THE Balearic government scrapped the controversial tourist tax as soon as it came into office last year, but according to a report in the Sunday Times, some tour operators are still charging customers almost 25 pounds per person for the tax. The report says that holidaymakers had been charged up to 1.75 pounds per night on hotel stays since May 2002. This could add as much as 98 pounds on a two-week break for a family of four. The charge came to light when a member of the public complained to ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) that his tour operator had tried to make him pay the tax. According to the Sunday Times, ABTA admitted that “a handful” of its members were still charging the tax, even though it had written twice to inform members that the levy had been abolished. The repeal of the tax had received extensive publicity in Britain, as Majorca, Ibiza and Minorca are among the most popular holiday destinations of British tourists, and the tax was extremely unpopular. ABTA has now launched an investigation, and the Sunday Times quotes the Association as saying “We would like to give these transgressors the benefit of the doubt. But if they can't prove this was a genuine mistake, they will face fines of up to 25'000 pounds and, ultimately, expulsion.” However, ABTA said that it could not guarantee that tour operators would listen, and asked holidaymakers who had been charged to contact them.
The Trading Standards Institute described it as “dreadful” and said that if tour operators persisted in charging “a fictitious tax” it may be able to take legal action against them. The tax was introduced by the coalition left-wing government led by Francesc Antich, despite stiff opposition from Balearic hoteliers and foreign tour operators. Many hoteliers refused to pay over the tax, and are still holding on to the money until a court decision is announced. The funds raised by the tax were intended to be invested in improving the islands and protecting the heritage.
The tourist sector said that the tax had been badly planned, as it affected only visitors who were staying in hotels, and claimed that it led to a drop in numbers. Unions and environmental groups welcomed the tax, and what it would mean for the environment.
Antich's government set 80 projects in motion, using tourist tax money, but some of them were dropped by Matas when the conservatives took power.
The tax raised 33.7 million euros in 2002 and had been expected to raise 43 million euros last year. The new government was left with just over 26 million euros which had not been committed by the coalition. Among the projects which were retained were the refurbishment of several old buildings in Palma, creating cycle tracks and extending the guided tours of Palma.