Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Resort Redevelopment: No Money, No Time

The Mallorca Hoteliers Federation is the most powerful of all regional federations. Its power lies, to a very large extent, in there being so many powerful hotel groups in Mallorca. Nowhere else in Spain comes close to the might which exists on the island. The power is such that the federation, acting on its own, can command the ear of the national government. The usual channel would be via the national confederation, but Mallorca can bypass this and go right to the very top.

While there might have been some misgivings regarding the previous incumbents of the positions of national tourism minister and secretary of state for tourism, the federation's relationship was never dogged by the politics which meant that a Partido Popular minister and Partido Popular president of the Balearics ceased to be on speaking terms. Nevertheless, the federation found it difficult to make headway, despite the secretary of state having been Mallorcan. With replacements for both positions in place, it senses that it might achieve more.

Soon after Matilde Asián was named secretary of state, she had a meeting with the hoteliers' president, Inma de Benito. In a rare act of solidarity with the current Balearic government, Benito requested that consideration be given to reforming the tenancy act. The hoteliers and government have different reasons for wishing this, but the reform would be the same: remove the loophole that facilitates so many holiday rentals.

Benito had some other requests, one of which was echoed last week in Berlin. This had to do with finding ways to obtain funds to rehabilitate tourist resorts. When she met Asián in December, the talk was of seeking European funds. Last week, it had simply become funds.

The hoteliers argue, with justification, that millions of private investment have gone towards modernising and upgrading hotels but that this investment has not been matched by the public sector. There are, to cite a general view, five-star hotels from which guests step out onto two-star pavements and streets. The infrastructure is as it has been for years but is getting worse.

We know of course all about Magalluf and Calvia's efforts to try and follow the lead of Meliá and others. But keeping up with these efforts isn't straightforward. Many town halls, having spent the years of austerity remodelling their finances, have surpluses. However, they can't use them; or only small parts of them. They are restricted by Madrid, which in turn bends to the requirements of Brussels.

Take the case of Palma. The town hall is regularly upbraided by hoteliers and residents alike because of its neglect of Playa de Palma. Yet here was supposed to have been one of the stellar resort transformation projects. How long has it been waited for? This isn't the fault solely of the town hall because the scheme has always demanded (and been promised) national funds. The scale of the redevelopment outstrips that of other resorts, but the failures to date serve only to highlight the demands of Mallorca's hoteliers.

Mayor José Hila, referring to Benito's request for national funding, said last week that the principal problem is the cut in public investment. And he isn't entirely wrong. Town halls are bound by rules for budgetary stability. These restrict what they can spend and when.

Town halls, where they are able to, do make investments. In Puerto Pollensa, despite all the rows, the improvement, mainly confined as yet to pavements, has been massive. Previously, some of them wouldn't have merited any star let alone two. The rows were, however, understandable, because of the amount of work required and the consequent inconvenience and noise.

These rows are now being repeated in Cala Bona and Cala Millor. It's reasonable to ask, as is the case, why the work is being done now and will last, in all likelihood, until May. Son Servera town hall, though, will have been mindful of how it is forced to budget for such schemes, which is basically the point that Hila was making.

In other parts of Mallorca, work has caused some rumpus: Paguera, Alcudia, Puerto Soller are and have been examples during this low season. But work in all these resorts achieves only so much. The years of underinvestment, and not just the years of austerity, have created resorts in desperate need of improvement. This extends to buildings as well, and not just hotels. In this regard, Calvia's attempt to incentivise owners has thus far been a dead loss.

The national minister, Álvaro Nadal, has himself spoken of the need to modernise "mature resorts". At present, though, budgetary demands limit his ability to effect modernisation just as they do town halls. If the time comes, though, and the purse strings are loosened sufficiently to enable wholesale resort redevelopments, a question needs answering. When could it be done? Lengthening the tourism season has its drawbacks. Just ask the good folk of Cala Bona.

* Photo: Work along part of Alcudia's Mile.

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