Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reclaiming The Tourism Ministry

Misfortune can sometimes work to your advantage. For Balearic tourism minister Biel Barceló, the resignation of his director-general has delivered unto him an eco-sovereignty brother in arms as a replacement. Antoni Sansó, with hindsight, might have been DG all along. There are reasons why.

His predecessor, Pilar Carbonell, preparing for her Cursach-related appointment with Judge Manuel Penalva today, was not cut from similar cloth to Antoni. Or anything like it. She was neither especially eco nor pro-Balearic sovereignty, if at all (on either count). Her background was with the restaurants association within that institutional edifice of the Confederation of Balearic Business Associations. She wasn't a member of Més. She only really got the job because she knew the tourism sector and because she had her brushes with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation. She was once responsible for ejecting people from her restaurant who were wearing the green t-shirts of educational protest on the very day that thousands went to Palma to demonstrate against José Ramón Bauzá's TIL trilingual teaching. She also, the most heinous of her sins, habitually spoke Castellano rather than Catalan. Most within Més couldn't understand why Biel had appointed her.

Pilar also spoke in a friendly manner on the phone to Cursach's enforcer, Tolo Sbert - in Castellano, naturally enough. Antoni Sansó gives the impression of not speaking in a friendly manner to anyone. He no doubt does, but conveying a tough demeanour will stand him in good stead with the Més rank and file and with fighting the good fight for the tourist tax and the holiday rentals legislation. And with the latter, he comes into the post well-qualified; he wrote the legislation.

He will also stand Biel in greater stead, as the tourism minister reaches to pull himself out of the vast political hole into which he has descended. Fellow party members will look upon Biel with renewed favour, now that Pilar is no more. Even Podemos might take a belated shine to Biel. Eco-sovereignty, in the right senior official place, can work wonders for doubting so-called government partners, not least when they are seeking an insistence on vetting appointments in the tourism ministry.

Antoni has got off to a rollicking good start. In his first interview since taking over the DG's office he expressed not the least concern that the Balearics might lose one million tourists next year. It wouldn't be a "drama" if the million went AWOL, he observed. Antoni is clearly not a man for turning a non-drama into a crisis. How about losing a second million?

He then parroted all that we are now familiar with. Growth of tourism in the low-season months. Lengthening the season. No more tourists in the summer are needed. A ceiling on tourist places will not allow there to be growth in the summer. All the right stuff. Perhaps it was he who had in fact written Biel's script previously. He was after all "the advisor" to the ministry.

He will certainly be more comfortable in the DG's shoes than Pilar could have been. As someone from her restaurant background, neither the tourist tax nor the rentals legislation made much sense. Still, if you are invited to be tourism DG, then you presumably and willingly accept the shilling. Which she did. Antoni appears to be a more ready-made willing recipient, and would say so in Catalan and not in Castellano. He probably has a green t-shirt somewhere in his drawers.

If Pilar, notwithstanding her history of having rows with the hoteliers federation, may have privately been equivocal on the matter of the tourist tax, there is no such equivocation with Antoni. The greatest catastrophe where the tax is concerned lies not with the current tax but the old ecotax. If it had been retained, he has noted, no one would now be questioning the new one. Which may be true, but then Antoni is perhaps neglecting a little bit of history.

When the ground was being laid for the introduction of the old ecotax, there were dissenting and questioning voices. You would have expected that these were hotelier and Partido Popular voices, but they also came from within the ranks of the government of the time: not PSOE's but the PSM Mallorcan Socialists, Biel's party that is now the main constituent of Més.

The PSM weren't opposed to the ecotax but they did express concern about the timing if its introduction. What were they worried about? Losing tourists, that's what. They looked across the Mediterranean and thought, oh dear, what about the competition. So, things weren't quite as Antoni now presents them. But then, fifteen years ago is a long time, and eco-sovereignty is today on a firmer footing, sponsored by tourists at up to four euros a night.

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