The newly appointed Balearic Minister for tourism, employment and the economy, Iago Negueruela, has taken over what has been described as a "mega-ministry". This is at a time when the Balearic tourism industry is not going through one of its best seasons and the debate over tourism saturation and a lack of regulation in the cruise industry is raging. However, he is confident that the industry will overcome the current challenges and, come the end of the summer, the situation will have improved as the sector moves into a more vibrant winter season.
And his message to the British market is simple. "The British are important priority visitors and, amidst the uncertainty in the UK over Brexit, they are always welcome here. We are a quality destination and we want people to come and relax in a calm, secure and privileged environment.
"Apart from the wonderful beaches, mountains and rural tourism, the Balearics has excellent public infrastructure, health service and decades of experience in tourism; it’s the most advanced tourist destination in the EU."
With regard to how the tourism industry has performed so far this year, he is quick to state that it is not doing "too badly", despite claims from hotel and holiday rental associations that bookings are down 30 per cent and they are having to reduce their prices. He is certainly not going to tinker with the tourist tax.
"No. The tourism figures for the winter, the first few months of the year were very strong, which is proof that the market is decentralising and winter, low-season tourism is working. February, March and April were very good months, there was a dip in May, but June was better than expected and now we’ll wait and see what happens. At the end of the year, we’ll undertake an overall review and analyse how profitable the seasons have been for local businesses, the economy and employment."
However, in the meantime, he has some serious issues to resolve. A burning one this year is the cruise industry and introducing new controls and regulations, which is part of the new Balearic government’s pledge to the people during this legislature.
"The president (Francina Armengol) has made it clear that we need to regulate the cruise industry. We need to find a balance so that it does not disrupt the daily lives of the population of a small city like Palma. So, we’re going to be working with all the various sectors involved in the cruise industry and be looking at what the repercussions of having sudden surges of cruise ships into Palma are and the real impact on the local economy. Every year, cruise ships are getting larger and larger; we can’t have four of the largest on the planet bringing vast numbers of passengers into Palma at the same time. What we’re talking about is spikes in activity. We can’t have Palma suddenly overcome with thousands of passengers at the same time. In the end, it’s not good for the tourism industry. It doesn’t help city tourism and tourists who have come stay in luxury boutique hotels in order to enjoy the city in peace and quiet.
"We can’t all of a sudden have everybody in the centre of Palma; the city can’t cope and it sends out the wrong message. So, we need to introduce measures to control the cruise industry, ease its footprint on the capital and the city's resources while also attracting more quality cruise passengers to Palma," Negueruela said, before stressing the need for more quality across the board.
Be it fewer tourists of better quality or not, he wants higher standards and believes that this will lead to more revenue to the benefit of the Balearics.
"I think we’ve got to stop talking about tourist numbers - the two main issues are quality and profit. For example, if a hotel has an occupancy rate of 85 per cent but has managed to maintain its prices, then it’s more profitable and can therefore provide a better quality of service. But, if the hotelier wants to be 95 per cent full but that means dropping the room rates, then is the result just as profitable? No.
"We’ve already seen many hoteliers over the past few years investing in improving the quality of their establishments and services in an attempt to be able to maintain their prices and provide maximum standards of service. This is what we want to promote and encourage. Tourism figures make headlines, but what is more important is quality and making sure our business are profitable - that’s it," he said.
Hoteliers have faced tough competition from markets like Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Bulgaria, but Negueruela does not appear to be overly concerned about increasing competition. "Our strategy is to redevelop and renovate our existing offer so that we provide better quality and for which visitors staying in four or five-star hotels are prepared to pay, because they don’t get the same standards elsewhere. And not to mention the facilities and services the Balearics offers.
"It’s logical that other destinations will recover. We’ve had some extraordinary years, in large part due to borrowed tourists who would have gone to other destinations which were unsettled by geopolitics and terrorism. Obviously, compared to the past few years, this year will not be a historic or record-breaking year, but compared to years before the recent boom, this year is still going to be a good one; one of the best. We need other destinations to recover.
"It’s good to see that tensions have calmed in the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa. It means that people have more freedom of movement and more choice. Peace and tranquility give travellers more choice, and we all want that. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be concerned about the political situation in other destinations, we should be concentrating on ourselves.
"Hopefully, other countries like Algeria in north Africa will recover some stability; it’s in the interest of everybody. It’s not a case of competition is good. What is good is that these destinations are recovering and that we don’t have to depend on a war in Tunisia, for example. We have to be thinking of cooperation and that no Mediterranean countries have internal security problems of any kind. And this is good. It’s good for the welfare of the global community and will encourage more people to travel because they know they are safe. So in the end we all benefit."
This may not be what hoteliers who are watching profits suffer this season want to hear, but Negueruela is convinced that the downturn this summer is much lower than claimed. He pointed out that many of the large hotel chains have investments in competing destinations which, until recently, have been disrupted by security problems and have led to a dramatic fall in revenue for foreign investors.
"The season can’t be performing as poorly as reported because we have hit a record number of people in work. Hoteliers, etc. would not be taking on more staff if the outlook was not healthy. So, like I said, let’s wait until the end of the year when we add up all the figures.
"The domestic market has picked up and the British market is performing better than expected, but we have to take into account many factors. Good weather in northern Europe, for example, and people stay at home. Climate change is affecting us all. But we’ve already started preparing ourselves for the future by investing in improving our hotels, services and quality, and that is the path we intend to follow".