Saturday, November 07, 2015

Keeping Quiet About The Tax

Travel fairs don't, as a rule, generate enormous interest except among those attending and who are associated with the travel and tourism industry. They can seem like almost ritualistic affairs for business to talk to business, business to talk to governments, and governments and everyone else to talk to the specialist media. London's World Travel Market was different. Magalluf aside, the general interest lay with the tourist tax.

If there had been an expectation, hope even, that the ExCel was going to be the location for an almighty bust-up, then the expectation was misguided. This was never going to happen. The closest call was the set-to between President Armengol and national tourism minister, José Manuel Soria, a somewhat one-sided affair in any event (with Armengol doing the talking). It was one for Balearic public consumption and was of little interest to anyone else, apart from amused passers-by. Moreover, it wasn't specifically to do with the tax but with the withholding of investment, an arcane matter of internal Spanish regional financing of no interest to anyone else in London. Soria may have called the tax a nonsense or a folly, depending on your translation, but what little interest there might have been in internal Spanish affairs would have been supported by knowledge of the political differences at play. No real story there, then.

Of greater importance than Soria were the tour operators, ABTA and indeed the Balearic hoteliers, none of whom have a good word to say about the tax. But they were saying little in the public forum of the fair. They weren't ever going to kick off a rumpus and a ballyhoo because, much though they might dislike the tax, to draw even more attention to it by engaging in great rows with Barceló and Armengol would have been totally counterproductive. Regardless of the tax, there are holidays to be sold, flights to be filled, contracts to yield returns (and the contracts for the Balearics are more valuable than ever).

So, the tax opponents would have buttoned their lips and pretended that it was all business as usual, which it almost certainly will be, given the forecasts for 2016. Why go and potentially spoil this?

Casting an eye over the British media, there seemed to be comparatively little interest in the tax. "Travel Weekly" managed to mistranslate Soria by insisting that he had called the tax "crazy" when he hadn't. The British media wouldn't of course have laboured a point regarding the IVA (VAT) tourist rate, an increase in which had been an "error", Soria conceded. He, as with other opponents of the tourist tax bang on about the harm it will have for competitiveness, blissfully ignoring the fact that the basic tourist rate was upped while various sectors of the tourism industry, previously in the reduced category, were suddenly subject to 21% IVA.

Hypocritical though this might be, it is perhaps proof that taxes have limited, if any impact on tourists. There again, who pays any real attention to the IVA component of the cost of accommodation, meal or attraction?

Magalluf, it seemed, was of greater interest to the British media. Reports sounded like old hat for those of us here who have become used to Meliá telling us how much they're investing and on what and to the town hall in Calvia saying how much better things are. "The Telegraph" couldn't help pointing out that one of the hotels in the Meliá transformation inventory was the site of a British "balconing" death three years ago, while the same journalist noted that a colleague, who had been in Magalluf in September, had reported that the Punta Ballena "was still packed with drunken revellers". One fancies that it is going to be like this for the next couple of seasons at least: claim and counter-claim as to just how effective or not the changes genuinely are.

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