Saturday, December 10, 2016

Showing No Preference: Tourism Press

The specialist tourism and travel press in Spain has followed the pattern of the country's tourism development. If Mallorca can be said to have led that development, then Mallorca has also been responsible for driving the media which reports and comments on it. Two of the leading titles started the ball rolling, and they are both based in Palma - Preferente, which came first in 1991, and Hosteltur, which followed three years later.

The latter has since assumed the more prominent role. Its paper and digital presence is more advanced than Preferente. But while it doesn't shy away from including critical journalism, it doesn't tend to go at subjects in quite the way that Preferente does. Take away the reporting of developments, and much of what is left is critical comment, sometimes highly.

It has been the only real source, and bear in mind its Mallorcan base, to follow closely the Air Europa residents' discounts fraud case. Air Europa (Globalia) is of course also based in Mallorca. This hasn't influenced Preferente. The case crops up regularly and still does. While other media have given the impression of wanting to give the case a wide berth and not touch it with a barge-pole, Preferente has waded in. Just as it does on other issues to do with Air Europa. A week or so ago, it ripped to shreds its management.

This week it's gone for the jugular again. In one piece it has targeted Antonio Catalan, the president of AC Hotels by Marriott. Calling him a "sneak", it takes some delight in his comeuppance at having levelled accusations at two other hotel groups - Meliá and NH - over the outsourcing of chambermaid employment, only to find that AC is now facing similar accusations. Perhaps the most damning point of this article is to describe him as "one of the three tourism businesspeople in our country with the most verbal incontinence". As for the other two, it doesn't say, but a guess can be made regarding at least one of them.

The second article attacks the Balearic president, Francina Armengol. It accuses her of having lied on three separate occasions to the head of Iberostar, Miquel Fluxá. The first of these occasions was on 17 December 2014 when, accompanied by other leading hoteliers, Fluxá was told by Armengol (who at that time wasn't yet president) that it was "in her hands" to not apply the tourist tax.

I recall having referred to this meeting myself two years ago, and it informed what I and others believed to be the case with Armengol and PSOE: that she and the party would not be in favour of the tax, especially as the old ecotax had been a factor in a previous PSOE-led administration having been ejected from power.

Fluxá doesn't escape criticism - he's described as "glamorous, funny but naive ... in dealings with the political caste" - but there is more flak going Armengol's way. She is, the article states, a "compulsive liar, just like most of her species". She is then branded as having similar traits to her partners in government (Més and Podemos): hatred of the Partido Popular, pan-Catalanist, in favour of independence and being against mass tourism.

A conclusion the article draws is that the "lie" of December 2014 achieved what she had been seeking: that the hoteliers wouldn't get involved in a fight against her during the campaign for the regional election. The hoteliers were by that stage resigned to the fact that the PP would lose the election and so were hoping that they could rely on Armengol and PSOE not to allow others, such as Més, to disrupt their interests. 

One of the other "lies" was in November last year when she apparently suggested that it would be appropriate to wait until the results of the general election before "redirecting the tourist reins". She was seemingly referring to Més more than Podemos and implying that there might be some change; Biel Barceló of Més had been the tourism minister for around five months by then. There was no change.

Is this attack on Armengol justified? Possibly so in respect of the December 2014 meeting, but the article does overlook the fact that Armengol and PSOE have been trying to rein in some of the more extreme attitudes towards tourism. Moreover, Barceló hasn't shown himself to be quite the demon that the article implies. There are elements in Més who are hostile towards tourism in a similar fashion to Podemos, but Barceló isn't one of them. Yes, he's all for the tourist tax and may well press for an increase to the tax in 2018, but to suggest that he is anti-tourist is not how I view him.

Still, it's good to know that there is a thriving and critical press and one willing to express itself independently.

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