The environment is just one of six key purposes for what the tax is intended. | R.C.


Llorenç Galmés, one-time mayor of Santanyi and now chief spokesperson for the Partido Popular at the Council of Majorca, may well be the PP’s candidate for the Council’s presidency at the May 2023 election. Many months yet to go, but Llorenç and his companions in the main opposition party are starting their campaigning, which this week has involved the crucial votes of the UK’s tourism industry.

Letting it be known, or rather repeating what was already known, that the PP would favour an abandonment of the tourist tax might go down well with the odd UK tour operator, but these tour operators - unfortunately for Llorenç - do not have a vote. Nevertheless, a London tourism fair was deemed an appropriate setting for raising a subject and a policy that Llorenç might hope will propel the PP to electoral victory. It won’t, because it isn’t anything like the sort of election issue that the old (2002) ecotax was, while public opinion in Mallorca and the Balearics, where people do have votes, is broadly in favour of the tax. So why bring it up at all?

It has been a curious week for the tourist tax. Not because of Llorenç, but because of a thing that the ecologists Terraferida came up with on Twitter. The tourist tax, they suggested, is being used to fund a music awards gala. These awards are the Los 40 awards, Los 40 being a music radio station brand. The sixteenth awards are in Palma.

They are being held next week, November 12, at what used to be known as Palma Arena and is now the Velòdrom Illes Balears. Among those nominated in international categories, I’m sure you’ll be interested in learning, are Justin Bieber, Coldplay, and Ed Sheeran. Terraferida have not expressed any opposition to these nominations or indeed to the awards per se, but they have taken exception to “the height of indecency and hypocrisy” that comes from “an authentic misuse of public money”.

I can’t verify or refute Terraferida’s claim, which - even by the flexible standards adopted for using tourist tax revenue - strikes me as unlikely. But then it isn’t proving that straightforward to work out how this revenue is being used at all. The slim pickings from last year seemed to disappear into the general budget. Is this happening again with the 2021 cash?

If this were 2019, we would by now have been informed that the commission for the sustainable tourism tax had convened and had come to decisions as to how to spend the year’s revenue. At the end of October 2019, the commission met. Of representatives who voted against project spending, much of it proposed by the government, were the environmentalists GOB and Friends of the Earth. Terraferida aren’t on the commission, but had they been in 2019, they would have voted the same way as the other two.

This commission, which includes business, union and town hall representatives as well as several government ministers and island council members, is a bit of a farce, as the decision-making is pretty much loaded in the government’s favour. This is why GOB, for example, have indicated that they won’t bother in future. For them, and for Terraferida, the tourist tax revenue should go towards environmental projects and nothing else.

The Terraferida tweet referred to the “ecotax”, one charged to tourists “to compensate for mass tourism and its effects on the islands’ environment”. This is true up to a point, but only up to a point. Firstly, and I stress the crucial point that I’ve made previously, this is not and never has been an ecotax. That is because, and secondly, the environment is just one of six key purposes for what the tax is intended.

But right now, it is difficult to know what purposes apply. The commission, pointless though it is, hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, convened since October 2019. Moreover, if one goes to the “transparency portal” for the Balearic government’s Aetib agency for tourism strategy, the most recent post for “what do we do?” and the agency’s action plan outlines objectives for the sustainable tourism tax (aka tourist tax) that include preparing the 2020 plan for the spending of revenue. This was dated February 7, 2020, a month before the state of alarm.

The agency, which has responsibility for managing the projects to be paid for by the tourist tax, was also - as stated in this post - monitoring the development of projects to be financed from the revenue for 2016 to 2019. One is aware that certain ones have been dropped - the purchase of the finca next to the Pollentia site in Alcudia (for 1.2 million euros) - has been one. The pandemic is the reason.

The revenue raised this year and last year is nowhere near what was being collected - 105 million euros in 2019. As to how it is being spent, there is no information. Extraordinary circumstances and all that, and the revenue would seem to form part of the general pot. Whether the Los 40 awards are a beneficiary, I would have my doubts, although it is the case that the publicity material includes logos for Aetib and ‘Illes Balears Sostenibles’.

The transparency portal has nothing to say on the matter, that’s for sure. The most recent update regarding projects - December 29, 2020 - highlights ones for the 2017 and 2018 revenue, e.g. signage for cyclists in the Pla region of Mallorca and the acquisition of the Sa Senieta rustic finca in Formentera.

The website - Illes Balears Sostenibles (Sustainable Balearic Islands) - is where information can be found about tourist tax projects and the purposes for the tax. It has an English section and the slogan “your islands, your holiday, your contribution”. The website draws attention to 165 projects and investment of 261 million euros since the tax was introduced, with 111 million having been allocated to environmental projects. The latest references are to 2019.

Forty million? Nowhere near

Spain’s tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, seemed not to be making any statements regarding the total number of foreign tourists in Spain this year at the London fair. Which was just as well. It has been clear that her forecast of around 50% of the 2019 number - 40 million this year compared with 83.7 million in 2019 - was fanciful in the extreme. The latest figures from the Frontur survey of foreign tourist movements confirmed this.
Reports had it that September’s tourism had “surged” - 4.7 million tourists in September and so four times as many as last September but four million below the 2019 figure. The hyperbole aside, Maroto confined herself to suggesting that 2019 numbers could be recovered next year. The tally for the first nine months of 2021 was around 19.7 million. Forty million by the end of the year it will not be.