Saturday, March 11, 2017

Arguing Over Tourismphobia

The national tourism minister, Álvaro Nadal, has not exactly endeared himself to Biel Barceló. The minister, responding to a press question at the Berlin fair about anti-tourist sentiment, said that tourismphobia and prominence given to "saturation" are the result of political interests rather than their being a reflection of social concerns. Moreover, this tourismphobia only exists in the Balearics and Catalonia; nowhere else.

For a Partido Popular politician, which Nadal is, to cite these two regions might itself sound political. Catalonia, politically, we know all about, while its capital - Barcelona - has been right at the centre of the tourismphobia/saturation phenomenon; far more so than the Balearics. The city's mayor, Ada Colau, is light years away from Nadal in political terms.

Biel Barceló doesn't occupy such distant political territory, but he is nevertheless what he is: a left-wing, pro-Majorcan nationalism politician. There is a great deal of water between him and Nadal, some of it the product of more than 200 kilometres of sea. In fact, Barceló would argue, as do others in the Balearics, that it's mostly to do with all that sea: Madrid just doesn't get it where the Balearics are concerned.

Nadal is correct, though, in highlighting the two regions. When I have done research into this so-called tourismphobia, I have only ever found references in the Balearics and Catalonia. It may well exist elsewhere, but if it does, it doesn't make its presence felt.

But is Nadal correct in suggesting that politics have driven the arguments and not society? Up to a point he is. Saturation was first really heard about when Barceló started referring to it in summer 2015. The anti-tourist slogans in Palma appeared several months later. However, is it too simplistic and convenient to draw the conclusion that Nadal has?

Although the word may not have been used, saturation has been an issue bubbling under the surface ever since the days of the old ecotax. There again, one can ask how genuinely societal a development of tourismphobia has been. GOB, the environmentalists, have been agitating in an anti-tourism style for years. Despite their being a "social agent", they are overtly political. There is a blurring, therefore, between social and political. Other groups, ones now enjoying increasing prominence - Terraferida, Palma XXI and Tramuntana XXI - have been a response to the arguments, rather than instigators.

Whatever the political/social balance, Barceló clearly doesn't see politics (his, for instance) as having been the driving force. He was therefore furious with what Nadal had to say. But Barceló can himself appear contradictory. He has spoken against limits being imposed on tourist numbers (saying that it would be impractical to do so), has argued that the tourist tax is not a means of limiting tourists, and yet he wants co-management of the airports for the very reason that the government could then exert some control over numbers.

Responding to Nadal, he made it clear that a way to reduce saturation would be through a reform of the Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos (the tenancy act). This is because it would, he hopes, limit the number of tourists staying in apartments (the main cause of saturation) and also limit the activities of Airbnb and others. Nadal, it would appear, is not inclined to reform the act, thus seeming to himself contradict Matilde Asián, the secretary of state for tourism, who has implied that she is open to considering this. Instead, Nadal said that there will be a tightening of taxation on the likes of Airbnb.

This only made Barceló more agitated. Rather than Madrid coming to the aid of the Balearics via legislative reform, all the national government does is to want to collect more taxes. The irony of this, one would suggest, wasn't lost on many. Nadal, as with all other PP politicians, is firmly opposed to tourist taxes, which only the Balearics and Catalonia have.

Anyway, political or social, we know that this summer will again be about saturation, with tourismphobia tossed into the mix. And if we didn't know, then GOB were telling the Germans that it will be. Who was it that once said that GOB should put up and become a political party or shut up? A PP politician.

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