The Iago insistence on all hotels replacing existing beds with adjustable ones was, said Prohens, “a nonsense”. | R.I.


Iago Negueruela has been a man of many hats. From 2015 to 2019, he was minister of employment, trade and industry. After the 2019 election, trade and industry were reallocated and he acquired tourism and something called the economic model. A while later, he was appointed government spokesperson as well.

Iago has been a very busy man. Apart from Francina Armengol, his has been the most prominent face of government. While we know him (knew him) best for tourism, this prominence owed much to the hats of employment and this economic model. All three were intimately linked. The incoming administration of Marga Prohens will break this triad. Tourism will be aligned with culture and sport, a sensible enough combination but one, because of the break with the immediate past, which potentially speaks volumes not just for tourism but for general policy as well.

A perception of Iago has been that his tourism has been driven by his employment and economic model and that intrinsic to this has been a control philosophy which comes from his background. He used to be an employment inspector. Shackles off after the election, the Habtur holiday rentals association has branded him the worst tourism minister ever, while the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation has welcomed an end to his “interventionism”, to all that control, with an additional influence of ideology.

At what was probably his last press conference to present the latest employment figures, Iago, in acting capacity, was able to point to a May employment scenario akin to that of high summer. The number of people signed on for work with social security - just over 600,000 - was an all-time high for the month. The jobs were overwhelmingly now ones with some permanence. The scourge of the temporary contract, assisted by Spanish government labour reform, has been well and truly tackled.

Driven by employment and the economic model, tourism in the Balearics is in rude health. There is plenty of work and there are plenty of tourists. In April, a new record was set - 1,476,097, beating 2019 by more than 150,000. Yet despite this, Iago’s PSOE finds itself out of government, as do its coalition partners, Més and Podemos. Why? Without neglecting some of the more way-out narrative promulgated by Més and Podemos and which tainted PSOE, it was in no small part because of a Prohens rhetoric about freeing the people from prohibition. For which, read control and intervention. And Iago has been the number one controller and interventionist.

Prohens can perhaps be grateful that her observation about adjustable hotel beds didn’t come back to bite her. The Iago insistence on all hotels replacing existing beds with adjustable ones was, said Prohens, “a nonsense”. Ill-advised, this was taken as undervaluing the work of chambermaids and the occupational injuries they suffer. The remark was forgotten, but it had been directed at an intervention that led the hoteliers to initially having rejected the Iago law for tourism circularity and sustainability which contained this provision.

When the law was first given an airing early last year, Maria Frontera, the president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, argued that aspects, e.g. adjustable beds, were already being adopted. She stressed that it was not typically the role of the federation to be “interventionist”. It didn’t look to get involved with politics directly. But she had branded the law “electoral”. And so the federation had involved itself.

Interventionist herself last year, Frontera has now felt free to attack an Iago interventionism. At the press conference for the employment figures, he responded by saying that “there is always interventionism, whatever the ideology”. And he was of course right. For example, and as I pointed out last week in this column, no government has been as interventionist in tourism matters than the first ever government from 1983. And that was a government of the right.

Frontera welcomes a change of government that will allow growth, Prohens having said that she will revisit an aspect of the 2012 tourism law that was introduced by a PP tourism minister, Carlos Delgado - hotels being allowed to expand in exchange for upgrades in star ratings. Delgado’s law, one which I thought was - in general - a pretty decent piece of legislation, promoted investment by adding a floor or two to hotel buildings. But this had a caveat. The total number of accommodation places had to be contained, so by creating new ones in certain hotels, others had to be withdrawn from elsewhere. It’s also completely forgotten that Delgado once said that he could contemplate a situation whereby the number of places would be reduced. This was a reason why the hoteliers didn’t want him as tourism minister.

So, what intervention might there now be, regardless of ideology? No one seriously entertains the idea of uncontrolled growth of tourist numbers (or any growth). Delgado didn’t, and let’s not also forget that he refused to bring about liberating legislation for holiday rentals of the type that a Més tourism minister did in 2017. Negueruela didn’t. Leading figures in the hotel industry have themselves now spoken in favour of limits. Someone has to control. Someone has to intervene.