With the words of the acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, still ringing in their ears, Balearic government representatives were in attendance at Fitur yesterday. The politics of the event had been given a thorough airing by Rajoy at the forum for tourism leadership prior to Fitur's opening. Though he didn't specifically mention the tourist tax, his references to obstacles and barriers being placed in front of tourism most definitely alluded to it.
The president of Exceltur (the alliance for tourism excellence), which organised the forum, was less guarded. Amancio López referred to the penalisation and "demonisation" of tourism business activity: "especially when taxes and eco-taxes are imposed in order to justify the unjustifiable."
Gabriel Escarrer Juliá, the president of Meliá Hotels International was similarly unequivocal in his assessment. "With the latest political decisions adopted in the Balearics, we are going to shoot ourselves in the foot. At the moment we're doing well, but in the bad times we will be reminded of the implementation of this tourist tax."
His son, Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, Meliá's CEO and vice-president, added that the tourist tax would be an error. "We have expressed this to the government and don't wish to create any more controversy, but we consider it to be a wrong policy." He was clear that the impact of the tax might not be immediate but would be felt in the medium to long term.
The Barceló hotel group's CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Raúl González, also expressed his opposition. "We must be careful not to kill the goose which lays the golden eggs." He was particularly critical of the short implementation period, saying that companies such as his will have to assume the cost of the tax as they cannot just place it on clients who had booked before the tax was announced.
Other leading figures from the tourism business world in the Balearics were at Fitur yesterday so that they could catch up with government ministers. The Balearic Confederation of Tourist Business Associations, which represents the non-hotel sector, organised a meeting with Vice-President Barceló at which its president, Palma Aquarium's Antonio González, expressed the confederation's outright opposition to the tourist tax.
Exceltur, meanwhile, was also concerned with where Spain's national politics might be heading, asking that a future government maintains political and tax stability. "The important thing is that the government gives legal security so that there is a continuation of the economic model that has provided employment growth in our country."
In responding to the various sources of criticism, Barceló told a press conference at Fitur that the previous eco-tax of 2002 had been pioneering and that any controversy surrounding the new tax was artificial. He reiterated the fact that the tax would be purpose-oriented and so invested with the aims of improving the Balearics as a tourist destination and securing a sustainable future.
He added that the instability caused by terrorism in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey was likely to mean that tourist demand for Spain would continue to increase and that this, in turn, would require ever greater efforts to ensure that tourist expectations are met.
President Armengol didn't reflect on the tourist tax. She instead spoke about the projected 3% growth in tourism this year. "This will create more jobs and greater distribution of wealth." The good prospects, she said, point to there being "maximum influx" of tourists in both high and low seasons. She added that she was aware that there were many goals to be met and so called on the public and private sectors to work together in creating jobs that will be stable and will ensure social cohesion.
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