Iago Negueruela. | Archive

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Iago Negueruela, the Balearic minister for the economic model, tourism and employment, has been at the centre of the controversy surrounding the government's tourism decree. The main bone of contention, or so it has appeared, has concerned the four-year moratorium on new tourist accommodation places. On this, he says that "everyone agrees with the moratorium". Freezing new places is "because there is no longer a need for more places on the islands". "We must start talking about how to stop the growth in tourist intensity. I think that even those who have been so against the decree actually support some of these issues."

Negueruela accepts that there has been talk of a decrease in places for the past 25 years. There was in fact approval of a limitation when Jaume Matas of the Partido Popular was Balearic president. Now, however, "this is the first time that it has been done in a total way, without exception or margin". "There is much more consensus on this than what is being conveyed. Do the Balearic Islands need 450,000 beds or are there already enough with 433,000? Isn't it more efficient to work to improve the places we have than to continue growing without limit?"

How does the minister respond to accusations that there is to be a move from so-called Balearisation to the Balearics as a type of Monaco? There are indications of this in Ibiza. "A small part of the tourism offer maybe. But we're not going there. Quality does not have to be linked to luxury. It is true that there is tourism with high purchasing power that generates quality. However, you can also get great quality from a three-star hotel. One of the great advances of the middle of the last century was that workers could have holidays. But tourism must be organised. Hiking, cycling, gastronomy tourism is of quality, but that is not synonymous with luxury."

A particular issue has arisen with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, which was at one point in favour of the decree, then expressed strong opposition, only to then give it support again. "The government wanted this law to be agreed upon. In any discussion there is debate and movement because everyone wants to defend their legitimate interests. In the end, a very broad agreement was reached with the three federations (plus Minorca and Ibiza/Formentera). I understand that in some federations there have been specific and legitimate interests which are affected more by the moratorium, but there is a very broad consensus that we cannot continue to grow."

Responding to the suggestion that pressure was put on the hoteliers, Negueruela asks: "Who pressurised the hoteliers and for what reason?" "What I am saying is that the federations have different interests. We have all put pressure on each other to reach agreements and I believe that the issue is now settled."

So, he denies that the hoteliers were pressurised into accepting the law. "We have been working together for seven years. When everything collapsed during the first months of the pandemic, we sought to address that situation with the ERTE furlough scheme. That also generated argument, but in the end an agreement was reached. If someone thinks that I can put pressure on a sector responsible for 25% of GDP, they are wrong. It is not pressure but a means of defending different interests through dialogue and seeking and adding points of agreement among everyone as part of the process."

The holiday rentals sector opposes the decree, and it has been suggested that 90,000 accommodation places have been left in limbo. "It's not limbo. Those places are legal, they were regularised. But they are not in the pool for new places because they were not acquired either. Businesspeople from the sector believe that these may be lost in the long term. However, it cannot be said that these places are simply going to disappear, as this would be like saying that the owners of holiday rentals will just give up their business activity."

On the war in Ukraine, Negueruela says that the priority is to think about people's lives. Nevertheless, it is clear that it will have an economic impact. The Spanish government, he notes, has begun to introduce measures to protect the country economically. The short-term risk, he feels, is that there will be an increase in the cost of flights.

"If the conflict doesn't last long, we believe that this season will be huge. But we are going to be cautious and wait to see what can happen. A sustained war on European territory carries much more danger than simply an economic one."

If the situation calms down, there have been forecasts of tourist numbers exceeding those of 2019, i.e. more than 16 million. "I don't think 17 million will come. The number doesn't concern me so much as the pre-pandemic level of employment being recovered. This is the most important thing at a time when we are getting over a terrible pandemic."