THE vice-president of the Balearics and minister for tourism, Biel Barceló, has made it quite clear that neither the tourist tax nor the recent spate of anti-tourist graffiti which has appeared in the old historic part of Palma by any means suggest that the region does not want tourists.
On the contrary. He argues that the tourist tax has been drawn up and designed to benefit everyone and ensure a sustainable future for tourism, while the graffiti was the act of a mere minority, "perhaps just one or two people", who may have an axe to grind. "I can’t control how people think or feel," the minister told the Bulletin, but he ruled out the graffiti and the arrest of a Jihadi suspect in Palma having a negative effect on bookings this season.
Tomorrow (Thursday), the tourist tax legislation will be published in the Official Bulletin of State and a period of seven days of public consultation will follow. "The tax is cut and dried, all that remains are a few technical issues," the minister explained. And he was very clear as to why the tax is being introduced and keen to stress that in no way should it be considered a negative message to visitors, or Spanish nationals for that matter, as anyone staying in a hotel or recognised accommodation will have to pay the levy from 1 July.
"This is about all of us making a small contribution to the preservation and protection of the Balearics, its countryside, marine environment, culture and its heritage. The maximum increase on the price of holiday it could lead to is just one per cent, far less than the near six per cent the hoteliers have increased their rates by on average this year. We are by no means saying that we don’t want tourists, I don’t know where this has come from. Scores of countries around Europe and the rest of the world charge tourists taxes, many have for years, and recently Portugal and Malta have introduced one as well, but it does not mean they don’t want visitors either. All we want is to be able to raise some extra funding which will help us create a sustainable tourist industry which will benefit visitors, residents and the industry as a whole for many years to come.
"My father worked in tourism for 40 years, I did too for a while. The industry has been the lifeline of the Balearics and thousands of families for decades: it’s a world leader in tourism innovation and development, and we have to make sure that tourism has a sustainable future. We aim to raise around 60 million euros per year from the tourist tax and all that will be reinvested in the industry in one form or other. A special website is being created so that the general public can see and monitor exactly how the money is spent. There is going to be maximum transparency."
With regards to the recent anti-tourist graffiti, Barceló repeated what he has said before - that it was the work of a minority and that EMAYA was given special permission to clean private property, which is normally the responsibility of the owners.
"Not everyone is obviously going to benefit from or be in favour of tourism, but that’s something we can’t control, it’s just an issue we have to keep on top of. It could spread, we don’t know, but we are dealing with it and as quickly as we can. I know that concerns have been expressed both here and overseas about tourism saturation or overbooking this year, but we are doing our best to make sure that does not happen."
"We have introduced a ceiling on the number of hotel beds which we feel is adequate for the region and it is up to the local councils to control the expansion of existing hotels and the development of new ones. I think the issue of overbooking and overcrowding this season is very much subjective and there are no reasons why people should be put off coming here.
"We are trying to do all we can to make sure that everyone who visits the region has a great experience and that is why we are working on regulating the holiday-let sector. Again, we are not trying to demonise it or eradicate it, we just want the sector to be in order so that property owners and clients have a positive experience.
"For example, when one looks for a hotel, one can immediately get an idea what kind of establishment it is and what kind of services are provided by its star rating. Then there are a number of requisites and standards hotels have to meet and services they have to provide. There is also someone to complain to if one is not happy - there are checks and balances and people to turn to in the event of a problem.
"We want the same services and guarantees provided to people renting holiday properties. Laundry should be provided, there shoudl be cleaning, a 24-hour attention line, for example. We consider it only fair and just. What happens to people who turn up to their holiday homes to discover it is nothing like they were promised or shown online? Where do they then turn, who do they complain to because many of the properties are managed by agencies, some of which are only online? These are issues we are addressing and will have solved in time for next season.
"And holiday rentals, the number of properties and services provided etc. are also going to be controlled by the local councils. It is all about providing a quality service throughout the industry and also value for money to clients while also being able to control supply, demand and prices."
"Already this season we’ve seen potential employees coming to Majorca, especially Palma and some of the other large resorts, and discovering that what short-term, seasonal rental accommodation there is, is either in short supply or more expensive than expected, so workers are finding it hard to find somewhere to live. Therefore, this is another reason that the holiday-let market has to be regulated."
And he is not only concerned about the increase in rental rates and the lack of legal supply to meet demand, he is also irritated by the fact that some hoteliers have decided to cash in on the high rate of demand for peak-season holidays by increasing their rates.
"On average, like I said, the increase this year is around the same as last year, 5.6 per cent, but there are a few hoteliers who, in response to talk of saturation and possible overcrowding, have hiked their prices and that only acts as a deterrent and could turn people away to other cheaper destinations such as Greece, Bulgaria or even Turkey - this does not help either."
"But what is encouraging is that the all-nclusive market appears to have peaked here in the Balearics. While there are no fewer all-inclusive hotels, the number has not increased and that is positive. Obviously, I can understand the attraction, especially for families, because they know exactly what they have spent on their holidays - all-inclusive packages enable precise budgeting - but we would like to see more people venturing out of their hotels and going on excursions, visiting local restaurants, shopping etc. because this island has so much to offer and it also helps resort economies and job creation."
"The other issue we are concerned about, and will be addressing ahead of next season, is the standard of quality provided by the all-inclusive sector. Again, we are not trying to eradicate it, there is clear demand which we need to cater for, but like the rest of the sector we want to ensure that guests enjoy value for money, leave happy and return, perhaps in the low season.
"Last winter we made some kind of breakthrough, especially with the UK market, with some tour operators prolonging their seasons in Majorca in particular, and this winter a number of UK airlines are going to be operating directs flights to Palma all winter, which is extremely encouraging.
"Palma has taken off as a weekend, short-break destination, although we still need to keep promoting and pushing, while the island has established itself as a very good sports and activities destination. However, although we may have more flights than in recent years this winter, we need to have the beds, and I am afraid that the hotel sector still has to change its mentality and open longer or not close at all. This will not only benefit them but also resorts as a whole, while offering greater job security. But there’s no point having a lone hotel open in a single resort, we need a handful to be operating in order to properly create a winter tourism industry outside of Palma."