals, of infrastructure, of employment law. It was a period during which, by and large, tourism was driven by the tourism industry as a whole and not by government.

With regional government came the regional tourism ministry. Initially, the ministry was able to draw on what had been achieved during that seven-year period. Its minister was a man with a tourism background, Jaume Cladera, but he couldn't prevent what happened. The ministry grew like topsy, grabbing responsibilities for all aspects of tourism, littering itself with civil servants and ultimately turning in on itself, adhering to parochial visions of tourism through the eyes of the Mallorcan and not through the eyes of the wider world. 

Two things have made me make the observations above. One was the article about how Croatia has managed within the space of only a few months to have a 365-day-a-year campaign up and running. The other was a recent appreciation of how tourism promotion tends to work, the tortuous path it must follow within the regional government and the "touristically-correct" way in which it is supposed to be presented. 

The window of the seven-year period during which the industry took charge was slammed shut. The centralised constraints until 1975 were to be replaced by decentralised constraints of bloated and self-serving administrations with blinkers on. The window of co-operation was lost for all time. It could not now be revived because of domineering industry interests. We are left with the ministry, therefore. But it could do worse than to look back to that seven-year window and ask itself whether tourism shouldn't be run in a more businesslike fashion.

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