Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Agriculture's Contribution To Tourism

There does perhaps need to be a reminder as to the "purposes" of the tourist tax. The text of the legislation published on 30 March for what is officially the "sustainable tourism tax" states what the revenue is intended for. Under Article 19, the first of five broad purposes reads: the protection, conservation, modernisation and recuperation of the natural, rural, agrarian and marine environment. 

While this is a wide catch-all for environmental conservation, the third element (agrarian) is rather more specific than the other three. Or it appears to be. Agrarian conservation means aid to farming. Doesn't it? Well, not necessarily. There would be indirect benefits, but the intention is not for revenue to be spent as some form of aid to farmers but as a means of preserving agricultural land.

One accepts that the breadth of Article 19 is open to interpretation, but fundamentally the specific reference to "agrarian" is a recognition - at least in theory - of the need to maintain and improve the agricultural landscape. In so doing, again according to theory, the overall tourist experience will be enhanced.

Already, however, the interpretations are being opened. The union of farmers in Mallorca has demanded that revenue from the tax is made available to "support the work" of the farming community. It says that there should be an annual plan to assist with providing quality produce by means of compensation for work already done to preserve the landscape.

It has become evident that all manner of organisations, town halls and others are lobbying for tax revenue and are thus submitting their proposals accordingly. The farmers' union can therefore be excused for seeking a share of the pie even if, as was understood in the drafting of the legislation, financial aid for production wasn't intended to be part of the package.

As far as the general aim for agricultural landscape preservation is concerned, this seems reasonable enough. While I personally disagree with the ethos of the tax, now that it exists, then spending some of the cash in this way is laudable enough. The tourist experience is enhanced by landscapes of almond blossom, orange trees, vineyards, olive groves and what have you. These landscapes in themselves attract tourism, so why not spend some revenue on them?

Production is a different matter. The farmers would argue that the tourist experience will be further enhanced by there being "quality produce", but isn't there such quality already? What are all those marks for this that or the other, the designations of origin, the regulatory councils intended for, if not quality? It sounds as if the farmers may just be protesting too much.

It isn't as if this produce doesn't already find its way onto the plates and into the mouths of tourists. Hotels and restaurants have increasingly set about sourcing locally (a key aspect of sustainability that hasn't required the constant mention of the word, as it has been happening for a fair old time). There are regular promotions which involve the hotels. This summer, for instance, there was one for milk.

But note what the union says. Assistance would be to compensate for work done in preservation. This has echoes, for example, of what Arta town hall has argued. It has demanded greater financial contribution in recognition of the municipality having preserved its coastline and foregone the financial benefits of more intensive tourism. The town hall has a point but it is being somewhat disingenuous: the coastline and general infrastructure have been obstacles in any event. Likewise, the farmers are being disingenuous. Yes, they do preserve the landscape, but this comes with the territory, so to speak. It's part of what they do.

In a wider sense, what is or what should be the relationship between agriculture and tourism? The simple one, economically, is the provision of produce, and it is this relationship which underpins work by organisations such as Solimar International or which is contained in recommendations from the International Trade Centre. But this relationship has overwhelmingly been considered from the point of view of underdeveloped or developing economies: not comparatively mature ones such as Mallorca's.

As such, it is difficult to ascertain precisely what the relationship is and so what the benefit is or might be. Studies have looked at the contribution of agrotourism, for example, but this isn't what the government is driving at: it is the contribution of the landscape.

Where the farmers may have a point, however, is in guaranteeing the future of the agriculture sector and so its role in preservation. Over 60% of Mallorca's land is categorised as being for farming purposes. Agriculture may contribute a mere 1.1% to GDP and employ only 2.4% of the workforce (one that is getting older), but these aren't reasons not to maintain it or to preserve the land it uses. The use of the tax might actually constitute a groundbreaking initiative by the government.

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