Saturday, December 09, 2017

Dealing With Tourismphobia, Not Pointing Fingers

Tourismphobia has raised its less than lovely head again. There have been no "anti-tourist" incidents, but there has been talk, and those doing the talking have been Exceltur and the cruise industry.

Exceltur, the alliance for touristic excellence, is an elite association of 23 companies, most of which are directly involved with travel and tourism. Among these 23 are Iberostar, Melíá, Palladium and Riu: four of the leading hotel groups in the Balearics. To these can be added Globalia, of which Be Live Hotels is a part, and major hotel chains not based in the Balearics - Hotusa, Lopespan, NH, Playa Senator. The other members represent airlines, car rentals, online booking agencies (e.g Hotelbeds, based in Palma), finance, private health, theme parks and transport (in the form of the Renfe rail operator). Facebook is also a member.

So, the membership is weighted towards the hotel sector, and the powerful hotel sector at that. When Exceltur issues its regular tourism industry "barometers" - the latest has just come out - it draws conclusions over and above the statistics provided. According to Exceltur, uncontrolled holiday rentals are the cause of tourismphobia, aka anti-tourism.

Given the presence of the nine hotel groups, this conclusion is hardly surprising. It is also not surprising, as Exceltur has spent the recent past trading reports with Aptur, the holiday rentals association, in seeking to demonstrate an economic benefit from rentals that is significantly different to the one that Aptur maintains, i.e. the Exceltur one is very much lower.

But what about the other members, for example car rentals? Europcar, which now has the go-ahead to acquire Goldcar, is the representative within Exceltur. As we know - or have been told frequently - the vastly increased number of hire cars in Mallorca has been because of the diversion of tourists from other destinations and the increased number of tourists booking holiday rentals. The car-hire sector has thus done well because of holiday rentals.

Facebook is interesting, and not least because it is moving into - you might have guessed it - the rentals market. At present this service operates only in the US, but it will be only a matter of time before it is rolled out elsewhere.

Despite its other members, Exceltur gives the impression of being just a hotelier mouthpiece. As a result, one gets a one-eyed view of an issue like holiday rentals. And the same, it might be said, applies to Aptur on the opposing side of the debate. To assert that tourismphobia is the consequence of uncontrolled rentals is true up to a point, but rentals aren't the only cause.

Too easily neglected in this debate is the role played by social attitudes. Tourism per se is the target of anti-sentiment, and this follows principles set out many years ago by theorists such as George Doxey. A certain point is reached at which attitudes turn to resentment.

One can argue that politicians have whipped up this anti-sentiment, and they have to an extent. But have they just been reflecting a societal attitude, even if it remains - at its most extreme of expression - one of a small minority? There are various contributory factors. Rentals are one. But pay and working conditions are among others, while to take the example of Palma, it was as much the number of cruise-ship passengers as Airbnb rentals that stoked anti-sentiment.

With Exceltur and all others in the tourism sector there needs to be a more nuanced debate and not one that just points fingers. Rentals are not going away, however much Exceltur might want them to. So there has to be some greater accommodation (so to speak) and more objective communications.

At the International Cruise Summit in Madrid, meanwhile, they were discussing tourismphobia and "massification" caused by cruise passengers. On behalf of Royal Caribbean it was noted that under one per cent of all tourists who visit Barcelona do so on a cruise ship. This tiny number, however, is highly and easily visible, which is also the case in Palma; hence, there are the cries of "massification" and the consequent anti-sentiment.

In Palma, by spreading cruise passengers around - which the town hall has been working on - the impact is lessened, so this is probably a policy worthy of further development. Ultimately, though, whatever the cruise industry does to try and show its benefits - which has been done recently with a report identifying the employment created and the total economic benefit - there will still be those who don't wish to listen. There is a social issue with tourism, and it is one that all parties - government, tour operators, hoteliers, Airbnb, cruise operators and others - need to recognise and to arrive at common-sense responses.

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