The interview in today's Bulletin with the Balearic government's Minister for Tourism gives the clearest and most comprehensive explanation and reasoned justification of the tourist tax that has appeared since this controversial measure was first unveiled. If the full story had been presented in this way from the start a lot of misunderstanding and acrimony could have been avoided.

The logic of Sr. Celesti Alomar's case is sound. The rapid establishment and growth of tourism in the Balearics from the early 1960s onwards inevitably led to a lot of unplanned and poor quality development whose faults are becoming increasingly apparent. At the same time, the rush for growth caused a deterioration in the existing urban and natural environments – the unplanned criss–crossing electricity cables which mar so many beautiful parts of the island is just one example. It is true that tourism also brought wealth to these islands but much of it has to be spent on providing the infrastructure to sustain the legitimate expectations of tourists – which continue to rise year by year. It follows, therefore, that if the negative legacy of the recent past is to be removed and the islands' natural advantages preserved and protected for the future, new funds will be required. Hence the “tourist tax”– an unfortunate misnomer which, however, it is now too late to correct.

In his interview Sr Alomar mentions that several other regions in Europe are planning a similar tax. There are good grounds for thinking that it is “an idea whose time has come”.

However, criticism of the tax is likely to continue for some time from several directions. It is worth considering, therefore, in which respects the case put forward by the minister may be open to criticism.

Sr Alomar rightly stresses the need for transparency in the spending of the new money. However, it is not enough to say that “the results will be evident for everyone to see”. The best assurance that the tourists'contributions are being put to good use would be the clear on–site identification of projects paid for from the tax (in the way that EU–funded projects are identified) and an annual report setting out objectives and achievement and income and expenditure in the clearest possible way.

A second area of concern may be the aid to be given to farmers. The projects mentioned by the minister in his interview seem rather similar to those which one would expect to be assisted from regular government funding. There is, of course, the argument recently advanced by the British government that in future farmers should see themselves as guardians of the countryside as well as producers of food, and should receive funding for this role.

Sr Alomar recognises that “there is always a fear of change and something new”. One fundamental change the tourist tax will bring about is that it will make tourists into tax payers, not just visitors, and that they will consequently think they have their rights. This is a matter to which the Balearic government should give serious thought. A skilful public relations campaign will be needed to ensure that tourists feel themselves to be proud participants in the rehabilitation, preservation and appropriate development of these islands, rather than resentful outsiders.

Ray Fleming

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