Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Don't Know What To Do: Holiday rentals

It is, you would have to say, a bit rich of the Partido Popular to be criticising the government for not having introduced any new regulation of holiday rentals in the Balearics. This was, after all, the party that spent four years in denial of there being any need for new (or different) regulation. Still, oppositions do what oppositions must do, which is to oppose or to simply make jibes.

The PP was disinclined to liberalise the market. Ideologically, it was curious, given that its instincts are for de-regulation and the free market. But it had a very good reason to be market illiberal, given that its policies were being guided by the hoteliers. We now have the situation whereby a left-wing administration may be considering liberalisation, a consequence in part of its policies not being guided by the hoteliers. However way you look at it, market attitudes and ideologies seem skew-whiff.

If these ideologies could, just for once, be stripped out of the argument, then there might be grounds for believing that some sort of sensible resolution could be arrived at. But these ideologies won't be, and nor will the power of the hoteliers be denied, despite what Alberto Jarabo of Podemos might like to believe. This is frankly a disastrous state of antagonism and of total inability to arrive at anything approximating the mantra of the day (year), i.e. consensus. It is disastrous because Balearic tourism faces a massive problem that cannot and will not be solved by the dominance of one line of argumentation over the other.

The PP's Alvaro Gijón has said that the government, by which he primarily means the tourism-wielding vice-president, Biel Barceló, appears not to know what to do about holiday rental regulation. The fact is that he is almost certainly right: it doesn't know. Had it known, it might at least have had some framework in place for new regulation prior to or around the same time as the introduction of the tourist tax. When such a framework might even be debated is anyone's guess. Yet regulation was at one time deemed necessary by Barceló before the tax came in. How priorities can change in the face of ideology or what might have seemed an easier legislative process, which the tourist tax is proving to be anything but.

The issue of holiday rentals is a huge headache for all administrations in Spain, but it is an especially major one for the Balearics. It did cross my mind that Francina Armengol's warning about not being able to guarantee water supplies this summer was either a deliberate attempt to try and stop people coming to the islands in the vast numbers that are anticipated or was the opening gambit for a whole discussion about the need to limit numbers and how this might be done. Whatever the motive, there has to be recognition of the fact that Mallorca and the other islands are at risk of being swamped to the extent that services can no longer cope. There also has to be recognition of the fact that it hasn't been the hoteliers who have brought this situation about.

While the Balearics face this headache, the politicians manage to invent problems for themselves. The tourist tax is a case in point. A problem has been posed that didn't exist before, so the politicians now have to deal with all the complexities that it raises. The problem of holiday rentals is not one that has been invented. It has always existed, but good regulation never has. Because of the pressures now being added because of P2P, it is absolutely essential that a sensible regulatory solution can be found. In the fractious world of Balearic tourism politics, such a solution will always be difficult, but it might just have proved possible for some consensus to be achieved, even with the hoteliers. The government and the hoteliers do, after all, agree that something needs to be done about private accommodation, even if they are coming at the subject with differing perspectives.

But the tourist tax has created a situation of ever greater loggerheads, and not only where the hoteliers are concerned: the government so-called partners are all over the place. The invented problem and its controversy means that the existing one will never be addressed properly because of the festering sore that is being made: the existing one that is of far greater importance than the tax.

And meanwhile, we have a situation in which Barceló seems to go to ground, just like Carlos Delgado used to when the going got tough. The government doesn't know what to do, which is why it should look to draw on all the support it can. Moreover, if it ever really had a hold of the tourism agenda, it is rapidly losing it.

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