Steps trade fair.

As the countdown to the introduction of the tourist tax entered its final days yesterday the Chairman of the International Federation of Tour Operators, Martin Brackenbury, claimed yesterday that the tax was unnecessary as the central administration in Madrid had assured him that they would pay for any environmental project which the local authorities desired. Brackenbury admitted to being baffled as to why the local authorities had decided on the tax option when the money could be available from other sources. Balearic minister for tourism Celesti Alomar told the Bulletin over the weekend that the controversial surcharge was the only way forward, a claim which Brackenbury dismissed. He said that Madrid were prepared to provide sizeable sums of money for the islands but they simply had not been asked. Brackenbury also said that the money which would be raised through the tax was minimal. He went on to say that the main operators had put their tourist tax contingency plans into action. “All the tour operators which form part of IFTO have produced a letter which they will be giving to all their clients informing them about the tax and telling them to get a receipt in case the money has to be returned. I think this week is going to be a spicy week in Majorca,” said Brackenbury who is attending the Steps, Spanish Tourist Trade Fair, in London. He said there was added confusion because some hoteliers had still not decided how they were going to handle the tax issue. And there was further bad news for the Balearics with the announcement that holiday sales to the islands are still 22 percent down, according to the major travel agents. There still has not been any significant recovery in sales eventhough the summer season is now almost getting into full swing. Brackenbury indicated that most people were not booking yet because they were looking for the best late offers. A look in any travel agent's window in Britain shows that the islands are facing stiff competition. Competing resorts including Turkey and Greece have already slashed their prices. The market, overall, is down by 17 percent. “It is important to note that the Balearics is doing worse that other holiday destinations and probably it could be as a result of the tourist tax.” Meanwhile, Tiffany Blackman, Director of the Tourism Promotion Body, (IBATUR) who is representing Balearic Minister for Tourism Celesti Alomar at the fair, forecast a small drop in British visitors but overall she indicated that the Balearics would have a relatively good season. Eventhough the Balearics has a small official representation at the fair, the tourist tax was the main topic of conversation with the Secretary of State for Tourism Juan Jose Guemes underlining that it was a bad idea and could have a big impact on tourism. He said that the tourist tax debate had created a poor image for the islands. There is also a concern within the Spanish government that other areas of Spain, including the Canary Islands and Catalonia are also planning to introduce a tax. Martin Brackenbury said that this could result in the Spanish government withdrawing its VAT tax breaks for the tourist industry. Brackenbury also praised local hoteliers who are attending the fair in force. “They deserve to be congratulated for all the hard work they are doing in promoting the Balearics and their own businesses,” he said. He went on to say that they faced a difficult season. “The tourist tax represents about three percent of the cost of a hotel room, but in some cases it can represent up to 40 percent of their profit (on the room),” he said. Brackenbury went on to say that Britons were just starting to realise that they would be taxed when they visit the Balearics.


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