Tourists arriving at Palma airport. | Teresa Ayuga


As we prepare for the July storm to break, the tourist tax is slowly finding its way into the travelling public's consciousness. Trip Advisor has been quite useful in this regard (and reports from the Bulletin have been mentioned several times), with the sharing of information pleasingly accurate. Less pleasing is a generally negative attitude towards the tax.

Thomson, like Jet2, have been emailing clients to tell them about the tax, but from a quick glance at tour operator websites, the news of the tax doesn't feature prominently. Thomas Cook does at least have a full explanation, though one has to go to Travel Updates to find it listed as "sustainable tourism tax". What is revealing, though, is that Thomas Cook is unable to give totally certain information. This is because it doesn't have it. No one does. On "when and how to pay", it says that it is "likely" that travellers will have to pay when checking in at their accommodation. "The government haven't advised how this should be paid." A recommendation is made to take sufficient euros to cover the cost.

Thomas Cook also can't say whether the tax will apply if travellers arrive before 1 July and then stay beyond the introduction date of 1 July. Again, the recommendation is to have money just in case. As for "why do I have to pay?", Thomas Cook points out that the tax is specifically aimed at tourists, that it is a cost beyond its control. The tour operator accepts that the tax is "something you probably weren't expecting to pay and is sorry the government has decided to bring this in so quickly".

Whatever communications the tourism ministry is sending to the tour operators, they are clearly incomplete and partly this is the result of the tax having been rushed in. Thomas Cook is absolutely right in this regard, and it is more than just regrettable that the ministry (and government) is leaving even the major players, like the big tour operators, in the dark and unable to give complete information.

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There have been some criticisms of tour operators. If they knew about the tax before, why did they not say anything earlier? It's true enough that the tour operators were well aware of the intention to bring in the tax. It was, for instance, given a good airing at London's Travel Market last November but had been spoken about more or less from the moment the new government took office in late June. In the tour operators' defence, though, until the tax was officially and definitively approved by parliament, it was difficult for them to say anything to their clients. The approval wasn't until the week before Easter, and it might be remembered that there was just a chance - right up until the last minute - that Podemos might have scuppered it.

Catalonia and its tax
Meanwhile, the government in Catalonia, the only part of Spain to have a tourist tax operational at present, has released information regarding the tax revenue collected in 2015. It is striking that the amount is only 43.5 million euros. One says only; it's a still a substantial amount. But it is roughly half the amount that the Balearic government anticipates scooping from a full year of the tax's operation. And this despite the fact that Catalonia receives more tourists than the Balearics.

According to figures from the Catalonia government, there were over 19 million foreign tourists last year, to which would have to be added Spanish tourists as well. The Balearic annual figure for all tourists is around 13 million. Yet even with this substantially higher number, the tax generates a comparatively meagre amount when compared with what the Balearic government anticipates. The reasons for this are simple: the rates are lower, the tax ceases to be applied after seven days and there is a weighting towards Barcelona. Just over half the tax revenue in 2015 came from the city, indicating that in tourist areas such as the Costa Brava the tax isn't peanuts but is certainly not at all onerous. Consequently, when you get Biel Barceló coming out with some of his justifications, such as the tax in Catalonia works well, he isn't wrong; simply that the circumstances of the tax are quite different. It works well, because there isn't a hue and cry about the Catalonia tax and there never has been because it, to borrow from Barceló, genuinely means "small amounts".

It's also interesting to note what different types of accommodation contribute to the Catalonian tourist tax pot. Almost 80% of the revenue comes from hotels, but there is an 8% contribution for holiday rentals. This is in fact the second highest amount, outstripping even camping (of which there is a great deal in Catalonia). The 3.6 million euros from holiday rentals was up by 38% last year, assisted by the "regularisation" of properties that the government knew were not "regularised" but which now are. More than 54,000 properties have been added to the register.