It's one of those clichés of hotel publicity. 'Just like being at home.' 'Your home from home.' 'Where you'll feel like you're at home.' As advertising goes, this type of slogan leaves much to be desired. A hotel can never be like a home, unless perhaps you have servants who are akin to being chefs, waiters and chambermaids; your own spa with beauty treatment facilities; and a vast pool with its own mini-waterpark in your back garden.
But there is now talk that hotels could indeed be like being at home, and that's because hotels could be converted into homes. This talk, prompted by the crisis, isn't new. There has been talk for several years, a good deal of it after the 2012 Balearics tourism law was passed. It contained provision for the conversion of hotels into residential apartments; provision for 'change of use'.
Article 78 of that law set out conditions for change of use. Under Clause 4, it read: "For the purposes of this law, it is understood that an establishment is obsolete when factual elements that reveal the lack of competitiveness of this establishment under normal market and operating conditions can be accredited."
Obsolescence is now being cited. Despite all the modernisation of hotels in recent years, the Majorca Hoteliers Federation reckons that 40% of hotel stock is obsolete. Ascertaining the exact number of hotel places, i.e. beds, and indeed hotel (and related) establishments in Majorca is never straightforward. This is because different sources give different figures and because of all the various categories of establishment. But let's go with one source, which draws on figures from the Balearics Statistics Institute. In 2019 there were 272,241 places and 948 hotels. On the basis of places, therefore, the federation appears to imply that there are some 109,000 obsolete places.
The 2012 law did result in some conversion, but it was extremely limited. One possible reason for this may have had to do with what the legislation noted regarding municipal licences. In this regard, one has to take account of town halls' urban plans and the classification not just of buildings but also of zones. If the plans state tourist use, there is an immediate obstacle. It isn't necessarily insurmountable, but it is an obstacle nonetheless.
There were also clauses to do with sizes of 'homes' and with the use of ten per cent of the building being used for purposes other than residential, e.g. commercial, sport or public. So there were a number of considerations a hotelier had to take into account, and these were before getting to the bit about paying five per cent of the budget "for material execution of the comprehensive rehabilitation or reconstruction of the building" to a town hall.
For hoteliers, the current crisis is one of liquidity. Going forward, there has to be a doubt about all the existing hotel stock. Will it be needed? There is a real prospect of hotels sitting empty, and not just this year, while for the smaller hotel groups or for independent owners of single hotels, there isn't the investment capacity to tackle obsolescence. Conversion would offer a solution, albeit that investment would be required to meet the costs, one of which - payments to town halls - could surely be eliminated.
There will be ways and means of funding conversion, especially as the hoteliers federation is pitching the proposal to the government as a "very valid housing solution". Maria Frontera, the federation's president certainly doesn't seem to have in mind conversion into luxury apartments, as she has specifically spoken about addressing problems with access to housing. For the government, this has to be of interest. Of sufficient interest, one would think, for it to involve itself (if not necessarily as a direct source) in ensuring that funding is available and that properties are then sold or rented out at genuinely affordable prices.
A further attraction for the government would be if these obsolete hotels are in parts of Majorca where the shortage of affordable accommodation is at its most acute - the resorts.
A quid pro quo for the federation would be facilitating and streamlining procedures so that hoteliers who do have the investment capacity can set about further modernisation, a process that was initiated by the 2012 law but which expired in 2017.
However this proposal might be approached, it is one that makes a great deal of sense, and right now - as Maria Frontera has added - "we all have to be very creative".