Friday, March 11, 2016

Don't Mess With The Germans

History can never repeat itself exactly. Certain and basic circumstances may be similar but there are new ones to throw into the contemporary mix. These do not, however, disguise the potential for repetition that stems from the basic elements.

Let's start with the history and the story of the old eco-tax. There is, as I explained in an article last July, some selective memory regarding its impact. The facts were that prior to its introduction in May 2002, there had been a drop in tourism numbers the previous year. In its first year of implementation, there was a far greater drop: the percentage was 7.6% down. In 2003, the second and final year of the tax, tourism numbers grew again, so much so that the losses of 2002 were all but made up: the percentage growth was 6.6%.

What is conveniently overlooked when considering the eco-tax is the fact that the German economy was experiencing a period of downturn and then upturn. The overwhelming bulk of tourists who went awol in 2002 were German. While the eco-tax was partly to blame for the 2002 decline, it wasn't the only factor. Economic circumstances were at play, as was the lousy public relations that had emanated from Mallorca and which had led to an impression in Germany that certain elements of its tourism market were not welcome on the island. This lousy PR was to be rectified with a charm offensive.

The German and British markets are equally important to Mallorca, but the German association with Mallorca is stronger than Britain's, which has created a far deeper interest in Mallorcan affairs than is the case in Britain. And so we come to the present day and the potential for history to repeat itself.

London's World Travel Market was held in November. At the time the tourist tax was a glint in the eye of a politician on a distant horizon. Now, at Berlin's ITB fair, the tax is being brought to shore, soon to disembark. The proximity of its introduction is thus drawing sharper attention but it is not all that is drawing attention.

There are parts of Mallorca which are and always will be German. Playa de Palma, Arenal in particular, is one such part. By no means all Germans are drawn to it. There are many who despair of the behaviour of some of their fellow countrypeople who go there. As two twenty-year-olds, staying in Playa de Muro, once said to me in disparaging tones, having gone and taken a look for themselves. "There are many drunken tourists in Arenal."

Critical or not, the crackdown on behaviour is causing a rumbling not wholly dissimilar to that which occurred at the start of the century. The message, misinterpreted though it might be by some, has echoes of the one which had suggested Germans were not welcome. It also has echoes of what has occurred in Magalluf with the British market, but in Arenal there is one very important difference. It is a territorial one, centred primarily on Balneario 6 - the "Ballermann" - and the beach. This is German land and it is under attack by the Palma moves to stamp out street and beach drinking.

There are other issues. One is the concern with a shortage of water. Another is sewage. Issues such as this receive greater attention in Germany than they would do in Britain, which is the consequence of that deeper interest in Mallorcan affairs and corresponding coverage given to them by the German media. On the opposite side of the island from Playa de Palma, there is the matter of the sewage plant that serves resorts very popular with the German market - Playa de Muro and Can Picafort. Last year there were numerous complaints about bad odours, while there was also some alarm at what appeared as though it might have been sewage discharge close to the shore.

In Berlin, it is understood, tour operators and leading Mallorcan hoteliers have been wanting words with the regional government representatives about this. Biel Barceló, President Armengol, the environment minister, Vicenç Vidal, have all been quizzed, and the interrogators have included leading executives from Iberostar, which has several hotels in the Muro-Can Picafort zone.

But it is the tourist tax, above all, that is under scrutiny in Berlin. If the government got away with too much negativity regarding the tax in London, it can't avoid it in Berlin. The German association of tour operators and travel agents, DRV, sent a strongly worded letter to the government a month ago, expressing its concerns with the tax. ABTA had done so as well, but the German message was fiercer.

History doesn't repeat itself precisely, but it can conspire to bring similar circumstances together. The government can take solace in the Hobson's choice for tourists created by problems elsewhere. But for how long? The Germans are not happy.

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