Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cuba And Mallorca's Globalisation

Towards the end of June 2016, it was announced that Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide had finalised an agreement to manage the Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel in Havana. The announcement was an historic one. The hotel was to be the first one to operate under a US company since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959.

More than a quarter of a century ago, Meliá Hotels International (as now is) opened the Sol Palmeras Hotel in Cuba. It was the group's first hotel on the island. At the time of celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary, father and son Escarrer restated their "unwavering commitment to the present and the future of the Cuban tourism industry".

Meliá is the largest foreign hotel operator in Cuba. Such is the company's status that it has a "position of honour" in the history of the development of the island's tourism. This position had brought with it 29 hotels under its management in Cuba at the time of the anniversary: 29 more than any US hotel concern. A history of joint venture investments with the Cuban government had stood Meliá in good stead, and it continues to. From the start of this year, four more hotels came under its management. Two others are to be added between now and 2019.

A few days ago, it was reported that four leading Mallorcan hotel groups are to invest some 1,000 million euros in Cuba this year. Meliá was one; Barceló, Be Live (Globalia) and Iberostar were the others. The report made, and cue the howls of criticism, including those of Més. Joana Campomar, for some reason hauled up in front of the press, insisted that rather than all this money going on Cuban investment it should be dedicated to improving working conditions and new technologies in the Balearics. She was hardly about to say, good on you, hoteliers, and why stop at just 1,000 million for Cuba?

The hoteliers, especially the major ones, are most people's Aunt Sallys. By most people I don't just mean islanders who dislike the massive amounts of money they make and the low wages they pay. There are also the non-islanders, for whom the hoteliers are the devil's work in depriving the Balearics of apartment rentals. It is curious of course, where the critical islanders are concerned, that they are probably exactly the same people who want highly restrictive rentals regulations because they can't find anywhere to live. In the same camp therefore, but with different perspectives, even if they can be hypocritical in not acknowledging that the hoteliers are basically batting on their behalf: more so now because of the wage agreement.

Admittedly, it can appear somewhat unfortunate that you have Fluxà, Hidalgo and Escarrer the Father being photographed sipping mojitos (or whatever) with the Cuban tourism minister and explaining their investment largesse. The fat cats just get fatter. Two of that threesome are on the Forbes Billionaires List. One who wasn't photographed - or rather two who weren't - were Carmen and Luis Riu. They are jointly listed by Forbes. Riu quit Cuba three years ago, citing the lack of quality of hotels under their management and a certain exasperation with Cuban red tape. Meliá, it would seem, have never had a problem with this, or have at least learned how to deal with it.

Investment in Cuba, or indeed in the various other destinations in which Mallorca hotels are active, grates with the lobby that has its issues with tourism. Those who want limits or de-growth in Mallorca's tourism tend to also be those who are anti-globalisation. The hoteliers, especially the leading companies, are the only real example of Mallorca engaging in globalisation.

But what do people expect? I personally endorse the notion of tourism limits on the island, but I have no problem with overseas investment. Why should I? These are businesses, after all, and very good ones. They invest abroad in order to grow. And one reason is that they have little scope to grow in the Balearics. They can't just stick up loads of new hotels because they're not allowed to. New hotel developments in the recent past are ones for land that had been allocated for tourism accommodation purposes. Future developments will require a quid pro quo. New hotel places will mean eliminating existing ones, and this policy would be unlikely to change even if a right-wing government comes into power.

With Cuba there is also the historical context. It was Cuba (and Puerto Rico) that once provided entrepreneurial opportunities for Mallorca, and the ties with Mallorca and with Spain remained strong despite the loss of both to the Americans. So, Cuba has always been a place to do business. And because the Americans banned all business contact, the island was wide open to the Spanish. It still is, despite Obama and because of Trump.

Mallorca has global businesses, whether some people like it or not.

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