Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Wages Of Biel Barceló

Mallorca's hoteliers are mightily generous. They've agreed a 17% pay increase over four years. An agreement? More a case of the unions snapping their hands off before there was any chance to backtrack. The unions couldn't believe the offer. They'd been wanting 10%.

The agreement came out of the blue. The negotiations, we had understood, weren't due to start until after the season had finished. It was a surprise when the agreement was announced and an even bigger surprise when the size of the pay increase was known. The president of the Menorca hoteliers summed things up. It had all been done so quickly that it was a done deal by the time the other islands were told about it. Their hoteliers aren't bound by the agreement but they're not left with much wriggle room now that Mallorca has set the bar so high.

The surprise was compounded by the knowledge that there was a separate group of hoteliers which had been agitating for something modest. These were the smaller chains, the ones without pockets as deep as the like of Iberostar and Meliá. The smaller hotel chains are also less in the political firing-line than the large groups.

The agreement, with Inma Benito - now at Iberostar - leading the way for the Mallorca federation, looks increasingly as though it was a deliberate political manoeuvre. The government can suddenly be friends again. Moreover, Iberostar won't be troubled by any potential industrial unrest next year. Nor will the other hoteliers. It was the last thing, and I stress the last thing, that could have been contemplated. With everything else of a tourism nature that is flying around, strikes in hotels would have been the final straw.

Having signed on the dotted line with the unions, one headache for the tourism industry is removed, albeit that not all hoteliers are happy with the agreement and that the rest of the hospitality sector, such as the restaurants which are party to the same collective bargaining arrangement, have refused to sign. They had said that they couldn't accept the 10% let alone 17%.

Eliminating headaches is a way of defining this agreement. There are enough as it is, and the season for the travel fairs is almost upon the industry and the government. In London in November there can at least be assurance that there won't be strikes in hotels. There's going to need to be a heck of a lot more assurance.

One of those who will be attempting to give this assurance is Biel Barceló. As far as he is concerned, the wage agreement is a sign of the confidence that the hotel sector has in the future of the tourism industry in the Balearics. (The hoteliers in the other islands might like to note that he said the Balearics rather than just Mallorca.) Here's a message he can take to London. Look at the confidence; it's worth 17%.

Although the word from the Balearic government has been about trying to smooth the influx of tourists, it is understood that the tourism industry - tour operators, for example - was nevertheless surprised if not alarmed by what was being said last week about reducing numbers in the summer. Barceló has a lot of explaining to do when he gets to London, and the omens for his explanations aren't that positive.

He was explaining in The Bulletin at the weekend and he had my jaw dropping lower and lower. Only five or six complaints about the tourist tax? Only two thousand people might be deterred from coming because of a doubling of the rate? So it isn't a tax for dissuading tourists, when he has said in the past, inter alia, that the tax is a tool for regulating the flow of tourists? There won't be a doubling between October and April. Isn't October part of the main season? Hasn't the actual application of a winter rate still to be decided? The tourist tax is the lowest in Europe. Catalonia, anyone? Croatia, anybody else? Tax revenue of 74 million euros has been invested in the tourist industry. Where did that figure come from? And which tourist industry is this exactly? One that includes water systems in and around Maria and Llubi? Well, he is also the president of the committee which decides how the tourist tax is spent.

Then there was the killer. "It's not a question of having fewer people during the summer." If this isn't the question, then what is it? At the Night of Tourism last Wednesday, Barceló said: "We need to improve demand and increase quality, spending per tourist and the satisfaction of visitors." In order to be more sustainable, we have to "decrease in summer and move tourists to the winter".

Yes, the hoteliers have provided a good message (though what it means for prices is another matter), but as to the others - who can tell.

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