Saturday, May 13, 2017

Transferring Responsibilities For Tourism

Menorca will have 6.3 million euros to spend on tourism promotion next year. Lucky old Menorca, a beneficiary of the magnanimous gesture by the regional government to facilitate islands' own promotion, which is something the islands should have been doing for years.

One says this, but the islands have in fact been engaged in their own promotion in the past and now in the present. They are fully entitled to under the statutes of autonomy which grant rights for tourism organisation to the island councils. At present, though, there is a grand and ongoing ceremony for the transfer of responsibilities, as if these haven't existed. The real meaning behind this ceremonious "traspaso" is money, which is where Menorca's 6.3 million enters the equation. How much does the Balearic Tourism Agency spend on promotion? Not as much as Menorca will be next year. It currently spends around half the amount, and if Podemos had its way, it would be no more one tenth the amount.

There is an additional meaning, the true sense (perhaps) of responsibility. The islands, keepers of their own promotional fortunes, will be able to determine what they promote and how they promote. In marketing terms, they will be able to differentiate and devise products in support of this differentiation. They will become their own brands.

Ibiza, it should be noted, already possesses these official responsibilities. The road to the transfer to all the islands has been a long and tortuous one, with political obstacles and opportunism making it alternatively a rocky or smooth way. Because José Ramón Bauzá had his "issues" with Ibiza (or rather Ibiza had its issues with him), that island acquired its responsibilities when he was president. As attempts go in trying to keep electorates and party members sweet, it wasn't a notable success.

Bauzá, if only in a half-hearted fashion, had intended handing responsibilities to all the islands. He was unable to primarily because of money. Formentera, in particular, was outraged at how little was on offer. Mallorca, under the austere management of Maria Salom, didn't want the responsibilities because of the cost and potential for duplication.

Tourism minister Biel Barceló, when he was a member of the opposition, attacked the Bauzá government over its failure to comply with the legality of transfer. This came back to haunt him when the PP taunted him earlier this year for precisely the same reason. It had been understood that responsibilities were to have been transferred at the start of this year: they obviously weren't.

The financial allocations to the other islands are still a bit of a mystery. Menorca has gone public and its 6.3 million is a substantial amount. The president of the Council of Mallorca, Miquel Ensenyat, said in January that his council might expect some nine million euros. This, however, would be an "outrage", not because it would be too little but because it would be too much. It would be outrageous to spend so much on tourism promotion.

Ensenyat, who has made no bones about his desire to turn the Council into a de facto government for Mallorca, is nevertheless astute enough to recognise the dangers not just of budgets but also of duplication. Under Maria Munar and Francina Armengol, the Council created duplication aplenty: tourism was just one area. When dismissing the nine million euros as outrageous, he also said that the Council was working on trying to establish the framework for the tourism responsibilities. It was a revealing statement. No one was too sure what was to be transferred.

When he made these observations, Ensenyat was in Madrid for the Fitur tourism fair. And why was he there? If, in theory, the Council of Mallorca doesn't yet have responsibilities for promotion, then what is it doing attending a major event like Fitur? But it does have responsibilities and it does its own promotion, such as the cartoon map it produced (which was rather clever) and that was on show at Fitur. Moreover, these responsibilities appear to be divided between the departments for economic affairs and for culture. The Walking on Words initiative, as an example, is a culture department product. It can be dressed up as culture, but it is a tourism promotion device.

Things are a muddle. That much is clear. Or not. Fundamentally, the islands should have responsibilities. They differ from each other. They should be branded according to the attributes that each possesses. The global Balearic brand has never made much sense. But at the very moment when they are to acquire the cash (meaningful cash in the case of Menorca) to do so, there is the political requirement to rein back on promotion because of the horrors of saturation.

The transfers are to be in place for the start of 2018, but one forms the impression - because of this political requirement - that the government would prefer that they weren't.

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