Tourism tax for Balearics could mean the end of islands' 'sun and sin' image

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The Independent Online

Majorca's long association with cheap and tacky mass tourism may finally be over. The Balearic islands, of which Majorca is one, have won permission to introduce a tourism tax to make up for the years of damage inflicted by hordes of invading northern Europeans.

Majorca's long association with cheap and tacky mass tourism may finally be over. The Balearic islands, of which Majorca is one, have won permission to introduce a tourism tax to make up for the years of damage inflicted by hordes of invading northern Europeans.

The tax will be used to fund a programme of smartening up Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, which – in some cases – will mean knocking down 1970s high rise hotels that are the popular images of Spanish package holidays.

Majorca has been steadily moving upmarket, away from the hedonistic image surrounding resorts such as Magaluf, through a Government policy of encouraging country estates and farmhouses to rent rooms to holidaymakers.

The regular presence of Michael Douglas, Claudia Schiffer and Michael Schumacher, who all have homes on the island, has also aided its rehabilitation, as has Richard Branson's hotel in the mountain village of Deya.

A tourism tax was proposed by the islands' tourism board tax two years ago but it has been delayed by opposition from the Spanish government, who challenged it in court.

Last night a tourist board spokeswoman said Spain's constitutional court had lifted its suspension of the tax, which would be imposed for the first time within two months.

Every tourist staying in hotels or rented flats on any of the islands will have to pay an average of €1 (60p) per day, with the most expensive five star hotels charging €2.

More than 10 million people visited the Balearics last year and the islands' regional government hopes to raise about €60m (£36m) a year through.

"The money will go into a fund to rehabilitate tourist sites and natural resources. For example, there is a project to restore the old centre of Ibiza, and others to buy beach front hotels and destroy them," said a spokeswoman.

However, Spanish and international tourism groups warned the tax could prove as damaging to the islands as mass tourism.

The Spanish hotel association, Zontur, said the tax would lose the islands more money than it would bring in and represented an increase in costs of about three per cent.

Alan Flook, the secretary general of the International Federation of Tour Operators (IFTO), said: "Tourism to the Balearics is already significantly down for 2002 because of 11 September."

Meanwhile a survey suggests British tourists are becoming more concerned about the people and environments they visit when travelling.

Up to 52 per cent were more likely to book with an "ethical" tour company that guaranteed good working conditions for locals, protection of environment and support for local charities, according to the Christian relief and development agency, Tearfund.

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