Thursday, December 03, 2015

110 Years Of Tension: Conservation

The Fomento was handing out its gongs the other evening. This Fomento is that of Turismo, the Majorca Tourist Board, 110 years old this year. Among the recipients, not in person, was King Felipe. A commemorative medal on the occasion of the 110 years will be heading his way. It is recognition also of the support that he, his father and mother and others in the Spanish Royal Family have given to Mallorca's tourism. At a time when the gardens of the Marivent appear destined to be enjoyed at first hand by the citizenry (and presumably also tourists) from next year - a decision which ushers in a sense of greater openness by the royals and also greater closeness to the general public - the contrast with how things were under the King's great-grandfather couldn't be greater. He was Alfonso XIII, who was to eventually end up in exile: Republican fervour was that much stronger in the 1930s than it is nowadays.

There again, the contrast in 1905 (and for some years after), compared to today, was total. Barely anyone, anywhere had heard of Mallorca. It was an island in the middle of nowhere. No one, or very few anyway, went to islands. For the traveller and the nascent tourist, small islands in the Med held minimal appeal unless they were the birthplace of a civilisation, such as Crete. And even there, there was hardly what you could call a flourishing tourism industry. How the hell did they get there, anyway? The early twentieth century traveller preferred the mainland city and its grand hotels: Palma had only just got one when the tourist board was founded.

Royal patronage of Mallorca in 1905 was not that of Alfonso. It came from a foreign royal, the Archduke Louis Salvador, an admittedly fairly minor royal, but a royal nonetheless. One hundred years dead, the Archduke was, in many ways, synonymous with tourism as it existed then. He was to become an honorary president of the tourist board a few years before war forced him to abandon Mallorca (ordered to leave by the Emperor of Austria) and before he was to die in Bohemia in 1915.

I'm unaware of the connection having been made - in vaguely official circles at any rate - between the Archduke's royal lineage, Mallorca and the history of the Nueva Planta, with its own anniversary having just been not celebrated. The Archduke was a Habsburg. He was, therefore, from the European dynasty that Mallorca and the rest of the Crown of Aragon, including Catalonia, had supported during what turned out to be the fateful War of the Spanish Succession. Alfonso was a Bourbon, a descendant of Felipe V, he who had decreed the Nueva Planta.

There is nothing to suggest that the tourist board in its early years concerned itself with such historical matters, but the connection surely couldn't have been lost on some of its members. When the Archduke died, on the two-hundredth anniversary of the Nueva Planta, Mallorca lost one of its great advocates, a supporter of the island from a legacy that the island was deprived of as the consequence of what in effect ended up as a civil war in the early eighteenth century.

As noted previously when looking back at the early years of Mallorca's tourism, the great and good who were involved with the tourist board came from a very broad range of island society. To the ambitions of businesspeople, engineers and the bankers were added the checks and balances that came from the worlds of art, culture, history and nature. This eclectic mix was able to foster development through what was mostly mutual and beneficial regard for seemingly opposing views - those of business and economic development on the one hand and of the environment and heritage, the island's conservation and preservation, on the other. Fundamental to this was the message that the Archduke gave and was to leave behind. His was a tourism of nature and of culture. He was one of Mallorca's first great conservationists. Despite his royal background, he would be a point of reference for certain eco-tourism politicians of the present day.

This said, it was that much easier for the Archduke to have been a conservationist. They weren't to invent Magalluf, for example, until the turn of the 1960s. Nevertheless, the message of the Habsburg defender of Mallorca resonates today, and none more so than in the arguments over what we are not supposed to call the eco-tax but do.

At the tourist board's awards ceremony, its president fired a broadside at the tourism minister, Biel Barceló (who was in attendance). The tax is unjust, it will affect competitiveness. What, one wonders, might the Archduke make of the tax? It is a tax that it is a culmination of 110 years of increasing tension that he couldn't have foreseen: the constant battle between conservation and development.

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