Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Up For The Craic: Tourism Demos

While some fifty or so associations, organisations, platforms, groups, minor political parties and movements were failing to massify the streets of old Palma on Saturday, another survey was being added to the saturation of tourism saturationist discourse. Gadeso, for which we should all be very grateful as they are are good at gauging public opinion, had undertaken its second tourism and saturation survey. It is headlined "placing limits on tourism?".

The demo, rally, march, whatever you call it, mustered some 3,000 or so people; on average around sixty people per entity. Did it represent a watershed moment? Will there now be an irreversible drive towards "de-growth" and a declining reliance on tourism? Have the people of Mallorca definitively spoken and told their political masters that they must take more "courageous steps" in breaking the economic monoculture of tourism?

People go on demos partly for the craic, especially if they are young. I know I did. If the National Students Union demanded turn-outs in London against whatever was the latest reason to require a turn-out, off we would go and wearily tread the tarmac in the general vicinity of Westminster. There were doubtless earnest and idealistic reasons why we would do this, but there was also the impulse to join in because protest was what young people and students did. It was a rite of passage.

Not everyone who was on the march on Saturday was young. Not everyone would have gone along for the craic or because of a youthful determination to demonstrate and thumb a nose at authorities (or an entire industry in this instance). There were very valid reasons for the demo, but they have tended to get rather lost in all the publicity given to the odd act of vandalism, perpetrated, one suspects, by youthful protesters who may also find spraying graffiti to be a good craic.

The point is that a march such as Saturday's proves little, other than that some 3,000 people turned up and that this number was biased in favour of a younger age group. Gadeso, on the other hand, can provide a better flavour of what the people of Mallorca (and the Balearics) might really be thinking, those who wouldn't necessarily dream of taking part in a demo. So, what does the survey find? Well, two-thirds of those polled either believed that the islands cannot accommodate the high numbers of tourists at present (these numbers are unsustainable) or that more tourists don't equate to there being greater wealth and well-being.

In essence, therefore, there is a majority view that there should be limits on tourism. And one way of potentially establishing limits is via the tourist tax. The increase in the tax drew a 69% positive response. Public opinion, at least where Gadeso is concerned, does therefore lend some validity to the more public display of issues related to tourism that was on show on Saturday.

But what about tourism and its economic contribution, assessed at 45% of direct Balearic GDP? The latest survey didn't ask this, but a previous one - back in July - at least alluded to it. That survey revealed that only 48% of those surveyed believed that tourism activity was the basis for well-being. Which isn't the same thing as disputing tourism's importance to the economy, but is an indication that for all its importance it doesn't translate into providing a sense of benefit to a majority of the population. And this does rather back up one of the claims of those who were demonstrating: tourism fails to provide adequate wealth for all.

Because of this, there are the demands for less tourism dependence and for diversification. Gadeso asked what sectors should have priority for diversification. More than 50% voting was in favour of new information and communications technologies (ICT). Lesser priorities were energy, diversification of the actual tourism product, health and marine research, artistic and cultural creation, and agriculture and food (only 18%).

These suggestions do at least offer some means of filling the void that is the whole debate on tourism, i.e. there are no strong and sound proposals for alternatives, and there certainly weren't any on Saturday. It's all well and good shouting about less dependence and greater diversification, but what do either mean? And what, to be totally realistic, can be achievable in the short, medium and long terms?

In 2016 there was almost eight per cent growth in the ICT sector. It is one that has been championed for a long time, but it takes equally long to get to a point where it is a minor contributor to GDP, while it shouldn't be overlooked that in the Balearics it has a bias towards tourism applications.

The 3,000 on Saturday weren't necessarily wrong but nor were they providing any solution. Being up for the craic is one thing. Being realistic is another.

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