Monday, February 09, 2015

Heroes And Villains: Mallorca's hoteliers

The regional tourism minister, Jaime Martínez, remarked the other day that, though Mallorca's main hotelier groups were investing heavily in overseas markets, they were still also investing in Mallorca. If one were being cynical, one could consider this final clause to be a defence against a widely levelled accusation: that these main hoteliers are far more interested in developments in foreign lands than in ones in their own small land.

Quite clearly the hoteliers are investing in Mallorca. Meliá we know all about, but of others? Well, Iberostar has been spending a pretty centimo or two in Cala Millor and Playa de Palma, where Riu is likewise engaged in putting up investment cash. There are plenty of other examples. But for any one or two investments on the island, greater investment activity abroad can be pointed to. To take Riu as an example, between 2014 and 2016 it will have invested in, had built or acquired hotels in Aruba, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia, Sri Lanka and New York, to say nothing of developments in Bulgaria and Tenerife. Though Riu has decided to abandon Cuba, its large fellow Mallorcan players are quite happy to take a deeper plunge in the scramble for the Castro-lite Cuba, now undergoing a relationship normalisation with the White House.

All of this overseas activity is, therefore, picked up on and used as evidence for the prosecution in damning the large hoteliers for seeking ever greater riches on foreign shores and leaving poor Mallorca to a slow death of comparative lack of quality and investment. How can these companies, these Mallorcans do such a thing?

It's all nonsense of course. Mallorca's "Big Four" (Meliá, Riu, Iberostar, Barceló) and some of the smaller pretenders to this quartet are global businesses. The clue to their interest in foreign investment lies with the adjective. Global businesses don't become global businesses by channelling all their wealth into markets with limited (very limited) scope for growth; and Mallorca offers very limited scope, especially for new developments. They act in accordance with principles of growth that are relevant to any industry: if you have built a strong home market with limited further opportunity, then you look elsewhere, especially when the industry you serve - tourism - is as avaricious for new destinations as it is.

Do Mallorcans (and indeed foreign residents living in Mallorca) love the Big Four and the other large hoteliers? Those who are employed by them or who have businesses that supply them would probably say yes. But as for everyone else?

The people who criticise the apparent neglect of Mallorca in favour of global development are probably among the ones who also harangue the hoteliers for their opposition to the private holiday accommodation sector. The hoteliers are, therefore, damned whatever they do. Invest much more heavily in Mallorca, and they'll get slammed for their attempts to further dominate the island's accommodation market and for being the sole beneficiaries of Delgado-Martínez Law, i.e. the 2012 tourism bill. Plough millions upon millions into some desert island, and they are branded traitors on account of their imperialist ambitions at the expense of little old Mallorca. And, to compound the apparent felony of imperialism, it is these very hotel groups which have exported know-how that has enabled other destinations to grow. Treachery.

The Big Four and others should be businesses of which Mallorcans can be proud. They are Mallorca internationally. But the pride seems reserved, while often there is little or no pride; only antagonism. It is a pity. These are businesses which haven't got where they are by luck. They are pretty damn good at what they do, and when puerile remarks are made along the lines of the "Mallorcans don't know what they're doing" (in terms of tourism), then perhaps those who make such remarks should spend a bit of time studying the histories of the leading hotel chains.

All this overseas activity casts the hoteliers in a type of ambassadorial role. Meliá's Gabriel Escarrer, for one, believes that the hotel chain's presence in some forty countries helps to enhance Spain's brand internationally. Consequently, global growth over some three decades has led to a reciprocal benefit for Spain in drawing visitors attracted by values of service, culture and lifestyle inherent to the Meliá brand.

But then, perhaps this is, for some Mallorcans, a different problem. Globalisation has assisted the Spanish brand, not that of Mallorca. The hoteliers are thus cast in a different role, that of being "españolistas" and not "nationalistas" (Mallorcan ones, that is).

Maybe the lack of love boils down to a simple dislike of big business - and the hoteliers are Mallorca's big business - and to a more fundamentalist disapproval of the changes that have been wrought by tourism business. Or perhaps it's simpler still. Plain jealousy. There are a few seriously wealthy families in Mallorca, and it doesn't take much to figure out which ones they are.

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