José Ramón Bauzá.

José Ramón Bauzá.

17-05-2019P. PELLICER

Some three weeks ago, the former president of the Balearics, José Ramón Bauzá, popped up in the news - as he regularly does - because he was advancing the case for a new form of tourism. Spain, he was suggesting, could be the destination for "permanent tourism", and the Balearics would be one of the parts of the country most suited to this, because of its obvious attraction as a coastal destination. The Canaries were also mentioned in this regard.

When this idea was being floated, it smacked of one of the not infrequent attempts by the ex-president to push himself back into the limelight. A master of self-promotion, I was inclined to dismiss what he was saying as some off-the-wall exercise in personal marketing, and this was how it sounded - off-the-wall. What on Earth was he going on about? What was this "permanent tourism"?

Since he first made his thoughts known towards the end of May, Bauzá has been repeating them. He did so last week during a "digital event" organised by the Madrid-based public affairs and lobby consultancy Political Intelligence. The now Ciudadanos MEP and spokesperson on tourism for the liberal Renew Europe group of parties at the European Parliament was proposing that Spain should be converted into a destination for international workers who need an "attractive fiscal plan, a 5G network and more international schools so that these workers can move their children".

What he wants is the Spanish government to introduce an incentive plan to encourage companies and teleworkers to establish permanent or second residence in Spain so that the country can benefit from this "new tourism". He has suggested that workers who currently live in, say, London, Frankfurt or San Francisco, could maintain the same salaries but see an exponential increase in purchasing power by living in Spain, with the Balearics to the fore

This would be beneficial to Spain as it would be a model of "quality versus quantity" (in tourism terms), while these "new tourists" would be paying taxes in Spain. They therefore would not just be adding value in terms of what they spend on tourism, they would also be making a tax-based contribution. Spain, he added, would need to invest in 5G as well as in the international schools. "The government must work with the regions and the European Union in order to accelerate this mobility process and make our country a permanent tourist destination."

Referring to these workers as tourists is where this all gets a bit confusing. In essence, Bauzá is talking about a situation which has obviously existed for some time. People who can work remotely have already been moving to places where they would prefer to live, including Majorca. They may have second residences or will more likely be permanent residents.

So, what - if anything - is new about what he's saying? On the face of it, this isn't new, but there's a fellow called Martin Varsavsky, who has offered an explanation. Varsavsky is a serial telecommunications entrepreneur. Among companies that he has founded is Jazztel, which was set up in 1998. Reflecting on Covid-19, he has said that the "great discovery" of Covid is teleworking and that teleworking "is a huge opportunity for Spain to grow its economy". If a company tells you that you can work from "wherever you want", there would be people in the UK who "would surely prefer Minorca to London, both because it would be cheaper and because there would be a better quality of life".

Another factor in this is the phenomenon of the "digital nomad", someone who moves around, typically spending only a few months in one location. This has its implications for tax and for, depending on which countries people are from and on those countries where they reside temporarily, work permits and visas. In the Canaries, the minister for tourism, industry and trade, Yaiza Castilla, mentioned digital nomads in outlining a promotional strategy to find alternatives for post-Covid tourism recovery. A new type of "long-stay client" needs to be sought - teleworkers and also people from the so-called "silver tourism" sector: people in the final years of working and retirement.

Accepting what Varsavsky says about Covid and teleworking, I'm nevertheless struggling to get a feel for what is particularly new about any of this, except that there would be specific campaigns to attract people which may, if I understand Bauzá correctly, be backed up with some form of tax incentive. In this regard and also from the point of view of there being more incomers taking housing, I'm not convinced that this would curry favour in certain political quarters. There would also be suggestions of taking jobs away from local people, while the anti-5G lobby can't be completely ignored.

A bit nebulous it may all sound, but I suspect that we will be hearing more about it.

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