Thursday, March 31, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 31 March 2016

Morning high (7.50am): 21.8C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 1 April - Rain, 16C; 2 April - Cloud, sun, 15C; 3 April - Cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 5 occasionally 6 veering West-Northwest 3 to 5 around midday.

Somewhat cloudy start and very warm. Bright later, but cloud returning as tomorrow's forecast has deteriorated again; it is due to be wet.

Evening update (20.45): High of 26.3C. Rain on its way. Let's hope it's not dirty rain. Sahara having been hovering over us, it might be.

Corruption, But It's Our Corruption

The foreign (British) media is all over Mallorca like a rash again. For once this isn't a rash of acute misbehaviour with a dash of herpes and its transmission embedded for all time on social networks. This is a good rash, if there can be such a thing. One that's oozing and gushing eruptions of stardom - Mallorca is the star - rather than the evacuations of the sensationalist superficiality of poisoned skin. Mallorca is the star because the media (some of it) affirms this. Or at least La Fortaleza, an ice-cream in Soller and a restaurant in Deya have attained stardom. It is fortunate that editing should choose to identify locations with subtitles, albeit generically (Mallorca as opposed to, say, Formentor). Useful also that Roper should say that he will soon be back in Mallorca sipping thirty-year-old Scotch. (Not so, Mr. Roper.) His palace will return to the abnormal normality of vast wealth out of the reach of the regular hoi polloi, save for the four days a year when it can be admitted to admire the lawns but not take photos. A star indeed and almost as distant as stars (heavenly ones, rather than those on film).

While Mallorca's star is waxing, there is always someone seeking its waning. From the same media collective comes the stare of an iris and the pressing of keys of a Jonathan Pine spoiler style. Is this coincidental or a determined counterpoint to the love blossoming courtesy of "The Night Manager"? The BBC (James Badcock) has alerted its website readers to the "corruption clean-up" in Majorca (and it is interesting to note that the BBC maintains the J Majorca)*.

Reading this, I felt vaguely defensive. I also took issue. Since when has Majorca had a deputy mayor? Jesus Jurado (Podemos) is a vice-president of the Council of Mallorca. That's that cleared up. Then there are Cristina and Iñaki not daring to use the Marivent as their base during the trial. For the record, the palace is used twice a year. More importantly, Cristina is not entitled to use it anyway. When the old king abdicated, she ceased to be a member of the Royal Family: nothing to do with the trial, just the way that royal protocol would have it - her sister also lost her status. Moreover, does anyone seriously think that the King and the Royal Household would have allowed her and Iñaki anywhere near the Marivent when the foreign media (not only British) is all over the trial like a separate rash?

The defensiveness arose because this was primarily, as the "corruption clean-up" headline words suggested, about Mallorca's corruption cases. It's not that there's an issue with foreign media rummaging around in the island's soiled linen. Just a question - why now? Why now list the roll of dishonour stretching as long and as far back as the Soller Tunnel and coming more up to date with Matas and Iñaki? Was there anyone in the world unaware that the King's sister had briefly appeared before the Palma beakery?

So, the article tells us that a couple of dozen Partido Popular and Unió Mallorquina members are either in or have been in the slammer for corruption. And the point is? It's nothing new. Indeed, so old is it that the Matas investigations date back to late 2007 (earlier, if one accepts that "caso Andratx" in 2006 was the trigger for the whole domino effect that eventually knocked over Matas). Judge Castro first took a keen interest in Nóos and Iñaki as long ago as 2010. 

It needs to be pointed out that nothing new or significant of a corrupt nature has emerged in Mallorca in the recent past. With one potentially major exception, which the article ignored. There could well yet be politicians named and embroiled in the police corruption affair. Otherwise, the likely candidates for filling the courtrooms in the future are linked to the ongoing investigations surrounding Sr. Matas. The PP HQ funding and Son Espases (which might even prove to the daddy of them all) were both Matas family affairs.

The "clean-up" referred to seems to be one driven by the deputy mayor of Majorca (sic) and colleagues in Podemos. That was an implication drawn from the article. While there's no denying the Podemos zeal in this regard, it is convenient to overlook what happened under Bauzá. He should be given some credit for having sought to change the PP and its ethos, even if it wasn't entirely successful. (There are one or two still knocking around; no names mentioned.)

The clean-up is underway and was so under Bauzá. It will move forward with the creation of the Anti-Corruption Office - so long as this doesn't become a dobbers' charter. The past we know about. Yes, it exists in the present of the trials, but it's our corruption. It's being dealt with.


Index for March 2016

Blai Bonet - 28 March 2016
Brexit and attitudes towards expats - 3 March 2016
Camping San Pedro - 23 March 2016
Car parking and beaches - 30 March 2016
Corruption - 31 March 2016
Education pact - 10 March 2016
Esperança Camps - 27 March 2016
Fijo discontinuo - 15 March 2016
Germans, tourist tax and sewage - 11 March 2016
Holiday rentals - 5 March 2016, 12 March 2016
Investiture debate - 4 March 2016, 6 March 2016
Josep Truyol Otero, film pioneer - 21 March 2016
Mallorca tourism model - 24 March 2016
Medical faculty in Mallorca - 2 March 2016
Miquel Ensenyat and German right-wing - 20 March 2016
Puerto Pollensa pedestrianisation - 26 March 2016
Renewable energy in Mallorca - 16 March 2016
Royal texts - 13 March 2016
Senior officials' appointments - 1 March 2016
Slingshot - 14 March 2016
Spain's government - 8 March 2016
Tourism statistics - 22 March 2016
Tourist tax - 9 March 2016, 19 March 2016, 25 March 2016, 29 March 2016
Tramuntana mountains' marketing - 17 March 2016, 18 March 2016
Woolworth in Palma - 7 March 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 March 2016

Morning high (7.34am): 8.4C
Forecast high: 24C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 31 March - Sun, cloud, 24C; 1 April - Sun, cloud, 15C; 2 April - Sun, cloud, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 2 to 4 backing Southeast 4 around midday. Fog in the morning.

Thick fog first thing. When it clears it's going to be pretty warm, with southerlies dominating. The forecast for Friday had picked up somewhat, but the temperature will fall on Friday.

Evening update (20.00): Not shabby once the fog lifted. High of 26.6C.

Mallorca's Car Parking Crisis

Which province of Spain has the highest number of vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants? The interior ministry's department of traffic defines the Balearic Islands as a province, and the answer is the Balearics. The number, according to figures for 2014, is 821. They aren't all cars but the percentage which are exceeds 70%. As a means of comparison, this is a higher percentage of cars than that for Gran Canaria (Las Palmas), Tenerife (Santa Cruz), Malaga and Barcelona.

This first position for the Balearics has remained unchanged for years. In 2001, for instance, the number per 1,000 inhabitants was higher - 901. But the population has increased by more than 200,000 since then. (Crisis also intervened.) For years, therefore, the vehicle population of the Balearic Islands has been the densest in the country.

For the Balearics to have such high vehicle density can seem extraordinary if one thinks back fifty or sixty years. Car ownership was not great. Nor was car choice. Spain's emergence from its basket-case status of the 1950s owed a fair deal to the production of Seats, especially the 600. It may have taken time for car ownership to become massive, but car production and tourism as drivers of Spain's economic "miracle" say a great deal about where that miracle now is and also about their current-day relationship.

Back in the days of the first tourism boom, when cars were relatively scarce, parking was not of any great concern. It may seem that drivers in Mallorca continue to park wherever the fancy takes them, but in those days the fancy mattered little. It is worth bearing in mind that the advance in road use was such that it wasn't until 1976 that traffic management needs suggested that a roundabout might come in useful. And so the first one was created in Palmanova.

But while road layouts and new roads began to become concerns, parking was left in the low gear of the resort layouts of the 1960s and 1970s. There have of course been changes since then - car parking areas have been introduced when once they wouldn't have been deemed necessary - but the basic infrastructures for dealing with cars (their parking) have not kept pace (or anything like it) with the twin growth of tourism and vehicles in use.

On Saturday, when writing about the semi-pedestrianisation scheme in Puerto Pollensa, I concluded by suggesting that car parking was a flaw of the scheme. This was cited in a discussion about the scheme on Facebook. I am certainly not the only one to question this.

Without going into the whys and wherefores of the Puerto Pollensa project, it occurred to me that the issue of parking that it raises is an example of a much wider problem. And it is now a pretty major problem. How does Mallorca reconcile itself to the sheer volume of vehicles that it has? In particular, how is this reconciled with demand from tourists and also residents (and residents are just as important in this) who drive to the beach? 

Last summer there were two highly publicised examples of problems with parking. One was to do with Es Trenc beach. A car park which had been used for years was closed down on the grounds that it was "alegal", a word which suggests that no one is too sure whether it's legal or not and so the powers that be decide to err on the side of it not being legal. A consequence of this was that people looked to go somewhere else. Local businesses reported loss of trade.

The other example was in Playa de Muro and the use of the open ground in the holiday cottage area of Ses Casetes. Security guards were eventually deployed to control the number of cars, which forced ever more drivers to find parking on the main road, where they aren't supposed to park and where it is also quite dangerous if they do. 

With this summer due to bring more numbers than before to the island, then there will be more cars as well. The registered vehicles identified by Tráfico's statistics don't tell the whole picture, because of the hire cars which aren't registered here. And so the pressure for parking is going to be greater still.

There is a plan for there to be some sort of park and ride system for Es Trenc, but will it be sufficient and would it be right for everywhere? Finding somewhere suitable (and legal) to use as a car park is itself problematic, and there are too many rules inhibiting the paving of paradise in order to put up a parking lot. More public transport? But how convenient is that, especially for families hauling the paraphernalia that they do to beaches? Mallorca has a conflict between demand for its beaches and its capacity to make them easily accessible. What's the solution? Is there one?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Committee: Eco-tax by the back door?

If the process by which the tourist tax was finally approved involved delivery after a "labour with some pain" (to quote PSOE's Andreu Alcover), might this newborn have arrived into a world in which relatives will be kicking and screaming over its upbringing? Antenatal experience suggests that this will be so. The omens are not good for this Damien of a tax.

The approval process, as we know, required meetings late into nights in order to resolve matters such as how the revenue would be spent. Agreement of sorts was arrived at. Més had to back down on residences for the elderly. Podemos didn't get its preference for the revenue to be devoted solely to environmental ends (or did it?).

An aspect of the tax's legislation - a fairly key one at that - has not received a great deal of attention. Yet. Now that the legislation has been passed, this aspect will assume far greater significance. It is the committee that is to be formed which will decide how the revenue is to be distributed.

Podemos also didn't get all its own way on revenue distribution. It had wanted it all to be allocated according to a proportional system it had drummed up across the four islands. In the end, it was agreed that 60% of the revenue will be dealt with in this way. Podemos did get its way by persuading the government that there should be our old friend "citizen participation" in deciding projects for the revenue to be spent on. A figure of 30% of the total has been mentioned.

Already, as you can possibly detect, the playing of percentage games is going to make the work of the committee more complicated than it was destined to be because of the numerous purposes on which the revenue can be spent. Didn't someone call this a hodge-podge of a tax? Just wait until the committee gets underway, its calculators at the ready, determining percentages for this or that while participating citizens peer over its collective shoulder. Then we'll really find out about the hodge and the podge.

But before the committee ever first meets, there is the not inconsequential matter of who will be on it. And then a further one: who will be its president or chairman or whatever? The potential for a right old ding-dong arguing over these matters is high.

Included on the committee, we know, will be what, in direct translation, are "social agents". These are organisations, associations and what have you that are not governmental. And Mallorca (and the Balearics) have thousands, possibly millions of them: associations for this or that; platforms for and against whatever; groupings, federations, confederations. There are that many that anything they might wish to decide on together will resemble more than just a camel.

But which ones, do you suppose? Do I hear the hoteliers federation? I might, but others will probably be struck deaf. Good odds, very good odds, should be laid on environmental watchdogs-in-chief, GOB, being on the committee. And it is the likelihood that it will be which begins to make one smell something of a rat scurrying around in verdant undergrowth which requires the attention of conservationists.

Firstly, anything which comes with the "sustainable" adjective, which the tourist tax does (law on the sustainable tourism tax), can easily be interpreted in the environmental sense in which the word is often used. Though the tax is not an eco-tax - as we have been told - the chances that it will end up being exactly that are great. Originally, we were led to believe that environmental purposes were not priorities for the tax revenue. The message has altered significantly. Biel Barceló says that the environment will be a priority, which is reassuring, coming as the message does from the tourism minister.

So, will the committee end up ensuring that the tax is an eco-tax after all? It is its make-up that leads me to wonder if the Podemos desire for 100% environmental purpose has really been consigned to legislative long grass. Podemos kicks up a hell of a fuss about committees, their members and their senior officials. The sustainable tourism tax committee will be no different.

I'm not averse to revenue being spent for environmental purposes, but this isn't the point. We are told, and the legislation states this, that there are the various purposes, such as resort infrastructures and tourism promotion. How much of the revenue will find its way to these other purposes?

Clashes will occur. Firstly over the committee's membership and then over how the revenue is to be spent. Too many fingers want their bits of the pie, and so the scope for argument will be enormous. And ultimately, if the revenue is not spent in line with the various purposes because of how this committee operates, who is there to ensure that it is?

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 March 2016

Morning high (7.56am): 10C
Forecast high: 21C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 30 March - Sun, cloud, 22C; 31 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 1 April - Cloud, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 2 to 4 becoming Variable around midday.

Another fine morning and fine day, with the breezes down. Back end of the week - Friday - is starting to look iffy. Otherwise good.

Evening update (20.30): The breeze picked up and swung round to an old southerly with a typical result - up went the temperature. High of 24.8C.

Monday, March 28, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 March 2016

Morning high (7.06am): 8.9C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 29 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 30 March - Sun, cloud, 21C; 31 March - Sun, cloud, 22C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): West-Southwest 3 to 5.

The moon pretty bright among the early sky, showing the first signs of daybreak. Sunny intervals expected today, though cloud could bank up this afternoon.

Evening update (21.00): High of 23C, so warm but only sporadically sunny. Quite breezy.

The Four Poems Of Easter

"To the bells, love. To the bell towers of joy, entertainer. Yes, I would climb. But you will not climb. Not to the bell towers of joy.
"Heaven, as that of Easter, a gate. His body full of blue blows. And on the chest, with the movement of birds. The white moon, now dead. With a strike of the lance, Blai. That never heals.
"To the bells, love. To the bell towers of joy, entertainer. Yes, I would climb. But you will not climb. Not to the bell towers of joy.
"To the coral of gardens. Love open from pomegranates. How close to the distant bells. In the dawn of jasmine. Doves on the sea. To the sticks, pineapples of paschal candles."

These peculiar verses (even allowing for my less than perfect translation) come from "Pasqua Nova"; New Easter, if you like. It is one of four poems of Easter that were published in 1950, the first works to go into print by a poet and writer with whom you are probably unfamiliar but who is considered to be one of the greats of Mallorcan and Catalan literature. His name is Blai Bonet.

In Santanyi's Casa de Cultura, there is a centre devoted to the contemporary poetry of this son of Santanyi. He was born ninety years ago into what was a family of modest means. At a time when education in Mallorca was limited to say the least, he was, by the age of fifteen, conversant with the works of Virgil, Ovid, Plato and Aristotle. He owed it all to the seminary in Palma that he entered at the age of ten and so quite possibly also to the Marquis Barberà, the owner of the finca where his father worked.

He was to turn his back on the priesthood, suffering in different ways: mentally and physically. He was to live with a lung condition, the result of tuberculosis, while something of an existential crisis when he was still young - only 21 - caused confused attitudes to religion and led him to embark on a career as a writer.

"The Four Poems Of Easter", one of the works he was to write while in a sanatorium for his TB, reflects some of Bonet's struggles. In "Pasqua Nova" he talks to himself, blending curious natural imagery with allusions to Christ on the cross. His references to nature, commentators suggest, were mostly drawn from Santanyi, and not least from the coast and the sea: one of his greatest works, started while he was in the sanatorium, was "El Mar". Fifty years after he had embarked on the writing of this novel, it was made into a film. Agusti Villaronga, the Mallorcan director, described it variously as sordid, illuminating, beautiful, haunting, poetic and full of love for its characters. He also spoke, and Bonet had now been dead for three years (he died in Santanyi), about the attitude to religion, to the riddle of existence and to struggles in confronting death. In essence, and Villaronga could have been talking about "The Four Poems Of Easter" as well, Bonet was constantly fearful of his mortality, the consequence of his illness. He lived his life expecting to die. 

Though celebrated among the ranks of the Catalan literati and though also enjoying a good career, his condition was such that his doctors advised him to settle again in Santanyi (he had been, among other places, in Barcelona and Germany). The climate, it was felt, would be best for him. This was in 1972, and he went into what was a semi-retirement. His work and he himself began to be forgotten, but he was to return in 1987 with a book of poems called "The Young". He received numerous awards, including the Balearic Ramon Llull prize (posthumously in 1998).

The rediscovery of Bonet was to lead critics to place him on a high pedestal indeed. One has compared him with James Joyce in that stylistically he was an innovator in avant-garde literature. There is also the story of how the musician Lou Reed attended an event devoted to Catalan poets that was led by other musicians, Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson, and chose one of these poems to recite himself. Its title is "All Brow" from a collection by Bonet called "Nova York". All Brow was in fact a Panamanian boxer Al Brown, the first Latin American boxer to become a world champion.

Bonet is one of the writers celebrated in the Walking on Words project that has seven routes that combine walking with the life, the times and the works of major names in Mallorca's literature. And in the south-east corner of the island, Santanyi is a town that can boast its own strong literary, cultural and artistic tradition. It was here, on the coast, where Josep Costa Ferrer (Don Pep), painter, caricaturist and writer, was to create Cala d'Or, originally a haven for artists and writers. And it was here where Blai Bonet saw the sea: El Mar.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 March 2016

Morning high (8.39am): 11.2C
Forecast high: 19C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 28 March - Sun, cloud, 20C; 29 March - Sun, cloud, 16C; 30 March - Sun, cloud, 18C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): South 4 switching North during the morning and easing 3 in the afternoon.

Bright, rather breezy morning. All good on the weather front.

Evening update (20.30): Lightly overcast through the day, sunny spells, pleasant enough. High of 21.7C.

Hopes For Esperança Run Out

What is it exactly with female ministers in the Balearic government who are called Camps? Of our ladies of the fields, José Ramón presented us with Joana Maria, seemingly paraded for the sole purpose of entertaining us richly with her malapropisms (among other things) but who in truth was a lamb from the field sent to the eventual slaughter and carnage of JR's trilingual teaching debacle and expected to ministerially supervise something for which, as an estate agent, she wasn't best qualified.

If Joana was the unfortunate victim of Joe Ray's preference for stooges who wouldn't say nay to him, the same can't be said for Esperança of the Camps ilk. Esperança, if you need reminding, and you almost certainly will do because no one's heard a peep out of her (which is part of the problem), secured the rag-tag portfolio of culture, participation and transparency. This ministerial and departmental invention of the Armengol politburo ended up in Esperança's lap partly on account of the government's quota system. This has two elements to it. One is that Més has to have its share of ministerial appointments. The second is that Menorca has to have its representation as well. Esperança is originally from Menorca. Joana was likewise from Menorca, a fact that led her to make numerous trips there on government business, all of which, a judge has decided, were perfectly above board, much to the disgust of her arch enemies, the Teachers' Assembly, which keeps attempting to drag her back into court.

Despite not actually being a politician as such - she had spent years being a political television journalist (in Valencia, which is pertinent) - Esperança was handed the keys to this new ministry, wherever and whatever it was. It was then that the problems started, as things seem to have gone downhill ever since. Not only is it alleged that Esperança hasn't actually done anything, it is also said that she doesn't talk to her senior officials, one of whom she apparently wishes to replace because he isn't political enough. It might be asked how she knows he isn't political enough if she doesn't speak to him.

More concerning for Esperança is the fact that the brother and sisterhood of Més seem to think that she isn't political enough in that she hasn't been issuing decrees mandating the use of Catalan and threatening death or labour camps (sic) to anyone who dares utter a word of Castellano. (The language thing apparently falls under culture and participation and quite possibly transparency as well.) And to make matters worse, the Més-ites (and non-Més-ites) have suddenly realised that Esperança has spent the past forty years or so spending most of her time in Valencia. "She is disconnected from the realities of the Balearics," an unnamed government person has said. Well, that should have been transparent. Shouldn't it?

All of which is causing sweet and friendly Frankie A. a bit of a headache. A cabinet reshuffle is in any event on the cards because the transport minister, Joan Boned (who was part of the Ibiza quota system), isn't a well man and is expected to drop out of frontline politics. But with the rumblings about Esperança starting to make the sound of an imminent volcano, the reshuffle is likely to be more far-reaching. This in itself is adding to Frankie's headache. Might Podemos decide this is the time to leap into the government and snaffle some ministerial jobs?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 March 2016

Morning high (6.56am): 9.7C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 27 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 28 March - Sun, cloud, 18C; 29 March - Sun, cloud, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 4.

As you were yesterday. Chilly, bright start and pretty warm later on with good amounts of sun. Things staying firm into next week.

Evening update (20.30): Good. High of 22.8C.

A Traffic System That's Taken Fifty Years

As Puerto Pollensa's first phase of semi-pedestrianisation heads towards completion - hopefully by 4 May, and yes, there is another phase to come, so be warned - thoughts naturally turn to the traffic system. Well, you would think that the two would be considered together, which they probably have been, but only now has the master plan been unveiled, insofar as it represents anything that hadn't already been said.

They've been talking about the traffic system for as long as they have pedestrianisation, so the two have formed part of the same package and have done so ever since the late 1960s: things move slowly here, we know that. Rather more recently - late 2008 - there was to have been a grand "mobility" plan (i.e. traffic plan) for Puerto Pollensa. The then mayor, Joan Cerdà, said so. And it was to be agreed through "general consensus", something that was seemingly absent when Joan had gone full steam ahead with the original pedestrianisation plan and its lamentable pilot scheme (abandoned after a few weeks).

The mobility plan, the impression was given, was to have been one for the whole of Puerto Pollensa, which sounded reasonable enough. Some time later, still during Joan's reign, a plan was being cobbled together. If I remember rightly, it was the work of a relative (son, nephew or someone or other) of the then town hall delegate for Puerto Pollensa. Questions were asked, as you might have expected. We heard very little more.

And so now to the consultancy company which has apparently been working on mobility since April 2013. Its plan is? Well, basically what we knew. Two-way traffic as far the Llenaire avenue coming from Alcudia and then one-way into the port and up to the yacht club roundabout. (The plan refers to the Plaça Enginyer Gabriel Roca, of which no one has heard but which may or may not be in front of 1919. Who can say for sure? So-called squares with names pop up in every town without anyone having the slightest idea where they are.)

What more do we learn? There will be a speed limit of 40kph coming into Puerto Pollensa as far as the Llenaire avenue, then it'll become 30kph as far as the Paris avenue and then it'll be 20kph up to the Plaça Enginyer Gabriel Roca (let's stick to the yacht club roundabout).

And that is pretty much it. A fine recipe for speeding tickets quite possibly, but within the plan there is very little about parking. It will be on one side of the coast semi-pedestrianised road up to the Paris avenue (which we also knew). But where else will cars park? It still sounds like a flaw in the whole scheme, if parking is pushed further and further from the beach.

Friday, March 25, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 March 2016

Morning high (7.14am): 7.3C
Forecast high: 20C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 26 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 27 March - Sun, cloud, 18C; 28 March - Sun, cloud, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southwest 3 to 4 veering North 2 to 3 during the morning.

Fine, sunny morn and a fairly warm, sunny day beckons. All quite settled for the next few days save for the breezes shifting around and - typical enough for this time of year - being fresh.

Evening update (20.15): Pretty warm. High of 22.8C.

The Missing Millions Of The Eco-Tax

The deed is done, the die is cast. The tourist tax is a reality and it will commence on 1 July. Perhaps they should declare it a fiesta, if the joy displayed in parliament by the victors is any guidance. At least they didn't do the conga this time, as they had when the law of symbols was repealed.

If one is looking for an upside, the fact that the tax will be given a fair crack of the whip this time might be one. The old eco-tax was in existence for a mere eighteen months, of which the final few months were a period when it was condemned awaiting abolition. Though arguments still rage regarding its impact, the time during which it was in existence was too short to come to real conclusions. In 2002 tourism slumped, in 2003 the slump was reversed: the evidence suggested a score draw.

The assumption will be that if there is a change of government in 2019 that finds the PP back in power, the tourist tax will be shown the door in the same way that the eco-tax was ushered out by Jaume Matas's PP government in 2003. This time round there are for sure three whole seasons (2017-2019) plus a truncated one this year with which to assess the impact (damage or success; take your pick).

In revenue terms, had the old tax not been abandoned the Balearics would have coined in some 1,000 million euros of revenue. This was the claim of PSOE deputy Bel Oliver earlier this week. Its abandonment had been a "mistake", she argued. One that has now been reversed. Stated cumulatively, the revenue certainly sounds great; rather greater than the 50 to 80 million per annum which, in terms of overall regional budgeting, isn't huge. Oliver's is a seductive if somewhat simplistic conclusion. The impact of the old tax - in a longitudinal sense - can only be assessed hypothetically.

There is a question that emerges from her statement. In 2007, PSOE returned to government in coalition with the old Unió Mallorquina (UM) and the PSM Mallorcan socialists (who form the bulk of the current-day Més amalgam). Why was the eco-tax not revived then? Two reasons. One was that PSOE was still reeling from the apparent failure of the eco-tax. The other was that Maria Munar of the UM had made clear prior to the 2007 election that there should be no talk of going back to the tax. For all the opprobrium heaped on her since, Munar did speak some sense. She had hoped for a consensual revision of the model of tourism to include all stakeholders: the tax would have prevented this. That this model failed to emerge had at least something to do with the corruption scandals that engulfed the UM, which controlled the tourism ministry.

1,000 million euros collected over a fifteen-year period compares unfavourably with the 2,500 million euros generated in a single year. This is the revenue that tourism provides for the government, and the former president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, Aurelio Vázquez, was reminding everyone of the fact earlier this week. Vázquez, Iberostar's CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that government decisions should be prioritised in favour of increasing competitiveness to the tourism sector. The tax will not do this. It is a "mistake".

Vázquez argued that investment and employment will be undermined in the medium to long-term as a result of the tax. Whether the tax survives until the long-term will depend on the 2019 election. But though Vázquez may be correct in his assessment, investors seem not to currently be deterred by the tax, if the massive investment being lined up by Starwood is anything to go by. It is more the case that bureaucratic obstacles to development are threatening investment.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 March 2016

Morning high (7.28am): 10.7C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 25 March - Sun, cloud, 19C; 26 March - Sun, 16C; 27 March - Sun, cloud, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 5 to 7 easing Variable 2 to 3 during the morning.

Mix of blue and grey first up. Hopefully, quite sunny and fairly warm later as the northerly wind eases. Outlook right through Easter is good.

Evening update (20.30): Good day once the wind dropped. In the sun, quite warm. High of 17.3C.

Mallorca's New Model Tourism

It was over forty years ago. On the ferry to Mykonos I met two girls. There was a gaggle of locals at the harbour. One of them offered us accommodation. When we got there, he showed us a room with two beds. Then he pulled a third bed down from the wall. Three in a room.

I don't suppose that the owner for one moment considered declaring the drachma for tax. Equally, did he give any consideration to insurance, health and safety, overcrowding implications of the room? Who did? Travel was an adventure. Surprise and discovery were constant companions.

This was in 1972. A year later, Mykonos, like Mallorca and everywhere else, was caught up in the oil crisis. It was a watershed. The oil crisis caused a psychological upheaval as much as it did an economic one. For tourism destinations it was a time to cast off childish things, to grow up. Tourism had, until then, been an industry in search of a model. It had happened as opposed to having been designed. Yes, there had been Spain's Stabilisation Plan, one which had decreed the essential need for foreign exchange, with tourism the principal provider. But the rest ... ?

It did of course help that Franco died. The transition, allied to the fallout from the oil crisis, created the means for an assessment, and the analysis was not altogether positive. There was increased wealth, increased employment, but at what costs? Cultures had been left in tatters, a consequence of migration. The environment had been vandalised and abused. Workers had been exploited and left to hunt for building work in winter. Wealth was uneven. Some had grown fat and they were growing fatter with every bulldozing of dunes to make way for coastal development. There's a word for it: Balearisation.

As with Mykonos there were locals who had rooms. No one was bothered with standards and certainly not with tax. But it (and so the renting of private accommodation), as with the environment, culture, workers' rights, were to become key ingredients of democratic government and legislation. A model of tourism, a coherent one, was supposedly being created, one that also took account of the massive vulnerability that the oil crisis had exposed: a dependency on foreign tour operators.

If one comes forward to today, what has changed? Whatever is said to the contrary, environmental controls are great. The abuses of the 1960s and 1970s cannot happen again. The restoration of culture has been a triumph. But the model has failed to address the rest. Indeed, over the decades the model has made more acute the inherent vulnerability of the economy. It became a case of dependency on tourism per se and not just on the providers of this tourism.

Accommodation, issues of overcrowding, seasonality, pay and conditions; there is nothing essentially new about any of them. A novelty now lies with a style of politics, one antagonistic to the diktats of Big Tourism. The new model that is alluded to by the likes of Biel Barceló is one of empowerment of the islands and control of their tourism affairs, but they said this after the oil crisis without the aid of eco-nationalist, left-wing politicians.

It is a model to generate wider distribution of wealth, to eat into harmful seasonality, to create increased job security and higher wages. It is a model to also bring about greater diversification of the economy, and so is a model that is laudable in each and every one of its aims. But.

Tourism has created its own unstoppable realities, such as pleasure domes unrecognisable to a time traveller from the 1970s. It provides a parallel universe of human occupation in the lands that it craves, such as Mallorca: it is the most peculiar of industries. But it is a global one, some players in which are Mallorcan. No island is an island in the global tourism market. Yet Mallorcan politicians - some of them - appear to believe that it is. They take aim at the hoteliers in espousing the new model, while avoiding the real global powers: the same ones of the oil crisis.

Much as there is talk of a new model, they can't define it. Which is why there is a grand debate with the aim of working out what it is and what it will mean, for example, for the chap with his room (apartment) to rent out. It is a model that demands sophisticated analysis. Tourism itself has advanced massively in terms of its sophistication, but the politicians don't all give the same impression. They prefer insults and triumphalism, as in having pulled off the tourist tax to the fury of most of the industry.

To achieve this model, though, requires making all players part of the design and the solutions not perceived destroyers and villains. If they are, then finally there might be a true model of tourism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 March 2016

Morning high (7.11am): 12.2C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 24 March - Sun, cloud, 15C; 25 March - Sun, cloud, 13C; 26 March - Sun, cloud, 17C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 3 to 5.

Seems like a reasonable morning. Plenty of pale blue sky early on. Forecast is decent enough and staying so into the Easter weekend.

Evening update (20.30): High of 18.6C. Decent day, quite sunny. 

The Death Sentence Of San Pedro

If you happen to be a tourist wanting to have a camping holiday in Mallorca, it is quite possible that when consulting Google you will find links to camping in Colonia Sant Pere, the small resort in Arta on the bay of Alcudia. There will be only two things misleading about information that these links may provide. Firstly, it isn't camping. Secondly, it has been closed for years.

As is well known, there is no such thing as an official tourist camping site in Mallorca. Camping San Pedro, for which you will indeed find references which suggest it is still in operation, always had a misleading name. There was no camping under canvas. Instead, there were a number of small bungalows - 88 (28.5 square metres in size) - on a complex of 23,000 square metres with a swimming-pool, a restaurant, a snack bar and a couple of tennis courts. To give an idea as to what 23,000 square metres represent, think of three football pitches next to each other and you won't be far off.

The complex has been closed since 2003 and in 2006 the Council of Mallorca opened proceedings on the grounds that it constituted an infraction of urban planning and that the bungalows were illegal and could not be legalised. These proceedings sought the demolition of the bungalows. An appeal was filed by the owners, UPA S.A., which in July 2012 was dismissed by what is effectively the cabinet at the Council of Mallorca.

Since then and also of course for several years prior, the complex has descended into a state of abandonment and degradation. It now offers a pretty sorry sight in a gentle little resort that really could have done without the controversy, but the end of the complex is still seemingly nowhere in sight. The demolition order has been dragged through the courts and continues to be dragged through them.

The background to all this is, suffice to say, incredibly complicated. Here, as is often the case in Mallorca, is an example of a collision of different and changing administrations and different legal interpretations. One of the odder aspects of the interest of the courts in the affair was that in 2011 the Balearic High Court slashed a penalty on the owners that had originally been set at 900,000 euros to just over 17,000. The owners were to then place their own compensation claim against the regional government (and so not the Council of Mallorca) of more than three million euros for damages suffered over many years.

The decision of the High Court was clearly favourable where the owners were concerned, but it didn't remove the demolition demand initiated by the Council (and so not the government), while it was being said that the tourism ministry, i.e. the government, had on three occasions - in 1994, 1999 and 2004 - determined that the bungalows were authorised or authorisable. How absurdly complex and contradictory opinion can be. There was the ministry apparently saying authorised or authorisable and the Council of Mallorca saying illegal or not legalisable.

It is mind-boggling attempting to get the bottom of the affair but essentially it seems to centre on the fact that the bungalows were deemed to be permanent structures when they are in fact prefabs which, it is argued, are dismountable and removable. Moreover, the bungalows weren't originally prefabs with concrete. They were wood, but it was the tourism ministry which instructed the change to prefabs. So, if the ministry had said this, then what was the problem? Well, then there was an issue as to how easily movable they might be, and so the arguments went on and on.

But over and above the legal argument and the apparent discrepancies between the government and the Council, there was the political angle. It is claimed that the whole business was directed by one party - the United Left-Greens in Arta, which had denounced the prefab work at the end of the last century. Move forward some years to 2013 and there was a slightly different political element agitating for demolition - the Iniciativa Verds (Greens) in Arta and the co-ordinator of the Iniciativa Verds in Mallorca, i.e. David Abril, now eco-warrior-in-chief with Més.

Supporters of the complex maintain that a great injustice has been done and that there had been a petition signed by more than 1,500 local businesspeople, residents and holidaymakers demanding that the San Pedro be allowed to continue. But that support may well have ebbed, given the ongoing deterioration of the complex.

There's demolition and there's demolition. Sometimes it's necessary because of flagrant abuses or obsolescence, but it can also seem punitive. In effect, a death sentence was placed on San Pedro. But what harm was it ever really doing? A relaxing holiday village with small bungalows and nothing obtrusive. What seems like political vandalism condemned it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 March 2016

Morning high (7.03am): 12.9C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 23 March - Sun, cloud, 16C; 24 March - Sun, cloud, 15C; 25 March - Sun, cloud, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 4 to 5 occasionally 6 during the morning.

Grey old morning. Showers possible this morning. Fairly breezy with a keen northerly. Better from tomorrow.

Evening update (20.30): Not a lot of sun action. High of 17.3C.

Improving The World's Best Tourism Statistics

Spain has the best tourism statistics system in the world. If true, then many of you will be wondering how bad other countries' systems are. This best status is claimed by Manuel Figuerola, the director of tourism doctorate studies at the Antonio de Nebrija University in Madrid. In giving an indication of other countries' systems, he suggests that it isn't that they don't know how to go about obtaining statistics, just that they don't give the same weight that Spain does to the measurement of tourism activity in evaluating total economic performance. For a country whose economic rebirth in the 1960s was founded on tourism, this is not perhaps surprising.

Though Sr. Figuerola praises the stats, he is not getting carried away. There is a great deal of information and data but not a corresponding level of knowledge as to what the stats mean. It is why he is proposing changes.

We are bombarded with this stuff. Tourist arrivals, passenger numbers at the airport, tourist spending, hotel occupancy, the occupancy of the "extra-hotel" sector (the legitimate one), occupancy of the less than legitimate sector, the number of overnight stays, percentage increases or decreases of all sorts of indicators compared with the year or years before or with the previous month or quarter. It was big data before anyone had come up with the term big data: big because there is so much of it. But big doesn't always mean good. Just because there might be a ten per cent rise in whatever, without context and explanation (knowledge), the information is largely meaningless.

Taken at face value the reports of growth, as shown by statistics, are automatically assumed to be a "good thing", something to be shouted out and styled with clichés of booms, bonanzas, historic records and what have you. Some of this may well be a good thing, but to arrive at a true appreciation of how good (or less than good) it may be, something more than the superficiality of the figures themselves is required.

The tourism stats that are produced, as I've explained previously, are driven by Bank of Spain requirements. It is the body which comes up with balance of payments information, and tourism is a key ingredient in this. Consequently, the system of statistics is directed at providing global macroeconomic data, and herein lies the fundamental fault with the reporting of tourism statistical information. It is reporting of something that can never be anything more than indicative. And Sr. Figuerola recognises this. It is why he wants to move towards a system that is far more specific: the impact of tourism on the economy, employment and environment at the local level. By this, he means individual municipalities. By extension, this means individual resorts.

Such an approach will doubtless resonate with many of you. The quoting of global statistics can all too often appear at variance with realities: those of specific resorts. This may invite a question as to why there hasn't been greater attention paid to a more micro approach, but if the macro level is all that has been of concern, then it is perhaps understandable. Or maybe there has been a wish not to know. It's better to have the global figures than worry too much about how types of accommodation and board, predominant tourist profiles, environmental and infrastructure sufficiencies or deficiencies might give very different information. And if the objective, as Sr. Figuerola is suggesting, is to end up with comparative tourism competitiveness data by municipality, there may be some municipalities which might prefer to still not know.

The fact is that they should know and be eager to find out. And the same applies for Mallorca as a whole. But to arrive at a far more meaningful system will require a change in how statistics are gathered and probably greater expense, though not vastly greater. At present, the statistics that we are presented with come via national government in the form of the National Statistics Institute (INE). The regions, such as the Balearics, have their own systems as well, though their information is rarely given as much prominence as those from the INE. And it, the INE, has come in for criticism since it assumed control of statistical reports for tourism spend, arrivals and so on from the national tourism agency, Turespaña.

In the Canaries, the government there took great exception to INE data which suggested January arrivals were almost 100,000 fewer than what the Canaries Institute of Statistics had calculated. That was a substantial difference. And if the local information was accurate, then it draws into question the role of a national body such as the INE, thus lending weight to the Figuerola proposal. This would require far more emphasis being placed on local organisations which are in a better position to arrive at the type of statistics which might give a truer picture of tourism.

Monday, March 21, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 March 2016

Morning high (7.24am): 12C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 22 March - Cloud, 15C; 23 March - Sun, cloud, 14C; 24 March - Sun, cloud, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northeast 4.

Bright start though there may be showers later. Tomorrow isn't looking too good but the forecast for the rest of the week has improved, with sunnier weather due from Wednesday.

Evening update (20.45): Turned out average. High of 17.2C.

The Burnt Image: Mallorca's cinema pioneer

There is a learned journal called "Artigrama" that is published by the University of Zaragoza. Fifteen years ago it contained an article entitled "Alternative Itineraries". These were for the Spanish possessions in north Africa - Ceuta and Melilla - the Canaries and the Balearics. The theme of the article was film and cinema and specifically its history.

The title hinted at something which wasn't really explored in the article: itineraries, as in tourist trips, based on film and cinema. There is a wealth of potential in Majorca for such itineraries, yet it remains largely untapped. Calvia, to its credit, is one municipality to have established a route based on locations used within its boundaries. Otherwise, the visitor is left somewhat to his or her own devices, eagerly hunting for the likes of Formentor's La Fortelesa, one of the principal stars of the property porn extravaganza that is "The Night Manager". When this enormously expensive estate isn't sending social networks into meltdown, then it is the sight of an unclad Tom Hiddleston (as well as, one might add, a similarly unclad Elizabeth Debicki).

Current film is of course light years away from what it once was. Which brings one back to the itineraries alluded to in that article's title and to one of the names to whom the article gives prominence. The Tramuntana mountain range and its coastline has long been the subject of interest for those with film cameras. While the current day has revealed the likes of Cala Deya or Sa Calobra, back in the day they were filming Soller. And there's one short film in particular.

A relic of cinema history from black-and-white days in 1913 is bound to be described as having "grainy" footage, as cliché demands that this is how it should be described. The Soller film to which I refer, as does the article, is one part of what was entitled "De Palma al Puerto Soller". It is a film of the inauguration of the tram (it can be found on YouTube). One sees gentlemen in their finery climbing aboard the tram, ladies in their finery - white outfits with white hats - children running in front of the tram. What is in a way remarkable about this film is that everything is so recognisable: the track as it makes its way from the station through the town and then on its way to the port.

The film was shot by one Josep Truyol Otero, who can claim to having been one of the pioneers of Mallorcan film if not the pioneer. The tram film was in fact contained within a two-part series with the overall title of "Excursiones por Mallorca". Here were the itineraries, the excursions on the island that Truyol filmed. One was solely about Palma, the other was the trip to Soller and the port.

Truyol, born in 1868, was a photographer. He moved to Barcelona aged nineteen and established a studio there. Some years later, 1900 to be precise, he went to the  Exposition Universelle in Paris. At this world fair, he was introduced to the cinema. Three years later, and back in Mallorca, he opened the "Cinematógrafo Truyol". This was where the gardens of Hort del Rei now are, an area of Palma that was to the fore of entertainment around the turn of the twentieth century. This was where the wooden circus building had stood and where, in 1902, the Lyric Theatre (Teatro Lírico) opened.

The Lyric did show the occasional film, but Truyol's establishment was the first true cinema in Mallorca. Unfortunately for Truyol, the owner of the Lyric - Josep Tous Ferrer, something of a media mogul of the era - was to concentrate on films. In 1910, being undercut by the prices at the Lyric, Truyol's cinema closed. He faced financial ruin but in a way it was the making of him. While Tous Ferrer was to oversee more elaborate documentaries showing the wonders of Mallorca, Truyol was dabbling in film technique - double exposure, multiple imaging. The 1913 series was alas to be the pinnacle of his achievement.

He was persuaded to exhibit his films abroad. This proved to be a mistake. Further financial problems were to dog him. His last film work, it is believed, was in 1919. But frustrated and disappointed, he was to set fire to almost all the films he had. The film of the tram's inauguration survived. He continued working as a photographer and died in 1949, never having achieved his ambitions as a film maker.

His contribution to Mallorca's cinema was all but forgotten and so was he. But a few years ago this contribution was recognised. A documentary was made. Its title, poignantly enough, was "La imatge cremada": the burnt image.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 March 2016

Morning high (7.49am): 12.2C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 21 March - Cloud, 16C; 22 March - Cloud, 13C; 23 March - Cloud, sun, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3 becoming South in the afternoon.

Rain around but not heavy. Expected to clear for the afternoon, but rain looks possible during much of the week with the forecast suggesting an improvement on Good Friday.

Evening update (20.30); Sun didn't really show until late on. Mild day. High of 18.5C.

Mick And The Illegal Refugees

The Banbury Boy, Mick of the Consell, has been receiving plaudits. Allow me if I may to quote from Joan Riera writing in "Ultima Hora". "Miquel Ensenyat is becoming a rising star within the Balearic left. In a few months he has achieved extraordinary success by uniting all the left that governs the island institution ... He is demonstrating empathy and leadership skills that might even create jealousy within his own party." Joan was thus issuing a warning while at the same time praising Mick for soaring above the "mediocrity that is the norm in a land like Mallorca". More than anything he has achieved what the mediocrity of the regional government has been unable to. At the Council of Mallorca there aren't the interminable squabbles that are the consequence of a PSOE-Més-Podemos ménage à trois.

It isn't perhaps all that surprising. Unlike for the government, when the negotiations were taking place to decide who should be president of the Council, there was an absence of posturing and thinly veiled threats. Mick emerged as the Més president in harmony with his vice-presidents, Francesc Miralles (PSOE) and Jesús Jurado of Podemos. Consensus and dialogue may not extend as far as the Partido Popular, as one its spokespeople said last week, but when it comes to the comrades Mick is all ears.

It was all the more unfortunate, therefore, that this ringing endorsement of Mick's ability to govern in alliance with something that doesn't resemble a primary school playground should run up against dark forces of the German right-wing. Mick will now be issuing instructions that someone takes a good look at Google before attending symposia on the progressive development of international law with certain Germans.

What happened, you see, was that the week before last there was a symposium on this subject that took place in Palma. There was a nice photo of participants which showed Mick next to a dapper chap dressed all in black. Which might seem rather appropriate. He was Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider. Among other things, Karl Albrecht is an expert on "secessionist processes", which in good Mallorcan left-wing nationalist terms - which Mick is - means the likes of Catalonia becoming independent. However, Karl Albrecht has also associated himself with the likes of the AfD, Alternative für Deutschland. If you are unaware of what it stands for, then Karl Albrecht's views on immigration might provide a clue. He said recently that refugees have no right to enter Germany. They are illegals.

Apart from inadvertently having found himself photographed next to a voice that edges to the far of the German right-wing, Mick was also next to someone whose views on refugees are totally opposed to those of Mick, who has of course been needing to explain why he went to Chios on a fact-finding mission as part of the process of handing over Council aid for refugees.

When this all came to light last week, there were mutterings of it having been a "desastre" for Mick. Some of the jealous ones might well have been pleased.

Oh well, even the most empathetic of leaders can have their off days. Put it down to experience.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 March 2016

Morning high (7.35am): 11C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 20 March - Cloud, sun, 15C; 21 March - Cloud, sun, 14C; 22 March - Rain, 13C.

A fine, bright morning with a good deal of sun expected later.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Southeast 2 to 3 increasing 4 during the morning.

Evening update (20.15): Pleasant enough and warm enough - at a high of 18.7C - but the sun vied with a good deal of cloud.

The Hodge-Podge Of A Tax

So, now we know that the tourist tax will be introduced from 1 July. Any advance on 1 May? Do I hear 1 June? Sold to the man with 1 July. At least some common sense has prevailed. If you have any thoughts of practicality in mind, you do not pass legislation and expect tax collection to begin almost a month later. Not, it has to be said, that practicality enters into the equation. The pathetic squabbling of this government and its "partner" Podemos over how the revenue is to be spent totally ignores the practicalities of how the revenue is supposed to be collected.

Only the hoteliers seem to know about collection. Inma Benito said at the Berlin fair that the hotels were resigned to having to collect it. "To do anything else would be to break the law." But go ask villa agencies and see if they know. The hotels, one also understands, will not now be bearing the cost of the tax. Or at least this seems to no longer be hotelier federation policy. Individual hotel chains may decide to, but that would be up to them.

Justifications for the tax have once more been parroted by the politicians. Biel Barceló observes that tourist taxes exist in many European countries. True, they do, but most are city taxes and not global ones. But where they do exist, their purpose tends to be, as is the case with hotel stay taxes in Germany or Rome, to add revenue to assist in paying for services and resources. My own view of the tourist tax, long held, is that justification can be made (in fact should be made) for tourists contributing to the cost of water, sewage and other vital services. But such a practical application warrants no consideration in the Balearics. The tax is a tax and now let's look for all sorts of spurious reasons to spend it.

Then there is the cost that the tourist will have to bear. It is a "small" one the politicians consistently inform us. In terms of the overall price of a holiday, it is. But the Balearic tax is not as small as some others. The regional politicians are greedy. They should look across the sea at Catalonia, where the rates are more moderate and where the tax ceases to be paid after seven days. This won't be the case here; only that a 50% reduction is to be applied after ten days. Greed.

What Barceló and others seem totally incapable of understanding is that they should take it as a compliment that a Balearic tax should arouse as much debate and scrutiny as it does. Catalonia's did not create anything like the same level of intense discussion. Why? Because the Costa Brava is not Mallorca. The island attracts attention, especially among the British and Germans, like nowhere else.

The arguments over the allocation of revenue - a cart before horse state of affairs if ever there was one - are most unlikely to cease now that the government has arrived at some form of compromise with Podemos. As Alvaro Gijón of the PP has intimated, the decisions on geographical distribution and the remaining 40% of revenue not included in this will probably lead to unseemly lobbying by municipalities to get their fingers in the pie. And let's guess which two might be leading the way. Gijón should know about one: he used to be the deputy mayor. No prizes for guessing the other.

The PP had been suggesting that they might see the government in court over the tax. They won't be. But the party remains dead against it. If it is returned to power in 2019, then the tax will doubtless go, just as it did when Jaume Matas won in 2003. The tax is a political tax, and everyone knows it is, one hewn from ideology, as Inma Benito suggests. The former minister for public administration, the PP's José Manuel Lafuente referred to the tax as a "hodge-podge" after Tuesday's parliamentary committee session. How right he is.

Friday, March 18, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 March 2016

Morning high (6.43am): 10.6C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 19 March - Sun, cloud, 16C; 20 March - Cloud, sun, 14C; 21 March - Cloud, sun, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 2 to 3.

Cloudy first thing but expected to be reasonably sunny later. Tomorrow similar but the first day of spring (Sunday) could well see some rain.

Marketing Personality: Palma and the mountains

There was a bit of a rumpus at the Berlin ITB travel fair. It was to do with a logo, the one for the Maldives, official partner of the 2016 fair. Was it familiar? Was it rather like the logo used for Spain by Turespaña, the one that the painter Joan Miró had designed all those years ago?

Well, perhaps there was some similarity in the image of the sun, though whether it was a conscious attempt at imitation would be impossible to say. What one can say is that the Maldives' logo lacks the distinctive Miró flavour. Similar maybe but not the discernible style that characterised much of Miró's work.

The Turespaña logo dates from 1984, the year after Miró died. It is a logo that is one of the most recognisable graphic displays of branding in the tourism world. In terms of recognition, it is right up there with New York. While Miró may not be to everyone's taste, there is no denying the unique quality of the logo and of so much of his oeuvre. It is unmistakably Miró and it is for this reason that the logo has acquired such a reputation. It is different. It stands out. It makes a statement. It also captures the essence of culture - art in this instance - and of what Spain represents for so many, the sun. As a logo, it does more or less everything a logo should do.

This was not the first time that Miró had designed a logo for tourism. In the early 1970s he donated one to the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board. The Sol de Mallorca should arguably now be as famous and as recognised as the Spanish sun. Perhaps they thought there would be confusion by having two Miró logos. Perhaps it was because the newly formed regional government wanted, from 1983, to have its own logo. Whatever the reason, the Sol de Mallorca ceased to be the abiding image for the island's tourism. There has not been a good one ever since.

A logo is only as good as what supports it and what it represents. If a destination lacks substance, strong attributes and messages, then a logo on its own achieves comparatively little. A strong logo isn't always necessary, though. Palma, for example, is doing fine without having one.

In Palma's case, it is the substance and the marketing of its virtues which are proving to be the bedrock for the city's current success. And one of these is Miró. Of the three giants of twentieth century Spanish art, Miró didn't cultivate fame and notoriety in the way that Dali and Picasso did. For this reason, his name is not as strong on a global stage. But it is strong enough, and precisely because he was an altogether more humble man, it can be argued that there was and is greater substance to him. He didn't need the extravagances of publicity to declare his genius.

Miró, the man, his work and his personality have become something of a marketing concept for Palma. It makes very good sense that he should be, as does the apparent closeness between the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation and the city in using this personality. To promote a city of culture, then who better to do so than an artist with such a strong association with the city and who bequeathed to it the buildings which combine to provide the Miró museum.

Mallorca has had a thing with using individuals for promotional purposes in the past, though this hasn't necessarily been terribly successful. Michael Douglas was arguably one of the more successful, but a weakness of the approach has been to use personalities whose associations are relatively superficial. This cannot be said of Miró. His Palma roots were and are deep.

When writing yesterday's article about the Tramuntana, I had thought about this use of personality. Reflecting on Palma's 365 marketing, Miró as some sort of figurehead is ideal. But Palma's marketing is, as observed yesterday, in a totally different league to that of the Tramuntana. It is heading towards a peak of excellence, while the Tramuntana's has yet to even aspire to make base camp.

If there were to be a personality for the Tramuntana, who would it be? Who, for a global audience, has the substance that Miró has for Palma? There are few candidates. Not Ramon Llull because the world doesn't know him. Not the Archduke Louis Salvador because only German speakers are aware of him. Chopin (and George Sand)? No. A three-month only residence disqualifies both as does the dislike that they expressed for Mallorca. Which leaves?

Someone with a deep association with the mountains and affinity with the culture. Someone whose name goes around the world. Someone who assisted in even better known personalities coming to Mallorca - Ava Gardner, Orson Welles and others. Robert Graves is that someone.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 March 2016

Morning high (7.05am): 8.3C
Forecast high: 14C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 18 March - Sun, cloud, 15C; 19 March - Cloud, sun, 14C; 20 March - Sun, cloud, 15C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Variable 2 to 3 increasing Northwest 4 during the morning.

A fine start though there is a slight risk of rain this morning. Should be sunny later. Tomorrow's looking fair, though we're still in the midst of an up-and-down phase and not particularly warm.

Evening update (20.15):E Some sun, some cloud. Nowt special. High of 16C.

The Tramuntana: The Confusion Continues

Nine months ago, I wrote an article with the byline "tourism confusion". It was about the Tramuntana mountains and their promotion for tourism purposes. In that article I wondered about the organisation of the Tramuntana. Had there been a lack of political will? Had there been difficulties of co-ordination? Or was the whole management of the mountains within a tourism framework suffering from the lack of a clear vision as to what is wanted from the Tramuntana?

I suggested that a change in the political landscape might bring with it a more sympathetic attitude but that there would remain the question as to what the vision actually was. Well, that political change appears to have made very little difference. Mallorca has a marvellous asset and public institutions still apparently incapable of appreciating just how marvellous and of making this marvel known.

At the most recent Council of Mallorca full session was an item about the Tramuntana. Antoni Serra Comas, a Partido Popular councillor, said that the consortium which supposedly oversees the promotional development of the mountains was "in a state of total paralysis". He said that the regional government needed to figure out "what type of management model there should be for promoting the Tramuntana".

Comas was immediately identifying a structural problem. Which institution actually has overall responsibility? The Council of Mallorca has a great deal and will doubtless assume more once tourism promotion responsibilities are fully devolved to it. So why might the regional government need to be involved? Well, a reason is that the consortium to which Comas was referring - Consorcio Sierra de Tramuntana Patrimonio Mundial, to give it its full title - falls under the auspices of the ministry for the presidency: President Armengol of the regional government, that is.

On the government's website, it still names Bartomeu Deyà as being the head of this consortium. In fact, as Comas alluded to, he ceased to be its director last October. Since then, as I'm led to believe, there has been an executive looking after the shop. But no replacement as director has been found, despite, so I understand, one notable approach having been made.

There are those, it has been said to me, who were not totally enamoured of Deyà's performance. This is not for me comment on, but he came to the role with fifteen years of experience as manager of the Fomento del Turismo (Mallorca Tourist Board). He must have had something about him and more than just the fact that he was a Partido Popular appointment: one made by the former president of the Council, Maria Salom. Yes, a Council of Mallorca appointment, raising again the issue of institutional responsibility.

The governing board of the consortium has, since it was formed in 2011, had the president of the Council of Mallorca as its president. It is now Miquel Ensenyat. The vice-president is from the Council, which provides other members, as does the regional government. Plus there are observers from political parties that don't form the administrations at government and Council levels. Oh, and there are representatives from each of the Tramuntana municipalities on the consortium as well, most of whom will be new because of changes following the elections last May.

The apparent institutional confusion may well be a reason why the consortium seems to have been largely ineffective. Another is the lack of continuity. Political changes are to be expected, but it doesn't follow that these automatically have to lead to senior officials also changing. A good example of this is the Palma 365 Foundation. Pedro Homar has remained in place. He said in a recent interview that political change in Palma had made no difference to his job or to the work of Palma 365. The commitment was as it was under the PP. Indeed, it might be said to be greater.

This foundation and the Tramuntana consortium are designed to promote two key projects for promoting alternative forms of tourism for Mallorca: Palma all year and the mountains and all they have to offer. The consortium does have to abide by Unesco rules, so it does have an outside influence that Palma doesn't. But this shouldn't be an excuse for the great contrast in developments since both were formed.

They have been in existence for roughly the same length of time. While Palma goes from strength to strength, the Tramuntana is stuck in a state of paralysis, as Comas calls it. But there is one very major difference between the two bodies. Palma 365 has enormous private sector support. The mountains do not.

With Palma 365, the likes of TUI have worked closely in developing and rolling out the strategy. The Tramuntana could benefit from the same. Instead there are all sorts of public institutions and representatives who are involved in getting the strategy nowhere. Comas is right. A new management model is needed. The question is - who takes the decision?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 March 2016

Morning high (6.49am): 10.3C
Forecast high: 17C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 17 March - Cloud, sun, 14C; 18 March - Cloud, sun, 13C; 19 March - Sun, cloud, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): Northwest 3 to 4 easing Variable 2 to 3 during the morning.

Cloudy start, some sunny spells but possible showers by the late afternoon.

The Renewables' Absurdity Of Mallorca

Will Mallorca and the Balearics ever have a significant proportion of the islands' energy needs provided by renewable sources? Here are islands with a great deal of sun and a fair old amount of wind, to say nothing of waves and biomass. Of these, it is the former that should be heading the list of renewables. Should be, but when? Ever?

Depending on which figure you want to take, the percentage of renewable energy production in the Balearics is either around two or three per cent. The difference in the figure is immaterial. Either is pitifully low, and to give an indication as to just how low, one only has to consider a region like La Rioja. Stuck away on the northern mainland, it can manage to supply 80% of its energy needs from renewables. One imagines that this isn't being generated by converting surplus stocks of wine.

The Balearics is not alone in having enormous dependence on conventional sources of energy. The figures can again be quibbled over, but in the Canaries information from those islands' regional government puts renewable supply at around 10% of megawatts in 2011. There are those who would argue that it as low as 5%. Either way, it's more than the Balearics.

Both the Balearics and the Canaries are way behind the national average. La Rioja might be said to skew the figure of 30% green energy, but there again La Rioja isn't a big region. The national thirty per cent is at least ten times more than the Balearics. The situation here, as in the Canaries, is a total absurdity.

Just how absurd this situation is becoming can be determined from arguments surrounding the creation of two giant photovoltaic plants in Mallorca: one in Manacor and the other in Llucmajor. To the fore of the arguments against, almost unbelievably, are environmental pressure groups, such as GOB. It's not as though they are against solar energy - quite the contrary: they are expressing their opposition on the grounds of energy sovereignty. In other words, they don't want private investors reaping fat rewards from investment in plant and the energy companies controlling and charging for the supply. Laudable though this stance might be in seeking to retain control of natural sources of energy and to guarantee its cheap consumption, it isn't particularly realistic. If there were to be true and full energy sovereignty, derived from some form of co-operative mechanism and the public sector, then the chances of there being significant supply between now and climate change apocalypse are probably only slightly better than zero.

To further add to the absurdity, we have the situation being caused by stasis at national government. It is currently an acting government. It is not, therefore, making decisions or starting projects of an important nature, and one of these projects is firmly to do with solar and especially in the Balearics.

The ministry for energy and industry, which just so happens to be combined with tourism and is presided over by the Canaries PP politician, José Manuel Soria (he who has been so wedded to oil exploration off both archipelagos), should by now have set in motion procedures for an auction of solar energy. The government in fact passed a decree commanding this two years. Nothing is happening because the ministry, as with other ministries, is in acting mode, waiting to find out what is going to happen with the next government. This auction is meant to fund a first phase of solar energy production and supply in the Balearics. Because it isn't happening, various photovoltaic projects are on hold. GOB and the others have nothing to fear just at the moment. The 60 million euros investment in the Manacor solar park is on ice along with another 40 million or so euros of investment, included in which is a project to which I have previously referred on more than one occasion: one of around 16 million euros for a photovoltaic plant by the power station in Alcudia (which produces much of the islands' electricity). It would be capable of supplying the equivalent of the total normal population of Alcudia.

The delay in the auction may be considered to be just that: a delay. A new government, especially one with stronger environmental principles than the PP, might be expected to move rapidly towards a renewables policy. But would it and how might it be able to if the likes of GOB have their way in insisting on public sector control? The fear in the Balearics is that the projects currently on hold might not be realised at all, thus dashing ambitions (stated ones) of a minimum 20% renewables supply by 2020. And time to meet those ambitions is rapidly running out.

Sun and wind. You wouldn't think it would be proving to be so difficult. But it is. The 2020 20% is a pipe dream.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 March 2016

Morning high (6.54am): 7.3C
Forecast high: 16C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 16 March - Cloud, sun, 16C; 17 March - Cloud, sun, 12C; 18 March - Cloud, sun, 12C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 2 to 3 increasing Northwest 3 to 4 during the morning.

Fairly clear skies first thing. Should be quite warm when the sun is out later but cloud due to build up and showers are possible.

Evening update (19.45): Wasn't bad until it started to rain mid-afternoon. High of 17.6C fell rapidly by six or seven degrees. 

"Fijo Discontinuo": Winter Tourism's Villain?

In 1984, the PSOE national government of Felipe Gónzalez enacted labour legislation under which there would be a new form of employment contract. There was logic to this reform. The contract was intended to give some greater stability to a workforce which was engaged in seasonal sectors of the economy. Tourism was one of these. The contract was and is the "fijo discontinuo", essentially one by which an employee is retained but also laid off for a number of months, during which time he or she can claim benefit.

The contract has been subject to revision over the years and also to numerous legal cases, but its essence remains largely as it was thirty-two years ago while its use continues to grow. In August last year, it was reported that there were almost 70,000 employees in the Balearics who were registered with social security for this type of contract. As there were some 475,000 people signed on at the end of September 2015, employees working with this contract constituted getting on for 15% of the working population in employment. The 70,000 of last August were around 8,000 more than in August 2014, a fact that led one of the main unions, the CCOO, to complain that there were too many "discontinuo" contracts.

The complaint was ironic. It had been the unions who had pressed the Gónzalez government into creating "discontinuo", as it did ensure some greater job security. But that was thirty-two years ago. The general narrative surrounding employment contracts nowadays, one familiar to the Balearic regional government, is for work that limits even more the potential for job insecurity. And allied to this is the narrative of tackling seasonality, most obviously in the tourism sector.

Getting to grips with seasonality is a subject that is old as mass tourism. In the 1960s the tourism season ground to a halt in September. Go forward some years and there were some inroads - the pockets of resorts in Mallorca where there was discernible winter tourism business. It was never great, despite what some might suggest, but it did exist. By the end of the 1980s, some 25% of Mallorca's tourism was between November and April, though this was based on half the annual total today: roughly five million tourists. That it had come about owed little to political initiative. It was largely the consequence of tour operator business, but when the Balearics had become an autonomous region in 1983 the politicians had started talking up plans for dealing with seasonality. There were plans for the likes of cycling and golf, just as there are today.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what politicians have ever said, seasonality has remained an issue and always has been an issue. The politicians keep returning to it and insisting that they will indeed be tackling it - as the current Balearic government is - but behind this talk has long been, so it is argued, a kind of conspiracy which allows talk to be cheap and to be spoken because it makes politicians appear to be doing something when they themselves have aligned themselves with forces that are inherently opposed to low-season tourism. And none more so than the "fijo discontinuo".

The argument goes that hoteliers have no incentive to remain open because they can shed a whole load of staff who will be looked after by the state and then take them on again the following spring. The employees themselves are happy with this state of affairs: several months off and the government pays them. And from this disincentive has sprung a collective lack of will and creativity that might truly tackle seasonality. For hoteliers, they have virtually no risk. They make their profits in the summer season and close up shop at the first sign of November coming into view. Everything is stacked in their favour because of the nature of employment.

There are commentators, such as the journalist Javier Mato, who attribute the low-season malaise to "fijo discontinuo". Mato has asked why, if it is such a good system, no other country has adopted it. But if it is such a negative influence, then what are the alternatives? Mallorca has far too much tourism infrastructure - hotels, restaurants, etc. It's fine for summer, but for the rest of the year it is unsustainable. Full-time contracts for any more than a small minority are out of the question.

There are, though, certain movements. The system of social security 50% "bonus" for "discontinuo" employees has been extended to now include February as well as March and November, as has been the case for three years. Is it in fact this labour modification which is leading to more hotel opening in Mallorca in these low-season months? And if it is, then why not extend it further? "Discontinuo" may not be perfect but it can be made to work better.

Monday, March 14, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 14 March 2016

Morning high (7.50am): 8.1C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 15 March - Cloud, sun, 15C; 16 March - Cloud, 14C; 17 March - Cloud, sun, 12C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northeast 2 to 3.

Mainly light cloud first thing. Unremarkable day forecast with only occasional sun.

Evening update (19.45): Turned out better than had been expected. Quite sunny, quite warm; high of 19.1C.

Slingshot: The Next Tourism Craze?

It was one of those occasions many years ago (32 to be precise) when Mallorca, unaware of the gift horse whose mouth into which it should have been staring, failed to capitalise on some fine, free publicity for its tourism. Quite probably, Mallorca - as in official tourism authority Mallorca - would do likewise were the gift horse to be presented today, but unofficial social media Mallorca (and elsewhere) would be taking the horse to water and allowing it to drink deeply from the well of the island's traditions.

We're talking 1984, we're talking British TV and we're talking one of the most popular figures on the telly in those days of yore. Anneka Rice came hunting for treasure, she raced around the mountains, stopping off in Valldemossa, Deya and Soller and in the process discovered a very ancient art. So ancient is this art that a strong case has been made for the archipelago in which Mallorca finds itself having been named after it. The Greeks had a word for the skill of the locals. The skill was the use of a sling, the Balearics slinger - "foner balear" - was so adept and lethal that he became a hired hand for Carthaginians and Romans, and there was Anneka marvelling at the fact that there were these modern-day chaps engaged in slingshot and about to reveal a clue to her.

In Ses Salines a couple of weeks ago, they staged the third international "tiro con honda", aka "tir amb fona" competition: that's slingshot to you and me. Fifteen countries were represented and despite Mallorca's ancient slinging past, Spain failed to provide the champion. He was one Silvio Vass from Celle in Lower Saxony, who goes under the sling stage name of Silvio Jaegoor, a variation, one supposes, on the German "Jäger" to mean hunter.

Though it would be unlikely that you would have been aware of this grand sporting occasion, it was a sufficiently big enough deal to have attracted the backing of the Balearic Federation for Tir amb Fona (obviously), the town hall of Ses Salines, the hoteliers association in Colonia Sant Jordi and the district board for said resort. The contest itself was held in a street just out of Ses Salines itself. They'd wanted to hold it at the Talayotic site of Els Antigors. But because it was raining, the ancient site was given a miss, which was a shame: where better to have staged a contest for such an ancient art than by a pile of prehistoric Mallorcan stonework?

Despite the weather, the mayor of Ses Salines, Bernat Roig, expressed his satisfaction in the event. In fact, so satisfied was Bernat that he's hoping that the international contest will continue to be staged in his town. Moreover, he believes that it would do wonders for raising awareness of the ancient culture of Mallorca (and the Balearics), with its associations with the Talayotic period, and become something with which to promote the Mallorcan off-season.

Slingshot, it's probably fair to say, hasn't featured prominently in the list of tourism sports with which to attract the world's tourists to Mallorca in the off-season: it isn't really in the same sporting league as cycling or golf. But when one considers the nations represented at the international contest, well, you would think that there's some merit in adding it to the list. Tibet probably wouldn't be sending many tourists, but Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom ... ?

If not devotees of the art, then it might be aficionados of culture and history. This is, after all, something that can lay claim to being one of the most identifiable ancient aspects of the island. It doesn't come much more traditional and historic than hurling a stone from a sling.

Tir amb fona was one of those traditions which, unlike others, was never threatened with extinction because of official indifference and the migration from rural communities to the tourist resorts of the coast. Its practice has been uninterrupted since ancient times but its popularity did certainly wane. When guns came along, the stone became less relevant. But in hunting circles it remained a skill used by the minority.

When Anneka turned up in 1984 it was still a minority interest but it was beginning to take hold as a sport as opposed to being a means for hunting. It was to take a few more years but in 1997 they held the first ever Balearic championship in Lluc. Rules had been defined as were the distances. There is now a Balearic league. The sport is also included as a secondary school activity for physical education. A document explains its roots and its contemporary rules. It concludes with some advice. When starting out, take care that you don't endanger anyone. Practise using a tennis ball in order to avoid serious accidents.

Sound advice indeed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 13 March 2016

Morning high (7.47am): 8.6C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 5
Three-day forecast: 14 March - Cloud, 15C; 15 March - Cloud, sun, 13C; 16 March - Cloud, sun, 14C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North-Northwest 3 to 4 veering Northeast 3 in the afternoon.

Well, let's see if the forecast holds up better today than yesterday. Sunny spells and fairly warm. Chilly, bright start. Week ahead ... Mostly cloudy and not warm.

Evening update (20.00): Average sort of a day. High of 17.1C.

In A Tiz: Royal texts

Protocol demands that the president (speaker) of Congress has to visit the King personally to inform him of the result of proceedings to select a new prime minister (president). Patxi López, said speaker, duly went to see His Maj, who was doubtless already well aware of the shambles that had taken place the previous week. In fact, one imagines that the King was watching on the telly and thinking "what the fuck" like everyone else was. The meeting with Patxi revealed the extent to which the King towers above Spain's politicians: the top of Patxi's head barely corresponded with Felipe's shoulders. He is not the only one to be dwarfed. And it isn't only in stature. It might require some Constitutional jiggery-pokery, but the King should be nominated as prime minister (president). The man is vastly superior to the shower in parliament. Head and shoulders above the rest.

Felipe had the common good sense to put off for the time being any further discussions with the warring tribes of the Cortes. What was the point? Very little. Until they - whichever ones they might be - can cobble together the constituent parts of the pantomime horse that might pass as a government pact, why waste time on them?

Meanwhile the Royals, with half an eye on the Trial of the Millennium and the extent to which witnesses might have been attempting to put the boot further into the King's in-law, had a spot of their own bother. A leaked text message sent by Tizzy to some businessman who was in the mire for having availed himself of approximately 35,000 euros not entirely legally was splashed all over the media - conventional and social. It was a message that was being compared to Mariano's famous SMS to Luis Barcenas, when the one-time PP treasurer was right up to his neck in allegations surrounding the PP's alleged B accounts (black, in other words). Mazza had told Luis to stay strong (Mazza has since sought to place an ocean between himself and Luis). Tizzy told this businessman fellow that we (i.e. Felipe as well) know you and respect you and that the rest was all, err, brown stuff. She signed off by offering a kiss and referring to "yogui". Social media then proceeded to Photoshop snaps of the Royals with Yogi Bear.

Back in parliament, though, the cartoon continued ...

During the investiture debates of the previous week, The Hairy One had given the bloke who's Top Cat in En Comú Podem (the Barcelona Podemos faction) a smacker full on the lips. Such brotherly love was, however, less in evidence during the week. There was, we learned, some tension between Pablo and the Infant Íñigo Errejón, who was seemingly playing Jerry to The Hairy One's Tom, harrying him and wishing to reduce Pablo's power. Was this the first emerging sign of a split in Podemos ranks of a Stalin-Trotsky nature? Well actually, it was. Pablo responded to reports of the internal fighting by saying that he had sent the Infant and the baby-feeding Carolina Bescansa to Siberia in order to re-educate these dissidents. It was of course a joke. There is no Siberia in Spain. But we shall all be watching the space with interest. There is little finer than observing scraps between left-wing ideologues.

As it was International Women's Day on Tuesday, Pablo was out and about demonstrating his feminist credentials, while the ranks of the Podemistas (those who hadn't stopped talking to each other) were using the day to propose a change of name to Congress. This was a sort of out-in-sympathy with the lot in Palma who have insisted on eliminating the "de Mallorca" suffix. The Congress ones were proposing that Congress should no longer be officially known as "Congreso de los diputados" (note the male usage). Town halls aren't "ayuntamientos de los concejales", for instance, they argued. The "diputados" (deputies) bit excludes women. A change would be a small step towards the eradication of violence against women, suggested Podemista, Rosana Pastor.

The PP's deputy president (deputy speaker) of Congress, Celia Villalobos (she was the one who had made the lice observation about the Tenerife Podemista Natty Dreadlock In A Babylon), said that it was all "nonsense". The rest of the country wondered if they didn't have better things to do with their time.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 12 March 2016

Morning high (7.50am): 11.4C
Forecast high: 15C; UV: 4
Three-day forecast: 13 March - Sun, cloud, 15C; 14 March - Cloud, sun, 12C; 15 March - Cloud, sun, 13C.

Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays to 20.00): North 5 to 7.

Reasonably sunny start, some banks of cloud, wind is down, though there is still an alert out for the coasts. Should be a fair enough day. General outlook remaining unsettled.

Evening update (19.45): Well, got that wrong. Rain this morning, cleared up later but not that sunny. High of 15.2C.

Podemos Takes Aim At Hoteliers Over Holiday Rentals

Laura Camargo, the Podemos number two in the Balearic parliament, certainly knows how to win friends and influence people. Or rather, she knows how not to win friends because she isn't particularly interested in their being her friends.

We are talking Mallorca's hoteliers and indeed the hoteliers on the other islands. They, says Laura, consider the islands to be their "cortijos", which literally means farmhouses or farm cottages but in a broader sense can be taken as meaning their domains. The hoteliers treat the Balearics like they own them but there are, as Laura has been at pains to point out this week, "many more people who have the right to offer accommodation to the tourists that we receive each year". Podemos has confirmed that it will be taking part in dialogue to arrive at the best possible agreements on the regulation of holiday rentals. And if the tourist tax is anything to go by, then this probably translates as what Podemos wants on holiday rentals will be what the legislation ultimately contains.

As mentioned in this column last week, it is the government's intention to have legislation signed, sealed and delivered within six months. Whether this schedule takes account of all the haggling with Podemos is not known. But legislation is on its way. What it will look like, no one can say with much certainty at this point. Of elements of the law that have been creeping out, we understand that town halls will be able to determine areas which cannot be used for tourist rental (a different emphasis to saying which ones can be used), that there will be a set of quality standards introduced for accommodation, that a maximum number of places will be imposed according to the type of property and that any property has to be five years old in order to be eligible for tourist rental.

The thinking behind this latter point is to prevent speculative developments with tourist rental alone in mind. It isn't one that the Partido Popular is wholly in agreement with. It doesn't want this provision but nor does it want more supply of accommodation. Which sounds as if it remains inherently opposed to a form of regulation which would facilitate greater supply, as in it remains opposed to apartments being openly marketed as tourist rentals.

All will be revealed over the coming months, but in the meantime there have been a couple of revelations this week that make one wonder as to how permissive any holiday rental regulation might be and also make one wonder as to the veracity of the notion that Podemos is behind what are two inextricably linked pieces of legislation: those for the tourist tax and holiday rentals.

The first of these was the lesser of the revelations, as we have known for some time that the tourism minister, Biel Barceló, has concerns about overcrowding because of the sheer volume of tourists in peak season. He said on Monday that "we have to get used to there being limits on beaches and other natural spaces, just like at a cinema or a football stadium". He made much of the fact that the current tourist model generates inequalities, pointing to the time in the 1980s when the Balearics had the highest per capita income in Spain courtesy of six million tourists. With more than double this number now, the Balearics have slipped to seventh in the income stakes.

The problem for Barceló is being able to define the type of limits that might be suitable. The second problem is how such limits might be enforced. But inherent to both these problems, in the immediate short term, is the issue of holiday rentals. More permissive regulation doesn't per se crank up the volume of accommodation to unsustainable levels, but it has to be reasonably permissive in order to tackle the blatant abuses that are being perpetrated and will continue to be without highly effective enforcement. It is this illegal supply that is a contributor to the overcrowding, but so it might be said is the legitimate supply. Barceló was not looking at the immediate short term, rather at five, ten, twenty years from now, but does one conclude that there is to be a strategic objective to cut hotel places?

The third problem for Barceló is that drawing on what was the situation thirty years ago is not a solid argument for basing decisions on in the current day. Apart from anything else, it may be that other regions have caught up rather than the Balearics going backwards. His analysis may well be simplistic.

The second revelation came from "Preferente" on Tuesday this week. An article said that three weeks before the general election in December, Barceló and President Armengol met with the grand hoteliers of the Balearics. They included apparently Fluxá, Escarrer and Barceló (Simón, that is). What was said at this gathering, according to the article, was that Podemos had the government (PSOE and Més) by the short and curlies over the tourist tax, intimating that it was basically Podemos who were driving it.

The hoteliers, it would appear, bought this, though one finds it difficult to believe that they, given who they are, would simply swallow the argument. The implication, though, was that both PSOE and Més were less evangelistic about the tourist tax than may have been thought. PSOE perhaps, but Més? The article then said that Armengol had been lying to the hoteliers and pointed, rightly enough, to the fact that it was PSOE and Més who between them had brought the tourist tax legislation before parliament. Podemos, it shouldn't be forgotten, abstained on the first pass at legislative approval because its demands were not being met in respect of, for instance, geographical distribution of the tax revenue and its sole use for environmental purposes. This isn't to deny that Podemos is highly influential in the drafting of the tax legislation, but for PSOE and Més to have apparently sought to distance themselves from it at that meeting does take some believing.

If nothing else, and if what was said at that meeting is indeed accurate, then it exposes the purely political nature of current tourism decision-making. The tax is one thing, and the holiday rentals will doubtless be another. In truth, this is no way to be running or legislating for Mallorca's principal industry. But then we probably already knew this.