Thursday, December 18, 2014

 

Tourism in Mojácar

With the build-up to the local elections of Sunday May 24th, we shall be hearing ever more about how 'tourism is our only industry' and how we must plan our town for the benefit of our visitors.
Very nice. Why do we actually want tourists though? It's in the quote, 'it's our only industry'. You see, we don't particularly want tourists, they slow everything down, get in the way, cause queues, caravanas, empty the shelves; they are noisy, belligerent, they throw up in our gardens and they crash merrily into our cars. They don't respect our quaint customs and often don't bother to dress when they go to the supermarket. Next year, they'll chose Corfu instead. The fact is, of course, that we don't want or like tourists at all: it's their money we like.
So, we have parades, concerts, rubber castles, fiestas, endless shows in the village square and an expensive tourist department (where the councillor is, for some reason, monolingual in Spanish). All paid for by the local residents so that we can have lots and lots of tourists. In the summertime, anyway. There's a great quote in this week's Business over Tapas that comes from a company in Mallorca called NT Incoming, 'one Russian tourist is worth five British ones', they say. Heh. They don't mean - I think - that our sock and sandal society is five times harder to bear than that of a Cossack, but rather that the Rooskies spend more dosh while holidaying in the Balears.
Those of us who have shops want tourists, but the shop-owners are only interested in those who come through their doors and buy stuff. Which in Mojácar, means tee shirts, leather bracelets and cheap Chinese-made nick nacks. No one who lives here buys this junk, it's for the tourists; cheap tourists evidently (no swanky American-Express-carrying Russians in the Hotel Best or its charming sister the Second Best). If you don't own a shop - and of course there are many, many families who do - then you don't have an abiding interest in seeing tourists take the last parking space outside the Parque Comercial. Now, those families with shops like tourists, under certain conditions already outlined, so they will support a political party, especially one run like a pirate ship by a close family member. The rest of us will merely wonder why the place looks like Disneyworld in the summer months and Disneyworld After It's Shut for the rest of the year.
Residents buy a house, they buy a car, a washing machine (or several if they choose López). They pay local taxes. They bring in money every month from outside. They love their home, their street and their town and want to see it pretty, not covered in sick. A calculation says that a resident spends the same in one year as 500 visitors to our town. Remember, the hotels are as cheap as they can be, with the food prepared in Málaga, with cheap foreign labour cleaning the rooms and scrubbing the floors (so, no jobs for the local there). Our tourist office spends its time and our money pandering to this kind of cheap tourism (remember the Hotel Moresco, closed for eight years now and owing 165,000€ in IBI) and, remarkably, forgets the one hotel open all year, full all year, and with wealthy patrons (who naturally wouldn't buy many tee shirts): The Parador.
Those foreign-born residents who live here all year round, enthusiastic settlers, are served by one English-speaking local woman in the Town Hall. That's their lot. There's no 'Foreigners Department' manned with fellow-Brits to help them get through the paperwork, or advise them of their rights and obligations. There's no alternative to clambering up the steep hill to the village ayuntamiento (strategically located as far away from any parking as is possible), to see if they have had their names taken off the padrón, or if there's something about them on the tablón de anuncios. There's no European Day or Foreigners Day or, despite being more than 60% of the entire community, there's no one from the foreigners with a job in the swollen town hall, where those locals who don't sell saucy tee shirts seem to end up.
Hotels are ugly things and they only last for so long. They might be converted into apartments eventually (like the old Hotel Mojácar), or left to rot like the Moresco. They may be built by speculators but never opened (the Hotel Chamberrí in Marina de la Torre or the ghastly hulk in Playa Macenas), or their permissions might be unkindly withdrawn (Hotel La Mata). Their owners are usually murky businessmen from Catalonia, plotting from afar to close down local apartment rentals.
Why should our politicians crow about tourism being our business? It's not: it's theirs!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

 

The Simple Life

I was asking the mayor of the small town where I was staying in Oklahoma about planning permits. Specifically I said, to build on a piece of land outside city limits. 'Well, there are three types of building; housing, commercial and industrial. For housing, building a place on your own land, there are no requirements at all'. You just build... whatever you like. No one comes from Washington with papers and judges and bulldozers, no one from Oklahoma City tries to interfere in local planning.
Public official are there - and this is a novel idea - to help rather than to obfuscate as they must in Spain.
The town where I was staying - I'd been to visit two of my kids over Thanksgiving - is growing. There is no limit imposed by the regional or state capital about growth. It's simply supply and demand.
The mayor works for the interest of his community. He is helped by an official called a Town Administrator, a professional who knows the rules and regs. Such as they are.
Paperwork is minimal in Oklahoma. Your 'title' to your car, for example, you can keep in the glove-box, or at home. You can sell your car, transfer title, just by giving the buyer the paper, a bit like how in works in a game of Monopoly. You then go to the local registry (there's one in every town, not like booking a visit with Tráfico and then trailing into the City for an entire morning). Simple. The transfer fee is 25 dollars. For that matter, a driving licence, obtainable in a morning from scratch, is 25 dollars!
Sales tax is low at 9% in that town, as compared with the flat 21% enjoyed across Spain.
Parking is easy in Oklahoma. There's room because there's planning. Planning because it makes sense to have parking spaces for clients or visitors. It's a practical society.
Walking around the town, I saw signs in many shop windows looking for staff. 'If you don't have a job here', I was told, 'it's because you don't want one'.
Yes, there's more room than we have here in Almería; but looking out of the window of the airplane as I flew in to our airport, I saw a lot of empty space... We have an unemployment of 36%, a black economy of 31% and a kleptocracy for a government. If it wasn't for the guns, I'd prefer Oklahoma...

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

 

Another One Bites the Dust (Heh!)

Following on from a recent post in The Entertainer Online...




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

The Luxembourg Scandal

The Luxembourg scandal – where many large companies have quietly set up subsidiary offices, paying very low taxes and, with creative interior billing, manage to pay almost no taxes at all in other countries where they operate – has received a major disclosure  recently. The Guardian runs an extensive exposé titled: 'Luxembourg tax files: how the tiny state rubber-stamped tax avoidance on an industrial scale' and Business Insider lists the companies involved here. El Confidencial covers the story for the Spanish readers, saying that over 300 multinationals are involved in the report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which runs to 28,000 pages. All of these companies use one of the 'Big Four' accountants, and just one revealed, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is said to have arranged tax savings of around 700,000 million euros between 2004 and 2010. A quote from the ICIJ exposé: 'Companies have channelled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes. Some firms have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on the profits they’ve shuffled into Luxembourg'. The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was the Prime Minister of Luxembourg when many of these fiscal advantages were approved by the Government, says El Diario, and, as Infolibre notes, Spain's own Minister of Finance Luis de Guindos was director of the financial division of PwC between 2008 and 2010. We are left with just three more links in this paragraph, the first from Twitter reminds us of the plan to create wealth, jobs and employment reforms from the 'Consejo Empresarial para la Conpetitividad' (mentioned in Business over Tapas last week) with the comment 'In other words, the big companies that on Monday asked us to fight against the Black Economy in Spain are the same people who pay 1% in Luxembourg'. The second, Britain's Private Eye returns to the story noting that '...the practice explains why the ratio of foreign investment to GDP in Luxembourg is the highest in the world at 4,700 percent (compared to the UK, itself fairly high, at around 50 percent)'. And lastly, there's an article about the Spanish presence in Luxembourg from El Diario here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

 

Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Aguadulce is the pretty urbanisation with a sports marina forming part of the village. It is on the coast, and backs on to El Ejido (Almería), the huge plastic-coated agricultural town which is famous for all the wrong reasons. The urbanisation shares the coast with a small protected area, Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Monday, November 03, 2014

 

A Brief Visit to Córdoba

To get to Córdoba, take the signposted road northwest out of Granada. For someone used to Spain's fine motorways, it was a shock to find that the route, the N432, is a single-lane road that wanders past some castled towns heading lazily - and sometimes bumpily - through the olive trees of northern Granada and into Jaén, then over some gentle hills and so to Córdoba. Around 160 kms: 2.5 hours.
Unlike Granada, where I always am feeling choleric by the time I've found where I am heading for, Córdoba was very easy to navigate. Up, over the river, northeast along a wide boulevard and the hotel on the right. Two friends showed me around.
One, who is studying veterinary science at the university, told me that it's very hot in the summer (as we know from watching the July TV thermometer which is almost always filmed in the city), and very cold in the winter. When it rains, she continued, it does so for several days at a time. This past weekend, the weather was perfect. Everyone was enjoying the warm Indian summer and I even saw an army general driving along on his scooter (not a sight you often see these days).
The old part of the city spreads over a large area - much larger than Granada - and it is like walking around in a typical andaluz village, with narrow streets and white houses. The astonishing mesquita is near the wide River Guadalquivir. It has a large square formal Arab garden, walled and restful, with a cathedral spire on one end, and the opposite side standing against the walls of the giant mosque.
A truly breathtaking building. I could hardly see it for the tears.
Outside, over a beer, I listened to an old blind man playing his guitar and singing: 'Cór-do-ba'. We walked the streets, past some Roman columns, saw the famous Royal horse-riding school and had a meal in a restaurant under the smiling picture of Manolete, the City's famous bullfighter who died in the ring in Linares when he was just 30.
My weekend in the city included a massage, a sweat and a soak in the Moorish baths located down a narrow street. They serve you a glass of mint tea, Arab style.
I always had a slight feeling against
Córdoba - I was wrong. it's quite stunning.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

 

Eve and the Trippers

I was in our local cemetery, where the foreigners at last lie in peace with their Spanish neighbours. Walking around slowly: looking out for my parents, for old friends and for people I knew. Here is the British bullfighter; there the Air-Vice Marshall. Here is my dad. There is my mum. Here's Fritz the artist, who's headstone claims he was born on November 31st, a month with only thirty days. Old Pfeiffer, whose apfelstrudel was all the rage in Vienna, is there: dead these forty years. And then I saw the stone for Eve Steinhauser, who despite her name, was an Englishwoman who worked for Horizon Holidays.
I had also worked for them, briefly, when I was 17; taking tourists round the sites (the sights) in Crete, the old Minoan Civilization. A posh accent describing the Minotaur to retired doctors, bank-managers and their wives. I was at the top end of the tour-operator's offer, a subsidiary of the holiday-company called Wings.
Eve had been sent to Mojácar by Horizon to see if it was worth bringing their holidaymakers to the small resort. Mojácar doesn't really work as a tour destination - it is a pretty village two kilometres away from the sea on a high hill, with beautiful views, and with a long coastline (for all practical purposes) of a dozen kilometres. From your hotel to wherever you wish to walk... is a long pull. There was no bus then although there was a couple of old taxis - we are in the early seventies; but there wasn't much to do after a hot walk, besides take the inevitable tour to the cowboy town in Tabernas an hour away in a coach (cue some Morricone music) or see some dodgy Flamenco in the hotel disco.
So Eve, conscious of the fact that a man who works in a toothpaste factory wants a holiday that won't stop, knew that Mojácar wasn't the right place. There was just one hotel in the village that could work and nothing of any size on the beach.
But then she met my mother.
Heather had suffered from encephalitis some years before she came with my dad and myself to Mojácar in 1966. The scars in her mind were slight, but she had no spacial memory, no recent memory, and she had somehow lost the bit that stops you from being rude to strangers.
  One night in the bar:
Eve - I'm here to see if Mojácar is the right place for a tour operator.
Mother - Don't you fucking dare to bring in those arseholes to our town you horrible (and frankly, really quite hideous) woman.
Eve would tell the story (since my mother forgot) - I had quite decided to tell Horizon against coming to Mojácar, until Heather changed my mind.
  So, the company came to the village, to turn it into a resort. They bought a second hotel on the hill, a hulk which they were forced to demolish, before rebuilding it alarmingly over-budget. With the new hotel, the Moresco, and the other place above it, the Hotel Mojácar (built with public money by Roberto Puig - a Valencian who couldn't bear the thought of customers in his hotel), Horizon Holidays opened Mojácar, as my mother would say, to the fucking trippers.
Horizon was bringing in tourists, the Mojácar people reacted accordingly. The foreign residents, who had brought in money, bought houses and opened bars, were quickly dropped in favour of the trippers. Nicknack shops opened, and Old Jacinto the mayor changed the name of the main street up to the village from the Generalísimo to Avenida Horizon.

The company, now heavily invested in Mojácar, was allowed to build another hotel, an ugly skyscraper on the far end of the beach: a twelve storey monstrosity called the Hotel Indalo. Shortly after this, as the millions of British trippers insisted on continuing to enjoy their holidays in Benidorm, several hundred kilometres up the coast, Horizon quietly went bust.
Clarksons came and went, as did other tour-companies of the era. Mojácar attempted to sell the tourists (here on a shoe-string holiday) small and squashed-together apartments. No one was buying villas any more.
With an ever-larger presence of Britons in the town, whether living here or merely visiting, it was only a matter of time before we twinned with a tourist town, and where more appropriate than Encamp, the Andorran town famous for its banks with no questions asked. The Avenida Horizon became the Avenida Encamp. The Hotel Mojacar was rebuilt as apartments, the Hotel el Moresco has been closed for several years (never to reopen). The Hotel Indalo is now the Hotel Best and the beach is full of bars, ice cream joints and of course, an unending supply of nicknack shops selling Chinese-made goods.
Benidorm, meanwhile, continues to grow.


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