Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Right Museum, Wrong Place

If you take the coast road heading north east from Barcelona in the direction of Lloret de Mar, you can turn off before reaching Lloret for the resort of Calella de la Costa. Once upon a time, there was very little in Calella apart from a sort of nightclub and jerry-built hotels. There was very cheap booze and there was also a frequent problem for holidaymakers unused to Spanish food and the workings of Spanish lavatories.

This was 1953, the year of the first package holiday tour to the Costa Brava. Calella became popular, though its name does not carry as much weight of (British) history as resorts such as Lloret, Tossa de Mar or Benidorm on the Costas Brava and Blanca. But tourism history it most definitely has. While Mallorca is generally considered to have been the first mover in popular tourism, Calella and the Costa Brava were just as significant. Vladimir Raitz and Horizon stole a march for Mallorca but not by much. The Costa Brava soon followed and was as popular before Mallorca truly kicked off in the early 1960s.

The nascent resorts of the Costa Brava, such as Calella, attracted not just the airborne tourist, they also drew the road-user tourist. The success of the Costa Brava was such that it had a profound impact on tourism elsewhere - the south of France. Up till then it had been the holiday destination of choice, but now it found itself usurped by the cheap-as-chips new kid on the holiday block. The French responded. Had it not been for the Costa Brava, there might never have been holiday complexes such as that of Cap d'Agde, which became a heady mix of concrete and nudism and one designed to make the Germans stop in their tracks and not head to the Costas in order to lay their towels out at seven in the morning.

Calella's place in tourism history is to be made very much stronger. Last year when commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of its tourism, an exhibition was staged which featured photos and postcards tracing that sixty-year history. The German Consul went along; those Germans who hadn't been enticed by FKK in France had turned the resort into "Calella of the Germans". There were others who had a keen interest in the exhibition. They included a design and project-management company called Publintur, part of the diversified Grupo Serhs tourism business, and Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UN's Madrid-based World Tourism Organization. Why were they interested? The exhibition was a sort of trial run. It was announced earlier this week that an agreement is to be signed by the town hall in Calella and the WTO, one that will ensure official collaboration from the WTO for a Museum of Tourism.

It is being said that this will be the first museum of its type in the world. Its importance is such that its name in Catalan - Museu del Turisme - comes replete with an adjoining copyright symbol. There is one museum of tourism and it is going to be in Calella. It will not be a museum solely devoted to Calella's tourism, but whatever this project ends up showcasing, it is predicted that it will be a significant boost to tourism in the resort, and you would have to believe that it will be.

In March 2007, the Fomento del Turismo (the Mallorca Tourist Board) announced a project for a museum of tourism. It didn't have a location as such, but in advance of something more permanent, there was to be a travelling roadshow. A tent would be pitched at different places and would have various documents related to the evolution of the tourism phenomenon as well as an area for interaction. I recall this tent having been at the Alcúdia fair that year. I also recall that it had hardly anything in it of any note. Mallorca's museum of tourism never came into being. It was a dreadful shame and a missed opportunity. Fascinating though Mallorca's history is in general, it is its tourism history which fascinates most. And the reason why it does is quite simple: it is history in people's lifetimes or history of the recent past with a direct link to the present. 

Calella, with the greatest of respect to it, does not have the recognition or awareness factor that Mallorca has. It didn't even have the first Spanish package tour. Horizon came to Mallorca in 1952, though it was arguably Club Med which had started the ball rolling two years before that in Alcúdia. The Costa Brava is as synonymous with mass tourism as Mallorca is, but Mallorca is looked upon as the birthplace of modern tourism and the modern holiday. I wish Calella every success with its museum, but there should already have been a museum of tourism. In the place where it belongs. Mallorca.

* Photo: the Museum of Tourism tent in Alcúdia, 2007.

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