Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dying Of Success

The Cercle d'Economia de Mallorca is an entity linked to the Chamber of Commerce. As its title suggests, it concerns itself with economic affairs, but it looks at the economy in a broad way. The thinkers who contribute to its periodic statements consider social affairs and the environment as well as business and finance. It is not a number-crunching body; more a kind of think tank.

Like the Chamber of Commerce, when the "Circle" comes out with something, it merits attention. Here are two entities which are typified by talking common sense. In the case of the Chamber, it backs its views up with solid research. Unlike some other organisations, and especially political parties, they both give the impression of impartiality and of not operating according to a predefined agenda. They are worth listening to.

The Circle, it should be noted, has collaborating members that include banks and companies in the tourism sector - the Barceló hotel group is one. This may hint at a bias, but generally not. And its latest statements are representative of its independent thought. Mallorca, it concludes, is heading towards death because of the success of the island's mass tourism. "There are objective reasons to believe that Mallorca is dying of success due to the massive influx of tourists." There is "unsustainable growth leading to socioeconomic decline with low-skilled occupations and low wages".

The conclusions it makes are that quantitative growth needs to be limited. It has to give way to qualitative growth before the strengths which characterise Mallorca are lost: the environment, the general tranquility and security. The time has come, it says, for public authorities, business and the public to stop thinking exclusively about particular interests and focus more on a common benefit for a sustainable future.

There is of course a familiar ring to all this. A curious aspect of the current debate surrounding tourism is that the hoteliers and some left-wing politicians coincide in their views. They may come at the issue from different perspectives and draw different conclusions, but the quantitative versus qualitative argument is shared. But the debate fails to move on because it is mired in the particular interests that the Circle identifies as being obstructive.

The tourism minister, Biel Barceló, cops for a great deal of flak. Be it tourist tax, limits to tourist numbers or holiday rentals, he is the target for regular criticism. While I may disagree with him, especially with regard to the tourist tax, I will also defend him. His instincts are right. He may himself have contributed to a certain hysteria about "saturation", but he was not wrong to have elevated the issue to the heights that it has been. He should be applauded for having sparked off public debate and not be the constant recipient of brickbats.

The problem with Barceló, naturally enough, is that he is a product of his political views. And so one returns to the Circle's "particular interests", which apply just as equally to other political parties (with Podemos holding the most extreme), to the hoteliers and to Aptur, the holiday rentals' association. It is most unlikely that these interests can ever be broken down in pursuing a pact for the common benefit, but there should be such a coming-together. Otherwise, the dire outcome is one of Mallorca dying from its own success, an idea that has been gathering as much currency as saturation.

The simplistic argument goes that there will be a correction in the distribution of European tourists. Mallorca is undergoing short-term saturation because of the Mediterranean's geopolitics. But if this is true, then it is even more important for there to be a consensual understanding of the future.

I was asked by a correspondent recently if I thought mass tourism will have ceased thirty years from now. On balance, I agreed that it probably will. There again, one has to try and define what is meant by mass. This can only be done by placing a numerical value on it: a limit. Mass is at present growing like Topsy. Barceló and the government are attempting to turn back the tide, but they are doing so with the absence of a global vision for the future. And this embraces more than just tourism: a fundamental vision for the island's economic future and diversity.

Predicting how tourism will be thirty years from now is an impossibility. There are too many factors to take account of, just one of them being, I would suggest, climate change. But it is not impossible to shape the future. Barceló is right, the hoteliers are right, the environmentalists are right, Aptur is right. They are all right in their own particular ways. It's these particular ways, however, that need modifying. The common benefit demands this.

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