Saturday, April 22, 2017

Madrid In A Muddle Over Holiday Rentals

The secretary-of-state for tourism's visit to Mallorca during the week allowed the industry to get some things off its chest. None of them were particularly new. Politicians and senior officials were there as well. In the case of tourism minister Biel Barceló, he could afford to give Matilde Asián only a few minutes of his time; he had a television interview to get to. It was presumably time enough for her to tell him that Madrid isn't minded to pump more cash into the Playa de Palma reform because of what seemingly went missing several years ago. Even so, Asián, because of the national ministry's policy of modernising old resorts, appeared to also suggest that Playa de Palma will be looked upon favourably: at some point and in some way.

Asián's visit served only to spread confusion. Her boss, Álvaro Nadal, has made much of the resort modernisation. There may be legitimate issues about previous funding, but what is to be done about Playa de Palma? It isn't just one of Mallorca's main resorts, it is one of Spain's. Perhaps in future Madrid needs to take full control of any project. That way it will know that the money's being used wisely.

But Madrid wouldn't do this. While it might provide investment, a project such as Playa de Palma is a regional affair. The Balearics, as with other regional communities, has tourism responsibilities. It is therefore for the regional government to sort things out, as is the case with holiday rentals.

The past week has given the impression of left and right hands being unaware of what both are doing, of some ignorance of legislation and of messages being mixed. With holiday rentals, a fundamental issue for the Balearic government is a reform of the Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos, the tenancy act. The government has forwarded to Madrid, as has the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, its wish for there to be a minimum rental of four weeks. With this, it hopes to overcome the loophole that the act currently offers.

Asián seemed to suggest that she hadn't been asked about reform, said that there was no plan to reform the act (which is what Nadal has also said), but then added that she would look into it so long as someone tells her to look into it and on the grounds that everything can be made better. So what is Madrid's position? The national government, i.e. Asián, has also intimated that it is considering nationwide legislation for holiday rentals. This would represent a U-turn, as Madrid devolved responsibilities to the regions. It was perfectly entitled to, given what the statutes for regional government permit, but it appeared at the time to have washed its hands of the rentals' matter. The ensuing mess is at least partly Madrid's fault.

Despite what it might say about treating rentals of under four weeks as touristic, the Balearic government will encounter problems with effectively enforcing its rentals' legislation unless the tenancy act is reformed. And this obstacle exists in all other regions where there are issues with rentals and where the hoteliers and legislators have been banging their heads against a wall in despair of Madrid taking any real notice.

To cap it all, there is the European Union to take into account. It has working parties considering holiday rentals, including therefore the role of websites such as Airbnb. And what might Brussels come up with? Who can say. Madrid can't, or appears to be unable to. Things will probably have to wait until the EU speaks, which will probably provoke ever more confusion.

While Asián was here, she also had something to say about the tourist tax. She is opposed to it, as of course is her party. That was hardly a surprise, but there was a surprise when she said that she found it surprising that residents in the Balearics have to pay the tax if they stay in tourist accommodation. She was surprised? Was she unaware that the reason for this is because Brussels had decreed it?

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