Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Rise Of Tourismphobia

It's some five years since I wrote an article entitled "Tourismphobia". The word was a straight lift from Spanish. "Turismofobia" was a condition that was being taken increasingly seriously in the summer of 2011. It was largely attributed to the difficult economic circumstances of the time and to the potential undermining of the principle of reciprocity that exists in the relationship between tourism and its destinations. I observed in 2011 that this reciprocity is "one under which a destination opens its doors, accepts there will be changes but expects some compensation". So long as an equilibrium has been and is maintained, any "underlying social tensions caused by tourism" are minimal.

Five years ago, there was little evidence of this phobia in Mallorca, despite the economic crisis. But it was evident elsewhere. Barcelona was a prime example, and the phobia was to get worse, especially in La Barceloneta, where uncontrolled, illegal rentals were attracting a type of youth tourism that was driving residents to despair. Barcelona was also being overrun. There were, some felt, simply too many tourists.

In the Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, there was a feeling of "social divorce" arising from the scale and type of tourism. The phobia was never widespread there, but it was sufficiently obvious for efforts to be made in involving local people in tourism and in its promotion and in communicating the benefits of tourism. A similar campaign in Barcelona made even more strenuous efforts in this regard.

Tourismphobia was a minority social problem, but as I concluded in 2011 its growth could not be discounted. With the graffiti in Palma, might one suggest that the phobia is on the increase?

The regional government - Biel Barceló anyway - has sought to downplay the graffiti. Yes, it sends out a bad message, but an "act of vandalism" shouldn't be blown out of proportion. And up to a point, he is right. From the style of the writing, it is thought that the graffiti was the work of no more than two people. Hardly a mass movement, therefore.

Caution needs to be exercised in extrapolating from a possibly isolated incident in saying that tourismphobia - a social rejection of tourism, if you like - is on the increase. In Palma and in Mallorca, it might require some social attitudes research, rather than anecdote, to establish the existence of the phobia: such research has been carried out in Barcelona. But the Palma graffiti may well be a response to what the Spanish tourism journalist, Xavier Canalis, has drawn attention to: tourism gentrification of cities. This gives rise to a fundamental question: who are cities for, residents or tourists?

Palma's centre has experienced an increase in the number of boutique hotels, an increased number of passengers from huge-capacity cruise ships and also a significant increase in the availability of private accommodation. It is the latter, more so than the others, that has raised concerns with politicians. But it is this very expression of concern, and not just regarding Palma by any means, that might be said to contribute to tourismphobia. 

The political narrative at present is focused on overcrowding - the saturation of tourist areas. It also embraces the nature of employment (worker exploitation) and the need for sustainability. The tourist tax, aka the sustainable tourism tax, comes with its in-built narrative, and it is one predicated on a need to extract dues from tourists to address damage caused by tourism (and therefore the individual tourist). In addition, the narrative demonises hotels, a means of attracting tourists who threaten this sustainability. And now, we also have what seems to be a crisis of lack of accommodation, the consequence of property being made available for ever more tourists.

Javier Vich, the president of Palma's hoteliers, has suggested that it is government policy which gave rise to the graffiti. What he was implying is that the more politicians refer to negative consequences of tourism, then the more the public becomes conscious of them and the more, therefore, that attitudes shift away from what was that one-time reciprocity. The consequence is tourismphobia.

Negative attitudes towards tourism have, in recent years, resulted from the "drunken tourism" of Magalluf and from the impact of all-inclusives. The Palma slogans are not representative of either but appear instead to reflect the city's tourism gentrification allied to apparent overcrowding. Such attitudes can be addressed, as in Magalluf. Although the success is open to debate, the process of transformation may well bring about more positive attitudes. Meanwhile, however, there is the constant narrative that can only help to fuel negative perceptions, and the very conceptualistion of the tourist tax adds to these. There is majority public support for the tax, and because the tax is based on a negative premiss of righting damage, the very existence of the tax can only add to negative attitudes.

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