Friday, June 09, 2017

Forty Years Of The Federation

There was a family photo the other evening. A sort of family. One, as can be the case with other families, which has divisions. This was the tourist family. Just a small part of it. There was a birthday party. Forty years ago, the Federación Empresarial Hotelera de Mallorca arrived kicking and screaming into this world. The Mallorca Hoteliers Federation has been screaming ever since. The newly born grew to be tall and strong. The tallest and strongest of them all. The most powerful federation of hoteliers in the nation.

In the photo, there in the second row of this frequently fractious family were Inma Benito, the federation's president, and Biel Barceló, the tourism minister. They were shoulder to shoulder, whereas typically they have been face to face in argumentation or back to back in rejection. She wore dark, he wore white but seemingly with a black tie. Was it really a birthday party?

Among those in the front row was Josep Forteza Rey. Over a year ago, he had appeared in another photo. There was a seminar to discuss tourist "saturation". Two to his right was Jaume Garau, Barceló's guru, now excommunicated by Barceló's party. He most certainly didn't attend the birthday party, though in spirit he might have done. The tourist family - the government's politicians and the hoteliers at any rate - have been setting aside their differences in making common cause over holiday rentals.

Forty years on, and the battles that the hoteliers federation has are numerous and varied. Some they go in search of, others are foist upon them. Tourist tax, false compensation claims, the rate of IVA (VAT), regulations on building work, other regulations that can impact negatively on investment, holiday rentals; here are just some. Consider the list of matters in the hoteliers' in-tray. They are to do with tax, with finance, with labour, with housing, with international law in the sense of another country's "bad legislation" (UK law re claims). At a higher level they are concerned with strategy. This is a federation that is a mini-government. Or it can seem as though it is a political party, with representatives shadowing government ministers - Barceló, Pons (housing and transport), Negueruela (employment), Cladera (finance).

Forteza Rey had led the battle forty years ago. Hoteliers in Mallorca were fed up. They needed to be set loose from the Francoist inheritance of tourism organisation. While the politicians and intellectuals drafted the new constitution, while politics and society were struggling with the incipient democracy and with the process of transition, the hoteliers (political to the core) were effecting their own transition. From a meeting in Madrid with the secretary-of-state for tourism, Ignacio Aguirre Borrel, came the means for a pioneering transition. The federation was soon born. Long live the federation.

Its first president was Miguel Codolá. He formed an alliance with the emerging powerful hotelier families - Barceló (nothing to do with the current tourism minister), Escarrer, who have been performing the contemporary transitions of resorts in the name of Meliá, which was not the name in 1977, and subsequently Fluxá, with the stellar quality of Iberostar. But Codolá was egalitarian. There had to be space for the smaller chains. The early federation therefore reflected interests in the different resorts, where less powerful families had established their local business - the likes of Luna in Playa de Muro (the Esperanza complex) or Vilaire in Alcudia, where Narciso Vilaire had founded the Hotel Bahia de Alcudia and was to be a co-founder of the Alcudiamar marina.

Codolá's deftness in drawing together the great and the less great within the framework of the hoteliers' branch of the tourist industry family was to be lost along the way. The great grew greater. By 2014, there was discontent. They were falling out. The small chains felt that the management of the federation, with Iberostar firmly at the controls, was not representing their interests sufficiently, albeit they were diplomatic enough to praise the work of the then president, Aurelio Vázquez of Iberostar. Forteza Rey took up a battle anew. "The small and medium-sized hoteliers have the right to express their opinions within the federation."

One doesn't hear much about such discontent now. Perhaps it's Inma Benito's management. Perhaps it has to do with the various battles that she is fighting on all their behalves. Perhaps it is because of another challenge, one that all the hoteliers share. The more left-wing politicians take aim at the giant hoteliers, at their presidents who appear on the Forbes rich list, at their overseas developments, at their Panama Papers. But all hoteliers are somehow caught in this web of opprobrium, which spills over into a societal condemnation of greed. Outside the broad tourist industry and to an extent within it, the federation's 40th birthday has not been met with a unanimous chorus of "cumpleaños feliz".

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