Saturday, November 14, 2015

Keep On Self-Serving Alcohol

So, there was the regional government making a song and dance about self-service alcohol in all-inclusives and saying how it was going to do this and that, only to discover - as revealed by the eminently sensible Pilar Carbonell, the tourism director-general - that it will be "difficult" to stop it. Carbonell cites the "free market" as a reason for this potential difficulty. Reform to the tourism law, which will be chiefly her responsibility, will seek to curb some of the excesses of all-inclusives (there is, as yet, no explanation as to how), but a ban on holidaymakers helping themselves to bacardi and vodka may not be one means.

The story with self-service alcohol was, it seems to me, a convenient diversionary tactic to allow the government, i.e. Biel Barceló, to indicate that it would be getting tough on all-inclusives without actually knowing how they intend to or indeed can. It cropped up in Magalluf, mainly thanks to one councillor who drew attention to it. At the time when he did so, the general feeling was that it wasn't that much of an issue - not one for the whole island at any rate. But because it was a decent headline-grabber, the ministry ran with it, despite the fact that it was (or should have been) clear that commanding hotels of any variety as to ways that they have to serve alcohol (or food) is really none of the government's business.

For Barceló, the issue is more one to do with jobs (ensuring there are waiters in this instance), a point I have made previously. The only way that the government may be able to act is by stipulating levels and standards of service, which would be within its competence to do. But this, where all-inclusives are concerned, would only go a small way in tackling in-hotel drinking and drunkenness. Another way, by limiting alcohol to meal times only, doesn't sound like much of a runner. Firstly, it would have to be monitored (by whom?). Secondly, it would be akin to full board arrangements which include alcohol in their meal packages. The all-inclusive "product" would thus be under assault, and the free market would suggest that it shouldn't be. Carbonell and the ministry have a tough task in bringing about meaningful reform.

While things had been relatively quiet on the tourist tax front at the World Travel Market, they have been noisy since everyone returned, with Podemos shouting the loudest. They appear to have declared all-out war on the hoteliers with the charge that the hoteliers do not act - and have not done so for years - with the best interests of the Balearics in mind. While all this noise has been ringing in the ears of Inma Benito and others from the hotelier class, news comes from across the sea in Valencia where the regional president, Ximo Puig, has ruled out there being a tourist tax in 2016. The holidaymakers of Benidorm can therefore breathe a sigh of relief for now. Puig is indicating that Valencia might go down the tax route at some stage, but he wants to study how taxes are operating in other destinations first and then bring everyone together from the tourism sector to discuss the possibilities of implementation. His approach seems in stark contrast to the Balearics where, for all the talk of dialogue regarding the tax, this has been proven to be meaningless.

Meanwhile in Catalonia, its government has announced how some of this year's revenue from the tourist tax is to be spent, some 6.4 million euros going in the form of grants to various local authorities for improving infrastructure and developing new tourism products. The lion's share of Catalonia's tax revenue goes directly towards tourism promotion, and so provides that region with far greater promotional clout than the Balearics. But it needs reiterating that the total annual revenue in Catalonia, with significantly more tourists than the Balearics, is roughly 40 million euros, a very much more modest amount than the 80 million that the Balearic government is eyeing up (in 2017 if not next year). It might be said that in Catalonia the tourist tax burden is more like spending "small change" than it is due to be in the Balearics: Barceló's implication that the tax would be like small change was tactless at best.

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