Will the tourist tax go up? | Archive

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Far be it from me to suggest that the Bulletin's website and Facebook pages are scientific gauges of opinion, but it is noticeable that the tourist tax isn't a subject that generates the level of comment that might be thought. There was a time when the interest and comment were far higher, such as when the tax was introduced in 2016 and two years later when the summer rates were doubled. There is now a trickle of comment as opposed to a deluge.

Is it that people are tired of hearing about it? Possibly so. Is it that the tourist tax is so much part of the holiday furniture that it has become accepted and has therefore lost its impact as a subject? Maybe. It also has to be acknowledged that the Balearics are far from alone in having some form of tourist taxation, albeit that there are at present only two places in Spain where a tourist tax applies - Catalonia is the other.

This said, it does continue to be a subject that generates some heat and for a variety of reasons, e.g.: the tax is a means of milking the tourist cash cow collective; the tax is a burden on top of prices that have been increasing consistently; the uses of tax revenue are not well explained. All valid points, and with regard to the latter, this stems from the multi-purposes and from the confusion. The tax isn't and never was an "ecotax", as the environment is only one of the purposes. The use of the term is a shorthand and a legacy of what was an ecotax in 2002 and 2003.

In Andalusia, three cities - Granada, Malaga and Seville - have raised the idea of introducing a tourist tax. Cities can't impose this form of tax without the say-so of regional governments, and Andalusia's government has said no. "The scenario over the medium term is one of storm clouds," the regional administration has noted. In other words, a tourist tax isn't a particularly good idea when inflation is running riot and might affect tourism.

These storm clouds don't appear to have been marked on the tourism-political charts of Més or Podemos in the Balearics. They wish to increase the tourist tax in 2023, if only for the four main months of summer. Why do they want to do this? In order to try and reduce the so-called tourist saturation, the tourism-political matter of the moment, as it has been for some years (the pandemic years excluded).

Apart from the outright rejection of this proposal by Mallorca's hoteliers and holiday rentals sector, negative reaction seems to have been muted. There again, Bild and The Sun haven't yet had the opportunity to whip up a frenzy of Ballermann beer-spending power being reduced and Brits being ripped off. But if it is the case that, in general, people are less bothered about the tourist tax than they once were, the same can't be said for the politicians. I hadn't considered that the tax would be much of an issue at next year's elections, but Més and Podemos look as if they want to make an issue of it.

The timing of this talk of an increase strikes me as being highly political. It comes after all the fuss about tourism promotion spend and the clear differences that these two parties have with Francina Armengol's PSOE, who were - despite the consensus and dialogue mantra that the president has come out with since - never great fans of the tourist tax in the first place. So, this is as much a political manoeuvre targeting the main government party as it is the opposition.

But what about the thinking that an increase will help to reduce tourist "saturation". In 2016, the total number of tourists in the Balearics was 15.37 million, an increase of 10.6%. In 2017, there were 16.34 million, up 6.3%; 2018, an increase of 1.5% to 16.58 million. Only in 2019, mistakenly referred to as a "record" year, was there a decrease, one of -0.7% to 16.45 million.

The tourist tax can't therefore be said to have harmed tourism, although it is possible, I suppose, to conclude that a doubling of the summer rates in 2018 led to a slowdown in growth and then a slight decrease. But that doubling most certainly did not result in a drop of the kind that the government's director-general of tourism, Antoni Sansó of Més, alluded to in November 2017 - "If we reduce the number of tourists in the summer by one million, it won't be a drama."

Més and Podemos haven't yet volunteered concrete figures, though there is talk of a 50% rise for June to September, which would make a top rate of six euros per night per person for four-star superior and five-star, subject presumably to the current exemptions and 50% reduction after eight nights. Might this lead to a Sansó-type reduction? I would very much doubt it; Andalusia's storm clouds might have rather greater influence.

Personally, I would be against a rise because I was never in favour of the tax back in 2016. This wasn't because I was opposed to the idea of a tax per se, just that I could see this one heading in the direction that it has - occasional increases for funding that smacks more of general purposes than specific. Podemos have now let that cat completely out of the bag by wishing to dispense with the mish-mash of purposes (open to interpretation), toss all the revenue into the general pot and have done with it.

In addition, the tax has always been highly political. And the politics are being repeated by those who are greatly bothered. It may ultimately not end up being a big election issue, as there are likely to be more important matters, such as those storm clouds, but for now it will be, PSOE caught in a trap as they have been since 2015 and opposition parties playing the anti-tourism card for all it's worth.