Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When Tourism Generations Collide

It's a photo from 4 July, 1978. A certificate and gold medal are being handed over. The recipient is King Juan Carlos I. The award-giver is the Fomento del Turismo (the Mallorca Tourist Board). Two years later the king received another medal, a commemorative one to mark 75 years of the Fomento. Last year, a similar award was made to the king's son. Felipe VI, for his love of Mallorca, was to receive a medal in honour of the 110 years of the Fomento.

Two generations of royalty divided by more than a generation in time and in tourism culture, for which also read political culture. Curiously, though, when the Fomento's board gathered to consider its awards last year, a participant was the tourism minister, Biel Barceló, not someone automatically bracketed in the royalist camp. But the awards were not the government's, they were those of the Mallorca Tourist Board, an institution long marginalised yet sustained almost symbolically - a vital part of the island's heritage.

Sustainability and heritage. Both were to the fore as the tourism ministry delivered its own tourism awards on Monday. Symbolism was inadvertent in the choice of Es Baluard as the location. It was from this edifice of culture that the so-called anti-tourist guided tour (an oddity in itself) had started two days before. This was a "route" which Barceló, also perhaps inadvertently, had helped to foster. Tourism politicians need to take greater care when mentioning the word "saturation".

The generational shift in tourism and political cultures has been immense. Juan Carlos received his medals at a time when Mallorca and Spain were grappling with the meaning of democracy. It was a time also when Mallorca was starting to truly debate its model of tourism. The years of uncontrolled construction demanded such a debate. The medals, one can suggest, were representative of "old" tourism, symbolised by the Fomento. Organisationally and politically, it was to become sidelined by the political institutionalism of tourism - regional government and the first tourism ministry from 1983.

The "new" tourism has undergone its twists and turns, and the most recent was on the way to Es Baluard for the Night of Tourism, a gala event crafted from the rocks of heritage and from the philosophy of sustainability. Here is a word, sustainability, so often uttered that it is ceasing to have meaning. Or rather, it can mean whatever is required. New tourism deals in concepts of open meaning. "Quality" is another. Whenever did anyone - business, government or whatever - make a case for lack of quality or indeed promote it? Come to Mallorca, where quality is absent. The concept is redundant.

As I remarked over a month ago when considering these tourism awards ("And The Sustainable Tourism Winner Will Be?"), the night of tourism could easily be called the Biel night of tourism. The minister referred to the many challenges, to the government's determination for there to be responsibility, to the pride in Balearic land and people. "This is what makes us say with pride that we are Mallorcans, Menorcans, Ibizans and Formenterans. We have been and are a land of welcome, inclusive and able to attract people from across the globe to admire natural and patrimonial aspects that we are making unique and infrastructures that are turning us into pioneers."

The awards were the tourist tax in physical form. There is and has been misunderstanding about the purposes to which its revenue will be allocated. Enshrined in law - that for the sustainable tourism tax - are these purposes. Hence why, for example, there was an award for the Council of Formentera for an initiative designed to recover the countryside, the island's agricultural heritage. Why also there were awards for technological innovation - to Robinson Club Cala Serena for its alchemy in converting seawater, to solutions related to climate change, to the business application of social Big Data.

These awards underpin the tourist tax thinking, the latest "new" tourism. The purposes for the tax revenue can be derided, but they are evidence, if one likes, of whole-island touristic thinking and of the desire of a left-wing government to spread the wealth generated by tourism more widely.

Had there been a night of tourism under the previous government, the recipients, one imagines, would have been different. The "new" tourism of the PP was the founder of beach clubs, of resort transformation. The usual suspects would have been paraded by the PP. It is most unlikely that the hotel chamber maids collective would have been honoured.

It was a night to celebrate sustainability, to represent the "new" tourism. A world away from awards to royalty. Yet, who else received a Fomento award last year? Among them was Liberto Rigo, a veteran tour guide from the "Excursionist Group", a creation by the Fomento a hundred years ago, and one dedicated to patrimony, heritage, culture and nature. Old meets new.

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