Friday, August 30, 2013

Tourist Days For A Cynical Tourism Industry

In 1964, responding to an order by the ministry of information and tourism, hotels (all of them it would appear) in resorts in the Balearics undertook a day of celebration. It was known as the Day of the Tourist.

Back then, orders were given. They were not, as a rule, disobeyed. If the ministry of information and tourism, by then under the command of Manuel Fraga, said that there would be a day of the tourist, then a day of the tourist there most certainly would be and everyone was expected to play a part. There was little chance to put in a sick note and try and avoid it. And this day of the tourist was to be one when everyone was happy and jolly. That was an order.

I have been unable to find much information about this inaugural tourist day. It took place, almost certainly, in September. The tourist day in 1965 did; the ninth of September to be precise. The cover of its brochure featured three white hibiscus flowers against splashes of reds, yellows, greens and blues and the back cover had a cartoon tourist. I assume he was meant to be British. He was lifting his sombrero in greeting, he had a pipe in his mouth and a battered suitcase. This was the tourist of 1965, one for whom the day was intended and one for whom the day would be fun, happy and jolly. By order of the national government.

Tourist days are odd affairs. In the days of early tourism under Franco, when Mallorca was only just coming to terms with the influx of the masses, the order from the information and tourism ministry was that of statist control. It was a case of you will rather than would you. There may genuinely have been the notion of expressing goodwill and gratitude, but the control nature of these first tourist days contained the unmistakable stamp and atmosphere of authoritarianism. The tourist day was designed to enforce a message on Mallorca's society, in case people needed reminding by then, that this tourism malarkey was how they were going to live from now on. It was less, therefore, an acknowledgement of tourists themselves.

By 1968, the tourist day was held on 25 September. The poster for the day shows three women in traditional dress standing on rocks amidst a blue sea. The women have their arms open. They were either singing or opening their arms in welcome, or both. What is interesting about this particular tourist day is that it was moved to later in September with the objective of prolonging the tourist season at least until the end of the month.

This in itself was a strange thing. As the objective was as it was, had they expected tourists to come specifically for the "day"? It was probably just to show that the tourism season went on well beyond August or the first week or so of September, but if so, it goes to show that in the 1960s there was a concern about the shortness of the season.

The World Tourism Day is at the end of September, but Alcúdia celebrates its own tourist day at the end of August. It took place yesterday. It used to be in September at the same time as the original tourist days were staged (well, the one in 1965 at any rate), but it has only been going since 2008, the result of an initiative by the then tourism councillor at Alcúdia town hall, Sebastian Sanchez.

It is a far cry from the tourist days of the 1960s. No one is ordered, but it still feels a bit odd. Is not every day a tourist day? Perhaps so, but although no one is ordered, there is a sense that this day of celebration is similar to what used to take place in the '60s. It doesn't enforce a message but it is a reminder that tourism is the lifeblood for a town such as Alcúdia. This may never have been the intention behind it having been established in 2008, but a reminder is no bad thing.

In the 1960s there was no complacency, no taking tourists for granted. Tourism was all far too new for there to be such attitudes. There may have been an order, but there was also probably a further reason why those tourist days were created, which was to highlight the fact that tourists were different, and they certainly were different in those days; different to what many Mallorcans had experienced. The difference was captured in a comical fashion by that cartoon, but in its daftness, it also captured the innocent nature of difference.

There is no innocence in tourism today. It is too big an industry, too cynical a one for there to be. But Alcúdia at least attempts to celebrate not only the presence of tourists but its contribution to the success of Mallorca's tourism over the years as well as the benefits the town has extracted. It is a valuable reminder. Other resorts should do the same.

Any comments to please.

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