Biel Barceló: "The tourist tax here is the cheapest, the lowest in Europe." | Toni Escobar


"The only problem Majorca has can be narrowed down to two streets, Punta Ballena in Magalluf and Calle Jamon in Playa de Palma, and we’re working hard with the private sector to solve the issues," the Balearic minister for tourism, Biel Barceló, told the Bulletin last week in response to all the exaggerated press coverage in the United Kingdom about Majorca no longer wanting British holidaymakers.

"The level of collaboration with the British consulate, the British tour operators, the hoteliers, travel agents has never been as high as it is now. It’s better than ever and we’re working together extremely well. The anti-tourism graffiti that sprung up was the act of a minority and one we certainly do not approve of. We strongly condemn it. At no point was any nation singled out.

"The anti-massification protest which took part last week was certainly not a riot, as one paper claimed, and there were more like 1,000 people as opposed to the 3,000 claimed by the organisers. What we must not do is get confused. Yes, we are - and by we, I include the millions of foreign holidaymakers and residents who live here - concerned about the island’s infrastructure, natural resources, beaches, roads and the environment, but that does not mean that the island is anti-tourism.

"Yes, the summers are busy, we are well aware of that, they always have been and that is why we’ve stopped promoting the summer season. Our principal aim is to take the pressure off the summer and prolong the season by promoting winter tourism. That is what we are investing in and that is the message we are taking to the World Travel Market in London next month and to the other leading travel events around the world.

" ‘Better in Winter’ is our message. But summer or winter, everyone is welcome here. This is a quiet and tranquil island and we want people to be well looked after with good quality service whether they are big-spending luxury visitors or not. We don’t mind. Everybody lives on a different budget and some have more than others to spend on holiday, but it should make absolutely no difference to the standards of service they receive. We are open to everyone of every nationality."

Another controversial issue is the tourist tax and that too has received negative coverage in the UK, especially the fact that it is going to doubled next summer.

"To begin with, the Balearics is not the only region or destination in Europe which charges a tourist tax or a similar levy. Many places have for years now. The tourist tax here is the cheapest, the lowest in Europe and even when it is doubled, it is still going to be relatively cheap in comparison. And this doubling will only apply to half the year, the main season. Children under 16 are not charged anyway.

"Since its introduction, out of some ten million visitors we’ve had five or six complaints and two of those were from a family of Majorcans and Catalans, who also have to pay a tourist tax. So, in all fairness, I think the tax has been accepted and it certainly is not putting people off coming here.

"It may next year when it is doubled and some of the troubled destinations come back on line, but we will be talking a couple of thousand. I think to a certain extent Majorca’s tourist industry has become the victim of its own success. That is why any incident is leapt on by the press in the UK and amplified. But the reality is that we have good, solid eco-politics in place for a sustainable tourism industry, which is proving to be an example to countries all around the world. Here in the Balearics we are leading the drive for green tourism, but that obviously costs money and because Madrid will not help us, we’ve had to introduce the tax to fund the fight for sustainable tourism, and the world is watching.

"We are at a crucial moment and we want to continue being a successful destination but it’s about finding that right balance. It’s not a question of having fewer people during the summer. Like I’ve said, it’s about having an all-year tourist industry and we must respect everyone’s needs.

"So far, 74 million euros of tourist tax money have been invested in the tourist industry, and at the World Travel Market we will be meeting with all the tour operators and travel agents and we will be talking sustainable tourism. We are going to be spelling out exactly what our intentions are and how we intend to go about them.

"We are taking a message of tranquility. We are also going to be highlighting the high level of confidence the hotel sector has in the future of the Balearic tourism industry and that the private and public sectors will continue investing millions in upgrading and improving their facilities, services and establishments.

"A prime example of that confidence is the fact that the hotel sector this week agreed a 17 per cent wage increase over the next four years with the main union representing staff working in the sector. These businesspeople are not stupid and certainly would not sign up to such a high rise in salaries if they did not believe in their products and have confidence in the future of the industry."