Francina Armengol announced the acquisition of obsolete hotels to make flats at an event in held in s’Arenal. | r.l.


There Arenal, the Llucmajor Arenal that is, will be where the first obsolete hotels will be bought and converted into social housing. How do we know that it will be Arenal? Because Francina Armengol has said so. Not President Armengol, as government announcements aren’t supposed to be made at a time when the elections are gathering their fever; but Francina Armengol of PSOE (PSIB, if one is being entirely accurate), the would-be president for the third time.

A pledge has thus been made to Arenal. If PSOE continue to govern after May 28, the resort will be emblematic of an aspect of tourism housing policy. Or is it housing tourism policy? Housing and tourism have become indivisible. But for practical policy purposes, there is little practicality. Can someone, e.g. Francina Armengol, explain how these obsolete hotels are to end up as conversions, given that she has stressed that they would not entail expropriation?

Anyway, Arenal it is to be. Or might be. On her election rounds, the leader of PSOE stated that European funds will go towards creating a new public company for the management of land. “We will convert these spaces (such as obsolete hotels in Arenal) into dignified spaces for workers of these islands.”

All good stuff. Or it would be if we were any the wiser as to how this is all going to happen. Maybe the manifesto, when it is published, will provide detail. Or maybe it won’t. Elections are never short of projects that parties have on a wish-list, and if one that is given an airing - in a municipality currently controlled by the opposition Partido Popular - alludes to a tourism conversion into decent housing, then so much the better.

Apart from vague promises directed at a Llucmajor electorate, where are we at in tourism terms heading towards the election? Overwhelmingly, we are at the limit - the limit to tourist numbers. All the parties are discussing limits with the apparent exception of Vox. With the Council of Mallorca now responsible for much of a tourism nature, the Vox candidate for president of the Council, Pedro Bestard, has insisted that his party will put all means available to ensure that there is tourism promotion. “Tourism is synonymous with wealth, and Vox supports wealth and that citizens have a prosperous life.”

President of the Balearic Hunting Federation, Bestard has added that the wings of those who promote tourismphobia will be clipped. “The tourismphobia that the left feeds and that the rest of the parties do not stop is a real danger and is idiocy in the twenty-first century.” Vox operate with a siege mentality. All other parties are against them. And so a point of difference lies with not even engaging in the nuances of debate, and there are plenty of these where tourism is concerned, not least the tourism-housing relationship.

This is not to say that there aren’t any hints of idiocy, but such is the alleged tourismphobia that Mallorca and the Balearics are poised to break new tourism records this year. At the same time, however, limits form a crucial debate. All other parties recognise this. The PP’s Marga Prohens, who comes at the issue from the perspective of “political liberalism” has conceded that there is a need for tourism to grow in terms of quality and not quantity. The language is much the same as that of the left. It’s how you arrive at this virtuous state that differs, although it’s far from clear how the PP intend to - in her words - “grow in value and not in volume” without adopting some interventionist measures.
Proposals that run counter to Prohens and her liberalism include the latest one from Més re the tourist tax. Both Més and Podemos have had a habit of plucking a percentage for increasing the tax out of the air. It is now, according to prospective Balearic president, Lluís Apesteguia, 60%, and would be part of a plan of measures to reduce the weight of tourism in the economy. There would be a decrease in tourist numbers were there to be a “drastic” increase in the rate of the tax. But in the same breath, Apesteguia has said that a 60% increase would bring in an additional 80 million euros. Eh? He can’t have it both ways.

Not dissuaded by this apparent contradiction, this increased revenue would go on “decommissioning” old hotels and converting them into social housing. Yes, and how would this decommissioning be in practice? Perhaps Apesteguia knows something that Armengol doesn’t; or hasn’t let on as yet.

By implication, conversion would mean some reduction in tourist numbers, albeit very small, and so conversion has found its way onto the election agenda. As it has in the past. In 2011, for example, the PSM (the main constituent of what became Més) advocated eliminating obsolete hotel supply. So did the two parties which merged to become El Pi, and they are now once more pressing for conversion. It was in fact the PP who made this an aspect of legislation - the 2012 tourism law - and with a spectacular lack of success.

Round and round it all goes, never really getting anywhere.