Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Absence Of Tourism Strategy

“I think it’s better to have those drinking ghettoes, Playa de Palma and Magalluf, where people go, rather than these intellectual types of tourists who tramp over everything in their search for the untouched bit, the original Mallorcan, and the residential tourists, who buy up property, buy a car, usually two, swimming pools, and want gardens with plants and grass like at home but that need water.”

Who said this? It might surprise you to learn that it was a spokesperson for the environmentalists GOB. These are the words of Gerard Hau, quoted from an article in The Guardian in May last year. They are words which encapsulate themes of recent days and weeks and point to different extremes of Mallorca's tourism. At one end of the spectrum is the low-grade drunken tourism and its vandalistic in-resort tendencies. At the other is the high-spending luxury class and its own vandalism of the countryside. Within the context of the furore over the holiday rentals' legislation, residential tourism in the countryside has been largely ignored, and by residential tourism one means second homes that are both for rent and just for use by owners.

Among their objections to the legislation, Podemos were determined to put an end to a savaging of the countryside in the pursuit of the up-market rental. Ideologically, one would expect them to, but otherwise they are on the same page as Gerard Hau. He, however, was going at the issue from a different perspective. At the time he was quoted, Mallorca was in the grip of drought (or at least near-drought). His concern was resources: water, in this instance.

The Hau thesis, coloured by an unnecessarily all-embracing pejorative attitude towards tourists of the mass who go to the principal resorts (only some of these tourists are drunks; the vast majority are not), echoes the philosophy enshrined in the so-called Benidorm Effect. Establish areas of high-density tourism and they are very much more efficient in terms of resource use. Spread tourism with little control into low-density or virtually uninhabited areas, and the resource use is highly inefficient.

For Podemos, there is an obsession with eliminating provisions in law that the Partido Popular introduced in 2012. The Delgado Law (the 2012 tourism act) facilitated touristic development on rustic land: the territory which doesn't have a satisfactory translation in English. Rural is inadequate. But whether from a politically ideological perspective or from economic or environmental perspectives, the arguments about countryside tourism, about drunken tourism, about holiday rentals in general all arrive at the same point. What does Mallorca want from its tourism? And what overall strategy is there for this?

The simple answer to the first question is the vague notion of quality. The word is so loose and woolly as to be meaningless. And who, let's face it, ever advocates tourism without quality?

There are degrees and grades of quality. It has long been known that in Mallorca there is a type of tourism I have described in the past as social-services tourism. This isn't anything to do with the winter, sometimes subsidised tourism for senior citizens. It has to do with the tourism that is provided with a social service by the island. It commonly pitches up in an all-inclusive, extracts the social service benefits on offer, and then disappears, quite probably clutching a false claim form. The net result for Mallorca is a loss.

The evidence of this type of tourism has existed in rigorous academic research for almost thirty years. The drunken tourism of today's headlines is the inheritor of the past. All that time - thirty years at least - and it still has the capacity to shock politicians (and others) out of their complacency.

The degrees of quality are such that the principal tourism market sector - the family - can be stigmatised for being insufficiently wealthy. This is not a social-services or drunken category, it is a normal, regular segment of the market which might choose an all-inclusive on economic grounds. If the offer is there, then why on Earth shouldn't it? There may not be enormous splashing of cash, but there are none of the behavioural negatives that are dogging Gerard Hau's "drinking ghettoes".

More than ever, the current arguments reinforce the fact that there is so little coherence in terms of a strategic approach. The rentals' legislation highlights this. There should of course be some greater liberalisation. Not a free-for-all but regulation that recognises market dynamics and, yes, can generally permit a tourism of "quality".

But political flip-flopping, competing ideologies and competing favouritism (be it to hoteliers, the environment, whatever) erect constant barriers while at the same time shifting the sands of regulation without adequate regard for joined-up strategy. The arguments, one fears, will be the same thirty years from now.

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