THE Balearic Government believes that the islands should be offering a more specialised type of tourism. That mass tourism is fine for as long as it lasts but that now is the time to start preparing to attract a new type of visitor attracted to the Balearics by a number of specialised activities.
The Government has highlighted the importance of yachting in the future. But just how willing is it to address the needs of this sector, which has the capacity to generate important wealth in the local economy? Jonathan Syrett is well-placed to address some of these questions having worked for Camper & Nicholsons for most of his working life. Three years ago, Syrett along with other key figures in the industry were invited to a meeting by the former Balearic President Jaume Matas to discuss some of the ways in which the autonomous Government could help them.
It was quite a shock for Syrett and his counterparts in the other big yacht companies as no-one from the public authorities had shown a lot of interest in what they were doing before. There were a number of very interesting points that we all wanted to make about our business, basically to do with large yachts, says Syrett.
Matas advised the industry figures to form an association so that the Balearic Government could get them involved on different boards and authorities.
A few weeks later, Syrett and Diego Colon, the Director of Astilleros de Mallorca, got together to form the Spanish Large Yacht Association.
The idea was to set up an association to look after the interests of companies dealing with and the owners of large yachts - over 24 metres - and to try to tackle the particular problems they face under Spanish legislation.
Yachts don't exist under Spanish law, according to Syrett, but are called ships and are subject to a plethora of restrictions and regulations.
There's a whole load of things in Spain that need to change for Spain to be more attractive. Everything is different. Spain is so behind in every single aspect of yachting.
Where Spain is really hurting itself, Syrett believes, is in the levying of the 12 percent matriculation tax on top of VAT on any yacht over 7.5 metres. All residents have to pay this tax, which means they are paying more than anybody else in any other country.
It is also a big problem because any charter yachts - and for example Camper & Nicholsons have the biggest charter fleet in the world - we can't bring any of our commercial yachts to Spain because they would be expected to pay the 12 percent matriculation tax and then local charter licences. And therefore our large yachts don't come here.
Instead they stay in France or Italy or the Caribbean or wherever else they can do business normally, as a proper commercial vessel.
There are other advantages such as duty free on fuel and goods. It is a proper industry. In fact the yachting industry is the second most regulated industry after commercial aviation. Unfortunately the Spanish just can't see that. We've spent a long time trying to get this message across. Syrett stresses that the association represents the whole of Spain, not just companies in the Balearics. We have marinas. We have ship builders. We have ship repair facilities. We have painters. We have brokers, agents, yacht help companies of all types within the association. Syrett says that the association represents about 30 companies and is looking to attract more large yacht owners who would like to see the matriculation tax scrapped and who would like to see the whole charter industry in general open up. We all know we have problems finding berths in Majorca and the Balearics. But of course there are many marinas now in Valencia, in Tarragona, in Barcelona that are opening up. There are huge marinas with facilities for large yachts and there are no large yachts that want to go there. A survey is shortly to be conducted that will give the association its first insight into what the large yacht sector represents to the local economy. We know that it has a huge impact on the economy. We also know that yachting accounts for 40 percent of the PIB (GDP) in the Balearics. That is a huge amount. This is primarily the large yacht sector, says Syrett.
He adds that what it's primarily about is job and wealth creation.
Obviously, the sector is dependent on the attitude of the authorities. In this respect, Syrett believes the job of the association is to educate the authorities about the large yacht industry and what the local economy is missing out on. It was the leader of the PP, Jaume Matas, who first expressed an interest in helping the sector, according to Syrett. Has there been a change of attitude since the new Socialist-led Government came to power? We've kept on having conversations with all political sides. Obviously we've also met with Francesc Antich and his team. We've also met with the people from the Consell (Council of Majorca) and they are fully aware of what we are doing. We found a certain degree of enthusiasm but perhaps not quite taking so much interest as their predecessors. But we think it's particularly important with the PSOE ruling both in the Balearics and Madrid - which will probably be the situation for the next few years - we do think that we will be able to get the message across more satisfactorily. The association has already done surveys to try to show to the authorities that if they get rid of the matriculation tax, they would probably be adding a further five to nine million euros a week to the Spanish economy from the additional large yachts that would come into Palma. Not just in the presence of the boats themselves but also the expenses that those boats spend whilst they're in Spanish waters. So if your boats don't come in here, you don't get that income. Large charter yachting is the very top type of holiday, the most expensive holiday you can have. And therefore it is the one that's going to leave the most money in its trail. Syrett believes that traditionally the yachting industry has been ignored by the authorities, which he puts partly down to the fact that the industry was not organised in the same way as other important sectors in the islands, such as the hoteliers. They have been a very strong driving force in alerting authorities to their needs. Whereas until the last few years the yachting industry hasn't been that way orientated. I think that it's fair to say that everyone's been concentrating very hard on working hard and doing their job but they've not really come together, until now, to share these problems and put them across in a particular way. I think we have just failed miserably at attracting attention. Syrett would like to see more acknowledgment by the authorities of the important role the industry plays in the local economy. We're just very, very far away from other European countries to open the gates and don't even charge VAT on charters.