Friday, November 18, 2016

The Great Balearic Tourism Debate

There are certain publications that come along which should demand rather greater attention than just that of a Catalan readership. One such publication is the "Anuari del Turisme de les Illes Balears" - the Balearics tourism yearbook. The 2016 edition, the third such edition, has just been published. The work of the Fundació Gadeso, it is supported by the University of the Balearic Islands, the Colonya bank in Pollensa and the government's vice-presidency, in other words the fiefdom of tourism minister Biel Barceló.

It is a staggering publication of 278 pages with contributions that range from those who currently hold public office to those who have held office in the past, to academics, to historians. If there's one criticism to be made of this array of contributors, there is a lack of hard-nosed businesspeople.

This aside, it is nevertheless an absolute goldmine that charts tourism development and places this in the context of the current day and so therefore the debate about what tourism is, about what it should be and about its impacts. It will be required bedtime reading for the tourism minister. It should be required reading for many others.

There is no need to explain yet again the context, in particular the one that has been aired so greatly this year - saturation - but it is this context which makes the opening remarks in the introduction so pertinent. The Gadeso foundation's director, Andreu Grimalt Rosselló, writes that in the previous yearbook, it was noted that the foundation had been warning for some time that the terms of the debate about tourism needed to be reconsidered. He goes on to say that this hadn't been intended as an attack on tourism, remarking that there are, however, individuals and groups who, "living in relative comfort", have no desire for change and who consider any dissenting opinion as though it were an attempt to torpedo the tourism sector.

One might ask what the terms of the debate have been until now. In general, they haven't been markedly different. One of the yearbook's contributors is Celesti Alomar, the tourism minister responsible for the original ecotax. I have previously looked at what Alomar had to say at the time that tax was introduced. It wasn't fundamentally much different to now.

But what has changed is the very much more public nature of the debate, while it is notable that Grimalt should choose to lead on the issue of employment. He wonders about the "social profitability" of tourism, which he defines as stable employment, redistribution of wealth and the generation of citizen welfare. He is somewhat disingenuous in asking how, with hotels recording full occupancy, there can still be 70,000 people unemployed. But observations regarding four to five months work and business growth while there remains this employment imbalance are reasonable. They are also central to regional government policy - or attempted policy; they will chime with President Armengol, Vice-President Barceló and employment minister Negueruela.

In a way, the most revealing observations of all are related to the apparent increase in anti-tourist sentiment. And in this regard, the debate now being conducted is shown to be one that should have taken place years ago. Grimalt refers to the work of George Doxey, which is now forty years old. Doxey proposed a four-scale framework that characterises attitudes towards tourists and tourism. It starts with euphoria, turns into apathy (indifference to larger numbers of tourists), then becomes irritation before developing into antagonism - overt and covert aggression towards tourists.

The discontent isn't as it once was. It has existed but it has now become more overt. And following Doxey's argument, it shouldn't be all that surprising that it has. What his four scales suggest is that a better job of managing the tourist-resident relationship should be made. Or rather, should have been started some years in the past. To Barceló's credit, while he can be accused of having fanned the saturation flames simply by mentioning the word, he has also been instrumental in the campaign to highlight tourism in a positive fashion within the framework of his desire for sustainable tourism. The problem is that there are plenty of others who are less even-handed.

The anti-brigade, notably the environmentalists GOB, have long expressed their discontent, but this has now been magnified through the emergence of groups such as Terraferida. Its wholly one-eyed view has most recently been expressed through its attacks on the government attending the World Travel Market and on the government and the Council of Mallorca having between them contributed almost 600,000 euros to the International Golf Travel Market at Son Termens.

The terms of the debate don't necessarily need to change, but what is evident is that certain ones are treated with very much greater seriousness than previously and by a wider and highly vocal audience. The yearbook sets out them out. Shame it isn't in English.

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