Majorca: global travel market

Llorenç Galmés, former mayor of Santanyi and today the main spokesman for the Partido Popular in the Council of Majorca, could well be the PP’s candidate for the presidency of the Council in May 2023 election. There are still several months to go, but Llorenç and his companions in the main opposition party are starting their campaign, which this week involved the crucial votes of the British tourism industry.

Letting it be known, or rather repeating what we already knew, that the PP would be in favor of abandoning the tourist tax could please the strange British tour operator, but these tour operators – unfortunately for Llorenç – do not have the right of voting. Nevertheless, a tourism fair in London was seen as an appropriate setting to tackle a subject and a policy which Llorenç could hope would propel the PP to electoral victory. It won’t, because it’s nothing like the kind of electoral problem that the old ecotax was (2002), when public opinion in Mallorca and the Balearic Islands, where people have votes, is largely in favor of the tax. So why talk about it?

It was a curious week for the tourist tax. Not because of Llorenç, but because of something that Terraferida environmentalists invented on Twitter. The resort 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 brand. The sixteenth prizes are in Palma.

They will take place next week, November 12, in what used to be called Palma Arena and is now Velòdrom Illes Balears. Among the nominees in the international categories I’m sure you’ll be interested in learning about are Justin Bieber, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran. Terraferida did not express any opposition to these nominations or even to the awards as such, but they challenged “the height of indecency and hypocrisy” which comes from “a genuine embezzlement of public money”.

I cannot verify or refute Terraferida’s claim, which – even by the flexible standards adopted for the use of tourist tax revenues – seems unlikely to me. But then, it is not so simple to determine how these revenues are used. Last year’s meager receipts seemed to be disappearing into the general budget. Is it reproduces itself with the 2021 cash?

If it were 2019, we would now be informed that the Commission for the sustainable tourism tax met and made decisions on how to spend the year’s income. At the end of October 2019, the commission met. Among the representatives who voted against the project’s spending, much of it proposed by the government, were environmentalists GOB and Friends of the Earth. Terraferida is not part of the commission, but if they had been in 2019, they would have voted the same as the other two.

This commission, which includes representatives from business, unions and town halls as well as several government ministers and members of the island council, is a bit far-fetched, as the decision-making is rather loaded in favor of the government. This is why the GOBs, for example, have indicated that they won’t bother in the future. For them, and for Terraferida, the revenue from the tourist tax should go to environmental projects and nothing else.

Terraferida’s tweet referred to the “ecotax”, the one imposed on 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. First of all, and I insist on the crucial point that I raised earlier, this is not and has never been an environmental tax. This is because, second, the environment is only one of the six main objectives of the tax.

But at present it is unclear for which purposes apply. The commission, as useless as it is, has not, to my knowledge, met since October 2019. Moreover, if we go to the “transparency portal” of the Aetib agency of the Balearic government for tourism strategy, the most recent post for “What are we doing?” and the agency’s action plan describes the objectives of the sustainable tourism tax (ie tourist tax) which includes the preparation of the 2020 plan for the expenditure of the income. This was dated February 7, 2020, a month before the state of alert.

The agency, responsible for managing the projects financed by the tourist tax, has also – as indicated in this post – followed the project development to be financed from the receipts from 2016 to 2019. We know that some have been abandoned – the purchase of the finca next to the Pollentia site in Alcudia (for 1.2 million euros) – was one of them. The pandemic is the cause.

The income generated this year and last year is far from what was collected – 105 million euros in 2019. As for how it is spent, there is no information. Extraordinary circumstances and all that, and the income would be seem to be part of the general pot. Whether the Los 40 awards will benefit I would have my doubts, although it is true that the publicity material includes logos for Aetib and “Illes Balears Sostenibles”.

The Transparency Portal has nothing to say about it, that’s for sure. The latest project update – December 29, 2020 – 2017 and 2018 turnover highlights, for example signage for cyclists in the Pla region of Mallorca and the acquisition of the rustic finca Sa Senieta in Formentera.

Illessostenibles.travel – Illes Balears Sostenibles (Sustainable Balearic Islands) – is the place to find information on tourist tax projects and the objectives of the tax. It has an English section and the slogan “your islands, your holidays, your contribution”. The website draws attention to 165 projects and an investment of 261 million euros since the introduction of the tax, of which 111 million have been allocated to environmental projects. The latest references date from 2019.

Forty million? Far

Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto does not appear to have made a statement regarding the total number of foreign tourists to Spain this year at the London fair. Which was just as well. Clearly his forecast of around 50% of 2019’s numbers – 40 million this year compared to 83.7 million in 2019 – was fanciful in the extreme. The latest figures from the Frontur survey on the movements of foreign tourists confirm this.
Reports said September tourism had “exploded” – 4.7 million tourists in September, four times more than last September, but four million below the 2019 figure. Hyperbole aside, Maroto is limited to suggesting that the 2019 figures could be retrieved next year. The tally for the first nine months of 2021 was around 19.7 million. Forty million by the end of the year, that will not be the case.

Willie R. Golden