Why was a tourist tax introduced in the first place?

Why was a tourist tax introduced in the first place?

18-06-2021istockphoto

Yaiza Castilla and Francesc Colomer have something in common; more than one thing. She is the Canary Islands’ tourism minister; he is Valencia’s tourism secretary, the minister in all but name. She is a member of PSOE; so is he. She has said no to a tourist tax; so has he. Apart from his being the Balearic Islands’ tourism minister, what do Yaiza Castilla and Francesc Colomer have in common with Iago Negueruela? Membership of PSOE. Nothing more.

On Monday, Yaiza Castilla made perfectly clear that a tourist tax for the Canaries is not up for debate. Even if there was no “critical” situation as there is right now, it still wouldn’t be up for debate. When a tax was raised as a possibility at the time of the Thomas Cook bankruptcy, there was no debate. Crisis or no crisis, a PSOE tourism minister doesn’t want a tourist tax.

Over three years ago, talk started about a tourist tax in Valencia. Francesc Colomer rejected the idea. He was against if for various reasons. There are foreign tourism markets which are more price-sensitive than others; at the time, he specified the UK because of Brexit. It seemed unfair to him to raise a tax on accommodation, when it is this accommodation which brings people “who spend in shops, restaurants or theatres”. He also said: “I don’t see there being a tax on the tourist who already pays for everything.”

In the Canaries, Yaiza Castilla has defied what were thought to have been expectations of a tourist tax and has also defied elements within the government, one of which is Nueva Canarias. The vice-president in the Canaries is Román Rodríguez of Nueva Canarias, a centre-left and Canarian nationalist grouping. After the government was formed following the 2019 regional election, Rodríguez said that a study was to be made of a tax and he also observed that tourist taxes were now “globalised” and common practice.
There had apparently been an agreement between the parties - PSOE, Nueva Canarias, Podemos and the Gomera Socialist Association - for a tourist tax. Agreement or not, there is no tax, and it isn’t on the table for discussion.

Five months after the regional election in Valencia, the minister of finance, Vicent Soler of PSOE, stated that a tourist tax was not on the table there. He explained that if there was no consensus, it would not be a useful policy. “We need consensus in the sector to make it useful.” He might have added that there was lack of consensus where the tourism secretary was concerned, and Colomer, because of the government structure in Valencia, has a direct reporting line to the president, Ximo Puig; there is no tourism ministry as such.

A couple of months before this, the Podemos second vice-president of Valencia, Rubén Martínez, had stated: “The tourist tax is coming. The debate now is to decide when and how.” The other partner in the Valencia government, Compromís, fully backed the Podemos position; Compromís are a left-wing, ecologist and Valencian nationalist coalition.

But regardless of what Martínez was saying at that time, the government’s director general of tourism, Herick Campos of PSOE, was telling the mayor of Benidorm that a tax was not on the agenda. He added that a tax could in fact make the region’s tourism less competitive.

It was being said in Valencia a couple of years ago that PSOE misgivings about a tourist tax went beyond difficulties with, as Soler put it, gaining a consensus, by which he had mainly meant the hotel industry. There were also fears that a tax could come at a political cost, as there were memories of what had happened in the Balearics. The old ecotax of the PSOE-led Antich government was introduced in 2002. A year later, the Partido Popular won the election - the tax had been an issue - and scrapped it.

Returning to the comparisons between Castilla, Colomer and Negueruela, it will be recalled that Negueruela’s two predecessors in the PSOE-led Armengol government were from Més - Biel Barceló and then Bel Busquets. Més, left-wing Mallorcan (Balearic) ecologist nationalists, share some political common ground with Nueva Canaria and especially Compromís.

Més, unlike their counterparts in the Canaries and Valencia (both of whom had the full support of Podemos, as did Més), were able to bring in the Balearic tourist tax because if they hadn’t been given the tourism ministry in 2015 and if there hadn’t been agreement to introduce the tax, there may well never have been an Armengol pact. She, the president, had told hoteliers prior to the election that there wouldn’t be a tax. But whereas PSOE in the Canaries and Valencia have been able to face down the nationalists (and Podemos), Armengol was unable to in 2015. That was why there was a tourist tax and why Negueruela will now express nothing but support for it.

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