These are busy times at the Balearic Ministry for Tourism. This department will be responsible for introducing the Balearic government’s flagship policy; the highly controversial tourist tax. It has been tried before and was scrapped because of the outcry. Tourist Tax Mark 2 has already been slammed by the travel industry and hoteliers. But there is no going back, says the Balearic government. This week we spoke to the Balearic Minister for Tourism, Biel Barcelo, who is also the Vice President of the Balearic government and leader of the left-wing Majorcan Nationalist Party, Mes.
Bulletin: Minister, why a tourist tax?
Barcelo: “the revenue which is raised through the tax will be used to improve local resorts and also help ease the environmental footprint left by tourism. We believe that it is a small price to pay, about 1.7 percent, of the total cost of a holiday to the Balearics. It is a small price but the benefits will be enormous....”
Bulletin: is the tourist tax being introduced because of the major funding dispute with the central administration?
Barcelo: “the lack of funding from the Madrid government for the Balearics is scandalous, and yes this is one of the reasons we are introducing the tax but at the same the money which is raised will help ease the environmental footprint left by tourism over the decades.”
Bulletin: the travel industry are not impressed?
Barcelo: “Therefore it is our job to make them see the benefits of this small charge which will change Majorca for the better.”
Bulletin: many of our readers are tourists and are not impressed, what would you say to them?
Barcelo: “help us make the islands that they love a better place and at the same time guarantee that the natural beauty of the Balearics is safeguarded.”
Bulletin: “The British newspapers have been suggested that the tourist tax could add another 100 euros to the cost of a Balearic holiday.
Barcelo: “as I said earlier it is a small charge; (1.7 percent of the cost of a holiday), children will not pay and also it will not be charged on a daily basis so that long-stay tourists do not pay more.”
Bulletin: yet another tax for people to pay...?
Barcelo: “We understand that no-one likes paying additional taxes. But also they can see that similar types of surcharges are being introduced in resorts across the European Union. Take Catalonia. Catalonia has introduced a similar sort of tax which has proved successful; there has not been a drop in tourism and the revenue which is being raised is making a big difference.”
Bulletin: do you fear a drop in tourism like some people are suggesting?
Barcelo: “No, I do not. I believe that if we explain what we are doing the large majority of tourists will accept it and support us.”
Bulletin: where will the tax be paid and who will pay it?
Barcelo: “everyone (including local residents who stay in hotels or in tourist accommodation) will pay the tax. Initially we pondered the possibility that tourists would pay the tax at the airport but this would open up a wide range of problems so at the moment the best option is for tourists to pay it in their tourist accommodation”
Bulletin: when you say tourist accommodation if it obviously legal holiday accommodation; what about people staying in the so-called illegal holiday apartments and homes?
Barcelo: “obviously we are going to have to crackdown on illegal holiday homes. What we can’t have is tourists staying in homes and apartments which are not legally controlled and their owners do not pay the necessary taxes. We are not too concerned about a single property owner renting out their home what we will be tackling is the illegal renting out of homes and villas on a large scale.”
Bulletin: while our readership is concerned about the tourist tax their chief complaint is the lack of flights during the winter....?
Barcelo: “we are aware of the important lack of flights to the islands during the winter months. We are working with the airlines and the travel companies to try and revive winter tourism. Just last week we held talks with a British travel f irm which is planning to introduce flights to the island from February. We are aware that during the low season there is plenty to do on Majorca; we have all the local fiestas, our food, our culture etc. We are convinced that the island is an excellent all year around holiday destination. We just need to work together with all sides and make winter tourism happen.”
Bulletin: another concern is all-inclusive package holidays?
Barcelo: “we understand that they offer great value for tourists but it is not exactly the type of holiday that we want because it encourages tourists to stay in their hotels when they could be out exploring Majorca and spending with local businesses.”
Bulletin: the Calvia council appears to be one of the main players in the curb on all inclusive holidays?
Barcelo: “Yes, what Calvia wants and what we all want; to see an end to the important alcohol element of all inclusive packages. This leads to a variety of problems. We do not want tourists being offered self-service alcohol, for two important reasons. Firstly that there is always the danger of tourists drinking to excess and secondly we also believe that there should be staff on duty serving not self-service.”
Bulletin: Minister, do you think that Palma is becoming too international and that it is easier to get a slice of pizza than a traditional Majorcan bread roll?
Barcelo: “to some extent yes. We have a fantastic local cuisine and we have the ensaimada. I do not understand why local bars offer a croissant when we have the ensaimada. The same can be said about shops; of course we need all the international high street brands but at the same time we need our local shops offering articles from the island. We must make an effort to sell our local brands.”
Bulletin: the whole Balearic tourism promotion campaign is centred around bucket and spade tourism. Don’t you think the time has come to show other parts of the island, such as the joys of enjoying a frito mallorquin on market days in Sineu?
Barcelo: “I think you are exactly right and for this reason we will be going to the more specialised trade shows. Obviously beach tourism is of vital importance to the islands but at the same time we must show that there is more to these islands, much more.”
Bulletin: Magalluf appears to be heading in the right direction....?
Barcelo: “yes this appears to be the case. The private investment which is being made in hotels and tourists attractions along with the new laws tackling bad behaviour and excessive drinking are making Magalluf a much better place. We are concerned about the Playa de Palma, also. The difference between the two is that in Magalluf we are just talking about one street in the Playa de Palma we are talking about a large area. We are very aware of the need to control noise pollution and general lawlessness so that tourists and residents can live and enjoy the island side-by-side.”
Bulletin: thank you minister, I wish you success but already you are under fire from the industry?
Barcelo: “we must all work together and I mean everyone; from tourists to the travel industry and the local authorities and local people. Work together to improve Majorcan for the benefit of all...”
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