Saturday, August 27, 2016

Confused By Sustainability

The survey published earlier this week into attitudes towards the so-called tourist "saturation" of Mallorca this summer was very revealing. For one thing, it did rather confirm my suspicions that saturation is more applicable to Palma than elsewhere and that the saturation sensation has been latched on to by Palma-based politicians (and others in Palma) and been turned into an island-wide issue for primarily political purposes.

The overriding conclusion was that increased numbers, though they may cause inconveniences or concerns - more traffic jams, strain on water supplies - bring benefits that outweigh these disadvantages. And even among these downsides, are traffic jams not more of a Palma rather than elsewhere? Not exclusively, e.g. if it's a cloudy day and you have people heading for Soller, but primarily yes.

It was also revealing, as noted by the survey's director, that a sensation of saturation is felt more by those aged over 60. The younger the population, the less the sensation. Revealing but not surprising: there are economic and employment benefits to be reaped from there being more tourists.

There was little doubting that there are more tourists, but the survey certainly didn't link this with a feeling of being overwhelmed, which is one way to describe this saturation. For the regional government and for the tourism minister in particular, the fact that a limit on tourist numbers was ranked the third most important measure for making tourism "more sustainable" might come as something of a relief, given the type of rhetoric that has been coming from the government. But this was still only 10%. More policing was considered to be more important, as was the raising of the "quality" of the tourist, however this might be interpreted (and indeed how those surveyed might in fact have interpreted "more sustainable").

Digging into the issue of limits, the survey found that most people (66%) wanted a limit placed on numbers going to Palma. Well, if a survey base has a majority from Palma, which this one did, then you might expect such an answer. Palma, always Palma. Somewhat strangely, 64% wanted a limit placed on the number of all-inclusive places. Why was this strange? Well, because a limit would allow more tourists to be out and about spending money. That's fair enough, but if there are fewer tourists stuck inside all-inclusives, would the level of "saturation" on the roads and elsewhere not be greater?

It was even stranger when only 2% identified measures to deal with all-inclusives as being important for greater sustainability. Not only did this seem to contradict the other finding, it also ignored the fact that all-inclusives fail totally one of the key tests of sustainability - that of generating general economic welfare.

Also at the bottom of the list of importance for sustainability were holiday rentals. Yet aren't these supposedly the key contributing factor in all the increased tourist numbers? Biel Barceló wants there to be a limit on the total number of tourist places. For there to be a limit, there has to be regulation of holiday rentals (and one really is referring to apartments) - a mixture of permission and prohibition in terms of opening marketing as tourist accommodation.

Barceló, when in opposition, was one who criticised the Partido Popular for its restrictive stance over holiday rentals. In government he is finding out just how difficult an issue this is. He admitted earlier this week that it is "not clear" that websites such as Airbnb, which operate with pretty much total impunity, can be considered as promoting tourist rentals. And underpinning this is the loophole that is the national law on urban leasings (aka the tenancy act). It needs amending, and Barceló said so. Until it is, there will always be evasion and, in terms of Balearic government coffers, no tourist tax revenue. By definition, any accommodation rented out under the tenancy act is not touristic, despite everyone knowing that a great deal of it is just that.

Airbnb and other sites, unless they are somehow made to comply with whatever legislation Barceló comes up with, will continue to facilitate the promotion of apartments that are not registered as tourist accommodation. This is exactly what has happened in Catalonia, despite that region having enabled the legal marketing of tourist apartments. To this end, Barcelona is envisaging fines of up to 600,000 euros for websites like Airbnb. The hoteliers federation in Ibiza this week applauded this stance, while at the same time attacking the Balearic government for what it senses will be regulation "without the consent of neighbours; an activity that seriously prejudices co-existence".

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