On the seventh of December 2011, the Balearic tourism minister, Carlos Delgado, ably assisted by his tourism director general, Jaime Martínez, presented the draft text for the new general tourism law, the second such law in the Balearics since autonomous government had started in 1983.
Legislation in the Balearics can take an extraordinary length of time to finally see the light of day. There is naturally the scrutiny that parliament must give new laws, but this part of the procedure is usually concluded with relative speed. It is what happens before parliament ever gets to be presented with proposed legislation that takes the time – the drafting.
It can be the case, as it was with the first Armengol administration from 2015, that planned laws never make it to parliament. This is because of a proneness to “hyper-lexis”, too much legislation, and also because of the ages spent on arriving at a text. With a “pact” government of the type there has been since 2015, the long drawn-out drafting has to have at least some recognition of what government partners might want – and not want.
Back in December 2011, however, Delgado of the Partido Popular, who didn’t need to worry about government partners as they were in a majority, set what was arguably a record – the time taken from being appointed minister to legislative draft. On June 16, Delgado was confirmed as the new tourism minister, and on that day he met the president, José Ramón Bauzá. After the meeting, he announced that his priority was to be reform of the general tourism law. The existing one, which the PP had introduced in 1999, was “obsolete”.
It look less than six months for Delgado and Martínez to have the text ready. It was very rapid. When he had said priority, Delgado had meant it. Contrary to the normal balance, it then took slightly longer for parliament to approve the legislation. On July 16, 2012, thirteen months after he had become minister, Delgado’s law was passed.
I have outlined the timeframe for the passage of the 2012 bill because a new reform is now being spoken about. President Armengol did the speaking last week. It was her intention to “update and modernise” the general tourism law in order to “take on the challenges of the future”. In signalling her intention, she added that she also planned for there to be “an intense debate” for this updating. The very fact of her having said “intense” led me to conclude that a new law is not about to be introduced in the record time it took Delgado.
The intentions, for which there were no details, were announced in parliament in the context of questions regarding the failure of the government’s Covid-inspired emergency measure of allowing hoteliers to convert the use of hotels (something which basically already existed in law, Delgado’s). She didn’t say that this had been a flop but accepted that the idea needed to be rethought.
It has been a flop because no one has taken advantage of it, one reason for this having been the constraints placed on conversion. For residential use, hotels would have to come under rules akin to those for government-run protected social housing. Hoteliers’ response has been – forget it – even if they do concede that there is merit to the principle of conversion.
El Pi’s Josep Melià, in addition to pointing to the failure of conversion, argued for the need to remove old, low-quality hotel rooms from the market as a “quick and effective remedy” for modernising the general hotel stock. Again, this was something that Delgado’s law contained, and it was far more successful than the provision for conversion was.
So, two aspects of the existing law were being aired.
But the general tourism law covers vastly more than these, and the Armengol desire for an “intense debate”, plus experience with tourism law amendment since she has been president suggest that a new law would struggle to be passed before the election in May 2023.
That experience relates to holiday rentals and establishing a new limit on the number of accommodation places. It took tourism minister Biel Barceló two years from the time of his appointment to get to final parliamentary debate in summer 2017. And these were only specific amendments. It might be remembered that the tourist tax wasn’t going to be brought in before holiday rentals had been amended.
When it was realised just how long things were taking, a separate bill had to be passed for the tourist tax alone, a year before.
A reformed tourism law probably is needed, as there are indeed “challenges of the future”. But why has there to be an “intense debate”? Everyone seems to be of similar mind as to what these challenges are, and they almost certainly include a reduction in accommodation places. Moreover, has there not already been sufficient intense debate?