Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Between Love And Hate: Tourism attitudes

Guess who's going to benefit most from this summer's tourism bonanza? There are no prizes for guessing as the answer is pretty obvious: tourism businesses, for which mostly read the hoteliers. The one surprise of the answer is that not more than 77% of Balearic citizenry believe that business will be the great beneficiary. The poor old regular citizen won't be cashing in, that's for sure. A mere 19% reckon that "social profitability" will gain; this being defined as, for instance, greater general welfare.

The latest Gadeso survey of opinions about tourism reflects the age-old dichotomies of the industry. The rich (the businesses) get richer, but the poor (the workers) don't get richer. They don't necessarily get poorer but the imbalance is as it has always been. And that, imbalance, is how tourism tends to be. Mallorca, Spain, mostly everywhere, it's the nature of the beast.

Tourism jobs are not typically among the best paid. Think for a moment about a recent report about current employment trends in Palma. Which jobs were proving the most popular? Waiters and waitresses, cleaners; these topped the lists of positions most on offer. Popular isn't the right word. Available would be more apposite. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed reckoned that one of the weaknesses of tourism was that it gives rise to work of low quality. Only two-thirds? I guess it depends on individual perceptions.

Ambivalence is how one might describe the overriding attitude towards tourism: positive and negative feelings held simultaneously. Under 50% feel that tourism is the basis of Balearic well-being and so therefore its principal strength. What else might they have in mind, either now or in the future, that would be of greater well-being? Oil exploration?

This under 50% - 47.3% to be pedantic in a percentage way - is almost equivalent to the percentage of GDP that tourism provides in the Balearics: 45.5% at last count. That's a lot of well-being. Nothing else comes anywhere like close, and nor does the GDP factor of other regions, not even the Canaries. The Balearic Islands do not live only from tourism, but they near as enough do.  

The greatest weakness of tourism is recognised by a significantly greater percentage than the principal strength. Seasonality. Somewhere in the Balearics is one per cent of the population who don't consider it to be a weakness. Maybe they didn't understand the question.

Like jobs, though, what do people expect? A hell of a lot better obviously, but vastly improved pay, all-year contracts, all-year work because everywhere is open can be illusory. Tourism isn't like that. The Canaries, where the winter season is as good as summer, is the only sun-and-beach region of Spain to not be affected by seasonality: Benidorm, it might be suggested, ekes out a decent all-year trade, but that's one resort and not a whole region. Yet in the Canaries the unemployment rate is always greater than in the Balearics. Maybe it's because tourism only offers some 30% of GDP despite the twelve-month season.

Is it a case of the government (notably the current one in the Balearics) guiding the citizens in their attitudes or are they formed independently? A bit of both perhaps. The government drones on about seasonality and how it's new sustainable tourism will attack it. But governments have long droned on. Seasonality has always existed and always will exist. It is a subject that allows politicians to talk a good talk without doing anything truly fundamental that breaks the cycle.

And the sustainable part is there in the Gadeso survey as well. Which measure, more than most, will improve the tourist product? Protection of the environment and cultural heritage, say 85% of the citizens. Biel Barceló will love that, as he will also love the fact that a mere 13% believe that the tourist tax will harm tourism. He might love less the discovery that 43% think his administration is no better or worse than the last government.

There again, maybe the current government is responding to the citizens' views. Preservation and conservation are not new in being public priorities. And nor are hotel improvements and resort infrastructure makeovers being far lower priorities anything new. Attitudes don't habitually swing violently; they are mostly consistent with only slight shifts over time.

The prevailing attitudes are not wholly negative but nor are they wholly positive. It's that ambivalence. Love and hate. It might be tempting to suggest that people are being ungrateful for what tourism brings, but the temptation should be resisted. People can't be blamed for feeling their work is low-paid or that the quality of that work is low and insecure. Efforts by the current government to effect changes in this regard (though probably doomed to fail) should nevertheless be applauded. Spread the wealth and the well-being more widely, and the positivity would surely rise.

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