Friday, May 19, 2017

Touristification Has Landed

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new word. The Spanish language is intent on developing a global lexicon of new concepts for tourism, none of them positive, all of them with overtones of touristic harm with varying degrees of malevolence. The new word, for which I thank Xavier Canalis of Hosteltur for highlighting, is "touristification". It joins saturation, massification and tourismphobia in the dictionary of this new type of dark tourism, not that devoted to things like cemeteries but one for the dark side of just too many tourists and especially too many properties for holiday rental.

The word is being used increasingly. El Confidencial has considered what is happening in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia because of touristification, specifically the bubble in rental prices caused by Airbnb and HomeAway. In El Mundo there was a look at how the digital era is affecting urban character. Holiday rental, a phenomenon that predated digital times (and quite obviously so), gave rise over Easter to plus-90% occupancy of rental properties in major cities. Here was evidence of touristification.

A journalist for El Español has given a first-hand account of touristification in Madrid. The piece is entitled: "Irrational tourism throws us out". In the past year, five entire buildings have gone over exclusively to holiday rentals. In his own building, with fifteen apartments, only five are now for residents. The trend is clear.

The Huffington Post (Spanish version) looks at touristification in greater depth and concludes that the digital economy has taken advantage of neo-liberal deregulation that favours multinationals as part of a new post-capitalist model that lives more off income than from the production of value. Emerging new elites are seeking to redirect and rebuild cities for their exclusive service.

These are just some examples of where this word has been used. They all paint much the same picture. And it isn't a very pleasant one.

The idea of living off income is a principle of the so-called collaborative economy. What it means is that if one has something that another is prepared to pay for, then all well and good. This can be a property, a car or anything else that can be shared, or rather theoretically shared, because the sharing aspect of the collaborative economy (for rentals) has largely gone by the board.

For the individual with one property, it is unlikely that he or she could live off income; highly unlikely, in fact. If it is true, as the University of the Balearic Islands' professors recently stated, that the average income from a holiday rental equates to 395 euros per month, then I think you can take it as read that one cannot live off this.

The individual with the single property isn't really the issue. It is what The Huffington Post has identified. Emerging new elites are seeking to redirect and rebuild cities for their exclusive service. Frankly, this sounds chilling, as does its analysis of the digital economy. Cities, and not just cities, being taken over by interests who wish to convert them into refuges for tourists alone. Not just chilling, frightening.

Those who advocate a virtually unfettered approach to rentals don't care. Or maybe they do. Care about their own interests. Arguing that this type of holiday accommodation is the way forward and that hoteliers and hotels have passed their sell-by dates fails totally in taking into account both the co-existence that has there has been between tourist and resident for years and the breakdown of this co-existence in the future. It is an advocacy of touristification, pure and simple. The Huffington vision isn't only frightening, it is obscene. How in the name of anything that is socially acceptable can entire communities end up being pushed out because tourists have come and occupied? I can't get my head around how anyone can believe this is either sensible or moral.

The use of this new word has the potential to fuel even more the discontent among communities most affected. The narratives of politicians, such as Ada Colau in Barcelona or Aurora Jhardi in Palma (she has been more strident in attacking "saturation" than others at town hall, including Antoni Noguera), do whip this up further. It spills over into what it has - protest, in particular in Barcelona - but do these politicians not have a point? Is it not right to safeguard residents and to also safeguard cities from these new and self-interested elites?

The Balearic government, in planning to limit to four the number of properties one owner can rent out, is trying to address the issue. There will of course be ways round such a restriction, you can bet on that. But it may falter in its attempts to create limits, not through want of trying but because of the forces of neo-liberal deregulation in the courts and the competition commissions. Touristification. You'll hear a great deal more about it.

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