Saturday, September 17, 2016

Promoting Culture: Where's The Strategy?

Having dismissed the suggestion by Podemos that no money should be spent on tourism promotion, the regional government has come up with a new line of funding. It is going to promote cultural tourism. One presumes that even Podemos can't disagree with this. Or can it? Hordes of tourists will now be overwhelming obscure museums on the island, adding further to the myth of tourist saturation.

What a curious business this is. It is one which demands that the press is invited to witness an official signing ceremony. A "protocol" has been established between two ministries - tourism and culture - and from this there is an agreement. Signed, sealed, delivered by Biel Barceló and Ruth Mateu. It was as if they were signing a peace treaty.

PR nonsense. Why can't representatives from two ministries just sit round a table without making a ballyhoo about spending up to 600 grand on "internationalising" the culture of the islands via a "tourism strategy"? It's nice to know that there is a strategy. At least in theory. Why also does this protocol only run until the end of next year? What's the thinking with that? It must be strategic.

Barceló says that the only season that the government wishes to promote is the winter season: a misleading concept as it refers to more than winter. Such a statement is presumably designed to alleviate the fears of Podemos and the summer saturation propagandists (of whom, of course, Barceló is one). But there is nothing new behind this statement. Winter tourism has been the chief beneficiary of government promotional spend ever since Carlos Delgado and the Partido Popular took the knife to this spend. The austerity policies of José Ramón Bauzá decreed that promotional investment should be cut dramatically, and it was. Delgado and his then sidekick, Jaime Martínez, were going to be focusing on the winter.

The budget for promotion is miserly. What investment there is (around three to four million) goes towards travel fairs, forums and blogger and fam trips. It isn't as if summer is totally neglected, however. Much of the business done at the major travel fairs is for the summer. The government is party to only so much of this. Otherwise they are occasions for business to talk to business, though at present there is very little actual need for summer discussions.

Tour operators from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia are hoovering up hotels and hotel places with such rapidity that their Spanish counterparts are being left with scraps to fight over. If and when it is announced that domestic tourism to Mallorca next year is in decline, this won't be for lack of demand. It will be due to supply. However, the domestic market might not decline. Why not? Because it is finding alternatives. Which market is one of the most significant in driving demand for holiday rentals? The Spanish. Here's one reason for so-called saturation. And which market finds it easiest to come with its cars and clog up the roads? The Spanish.

Promotion for the summer isn't necessary at the moment. This isn't to say that there shouldn't be any. Even at times of summer tourism bonanza, it is important to keep the name out there and in the "front of mind" of the tourist punter. This doesn't require vast sums. Some well-conceived social media initiatives can achieve this. What do we get from the tourism ministry in this regard? Nothing.

The Balearic Tourism Agency (ATB), responsible for promotion, is a peculiar institution. In its former guise - Ibatur - it was at the heart of the corruption scandals that engulfed the Unió Mallorquina. Renamed, it has since then given an impression of ineffectualness. The only director to have ever made strong public statements about the need for and power of social networks was Mar Guerrero. She resigned because the job wasn't as had been said on the tin. Funding was cut off. This was almost six years ago.

So now we come to this latest initiative, to which the ATB is a party. And what will this "strategy" for cultural tourism entail? One aspect is getting more producers to come and film on the islands. Fine, but strategy demands that there is a structure, for which there has to be the right financial mix. Both Barceló and Mateu admit that there aren't the tax incentives for filming as there are in other parts of Spain. So they are coming up with a "strategy" without knowing if they have the wherewithal to implement it, while only having an agreement for fifteen months. Can anyone explain the sense of this?

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