Palma airport. | R.L.

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In 1507, a Kurtaxe was introduced in Baden-Baden. Kur means cure or treatment. It has also come to mean health resort. Back in the early sixteenth century, Margrave Philip I of Baden would not have considered Baden-Baden to be a resort, but the thermal springs must have been attracting a type of tourist. Being the good administrator he was (perhaps), Philip oversaw the introduction of the tax. Literally a cure tax, if people wished to go to Baden-Baden to avail themselves of the springs, they had to pay to do so.
The Kurtaxe is taken to have been the first ever tourist tax. If this tax established a trend, the evidence was a long time coming. It wasn’t until the second half of the nineteenth century that taxes of some description on visitors started to become common in Germany and in Austria. In 1910, the French followed the German lead; the taxe de séjour was introduced in Paris.

A reason for the Paris tax was to help cover the cost of infrastructure. German taxes had much the same sort of reason in mind. There was a principle of contributing to the cost of local services, a principle that was sound enough and still is. But if only it were as simple as asking for a small payment to help with water, refuse, police (for example).

In Mallorca, the first time that a tourist tax was mooted was in 1931. The proposal came from a mayor of Palma, Llorenç Bisbal, and it owed nothing whatsoever to infrastructure or services. Tourists in Palma were to be taxed in order to raise funds for the town hall to pay its annual subscription to the Fomento del Turismo, the Majorca Tourist Board. The tourist board was against the tax. The city’s hoteliers were opposed. Bisbal’s tenure as mayor lasted a mere six months. The tax proposal was swiftly forgotten.

Bisbal was a member of PSOE, the socialists, but his idea for a tax wasn’t ideological; it was only to pay the sub to the body that was responsible for promoting Majorca’s tourism. Ideology hadn’t intruded, in the same way as there had been no ideology in Austria, France or Germany.

Twenty-four years later, the Balearics Provincial Deputation debated the introduction of a tourist tax for Mallorca. Was there any ideology behind this? If there was, then it is extraordinary to appreciate why Francoists in 1955 were considering a tax. The reasons included improvements to infrastructure, but there was also the notion of distributing wealth more evenly and avoiding fragmentation within society. It is extraordinary because wealth distribution sounds remarkably similar to a current-day tourism-related narrative by political parties to the left.

There wasn’t to be a tax because the same forces which had opposed Bisbal’s proposal were dead against it - the tourist board and the hoteliers. It was to therefore be another 47 years, 2002, before a tax was actually introduced. And by then, ideology appeared to be a far stronger motive. Left and right division has existed ever since. The Partido Popular scrapped the 2002 tax the following year and have said that they will eliminate the 2016 tax if they return to government.

Given a widespread adoption of tourist taxes, be these direct or indirect, and the specific case of the Balearics (a tax in existence for six years), discussion can seem pointless. That it isn’t is due to how revenue is being spent and the politics. It needs reminding that Francina Armengol’s PSOE were not in favour of the 2016 tax. It came about because their partners, Més and Podemos (who at the time were not formally part of the government), made the tax a condition of agreements for government. PSOE now appear sold on it completely, but this certainly wasn’t the case prior to the 2015 election, and this reluctance on behalf of PSOE is being echoed in Valencia, where a PSOE president, Ximo Puig, had been against a tourist tax. Conditions of government, with Compromis and Podemos in Valencia, have taken over, leaving a PSOE tourism secretary in the Valencia government, Francesc Colomer, still voicing his total disagreement with the tax - it is against, as he has insisted, the “spirit of hospitality”.

Is political ideology driving tourist taxes? It’s simplistic to say that this is the sole reason, but the impression is unavoidable. Politics to the left of PSOE plus leftist-nationalism are common to the Balearics and Valencia taxes. A key difference in Valencia is that the tax is due to be municipal and voluntary. The PP-run Benidorm town hall, for instance, would be most unlikely to adopt a tax which wouldn’t come in until 2024, by when a possible swing to the right at the election next year could lead to the tax being dropped anyway.
At one time, many decades ago, the main question would have been whether a tax was reasonable or not. The politics weren’t a factor. They are now.