Friday, July 01, 2016

T-Day In Mallorca: Tourist tax introduction

So, it's finally here. The tourist tax comes into force in Mallorca and the Balearics as of today: T-Day. Much has been said and written, and now we are about to find out how "normal" things will be as a result of the tax's introduction. Will the regional government, as with the start of the school year in September, be issuing statements of "normality", spotters at strategic tourist locations observing that tourists are not refusing to pay?

Most tourists, one would think, would know about the tax. The main tour operators have certainly been informing clients. The media in different countries has covered the tax's introduction, especially the media in the UK and Germany. For all that, I was talking to a couple yesterday. They had arrived the night before. They're staying for a week in the Carles V Apartments in Alcudia old town (a regulated tourist apartments establishment which is part of the same group which has the Alcudiamar Botel). Not only did they know nothing of the tax, they hadn't been informed that there was one by the apartments. Maybe they will be. They weren't bothered. The maximum they are likely to be charged would be twelve euros.

This is not "pennies", a reference which seems to be made to the low demands being made on tourists. It is not a huge amount certainly, but these "pennies" add up depending on the type of accommodation and size and make-up of a family (or other) group. The tourism minister, Biel Barceló, insists on citing fatuous percentages. The amounts will equate to 1.4% of the total cost of the holiday: an utterly meaningless statement.

Barceló isn't of course wrong when he justifies the tax by mentioning the widespread application of taxes elsewhere. But then he comes up with examples such as states in America: a pointless comparison. Far more meaningful would be Croatia, Bulgaria or even Catalonia - all with sun-and-beach resorts. Maybe he knows, though, that the tax rates in each of these cases is lower or significantly lower than the Balearics charge.

The spin that Barceló comes out with seems to go unquestioned, as does the dissembling that surrounds the tax. Take the talk of the old eco-tax. It was scrapped by the government, we are led to believe, because of the backlash. Wrong. It was scrapped because there was a change in that government. One of the first acts of Jaume Matas's second stint as PP president following victory at the spring 2003 election was the issuing of the decree that would see the tax formally removed from the statute book the coming October.

Then there is the fact that apparently the tourism industry here (and abroad) pretty much accepts the tax and that there has not been an outcry. This is totally untrue. More or less every sector of the industry has expressed opposition - tour operators, hoteliers, associations for attractions, for nightclubs, for restaurants, etc., etc. Big hitters, such as the co-founder of the Barceló hotel group, Gabriel Barceló (no relation), are on record as voicing their complete rejection of the tax.

It is fair to say that there hasn't been a massive and concerted hue and cry coming from the industry, but this is not because it accepts the tax. Instead, the industry is resigned to the fact of the tax, looking forward to a further change in government in 2019 and the likely removal of the tax. Furthermore, it has kept relatively quiet because it is not in its interests to stoke up too much negative publicity. Another reason is that the hoteliers, unloved by much of the Balearic population (or it would appear), will be aware that there is a majority opinion in favour of the tax among residents of the islands.

Finally, there is the purpose for the tax. Or purposes. None of the revenue will go towards resort infrastructure or tourism promotion, which is how Catalonia uses its tourist tax revenues. The priorities of environmental conservation and heritage preservation are laudable enough and if they assist in effecting a change to the seasonal nature of tourism - a further purpose - then all well and good. But then we have heard so often about seasonality and how politicians intend dealing with it, only for good intentions to come to nothing. Current lengthening of the season owes much to problems in other countries and little to local efforts (with Palma a possible exception).

The Barceló spin does, however, give something of the game away. He speaks of needing to gain tourist support for the islands' resources, but then also speaks of underfunding from Madrid. Is this the real game? It's all about general tax-raising? Were funding from Madrid far better, would there be a tax? That's the logical conclusion to be drawn from his spin. Believe that if you wish, but many will not.

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