Monday, January 19, 2015

The Tarnished Gold Of Cala D'Or

In the early 1930s the Ibizan painter, cartoonist and writer Josep Costa Ferrer handed over 13,000 pesetas and acquired three coves in Santanyí. These coves became Cala d'Or. Costa Ferrer, aka Don Pep, was one of the great pioneers of Mallorca's tourism. Together with others, such as the Belgians Van Crainest and Verburg and the architects Felipe Bellini and Arthur E. Middlehurst, he began the creation of what was arguably the most successful of the pre-Civil War resorts. The success owed much to Ibizan design and architecture, though a vision for Cala d'Or as a Mediterranean Hollywood did not materialise; the war put an end to that. Nevertheless, with the tourism boom Cala d'Or was well positioned to become a leading resort and one that was discernibly different, thanks to its alternative architectural flavour. The golden cove lived up to its name. It was precious, a gold standard for Mallorca.

The "positioning" of Cala d'Or was being discussed last week. Representatives of the Cala d'Or hotel association and the vice-president of the Mallorcan hoteliers federation, Inma de Benito, met with the mayor of Santanyí, Llorenç Galmés, to consider ways of improving its positioning, a broad term that one takes to refer to its image, its branding and so to its tourist profile and how and where the resort is marketed. The meeting discussed the launch of an improved and more attractive tourism website, participation in upcoming travel fairs, means of lengthening the season through diversification of the tourism offer and public-private co-operation. As such, therefore, it was a meeting that could have been discussing any of the island's resorts.

At the end of May 2012, there was a post on the "Caladorxlibre" blog*. It ended thus: "Im sure that the dream of Josep Costa Ferrer was not going to end in such a sad way." The article spoke of the "plight" of Cala d'Or, of a resort once the envy of the rest of Mallorca where now the "law of the strongest" applied, where, if there was no remedy, it would be a place "sunk in misery", abandoned by governments and politicians who think only of "bread for today" and not the "hunger of tomorrow" which might follow. Examples of degeneration were offered, and yet in one way this criticism was surprising. In November 2010, various buildings in Cala d'Or had been officially catalogued as being of special interest and so therefore needing protection. These were buildings representative of the era from 1933, when Don Pep bought the land, until the late 1960s, during which the essence of what Don Pep had envisaged had been maintained. But following the approval of an urban plan in 1967, things started to change. The consequence was the gradual loss of original buildings and of the architectural characteristics which had defined Cala d'Or.

Cataloguing and protecting certain buildings is, however, only one act of preservation. There are the very much wider issues of resort preservation, maintenance and improvement and of the nature of a resort and its "positioning". Belatedly, it would appear, the hoteliers and town hall have realised that they need to address these issues, the town hall's Partido Popular administration having previously been stung by opposition criticisms in 2013 by announcing a project of improvement which is ongoing.

Welcome though this embellishment is, the story of Cala d'Or is one that is sadly far from unique in Mallorca. The current regional government has laid the groundwork for resort improvement but it has its twin obsessions - those of Magalluf and Playa de Palma. Other resorts are for the most part merely lumped together in the anticipation of investment (mainly by the private sector) that will somehow lead to their transformation. But this is conceptually deficient, as it neglects a need for individual resort assessment and treatment. The resorts are not all the same, though the government gives the impression of believing that they are. Cala d'Or most certainly isn't the same. Or shouldn't be.

There needs to be a co-ordinated plan that appreciates the characteristics of resorts; what they have been and what they might be and so therefore what their "positioning" should be. Cala d'Or has clearly definable characteristics which need to be rediscovered and celebrated. The years of governmental indifference have made this difficult but not impossible. Likewise and as another example, Alcúdia, with its lakes and canals, needs to be subject to specific treatment for rediscovery and not be treated with the scandalous neglect of these attributes, as is currently the case.  

Are efforts by town halls and local hotel associations sufficient? No. They go some way in effecting improvements, but the resorts - all of them - need to be part of an island-wide plan dedicated to an appreciation of what marks them out. It is a plan, one fancies, that would be beyond the comprehension of the regional government.


Photo: Josep Costa Ferrer, Don Pep.

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