The government intends to not just be on the path towards sustainability but to in fact make the Balearics a world leader for circularity in tourism | R.L.

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By the first of May next year, all four and five-star hotels and tourist apartments will need to have drawn up a circularity plan. All other establishments will have until the first of January 2024. This circularity plan, as stated in the Balearic government’s decree for the sustainability and circularity of tourism, will be a document that sets out priorities and lines of action that a company must adopt in integrating guidelines for planning, consumption, production into a circular commitment for business strategy, internal processes and relationships with main stakeholders.

The priority areas are water, energy, food, materials and waste, while the actual planning involves the listing and scheduling of tasks and actions, the provision of resources, investments, protocols and any other human, material and economic means necessary to guarantee the execution of the lines of action. There has to be, moreover, “circular evaluation”, a system aimed at measuring circular progress and ultimately facilitating feedback on the strategic vision and for review and/or establishment of new lines of action.

I’m guessing that most of you won’t have read this decree. I can’t say that I’ve read it word for word and nor do I have any particular desire to. Like any legislative text, it isn’t exactly a lively read. But, and the above may give you a flavour, this is a decree which reads in parts less like a piece of legislation than a business management text. Planning, business strategy, stakeholders, feedback, lines of action - it could have popped out of the pages of the Harvard Business Review.

And for all I know, it may well have done. But if not, then I have a pretty shrewd idea regarding the origin of this management-speak decree, as I had in the back of my mind that I had been here before. And I had - more or less. Almost to the day a year ago, I wrote a piece entitled ‘The Circular Argument of Tourism’. That article drew attention to work by the Fundación Impulsa, which is part think-tank, part implementer and a public-private collaboration, the essential purpose of which is to advance competitiveness in the Balearics.

The foundation, as noted a year ago, was developing a post-Covid vision of comprehensive tourism transformation towards a “circular tourism system” that will reposition the Balearics and enable new leadership by formulating projects with high transformative potential. Those were its words, I should point out.

Further to this, in May 2021, the foundation published a report with the title ‘Circularity in the Hotel Industry and Competitiveness: A Manual for Implementing Good Practices’. The medium through which this was published was the UN World Tourism Organization’s ‘Dossiers’. This was a report, as stated, with the support of the UNWTO as partner and, as “vigilant patron”, the Iberostar Group.

The report is precisely the sort of document one might expect consultants to come up with or to appear in the Harvard Business Review (which can be much the same thing). It is littered with bullet-point guidelines, callouts highlighting, for instance, the encouragement of “stakeholders”, and key indicators for aspects of circular planning. Is it any wonder that the decree reads like a business management text? Not really, as it was all there nine months ago, and the inclusion of “manual” in the title indicated a pathway to the decree, which is like a manual plus the sticks of fines for non-compliance.

The UNWTO general secretary, Zurab Pololikashvili, writes in the report: “The coming together of the UNWTO and Impulsa Balears Foundation has helped in firmly positioning one of the main tourist destinations in the world (the Balearics) on the path towards sustainability.” The foundation may not be the government, but it is close to government. The Council of Majorca, meanwhile, has itself got close to the UNWTO, what with its Observatory for Sustainable Tourism.

The government intends to not just be on the path towards sustainability but to in fact make the Balearics a world leader for circularity in tourism. Doing so under, or near to under, the umbrella of the UNWTO is all good stuff in terms of cachet, albeit there are those who query the UNWTO’s relevance. Still, it can’t really do any harm and nor can Iberostar’s vigilant patronage.

But it is the Iberostar connection with a report that seems to have provided a framework for the decree which makes one wonder how much of a top-down approach this all this. Top-down, that is, from the large hotel groups, with the decree having come in for criticism as being one that applies to them. And they, the hotel groups like Iberostar, are already well ahead of the circularity and sustainability ball-game.

Small hotels may look at the decree and think how they can possibly manage all this. And manage is exactly the question, given the decree’s apparent business management route to its business management text.