Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Critics Of Fitur: Tourist tax

If one looks back to the Madrid Fitur travel and tourism fairs of 2014 and 2015, the main talk then was of optimistic recovery, of new projects and of a generally more positive outlook for the tourism industry, following the years of crisis.

Fairs such as Fitur typically don't make waves. For the Balearics the greatest controversies - if you can call them such - have tended in recent years to be reserved for the parsimonious nature of exhibition stands. Former tourism minister Carlos Delgado made drastic cuts to the spending on fairs - the visual appearance and size of stands in particular - and was criticised for having done so by the likes of Ibiza. The controversies are now of a rather different order: there was no tourist tax looming on the summer season horizon two years ago.

If Biel Barceló, the tourism minister, truly believed that he left the World Travel Market in London last November having heard little criticism of the tourist tax, he couldn't help but hear such criticism in Madrid. He can rebuff this by insisting that opposition is, to use his word, artificial, but audiences in Madrid heard this opposition uttered with plain speaking by Meliá, the Barceló hotel group and the confederation that represents the non-hotel tourist businesses. The criticisms of this latter group are particularly pertinent. The tourist tax means that there might be less spending by tourists, and it will be restaurants, clubs, attractions and others which bear the brunt.

President Armengol chose to home in on the criticisms of Mariano Rajoy. It was irresponsible of him to cause potential harm to Balearic tourism. The fact was that Rajoy didn't specifically mention the tourist tax, while his references to obstacles being erected in front of tourism were equally applicable to administrations such as the ones in Madrid and Barcelona. Armengol may have been right to have pointed to the increase in IVA (VAT) under Rajoy, but as has been said many times, IVA does not generate the same level of interest among tourists. Typically, they will in fact be unaware of it.

There is a further and more important political context to this year's Fitur. It was why King Felipe didn't attend, which he normally would do. He is heavily involved in attempting to sort out some agreement for government, and the very fact of his non-attendance showed just how different Fitur is this year to two years ago. Then, there was some instability with the monarchy, but there wasn't instability on the political front. At the backs of the minds of many of those in Madrid would have been concerns about what might come to pass.

For now, however, everything remains rosy. ABTA has issued its forecasts for the current year, and Spain is going to be booming. Magalluf has been singled out for particular mention in this regard on account of its market repositioning. The boss of Globalia, Juan José Hidalgo, says there will be no free rooms this summer, and he was talking about Mallorca in particular. Things will be getting into full swing earlier as well: in April, Hidalgo believes. Meliá concede that the season could be better than last year. The Piñero group anticipate 5% growth. Not even the Turkish government's significant discounts for airlines this spring are likely to dent Mallorca's prospects.

It is of course what lies beyond this current year which is causing the anxiety. Ongoing instability elsewhere would probably allay much of this, but it remains to be seen how the tourist-consumer reacts not only to the tax but also to increased prices for Mallorca. If things were to stabilise elsewhere - a big if - then governmental intervention in other countries will guarantee dirt cheap prices to go alongside the grand palaces of new hotels.

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