Mass tourism: Barcelona tourist tax initiative arouses the ire of hotel industry | Economy and business


Tourists at the port of Barcelona.

Barcelona city council has agreed to ask the parliament of Catalonia the right to apply a local surcharge a regional tourist tax implemented since 2012.

The issue of tourist taxes is sort of a hornet’s nest in a country where the only other region to charge visitors is the Balearic Islands, home to the popular islands of Ibiza and Mallorca.

Far from decreasing, tourist arrivals in Catalonia have jumped 23% since the entry into force of the regional fee in 2012

Tourist taxes are charged in many European countries and years of experience show that tourist arrivals are not significantly affected, but the Spanish hotel industry remains a vocal opponent of this decision.

With signs of an economic slowdown on the horizon and Spanish tourism figures down, the Barcelona initiative is reviving the controversy.

Catalonia introduced a tourist tax in 2012 and the Balearics followed suit in 2016. In the region of Valencia, which also attracts a large number of tourists, partners of the ruling coalition – Compromís and the Socialist Party (PSOE ) – disagree on the issue.

In Catalonia and the Balearics, a tourist tax is paid in hotels, hostels and vacation rentals, while cruise ships pay for mooring at the port (the rate varies from € 0.45 to € 5 per person per day depending on the type of accommodation and its location). In the last fiscal year, Catalonia collected 56 million euros in tourist taxes, half of which in Barcelona. And the Balearics collected 122.7 million euros.

Unfounded fears

At the time of their approval, the taxes came under heavy criticism from hospitality industry executives who said they would reduce the number of tourists. But the evidence shows that they had little effect and in fact proved ineffective against overpopulation. The main purpose of taxes was to raise funds repair damage caused by mass tourism to the environment and to the local cultural heritage.

Since the tax was introduced in the Balearic Islands in 2016, international tourist arrivals have actually increased from 12.9 million at the end of that year to 13.8 million in 2018. And in Catalonia, arrivals have jumped. by 23% since the entry into force of the tax in 2012.

Hospitality industry says tax unfair because it only targets them, not restaurants, entertainment or transportation

A comprehensive report on local funding produced in 2017 for the Spanish Treasury Department mentioned “empirical studies which suggest a very low negative impact on tourist arrivals from this type of levyâ€.

In a recent article published by the economic magazine of Catalonia, Josep Andreu Casanovas of the consultancy firm Cegos and Jordi Suriñach of the University of Barcelona investigated whether more tourists would have come to Catalonia without the tax. “In all the strategies that have been used, and for all the variables considered, the conclusion is always the same: it was impossible to prove that the tourist tax had a negative effect on tourist demand in Catalonia.

The tourist lobby group Exceltur admits this. “But beware, because the wind is turning, warns the vice-president of the group, José Luis Zoreda. “Circumstances are changing, a slowdown is on the way, there is Brexit, and the considerable effects of [the collapse of] Thomas cook. “

This lobby group notes that Spain has benefited from additional tourism in recent years as travelers avoided politically unstable situations in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, but says that could quickly change again.

Manel Casals, general manager of the Gremi d’Hotels de Barcelona hotel group, said that the city council’s initiative “comes at a very bad time”. He describes it as “a populist measure that does not have tourism policy making in mind, but is purely for collection purposes.”

In the Balearic Islands, hoteliers, still grappling with the overnight collapse of British travel giant Thomas Cook, are now calling for the elimination of the eco-tax, aimed at repairing the damage of mass tourism on the ecosystems of the islands.

The hospitality industry also calls tourist taxes unfair because they only target accommodation, not restaurants, transport, museums or entertainment.

english version by Susana Urra.


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