what extent might it be said that this decree is electoral? | jmartiny


With the Partido Popular in the Balearics having said that they will repeal the government’s tourism decree if they are returned to power at next year’s election, they were implying that the decree was an electoral ploy. The hoteliers were meanwhile more direct - it is electoral, no question of that.

For Marga Prohens and the PP, with one eye already firmly on the 2023 election, it was perhaps unfortunate that their opposition to the decree should have coincided with the party’s national leader, Pablo Casado, doing his level best to destroy election hopes and to divert attention from the matter at hand - the decree.

This aside, to what extent might it be said that this decree is electoral? Details such as those to do with improved working conditions will play well, while a section of the electorate will like the idea of fewer tourist accommodation places, albeit that this isn’t a stipulated aim; it is more of a supposition. But there will be another section that doesn’t like this.

It is not as if everyone in the Balearics accepts that there is an economic model out there that is suddenly going to mean that the islands don’t live from tourism (and pretty much tourism alone). As to all the general circularity and sustainability stuff, it’s been heard so often that it is debatable how strongly this resonates.

In a way, however, this general stuff is one reason why the hoteliers are annoyed. As previously mentioned in this column, the hoteliers have been well ahead of the government when it comes to circularity policies. They don’t need the government to lecture them or to legislate. They are aware of the competitive possibilities that circularity offers them, while - and believe this or not - there are plenty who do have a social responsibility.

Of recent statements made by Maria Frontera, the president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, perhaps the single most telling was when she said that they (the hoteliers) don’t like being used. One way in which they might feel that they are is that they are the target for circularity policies that the government has latched onto (when the hoteliers were already pursuing them) and which the government might hope will sweep all before it en route to a third term.

It hasn’t been lost on certain observers, including Joan Trian Riu, the managing director of Riu Hotels & Resorts, that it’s all well and good having legislation to make hotels circular, but what about everyone else.

In a recent interview, Trian Riu was generally relaxed about the government’s decree. But then he would be, as Riu is one of the hotel groups which have already been investing in circularity and the likes of elevatable beds. And if it isn’t he himself who might be perceived to most have the ear of the government among the hotelier fraternity, then it is Gabriel Escarrer of Meliá.

There is an impression that the government only negotiates with Escarrer, thus ignoring the great number of small hotel companies that come under the Majorca Hoteliers Federation.

When the Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, referred to “internal pressures” within the federation that had led to the apparent volte-face in attitude to the decree, he would have known that a federation assembly held on Wednesday last week had a far higher attendance than usual. The smallest of hotel companies went along and voiced their concerns about the contents of the decree. Two days later, Frontera apparently stunned Negueruela by announcing the federation’s rejection of the decree.

Something else to have got the hoteliers’ goat is the implication of the decree that they have not been offering good working conditions. To take one aspect of this, pay, it should be remembered that in 2017 the hoteliers pre-empted what were expected to be lengthy pay negotiations by tabling a 17% increase over four years. There were no negotiations because the unions and the government were totally taken aback and were most definitely not about to decline the offer.

That collective bargaining agreement, the renewal of which has been delayed by the pandemic, made hotel workers in Mallorca the best paid in the country. No, their salaries aren’t huge, but they are better than those elsewhere, and for the most part they were already better before the 2017 pay agreement.

Over time, that agreement has come to be spun as having been a triumph of government negotiation and for Iago Negueruela in particular (who was then just employment minister and not tourism as well). But that was certainly not how it appeared, precisely because the hoteliers stopped negotiations in their tracks by tabling the increase that they did.
With circularity, it’s as if the government is seeking to take the credit for in effect having invented the concept, when a good number of hotel companies are already well down the road.

Electoral advantage from the decree, if there is one, lies principally with working conditions and the presentation of a new model predicated on circularity. Both, it might be argued, are therefore being spun as government initiatives when the hoteliers had in fact taken the lead.

It is obviously the case that smaller hotel groups are lagging behind, but - and as Maria Frontera pointed out well in advance of the decree - a standardised approach to circularity measures has been in place for at least two years. The federation has developed a manual - a self-diagnostic tool for hotels - and in putting this into practice, it has wanted government carrot rather than stick.

That’s where the internal pressures have come from, the smaller hotels who are concerned about the investment that will be required. Not that they disagree with the principles, just that they worry about the cost and the regulatory timeframe.

There is one other thing to be said about the tensions which have now arisen, and that concerns what has generally been unity not only during the pandemic but also prior to it following the collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019. That unity is being destroyed by a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the hoteliers feel they are being used and are being singled out.

Frontera stressed that it is not typically the role of the federation to be “interventionist”. It doesn’t look to get involved with politics directly. By referring to electoral, it now has. Marga Prohens and the PP will want to exploit this, Francina Armengol and the government are accused of not having been consensual and of having left the hoteliers feeling tired of the government’s language.

Only a few short weeks ago, when there was a ceremony for Frontera’s re-election as federation president, Armengol highlighted the willingness of the federation to enter into dialogue and expressed her gratitude for the joint efforts made in confronting the pandemic. “You have always been (open to dialogue), Maria, and I appreciate it in a huge way.”

The government will now insist that there has been open dialogue. That’s not how the hoteliers see it.