Thursday, November 03, 2016

Tourism Promotion: Saturation Spending

I find myself increasingly knarked by the way in which elements of the local media insist on relating absolutely everything to do with the island's tourism - as currently is - to security issues in other parts of the Mediterranean and consequently to the harmful impact of so-called saturation. Frankly, I think we are now all saturated by saturation talk, while we all realised months ago that lunatics in Turkey and elsewhere had meant tourists arriving en masse in Mallorca. Why keep going on about it?

It's a matter of fascination to note the way in which this media falls into line with narratives that are dominant at the time until an alternative comes along. Take holiday rentals, as an example. Some while back - up to roughly three years ago - the narrative was accepted unquestioningly. Dreadful people going around not paying tax, the "illegal" offer needed stamping out, which was of course the view of the Partido Popular and the hoteliers. The media nodded its head and parroted the line.

Then, somewhat out of the blue, came a counter-argument. It was partly driven by PSOE who had latched onto the idea that some good might come from allowing owners to legally market their apartments as holiday rentals. Blimey, seemed to think these elements in the media, maybe they've got a point. For a time, therefore, the argument shifted in the opposite direction, until, that is, we arrived at saturation and therefore the devil's work which is the holiday rental.

Which is not to deny that there aren't issues. There most certainly are issues, but these have moved somewhat from the ones of the time when the PP and the hoteliers first formed their government in 2011. Not paying tax seems to have been largely forgotten amidst, for example, the inability of local people being able to find anywhere to rent because Airbnb has hoovered up every available living space on the island.

Yes, there are very serious issues, and ones that badly need addressing by effective legislation, which one fears may well be beyond the wit of Balearic legislators. Meanwhile, the saturation narrative has consumed everything. It has gobbled up all that is in its path, including the judgement and perspective of elements of the media drawn, as previously and without question, to the prevailing arguments.

We thus have, for example, the announcement of the Balearic budget for 2017. The fact that the Balearic Tourism Agency (ATB) has had its budget cut - the only government agency to have suffered in this regard - is evidence of the power of the saturation narrative. Yes of course Podemos have argued that there should be absolutely no more of the citizens' taxes spent on promoting tourism (in light of saturation), but then there are some in Podemos who are at least one sun lounger short of a whole beach when it comes to tourism matters.

Notwithstanding Podemos's views, the ATB budget cut is manifestly linked to saturation. There can be no other explanation. Well, perhaps there can be another explanation, as in spending vast fortunes on promotion isn't needed - certainly not at present. Saturation should thus be seen as a virtue: a couple of million lopped off the agency's budget can be diverted to projects to promote Catalan. Everyone's a winner.

As important is the fact that a damn great knife was taken to tourism promotion spend by the PP. Carlos Delgado, for it was he when tourism minister, pared spend back to the barest of marketing bones. There would, for instance, be no more Rafa Nadal hurtling around the islands on board some minor superyacht and being paid at least the equivalent of a Grand Slam win for doing so. Delgado decreed that simply going to travel fairs was terminally dull in marketing terms but just as effective. If one's being totally honest, he wasn't far wrong.

The miserly nature of the promotional spend was therefore a PP creation. During the previous PSOE-led administration (admittedly with the Unió Mallorquina in charge of tourism for most of the administration), money was splashed out. Rather too much of it, or so it would seem. The current PSOE-led government is therefore pursuing a PP policy. How very odd.

This all said, there will come a day when desaturation occurs naturally because tourists have been convinced that the lunatics have all been bombed or locked up. What then? Blanket prime-time telly ads for every tourist market? Meanwhile the ATB will just have to get on with what it has and with what it has to do, which includes assisting at the likes of the London World Travel Market and fielding angry questions, such as why everyone keeps banging on about saturation. "Don't you want our tourists?" "Of course we do, and just to prove it we've cut our promotional budget for next year."

Forget it. They should be spending more, not less.

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