The public meeting to introduce the Association of those affected by the Canarian Tourism Regulation Law (Asociación de afectados por la ley de ordenación de turismo de Canarias – ALOTCA) was held in the Costa Adeje Tourist Development Centre this morning. It was very well attended, with almost every seat in a room for around 150 taken. The panel comprised the original members of the association, namely Maria Ereza Blasco (president), Santiago Saenz and José Escobedo (secretaries), Paul Ruane and myself. We were pleased to see present, and to count on the support of, the tourism councillors of both Arona and Adeje: these are very much on board and will be taking part with the association in discussions with Turismo. We were also gratified to see journalists there from the local Spanish press and Island Connections.
The meeting was opened by José introducing the concept of the association, and reiterating the latest situation on the appeals. One of several defences offered by the lawyers was that an internet advert in its own right proved nothing, neither that a property had been let, nor even that it had been offered for let, which is what the law specifically prohibits. This was because no proof could be provided that any given owner had placed an advert online. Turismo’s response was that they did not accept any of the arguments but were prepared to reduce the fines by €3,000. José then referred to a letter received only this morning from Turismo replying to a list of ten further arguments against the law, drawn up as part of the appeals process. These arguments included the fact that the enforcement of the legislation would cause, and was causing, a flood of properties on the market; that fines would reduce owners ability to pay their community fees; that it was having a negative effect far wider than just those being fined, and was affecting the likes of restaurants, taxi drivers, etc.; that people were being deterred from coming to Tenerife at all … and so on. Turismo’s response was that illegal activity was damaging Tenerife’s tourism, that the Government’s stated and confirmed aim was to maximise the benefit to official tourism, and that all the items on the list were irrelevant and neither the responsibility nor problem of Turismo.
There is clearly, at present, no chance of a change of heart, and it was the feeling that this was the case, even before this morning’s letter arrived, that fed the need for the formation of the association. The president of the association said that current tourism legislation was obsolete and did not reflect the current situation. The afectados, she said, were not just apartment owners, but everyone involved in tourism in the wider sense, i.e. businesses, gestors, estate agents, taxis, restaurants, etc – the whole of south Tenerife’s economy lived on tourism.
Paul Ruane then spoke about Los Gigantes and how he had recently asked a visiting friend if he wanted him to find accommodation. The friend had replied that he was staying in Abama. Paul said this was of course fine, but stressed to the meeting how it would be very different if he was an hotelier with a friend wanting to stay in a private apartment or villa. He would have had to say this was illegal and his friend was not allowed to do so. The boot most definitely wouldn’t fit the other foot, he said. He stressed that the association is not fighting anyone, including the hotels. We are not seeking enemies, he said, but looking to solve a problem. We understand the need to protect tourism but we also need to encourage tourism. He referred to the petition which will shortly be available online: under Spanish legislation, if 15,000 signatures are collected, an application can be made to modify or change a law. This is a recognized Spanish legal procedure but has to be applied for. This application is now in process. As soon as it is available, I will post links to it in as many places as possible, and the journalist from Island Connections said she would ensure it was in her paper as well.
I then read out a selection of comments that have been made here on this website which reflected the damage being done to Tenerife by this enforcement, and the fear and anger which it has generated – as I said, generated among one of Tenerife’s main tourist markets by those who are supposed to be promoting tourism.
Santiago then read out the articles of the association. These are lengthy and I only have an original draft to hand anyway, so I can’t reproduce them here right now. I’ll make them available when I can. In brief, though, they refer to our stated aim to make the law, and the damage being caused by the way it is being enforced, as widely known as possible through the press and through meetings, and to try to negotiate a consensual way forward that benefits Tenerife as a whole; to protect the rights and interests of everyone involved in tourism in Tenerife; to guarantee the right of ownership, use and enjoyment of property by owners under both the Spanish Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and to exercise the right to petition to modify the law to achieve the above.
The meeting was then opened to the floor. The tourism councillors had to leave at this point for other meetings, but already had a very good idea through previous briefings of the types of issues that would arise, and which did indeed arise. I hope I’ll at least convey the gist of the questions and answers, though these parts of such meetings are inevitably confused at times.
Q: will there be a cost for membership?
A: We are at the early stages with the association. The papers still have to be presented in Madrid, and at that point we will call another meeting. We will decide then whether there will be a cost, and if so, how much.
Q: Is there/will there be resistance to the association from, e.g. sole agents, residents?
A: The association does not directly affect residential complexes: illegal letting is a different issue. We are seeking to help everybody in order to benefit Tenerife, and sole agents who operate well will have nothing to fear.
Q: Do residents need to fear that the association seeks to allow tourism on their complexes?
A: Many residential complexes want to introduce touristic lets, and if they do not, then the law supports them. Ideally, in our view, residential complexes should be allowed to decide for themselves. If the majority of owners in a residential complex do or do not want tourism in their complex then we feel that this is their decision to make. We are not remotely trying to introduce or legalise tourism in residential complexes that do not want this. The aim is to quash threats, and it has to be said that those threats include some made by residents, e.g. insisting that only owners can use their own apartments.
Q: Has the association drafted new legislation if it is seeking to change the law?
A: We are seeking to modify the law, not redraft it in its entirety, but even so, we are at too early a stage and cannot yet know the extent to which modifications will be possible, nor the amount of support the association will have. At an appropriate time, however, we will draft new legislation if this is needed.
Q: Where is the petition?
A: As soon as the association has a significant number of members, a website will be set up for an online petition. This is a recognized procedure in Spain, and an application has to be made. This application has now been made and is in process. The link will be made as widely available as possible, certainly here on this website and in Island Connections. Those signing the petition will need to provide their name and NIE as is standard in Spanish petition procedure.
At this point concern was expressed over providing such details, with some present worried that such information would give the Government a hit list to target. The president stressed that this was the only way under Spanish law that a petition would work, and that data protection laws meant people weren’t endangered. There was continuing concern, however, and there were some suggestions that passport numbers might be sufficient. This will of course be clarified when the petition is ready for signing. Meanwhile, I’ll repeat here what I said at this point at the meeting. This petition will not just be signed by people who are letting, whether illegally or not. Hopefully, it will contain the details of many Spanish and Canarians too, most of whom will be affected in other ways, i.e. by their businesses suffering. There will also be signatures from residents who want clarity on their own residential complex status; from people who want to buy here but who are afraid to proceed with the situation as it is; and from people who just don’t want to stay in hotels, particularly all-inclusive ones. The names on the list will not indicate a particular interest in letting, and the inspectors will know this. I also made the point that the current inspectors are fully stretched in any case, and that they have enough internet adverts to keep them occupied … and that a name and NIE on a petition aren’t evidence of any action, let alone an illegal one. Moreover, even if they were to try to connect such information with illegal letting they would still need to find a related advert, and if such an advert existed they would be likely to find it anyway.
Q: Could the case not be taken to the Court of Human Rights because the current law is discriminatory?
A: The association could, eventually, take this route if there was enough support but we would hope to achieve our aims before getting that far down the line.
There was some discussion as to whether the law actually was discriminatory, with varying opinions. Certainly I know myself of nationalities other than British who have been fined.
Q: Someone who looks after apartments on an ex touristic/timeshare complex asked what she could do now that the timeshare company has ceased operating there.
A: There was some dispute over this. The sole agent on Paloma Beach, John Parkes, said that the complex was therefore dormant touristic and that a sole agency could be created if 50+1% of the owners agreed to appoint one. The president of the association disagreed with this, and said it was not so simple. John said that he had spoken with the Cabildo very recently and had this confirmed, but Maria reiterated that there was more involved than this. Certainly John has had this information from the Tenerife Cabildo, but Maria is ex-Turismo (Government) so it seems to me possible that the Cabildo has the requirements as detailed by John, but that the Government might have additional rules. I am not in a position to judge this myself.
Q: Why should tourists be allowed to change the law of a country they’re just visiting?
A: I said that I imagined there would be serious resistance from some quarters to being described as tourists. People who have invested significant amounts of money in the island over many years, who support local businesses, who employ local professionals – these people will consider themselves as far more involved with Tenerife than as simply tourists.
Q: What is a tourist anyway?
A: There were several answers at this point with panel members seeing various interpretations to the question apart from the purely factual. In the end I spoke to what seemed to be behind the question, namely whether a contract of three months was the defining line between touristic and residential letting. As I said, urbanistic law allows for short and long term rental contracts. Long term ones are for a year or more, and deemed residential. Short term ones are for any period under a year, and are for specific purposes, i.e. not residential. As such, Turismo have told us that they could deem any such contracts to be touristic, but would not in fact take any action against short term lets of three months or more, even though this period is not defined in the law itself.
Q: Is the association not actually going into battle against the hotels?
A: We are not seeking to be opponents to the hotels themselves, but having said that, the association is the first real voice to speak against the hotel association, Ashotel, which has such influence at high levels. We don’t view it as the primary focus, however. First and foremost, rather than battling anyone, we are trying to help all those with an interest in Tenerife.
The meeting came to an end at this point and as people started to head for the door, we asked them to come back to sign up to the association to coordinate future actions if they wanted to do so. I fear there might have been some confusion in this respect, and think that some people could have thought they were signing the petition. To be clear: the petition will be online, and will be available as soon as possible. What people signed today was the association affiliation. Hopefully most were clear on this point, but if anyone thought they were signing the petition, please be aware that you will actually need to sign it when it is available. As far as signing for the association is concerned, however, I will shortly have a form available here on this website.
As I said above, we will call another meeting as soon as we have the paperwork back from Madrid, and I’ll update, of course, if there is any further information in the meantime.