Saturday, October 10, 2015

Self-Service Alcohol: A red herring

So, President Armengol is saying that the government is considering the banning of self-service alcohol in all-inclusives. Here is an issue that was first highlighted by the Calvia councillor who shares the same name as the mayor. He is the Alfonso Rodríguez from the Esquerra Oberta open left grouping, the one who is also the president of the Facua consumers' association in the Balearics.

When this issue first arose a couple of months ago, the reaction to it - in general political terms - was muted. The problem was noted, but it was an issue said to be confined to a few hotels in one resort - Magalluf. As such, any talk of banning or regulating was premature and/or unnecessary. Now, it is said, the practice has spread, and so other resorts are implicated: in Playa de Palma, most notably. Waking up to this more widespread self-service activity, the government is hoping to have a ban in place by next summer.

Am I alone in believing that this is a colossal red herring? The means of making alcohol available is merely an extension of what has existed for years. Be it self-service or via a solitary waiter at the end of a long queue, the consequence is much the same. If holidaymakers want to get drunk on cheap local spirits and beer, then they will.

The greater ease of access to the booze, though, is said to have led to fewer holidaymakers taking to the beach in Magalluf. And the point of this is what exactly? All-inclusive guests going to the beach doesn't mean that they are necessarily spending any money. They are just going to the beach.

There have been some strange observations that have resulted from the self-service affair. We have had the tourism minister saying that there had been attempts to curb the use of plastic glasses in all-inclusives because they give the impression of low-quality tourism. Far better to have proper glasses, but these are dangerous around or in a pool. So plastic glasses have been retained, but, and Barceló said this, it was "surprising" that guests would use these plastic glasses, fill them with alcohol and turn pools into scenes of real drunkenness. Surprising?

The point with self-service is that one of the biggest complaints guests have with all-inclusives at the low end of the offer is the queuing for service. Hotels typically allocate minimum staff numbers to bars, a reason being that they employ the minimum number possible because all-inclusive isn't terribly profitable for them. One would guess they've made cost-benefit analyses and concluded that it is cheaper for guests to fill their boots with all the alcohol they can consume than it is to employ a meagre number of bar staff.

Behind all this sudden concern regarding guest alcoholism and bingeing is, as I've noted before, just as much if not more concern for jobs. Which is fair enough, but the attention now being paid to self-service alcohol makes me suspect that the government will single this out and champion it as the government regulating all-inclusives, while ignoring any other regulation. It is, in a sense, easier to target specific consequences of all-inclusive than it is to get to grips with all-inclusive per se. Hence, it is a red herring, but a convenient one for the government.

Armengol went on to say that a ban on self-service would come from analysing regulatory gaps that apply to all-inclusives. And these are? How can there be gaps when there isn't regulation. Tourism legislation barely mentions all-inclusives and it certainly doesn't have any specific regulation. She's talking nonsense. At least Jaume Font of El Pi appears to have more of an appreciation of the issue in calling for wider regulation in time for next year.

Again this is fair enough or would be if it weren't for the fact that holidays are being booked on the basis of what is currently the situation, not on what it might or will be in a few months time. It is the same with the tourist tax and does, therefore, give rise to the potential for misrepresentation. Tour operators will be livid. Introducing regulation has to have a longer timeframe. 2017 not 2016.

But we still come back to what regulation for all-inclusive there might be. No one knows. Just as no one truly knows the extent of all-inclusive or its type. Font has called for there to be a register of hotels which offer all-inclusive, which begs two questions. One is why there hasn't long been one, and the second has to do with the fact that this was supposed to have been undertaken. Early this year Jaime Martínez, the former tourism minister, said that it would be. Were there to be a register though, what would then be done with the information?

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