Biel Barceló (centre) might want to don a tin helmet when he goes to the travel fair in London.

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The tourist tax
The tourist tax returned to centre-stage. The announcement of a doubling of the rate for 2018 produced condemnation from much of the business sector, from the political centre-right and from many Bulletin website and Facebook users. Not everyone disagreed with the rise, such as the unions, but the level of criticism drew into question tourism minister Biel Barceló's assertion that there is social acceptance of the tax. This might depend on what is meant by "social". It will be interesting to see if new polls of public Balearic opinion return the same support for the tax as they have since its adoption. The chances are that they will.

Whether for or against, we took the view that the latest rise, coming as it has amidst other contentious tourism policies, was an example of government improvisation and dissembling. One moment the government (usually Biel Barceló) says that the tax is not about limiting tourist numbers, then it suggests that it is, only to then intimate that next year's rise won't affect demand. On another tack, the overall level of funding for government spending, there is denial that it is part of general tax revenue collection, which simply doesn't square with the constant complaints about funding deficiencies courtesy of Madrid. Looking ahead to the first major travel fair, London's World Travel Market in November, we advised Barceló to take a tin helmet.


Hotel prices
The tour operators, in the form of Thomas Cook senior management who were in Palma last week, were naturally against the tax rise. While CEO Peter Fankhauser believed that the family tourist segment might consider looking for alternatives to the Balearics because of the tax, it was perhaps odd to hear him say that increased hotel prices were justified. If a rise in quality matches these prices, then the customer will pay. But which customer? As we have been observing for several weeks, the price of package holidays (and also of direct hotel bookings) are going up steeply. The family segment will indeed consider alternatives for this reason alone, and the tourist tax rise becomes an additional factor.


Occupancy and questionable stats
There was a hint that hotel occupancy in September will be down by around five per cent compared with last year but that hotel revenue will rise because of higher prices. The rate, so it was said, will be 85%. Yet, and as we noted, the government's figure for occupancy in September last year was just under 86%. A five per cent drop? As always, there was a touch of scepticism because of the stats, as there also was with Palma town hall suggesting that on cloudy days in summer 20% of the people are tourists.

Further to the tourist tax debate, the government has been insisting that the tax hasn't affected tourist spending this year: it is in fact up. The small to medium-sized retailers begged to differ. We pointed out, however, that certain parts of the retail sector are having an outstanding season, supermarkets especially. And this is due in no small part to holiday rentals.


Rentals and BCM
Airbnb sat down with the tourism ministry last week and said that it was waiting for its legal people to offer their "interpretation" of the rentals' legislation. HomeAway said that it had advised users to remove adverts for properties deemed to be illegal, added that it was complying with the law but also issued a statement which had a strong allusion to a Catalonian court decision that led to an overruling of a fine against Airbnb. Meanwhile, Ciudadanos in the Balearics attacked the legislation. It was variously cynical, shameful and an insult to the citizens' intelligence.

Calvia's mayor, Alfonso Rodríguez referred to the "pernicious effect" of holiday rentals during his address at the Santa Ponsa fiestas. In a wide-ranging speech he didn't mention BCM, but the club's closure was very much to the fore. The town hall had been given legal advice by the Consultative Council, which it accepted in respect of a review of the club's licence. But the closure was to be maintained because "irregularities" with work carried out in 2015 have still to be rectified. Grupo Cursach accused the town hall of lying when it gave its reasons for maintaining the closure.


In other news, a Donald Trump scarecrow was revealed to be guarding tomatoes at Michael Douglas's s'Estaca estate, a video emerged on social media of doormen from a "famous beach club" in Magalluf engaged in a brawl on the beach, and the president of the Majorca Hoteliers Federation, Inma Benito, resigned. She's to take up a new post with Iberostar. The first vice-president of the federation, Gabriel Llobera (the president of the Playa de Muro hoteliers association), is to take temporary charge. The hoteliers are facing a number of important issues, the tourist tax being just one of them.