Saturday, January 30, 2016

Water And Tourism Overcrowding

If the Balearic government had said that they were introducing a tax for tourists that would go directly on paying for water, would there be the same hue and cry as there currently is (and still to be) with the tourist tax? Maybe there would be, but the message would be an awful lot simpler. Water is a precious resource and it might just be getting scarcer. Thank you, tourist, for coming to Mallorca, but could you help us with getting you showered and ridding you of the sand that has stuck to suntan lotion and the salt that has encrusted your body and hair? Is it too much to ask for such a precious resource?

A water tax would satisfy Biel Barceló's "finalista" usage, though just one specific purpose and not a host of purposes (vague in their definition). No, there wouldn't be a tax for those purposes, but have a water tax and revenue is freed up elsewhere to be spent on agroforestry modernisation and whatever else.

Palma's Antoni Noguera, a councillor (nay, deputy mayor and due to become mayor in 2017) for whom the words sustainable and model are obliged to feature in every single utterance, may well actually have a point. Are over 3,500 new hotel places in Playa de Palma consistent with a model of sustainable tourism? Did anyone, as he has suggested, stop to ask what impact this increase in places and so humanity would have on services? They're sticking some of these 3,500 plus places on top of existing hotels. Common sense demands that a bottom-up approach is taken instead. Can the bottom, water pipes for instance, sustain the top?

It could all be, of course, one of those things - the current lack of water. Or maybe it will prove not to be. The desalination plants are finally going to really come into their own, and someone has to pay for their output. Palma is preparing almost six million euros for desalinated water this year. A tourist water tax, anyone? And if Palma continues to succeed in making itself Europe's all-year destination darling, water becomes ever more of an issue, especially if rain were to remain as limited in its supply as at present. Mallorca, the tourist industry, would not bemoan the absence of a paddle. The creek wouldn't require one.

This all said, the Noguera criticism of these additional hotel places needs to be seen in the context of how the hotel industry has evolved over the past generation. Inma de Benito, the president of the hoteliers' federation, is never slow in bringing forward a killer statistic or several, and so here is one. Since 1989, the increase in the number of hotel places in the whole of Balearics has been in the order of 3%.

This figure can be questioned, and so I will question it. A key report that the Mallorca Chamber of Commerce published in 2003 showed that from 1991 to 2001 the number of hotel places had risen by 11% to 226,000. However, there had also been a 10% drop in the number of places in hotels with some of apartment classification. The overall rise in places, taking these different categories into account, was more like 4%. Since 2001, there has been comparatively little building activity, but the increase in number of places has not been as limited as the federation might like us to believe: there are 3,700 in Playa de Palma that will require an adjustment of the Benito percentage.

Still, the point that Benito is making is that hotel expansion has not been of anything like the same order as that for residential tourism - villas and other accommodation. Its legitimate growth over the same period since 1989 has been 28%. To this can be added all the properties which are not regulated.

Government and hoteliers, Barceló and Benito, are on much the same hymn sheet when it comes to this regulation. Where they principally differ is on the consequences. For Barceló it is one of overcrowding, as much if not more than being unregulated. But this difference in emphasis is important in the argument over resources. Yes, the additional places in Playa de Palma require a response from services, but nothing like to the same degree as the consumption of water from all the additional private accommodation that has been made available.

The thing is that you, as a politician, can choose your targets to suit your cause. Noguera is right, but he's not right. His is the hotel demonisation argument, but the hoteliers are far from being the only devils in the battle for water.

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