Sunday, November 12, 2017

What A Difference A Year Makes (And Doesn't)

"Early holiday bookings to the Balearics for summer 2017 have risen by eight per cent, easing fears over the weakness of the pound and Brexit, the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said in London today. And the news gets even better for President Armengol and tourism minister Biel Barceló. According to Abta, the controversial tourist tax has had no impact on holiday sales at all."

"Any fears about Brexit hitting the Balearics hard have been clearly dispelled at the World Travel Market in London. In fact the news just gets better for the Balearics. Holiday sales for April and May have risen by a record 20 per cent on top of the eight per cent growth in summer holiday sales for summer 2017."

"President Armengol has praised the 'magnificent work' of the tourism ministry for its tourism promotion. Speaking in London, Armengol said that a nine-month season is now a reality and that this will allow the Balearics to grow at an increased rate. It will also mean greater employment and more stable work, which are objectives of the regional government."

That was then, this is now. Abta was seemingly trying to say as little as possible about bookings for 2018 other than stressing the strength of Spain as a destination in the face of reactivated competition from the likes of Turkey. The association had, however, let the cat out of the bag prior to everyone gathering in London. Bookings to the Balearics are down on what they have been. More precisely, and the news would not have gone unnoticed, there was that report pointing to a nine per cent slump in the sale of holiday packages. This was being attributed to the rise in the tourist tax, though one suspects there are other reasons. But the tax doesn't exactly help.

At an event such as the World Travel Market, they try and avoid making public displays of differences. It's in no one's interests to do so, be they government, hoteliers or tour operators. And besides, there's no real need to make public displays. Everyone knows that the hoteliers and tour operators oppose the tax. Instead they mainly attempt to get on as well as possible and smile for the public. But you can't keep a good Escarrer down, and the son was at least prepared to break ranks and say that the tax will have negative consequences. Likewise, the national tourism minister, Álvaro Nadal, said that the tax will affect competitiveness, though to be honest he had other things to worry him more than the Balearic tourist tax - Catalonia, for example.

However, the Mallorca hoteliers did eventually break the silence. And in a major way. The loss of one million tourists because of the tourist tax.

Then there was dear President Armengol with her nine-month realities. They were being given an airing again, and for domestic Balearic consumption there are naturally all the efforts the government is making in generating more employment. A slight problem, compared to last year, is that growth - as in general economic growth - is forecast to be down in 2018, regardless of the nine-month reality. The tourism promotion we all know about as we can't avoid it: Better in Winter. But while the government will seek to take the credit, any effort it has made has been a sort of piggybacking exercise.

The greatest impulse, bar none, for an extension of the season has been cycling. This clearly hasn't suddenly happened, it has been a development over many years and it owes very little to successive governments (including this one). Greatly increased interest in cycling and therefore greatly increased demand for cycling holidays have been facilitated by the private sector - tour operators and hoteliers. The consequence has been that hotels have opened earlier and more have been doing so each year. This has benefited the non-hotel trade. Restaurants open earlier, specialist shops have sprung up, and the impulse given by cycling has given the opportunity for other types of tourist to be attracted. I give you Playa de Muro as a classic example of this reality, and it's all due to cycling.

If the president's nine-month reality was a case of no difference from last year, so also was her playing to the domestic market in another way. But and the president of the Canaries were making precisely the same song and dance about demanding a 75% residents' discount on flights at the World Travel Market last year as they were this year.

Why is it necessary for them to go through this ritual on an annual basis? The only explanation can be that it is designed to show the public that they're doing something. But if this issue and others are that important, can't they just phone each other up?

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