Thursday, September 07, 2017

The De-Growth Of Tourism

What are you doing on 23 September? Six o'clock in the evening? Do you fancy heading off to the Plaça Espanya in Palma? They're having some sort of a rally. You can come to. You can go and add your number in massifying the Spanish square. What'll be going on? Massification, that's what.

An announcement appeared on Facebook the other day (1 September). It came from a "user" with a slogan that translates something like "We've got to this point. Stop tourism massification".

The explanation for this rally is that the increase in voices against the "touristisation" of the island has raised the necessity to find alternatives to tourism monoculture that is leading to social and environmental breakdown. After another summer of tourism records, we can see how disastrous the current tourism model is from the point of view of the use of natural resources, the use of land and the environmental impact as well as of labour conditions to which workers are condemned and the difficulties with finding housing. There are more and more people who consider that we cannot go on like this and that to guarantee a decent future for our island it is imperative to apply limits and stop tourist massification. That's why we call Mallorcans to the protest on 23 September.

Oh, Mallorcans. Sorry to have raised your interest, but if you're not Mallorcan then it seems as if you may not be invited. Never let it be said that there is any parochialism on this island, though one might take the call to protest to be one of patriotism. Mallorcans, defend your land!

The thing is that I pretty much agree with this explanation. There is an "increase in voices" of those who do agree, and they certainly aren't all fanatical left-wing eco-warriors. Even tourists can agree, as surveys have shown. But why have the protest, rally, gathering, whatever it is? Has the message not got across? I would suggest that it has and not because of protesters. And another question - who are the organisers of this rally? The national government's delegation will presumably know. You can't just go and hold a rally in Plaça Espanya without permission.

We do by now get the message. Some would argue, with justification, that they are sick and tired of hearing about massification and all the rest. Yes, we know, now let's see what the government achieves with its little schemes - rentals' legislation and tourist tax - and what the hoteliers pull off with their price increases. But there is, I detect, a further dimension, and it was one that was easily misread when banners were put up at six beaches last week. One of the words used was decrease, but I now appreciate that it had a more specific meaning.

Those banners appeared about two weeks after an interview was posted on the Público website. It was with Dr. Ivan Murray, who I have mentioned several times before. A leading figure in the tourism debate in Mallorca, Murray, from the University of the Balearic Islands, is something of an academic darling figure for the eco-left. Which is not to decry his work. He usually speaks a lot of sense. But the interview revealed that other meaning to the word that had appeared on the banners. Rather than decrease, it was de-grow.

There was a more overtly political complexion to what Murray had to say than has normally been the case. He started by debunking the concept of sustainable tourism. This, I have to say, put me firmly on his side. It is a slogan of the tourism lobby that has been hijacked and made to appear to be politically correct (by more than just that lobby). He argued that de-growth is a response to sustainable development, and therefore also sustainable tourism, and to the way in which the concept has been rendered devoid of content. De-growth is very much more precise. It has anti-capitalist connotations and questions the idea that social systems are or should be governed by unlimited growth predicated on monetary variables.

Murray says that the dispute with de-growth is whether it is just. It would mean a decrease in the number of tourists but also in resources, while requiring a redefinition of how society (the Mallorcan society) is organised. Is it just or is it sensible? If there is tourism de-growth, then is there a replacement? And this, diversification, is where so much of the argument falls down. The Palma protest refers to tourism monoculture. We all know this to be the case, but how is it to be addressed in a sensible and just manner?

Waving banners and shouting slogans achieves nothing without a prescription. The whole rage against massification is becoming meaningless sloganising in the same way as sustainable tourism is. De-growth? De-growth to what?

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