Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Non-Communication Of The Tourist Tax

There was a gathering last week of representatives of Spain's overseas tourism offices. They met with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, and there were people from the government in attendance as well. The acting president of the federation, Gabriel Llobera, called for regional government "responsibility" apropos the tourist tax. Which meant that he didn't want it to be increased. Fat chance of that, chum, the revenue's already been marked down in the government's budget and spending plan for 2018. He proposed that Madrid be asked for more money instead of the tax losing "our clients". Where's he been? This government has spent its entire period in office asking, nay demanding that Madrid hands over more cash.

The tourist tax, in Llobera's view, is clearly a form of general revenue-raising. The government of course denies this, which is why it's doubling the rate next year. It, the government, takes us all for fools. Of course it's revenue-raising, however much it might be glossed up with the vagueness of the constant chanting of sustainability, etc., etc.

The director of the Munich office, Álvaro Blanco, said that German tourists are accustomed to paying this type of tax. While true that there has long been a tax on hotel stays in Germany (which applies to everyone), it's only modest. There is being accustomed to paying a tax, and there is being accustomed to paying one at a particular rate. Biel Barceló recently came out with the ridiculous statement that the Balearic tax was "the cheapest, the lowest in Europe and even when it is doubled, it is still going to be relatively cheap in comparison". Taken for fools.

Blanco then went on to say that the most important thing was "to communicate what is done with the money". He added: "It's important that it goes towards projects which give added value to the tourist." Communicate. Now, there would be a novelty.

The tourism director-general, Pilar Carbonell, was at that gathering. She said that the government is "totally transparent" in respect of tourist tax collection and the allocations for spending. However, she admitted that "the government has failed to communicate where the tax money goes, and we have to rectify this". Carbonell pointed out that there is a web page with the information about tax spending, "but people don't know about it". As far as self-condemnation of an inability to communicate effectively goes, then this took some beating.

The director-general is right. There is a web page, but it takes a lot of finding. The government's website reflects the government's own labyrinthine organisational structure. Nothing, or very little, is easy to locate. I went hunting for it the other day. I wanted a complete list of the projects for the spending of the tourist tax revenue raised this year. All I got was the list for last year. Having made the announcement of this year's spending round last Monday, you would think that there would be a post that itemises it. Things obviously take a bit of time.

It isn't just that there is a failure to communicate. The communication which exists is lamentable, not least in terms of the transparency. Why, for example, do some projects not receive funding? It's no use the government pointing to its multi-page plan with its equations and specifications. No one, other than me, is going to bother wading through that lot. Even if they do, they still won't know the answer. And I don't.

Carbonell says that communication should all be about showing how tax money is "improving and preserving our destination". Fine, then each project should come replete with an explanation as to how. And all the projects should be clearly set out and available as information. It might help if the government had any proper social media means of doing so. But it doesn't. Its communication is wretched. Or should one say that it is wretchedly limited. The government's Facebook page, in Catalan of course, is asking the citizens their preferences for the seventy projects to receive tourist tax funding. Isn't this a bit late? The projects have been decided.

Participation is a different side to the communication coin. Podemos have called for there to be citizen participation in tourist tax-spending decision-making. Perhaps there should be, though given experiences with this participation in Palma - absurdly low numbers of people voting for projects from the 900 grand set aside for the "people's projects" - there could be little confidence in there being meaningful participation.

And what of the people who pay the tax? Should their views be taken into account? Maybe they should be, but one suspects that elements - politically and within society - might object. Moreover, how could tourists determine whether 4.7 million for a finca in Arta is worthwhile funding? They will just have to accept that it is worthwhile and that it is they who are paying for it.

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