Saturday, February 06, 2016

Hotelier Generosity And The Tourist Tax

So, Mallorca's hoteliers are, out of the goodness of the hearts, to bear the cost of the tourist tax this year. Pull the other one. The announcement, timed to coincide with the Balearic parliament's debate on the draft legislation for the tax, was designed to catch politicians (and others) on the hop. It is quite possible that the Partido Popular knew it was coming and also Ciudadanos, but as for the rest ... .

Once it was made, the announcement then needed some tweaking. It will be down to individual hotels or hotel chains, suggested the president of the federation, Inma de Benito, of whom it might well be asked on what authority she had made the original announcement. FEHM (Federación Empresarial Hotelera de Mallorca), i.e. the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, is a product of its members. These are the associations in all the major tourist areas plus agrotourism and the separate association for hotel chains. Was she speaking for all of them?

Whether she was or wasn't, the fact is that these associations don't necessarily have 100% membership of local hotels or chains. The hoteliers federation does not, therefore, represent all hotel interests, while it certainly doesn't speak for Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. How easy it can be to forget that there are three other islands, each of which is just as affected by the tourist tax as Mallorca.

This all said, was the announcement made because of concerns over lost business this summer because of the tax? No it was not. The federation and leading figures within the hotel industry had already acknowledged that the short-term impact (this year) would be negligible or non-existent. With overbooking a fear rather than loss of business, this was not the motivation. So, what was it?

The introduction of the tax, as has been noted many times, has been confusing. It is still in a state of confusion, ever more so as the legislation goes through its parliamentary process. The announcement, if anything, was designed to increase this confusion. The regional government's tourism ministry said not so long ago that it would be involving tour operators and others in an information campaign regarding the application of the tax. What will this campaign now consist of, assuming there will indeed be some hotels bearing the cost of the tax? For the poor tourist, it will be a message of the tax may be paid on your behalf or it might not be. In fact, it may well be in any event, because of reservation agreements in place.

The federation may, therefore, have been simply adopting a pragmatic approach in recognising that the burden for the tax has to be carried by its members and others. But what it really wants (other than the tax not being introduced at all) is a delay until 2017, an approach that would be wholly pragmatic, which is why the government appears determined not to adopt it. That the PP has proposed an amendment to this effect comes as no surprise at all.

The announcement wasn't a case of putting a spanner in the works but one of taking politicians by surprise. It has been interesting to note that the vocal ones have come from Podemos. Increasingly, where parliament is concerned, the tax seems to be a battle between Podemos and the PP. The actual government is almost irrelevant. It faces potential amendments that it doesn't want, such as to the discount in the low season. Podemos says there shouldn't be one. It is a party that doesn't disguise its hostility either towards the hated hoteliers or to tourists themselves. Tourist a friend? Hardly.

Common sense would dictate that the tax should be delayed for a year, while the government's general tax receipts - those for 2015 and those anticipated for this year - undermine a principal argument it has been making regarding financing. Common sense, however, seems to be in limited supply.

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