Saturday, January 09, 2016

Spinning The Tourist Tax

The Balearic government wishes to promote family tourism and long-stay tourism. We know this because it has just informed us. With the former, it does not wish to jeopardise the vastly increased numbers that have been coming to the Balearics on account of the misfortunes of others. Which sounds sensible enough, until you appreciate the context.

The draft for the sustainable tourism tax will now pass to its parliamentary stage prior to full approval. The government hopes that this process, which it admits can be complicated, will be short enough to enable the tax to come in on 1 June. Tourism minister Biel Barceló seems confident that the bill will be passed by the end of the month. If it is to come into law, then the earlier it does, the better. At least everyone will truly know where they stand and well in time for the season.

But the announcement of amendments that have been made to the initial draft shows how appalling the government's PR for this tax is. Does it not occur to Barceló and others that by providing some spin regarding promoting family and long-stay tourism as justification for certain amendments, it sounds as if these hadn't previously been promoted? Or has the government only just discovered families and longer-stay tourists? Little should surprise us. If the tax is bad, then the PR and spin are even worse. They give the impression, yet again, of a government that is improvising, that has never truly thought through the implications of the tax, that has been driven towards its introduction by issues unrelated to the very subject it is intended to address.

Let's look at some more of this spin. Because family and longer-stay tourism are so important, there is to be a 50% reduction in the tax after ten days. These tourists will doubtless now be thanking the government for its generosity in cutting a tax they weren't previously paying at all. And why ten days? Well, because this is the usually accepted average length of stay, that's why.

At least the government has actually seen some sense in this respect, but while it hints that this reduction is a means of not making the tax too onerous, it cannot be explicit. If it were, and by this logic, there wouldn't be a tax. Likewise, it doesn't wish to unnecessarily penalise those who stay for much longer than the average ten days: a month, for example. Its banal use of examples to make the tax sound all the better rejoices in the fact that a tourist in three-star accommodation on a month's holiday would have paid 45 euros. He or she will instead pay 30 euros. Doesn't sound a lot? Maybe so, but if there are four of you it does. And what, by the way, happened to three-star accommodation having a lower rate? It is now the same as four-star: 1.50 euros per day.

There is even more generosity for the families. The age of exemption has been raised from 14 to 16. Never mind the 17 and 18-year-olds who might still be at school and come on family holidays. But there again, does the government actually know how many 15 and 16-year-olds there are and so how many families might now expect to benefit?

With both these amendments, one can draw comparisons with Catalonia. The initial draft with an exemption for under-14s only had seemed harsh, given that under-16s go free on the Costa Brava. As for the reduction after ten days, there is no charge after seven days in Catalonia. The Balearic government can spin this for all it's worth, but if the comparison is made with its neighbour across the sea, then it looks greedy.

There is some suggestion that these have been amendments that are a sop to the hoteliers. As they could not force any about-turn in thinking on the tax, they had to look to some ways of softening the impact. However, the hoteliers, via the president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, Inma de Benito, are saying that their suggestions on the tax law draft were ignored.

Another change has to do with one of the purposes for the tax. Late in the day during the period for suggestions came one from the agriculture industry. And what do you know? It's been accepted. This will mean some of the revenue goes on the modernisation (whatever this means) of agroforestry. The argument is that the majority (a large majority) of land is for agriculture and forestry and that its upkeep is necessary for the tourist industry as a whole (from an image point of view, for instance), while farming provides much of the raw material for tourist consumption.

The argument may have some merit, but it should not be overlooked that the agriculture (and environment ministry) is run by the same party - Més - as the tourism ministry. This amendment in favour of agriculture and so something that is not directly to do with tourism only helps fuel other arguments that the tax is being implemented for general purposes.

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