The King and Queen together with Melià top management and politicians. | Joan Torres


Some one thousand guests attended yesterday evening's official opening of the Palma Palacio de Congresos convention centre. King Felipe and Queen Letizia were given a tour of the complex by the senior management of Meliá Hotels International and the architect, Patxi Mangado, prior to the ceremony, which was an occasion for debate about tourism as much as it was a celebration of what it is hoped will prove to be a significant element in addressing Majorca's tourism seasonality.

Gabriel Escarrer Julià, the founder of Melià and now its non-executive president, chose the occasion to attack the tourist tax, saying that it had been introduced without consensus. He insisted that there needs to be a public administration (government) which focuses more on a better management of public money than on tax increases. He stressed that doubling the tourist tax was not "the right way".

Escarrer, who delivered the first address, called on the government to show greater rigour and consensus in tackling issues such as holiday rentals and tourismphobia. In his opinion, tourism creates social welfare and he advocated a consensual and sustainable model of tourism as well as a need to raise social awareness of what the tourism industry gives to the Balearics.

He thanked the King and Queen for the affection that they show to the Balearics and for their support of Spanish companies. He also thanked the mayor of Palma, Antoni Noguera, and President Armengol for having made the Palacio a reality after what had been "many difficulties and not a few problems".

Armengol expressed her hope that the Palacio will help to consolidate a change to the Balearics economic model. She observed that there is a lengthening of the tourism season but that there is also a need to build "a more solid, more diverse and more competitive economy". The Palacio, she believed, was indicative of a city that is open to knowledge, innovation and new ideas.

She then moved on to consider the introduction of the "sustainable tourism tax", which was an example of government policies aimed at improving the islands' economic model. The president emphasised one of the most important challenges, which is "to ensure that wealth which is generated translates into wages in a better way and contributes to a raising of everyone's welfare".

The president concluded by advocating consensus and dialogue as fundamental means for achieving social and economic objectives, these being economic diversification, respect for the environment and equality among citizens.

King Felipe referred to the genuine role that tourism has for Spanish economic development. "We are aware that this industry creates a highly significant demand for goods and services." He identified congress tourism as "an additional engine for economic growth and employment creation" and praised the "extraordinary infrastructure" that is the Palacio, not just because of its architecture but also because of the "social, economic and cultural impact" it will have on Palma and the Balearics in general.

The opening ceremony was of course taking place against the background of events in Catalonia. President Armengol was the only one who delivered a speech (others included Antoni Noguera) to make any reference to these, even if it was a somewhat veiled allusion. "Dialogue is more necessary than ever," she stated.

Outside the Palacio there was a gathering of some fifty people who were waving Spanish flags. The King and Queen acknowledged them, both waving to the crowd and shaking hands. There were cries such as "Viva España", "Viva el Rey", "Viva la Guardia Civil", "Armengol dimisión", "Barceló dimisión". (Dimisíon means resignation.)