Biel Barceló.

13-08-2015Toni Escobar

Nothing certain except death and taxes, as Benjamin Franklin supposedly said. There were no deaths to report as a consequence of tax, but there was nothing more certain than the tourist tax to get the blood boiling. It was the story of the week, and one suspects it will be the story of many other weeks.

Tax fraud crackdown
But before we even got to the tourist tax, we were learning on Wednesday that the Balearic government is planning a "massive crackdown" on tax fraud. The previous government under the Partido Popular had reduced the tax agency's capacity to go after fraud which had meant that revenue realised from specific action against it had been between 35 and 45 million euros per annum. There is to be a "relocation" of job positions so that the current government can increase this by some ten million.

The government, reminding us at every available opportunity that the Balearics are penalised by a tight-fisted Madrid, is looking wherever it can for extra streams of revenue. Buried at the foot of an article on Tuesday about the rich getting richer in the Balearics was a note which said that the threshold for Wealth Tax in the Balearics may be set to fall dramatically - to 100,000 euros of assets.

Tourist tax in 2016
Then we came on Friday to the main event. The minister for tourism, Biel Barceló, announced that the tourist tax will be"applied" next year and would be "with or without the help of the state", a reference, it was assumed, to the state having to give permission for the collection of the tax at ports and airports.

The announcement caught many by surprise. As we reported on Saturday, a time frame, which appeared to have general approval within the government, had indicated that it would come into effect in 2017, as it would need to pass through various parliamentary stages in 2016. The president of the Majorca Hoteliers Federation, Inma Benito, described the announcement as "precipitous", while a letter-writer, Alan Carleton, in totting up what is already spent on a holiday for four, suggested that the "imposition of (the) tax will only see visitors finding less expensive areas to spend their hard-earned holiday money".

There were other comments from visitors to our website. Denis Smith: "I will not come to Majorca next year because of this tax". Michael Stokes: "You have just condemned the island and its tourist sector to death".

Barceló, who previously could count on general public support for the tax (as has been indicated in surveys), might now find that he loses it. The tax, as was made clear in our Saturday edition, will also apply to residents of the Balearics when they stay in hotels or other accommodation. It has to in order that its application doesn't fall foul of European rules. But might there now be a backlash in public opinion, if the public realises it will need to pay the tax for, for example, its "puente" (bridge) weekend stays in the island's hotels?

The hoteliers' view
The position of the hoteliers was explained in an interview last Sunday with Inma Benito. "We cannot allow anything to be introduced that could bring an end to the flow of private investment, which we have seen flood in to the hotel industry over the past few years." In the same interview, she spoke also about Barceló having referred to a reduction in the number of tourists. "That is not the solution. The answer is to prolong the season so that we can spread the influx of tourists out more." And this of course brings us back to the old chestnut of winter flights and all the rest.

Benito also noted that Majorca's image had improved this summer: Magalluf had been out of the headlines. This image will be a message to be taken to the World Travel Market in London in November, an event at which she hopes hostilities over the tax don't break out between the regional and central governments. To which she might have added other matters, such as the financing of the Balearics, and so the apparent need for tax-raising by the Balearic administration.

There is nothing so certain as tax, except arguments over financing with Madrid.

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