Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Eradication Politics: Tourism Quality

In the summer of 2012, the Partido Popular government passed the second general tourism law for the Balearics. The PP had been responsible for the passage of the first law in 1999, and the two bills bore some similarity in terms of general aims and objectives. Among these were provisions for modernisation of resorts and of hotel accommodation described variously as mature, obsolete or outmoded.

In the preamble to the 2012 law, there is an explanation as to the lack of regulation that characterised the building of tourist establishments from the 1960s. It says that there was "some kind of urban planning" in the 1980s, followed by a "proliferation of regulations" in the 1990s. The 1999 act sought to try and draw all these together, recognising that hotel modernisation during the '90s was anything but consistent. By 1999, therefore, there was a percentage of Balearic hotel stock not conforming to regulations as they had become. It was obsolete and given that much of this stock dated from the '60s and '70s, when there was precious little regulation, it could have been argued that this stock had in-built obsolescence right from the very outset.

By 2012, the stock was still very much in existence. The intentions of the 1999 law had not been followed through, so Carlos Delgado, who was the tourism minister who introduced the 2012 law, took aim at low-grade accommodation. Of nine key points contained in that law, there was one directed specifically at the modernisation of one and two-star establishments. These were to be given a maximum period of four years to upgrade. If they didn't, they would be closed, if only temporarily.

The thrust of this had been to eliminate anything under three stars, and yet, almost exactly four years after the law was approved, the tourist tax was introduced, and it contained rates for one and two-star establishments. In theory, there should no longer be any. Revealingly enough, the one and two-star hotels are lumped in with three stars for the purpose of the tax - each of them carrying a day rate of one euro. This is revealing in the context of what the now tourism minister, Biel Barceló, as well as some hoteliers are saying or at least implying: any hotel with a classification below three-star superior (which attracts a 1.50 rate of tax) is obsolete and exists only to attract an inferior type of tourist.

There is no doubting the fact that a great deal of the current three-star stock (which is vastly greater than one or two-stars) dates to the days when there was little regulation. Likewise, much of it has not been modernised. Consequently, one gets the conclusions of Barceló and Magalluf and Playa de Palma hoteliers: these are rough hotels, more often than not all-inclusive, bringing in a rough tourist with no money. Therefore, these hotels must be "eradicated" together with their clientele.

As ever, we are fed a view biased towards the resorts of twin obsession. Nowhere else in Mallorca or indeed the Balearics appears to matter. Moreover, we are given an impression that all tourists opting for a hotel with a lower-star rating are, by definition, low quality. This is a disgraceful generalisation, one with strong echoes of the start of the century when Maria Munar and Celesti Alomar (the tourism minister who oversaw the introduction of the old eco-tax) were seeking a similar eradication of low-quality tourists. So outraged were the Germans by an impression conveyed that a whole class of tourists was being made to feel unwelcome, that they temporarily boycotted Mallorca. The falsehoods reported with hindsight about the old eco-tax always neglect this fact when claiming that the tax was a disaster.

One can defend the tourist who chooses a lower-star hotel on the grounds that he or she prefers that type of accommodation and that the lower cost of the actual holiday in fact permits greater spending. Nevertheless, we can't kid ourselves that there isn't the rough element which contributes little or nothing and parades itself in unseemly fashion.

But there is nothing new about this. What should have been taken as landmark research by the university at the start of the 1990s into the percentage of tourism which was actually a net loss maker for Mallorca was totally ignored. This research predated all-inclusives. They, with the exception of the one Club Med hotel that used to be in Mallorca, were a phenomenon born out of early '90s recession.

This "rough" element has always been there, and attempts to legislate against it through insistence on standards of accommodation have existed for nigh on twenty years. Will the new "eradication" be any different? If there is a failure, as has been the case until now, to rigorously apply provisions under law, then one might conclude that it won't be.

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