Saturday, December 19, 2015

Between Fact And Fiction: Tourism re-development

And so the president of the Balearics was given a tour of the new Magalluf. Bright, shiny Magalluf. A resort for the new age built against the background of a political new age. There was a notable absentee from this guided tour. The minister for employment was there as well. The tourism minister was not.

President Armengol, somewhat bizarrely, called upon the private sector to bring more investment to the Magalluf fiesta. Who is that has been making the investment until now? She may have had the so-called complementary offer (non-hotel sector) in mind, but the plea to the private sector implied a greater role that has been played by the public sector than is strictly the case. Nevertheless, to hear her talk of private investment was heartening. Where was Barceló?

The political new age is, in a sense, not new at all: not where tourism is concerned. It is a sector that has over the years been moved from pillar to post because of political changes and political whims. The current new age is newer because of the additional maverick factor on top of Més, and that is Podemos. Left up to PSOE alone, and one fancies there wouldn't be too much alteration to the path laid out by the Bauzá PP regime. Modification, yes, arguments, surely, but investments would be allowed to proceed without overly much interference.

The guided tour came against a further background: that of criticisms that Calvia is dragging its heels over giving projects the final green light. One such, so it has been suggested, is Meliá's re-development of the Jamaica, the final part in the Meliá jigsaw. During the tour it was said that the Jamaica will reopen in April or May 2017, which is how Meliá have planned it. This was a statement of intent. In earshot were Calvia's mayor and tourism councillor. In a very public display, the message to the town hall was don't go messing with our project.

Alfonso Rodríguez, Calvia's mayor, is caught between the stools of progress and the politics of his administration. If heels are to be dragged, they aren't necessarily his. He is a PSOE man after all. But it is this complex political arrangement - in Calvia and also at the regional government - which creates the chasm between tourism re-development fact and tourism re-development fiction. The constant drivel of tourism newspeak that we are fed - sustainable this, sustainable that - is what breeds this chasm. While Armengol might call for more investment, there are those who seemingly would prefer to minimise it and to place barriers in its way.

Take the tourism ministry. Barceló's ministry. Away from Magalluf, there are and have been some thirty projects for renewal which were approved by the Bauzá government in 2014. Some have gone ahead. Others are still waiting in the queue. Roughly a half of them. They are all ones that need the ministry's approval. But the ministry doesn't have the staff. It is also now the bailiwick of Més.

Meliá didn't suddenly pluck the Calvia Beach Resort project out of thin air shortly after Bauzá won the 2011 election. It would have been anticipating a PP victory, as it would have been aware of what was to emerge in Carlos Delgado's 2012 law. It went ahead and started work, all the green lights signalling a fast-track re-development of unprecedented scale. Once the less salubrious side of Magalluf was exposed to the world and embarrassed Manu Onieva, the regional government and Meliá, there was a political (as well as commercial) necessity to ensure nothing got in its way. Despite the allegations of heel-dragging at Calvia, Meliá's very public display this week will have surely put paid to this. Rodríguez can't possibly allow it for his own sake and for PSOE's.

But this fast-tracking of Magalluf, this continuous rejoicing in and self-congratulation  of transformation sucks big time when you look at the rest of Mallorca's resorts. There are positives, however, and these have to do with town halls which aren't beholden to the handbrake ideologies of the likes of Podemos (or indeed Més). Alcudia is one, for example. This is a town which might be penalised because of the tourism ministry's inability to process certain projects, but others are its own domain. Thankfully.

The apparent bureaucratic hold-ups at the ministry make one wonder what on earth will happen with the tourist tax revenues, assuming that they aren't all ploughed in to environmental conservation and do indeed - some of them - find their way to resorts and to their infrastructure overhauls. Left to the ministry to process them, the re-development fact is that it will probably take a further change in government to make them something more than fiction.

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