Saturday, October 21, 2017

Barceló Adding To Tourism Industry Uncertainty

The storm clouds are gathering for Biel Barceló. The Més contracts affair, it needs stressing, is not in any way - allegedly or otherwise - on a scale of what once used to go on at the tourism ministry, but it nevertheless induces some uncertainty at the ministry at a time when it needs it the least.

In the bad old days of Unió Mallorquina control of the ministry, which lasted for much of the 2007-2011 administration until the party was kicked out of the ruling government pact, things got to such a pretty pass that the tourism industry barely knew from one day to the next who it was dealing with. Three ministers came and went until eventually PSOE took over and installed Joana Barceló for the final year or so of the administration. Along with the ministers, out also went various officials who were under suspicion.

The industry is used to the ministry's chopping and changing. It happens every four years. This turnaround can be dealt with because it's predictable. It's when things become unpredictable that the industry gets the jitters. And with the UM there was the specific issue of Mallorca and the Balearics being given a thoroughly bad name because of corruption. While the industry can carry on and does so regardless of politicians and political shenanigans, it - as with any other industry - prefers a state of calm and as much certainty as possible. Right now, there is too much uncertainty as it is, e.g. Brexit and any Catalonia effect, and heading towards the first major travel fair of the winter period - London's World Travel Market in November - there is the additional headache of the Més contracts.

Barceló can probably ride out the storm, despite calls for his head. President Armengol expressed her confidence in him earlier this week, which was probably more sincere than a football club chairman's vote of confidence in his manager, but there's no disguising the fact that his neck is potentially on the line. It also needs stressing that he personally hasn't been mentioned by the anti-corruption prosecution service, but the citing of the director of the Balearic Tourism Agency (Pere Muñoz) is too close to him for comfort. It starts to sound a bit like the UM revisited, and it starts to make Barceló appear like damaged goods.

The nub of the prosecutor's case against Muñoz is that a contract with a total value of 80,000 euros was split in such a way as to circumvent normal procedures for the awarding of a contract with that amount. There were two contracts for what was to have been a tourist survey. The argument presented by the ministry is that there was nothing untoward in this as the first contract (for a lower amount to Jaume Garau, the one-time Més campaign manager) was for the specification of the survey. The other contract was for the implementation, i.e. the conducting of the survey and its analysis. This was to a Madrid-based company. However, it is alleged that Garau exerted influence over Muñoz in order to ensure that this company got the contract, for which there was no public tender.

A peculiar aspect of this affair is that despite Muñoz having resigned, he hasn't actually gone. Apparently this is to be confirmed at a meeting of the tourism agency in London. Why? This makes no sense. Is Muñoz actually going to be in London? Whether he is or he isn't, Barceló needed to have distanced himself pronto and not let the matter drag on. As it is, the contracts case is hovering over him when he needs to be doing all he can to allay industry anxieties about a host of issues, only one of which is the doubling of the tourist tax, about which there is still a lack of clarity as to its application in the low season.

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