Friday, December 01, 2017

The Being Seen Imperative

There was a great opinion piece* in the magazine Preferente the other day. It was written by Ignacio Vasallo, who I suspect will need some introduction, even though he is one of the most prominent names in Spain's tourism industry. He was the first director-general of the national tourism promotion agency, Turespaña. He directed the first real marketing plans for Spain's tourism and was largely responsible for the logo that Joan Miró created for Turespaña ("El Sol de Miró"). His CV is extensive, so let's just confine the rest to the fact that in 2008 he was awarded the Gran Cruz de Isabel la Católica for his contribution to improving Spain's global image.

He is therefore someone with an immense amount of credibility, especially when it comes to observations about travel fairs. Turespaña is of course to be found at these fairs, flying the Miró flag for Spain and for regions of Spain, including the one that was Miró's adopted region - the Balearics.

The article to which I refer was entitled The Crisis Is Over. It had to do with how travel fairs, and especially London's World Travel Market, act as barometers of prevailing economic circumstances. In times of economic difficulty, the number of politicians and public officials who head off to London is small. When the economic climate is better, off they all go. Ignacio noted that most of these politicians and officials can't speak English and that they generally attend the fairs not so that they can have meetings with people whose language they can't speak but in order to be photographed and have these photos published back home.

He had more to say on this subject but it would be wrong of me to detail it all as I would basically be reproducing his article. But it is worth highlighting what he had to say about one particular delegation. It was from Arousa Norte, and there was apparently a subsequent photo in the local Arousa paper which featured (get this) 25 people. Yes, a whole 25 had gone to London.

I have to say that I needed to consult Mr. Google. I'd never heard of Arousa Norte either. It is, in case you're interested, on the Galician coast. Galicia, it is perhaps reasonable to say, doesn't loom large on the list of UK (or other countries) tour operator priority destinations. Santiago de Compostela maybe, but Galicia's coast? As a rule, no. Nevertheless, the Arousa delegation had apparently aroused that much interest in London that a whole page was devoted to it - all 25 of them. Well, you would need a whole page in order to fit them all in.

Apart from the cost of transporting these folk, there is the question as to why they're even there. Is it some sort of perk? With regimes like those in the Balearics, any hint of superfluous and unjustified public expense is normally subject to intense scrutiny, not least by political parties in the current anti-corruption meets sort of austerity climate. It isn't corrupt to send people off on these trips, but the attendance by many of them is highly questionable, especially if they do nothing more than hang around for a photo opportunity.

The contrast with the private sector is great. For starters, the private sector pays for itself to attend. The private sector, the tourism industry in Mallorca and the Balearics, speaks languages. Ignacio Vasallo knows about languages. He was also the director of Spain's overseas tourism bureaux in New York, London, Stockholm, Paris and Milan. Languages are pre-requisites for getting ahead in the tourism industry and for conducting meetings. The politicians and public officials by and large do not conduct meetings, except between themselves, and they could have these without ever needing to go near an airport let alone fly to London.

So, what is the point of any of them being at these fairs? Very little, except for the imperative of being seen and, even more important, being seen in photos by the folks back home. Here, look at the president, the vice-president, the other presidents, the mayors, the councillors, the ministers. How impressed we are all supposed to be. Or more likely unimpressed.

There is, it seems to me, a broader issue here: one to do with the vanity of the need to be seen in photos. There are times when it can appear that the sole purpose of Mallorcan society, and not just its political society, is to be photographed. And the more the people in the photos the better. Specifically where local politicians are concerned, I well recall the Alternativa per Pollença troublemakers being askance at the number of town hall politicians and officials in a photo for some reason that I now forget. The Alternativa was right, though. Why were they all there? And who were most of them? Does anyone really care? I, for one, do not.


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