Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Invention Of The Summer Season

In a few days time we will wish April goodbye. We will thank it for its mostly blissful and unusually warm weather. Thank it for bringing riches of tourists over Easter. Thank it for having been a more-than-decent warm-up act for once. In a few days time it will be the first of May, the official opening day of the summer tourism season. The resorts, generally already reasonably busy, will crank up their busy-ness. There will be more coaches, more people, more of everything. But being the first day of the season, it will also be a national holiday. Labour Day. Fortunately, not everyone chooses to close for the day, though there is something comically appropriate about the season's commencement coinciding with a day of non-labour.

Official starts to seasons are the stuff of recent tourism vintage. In the good old days, there weren't official starts. There weren't seasons - not in a tourism sense of the word. There wasn't tourism, so how could there have been?

The tourism summer season is typically styled as being a phenomenon which took off in the early 1960s. In terms of mass tourism, this was the case, but the summer season already existed and its roots lay with the new fad for sunbathing that grew between the two world wars. Assigning a precise date (if not place) to the emergence of the summer season is impossible. Tourism, prior to the advent of its organisers - the tour operators - was mostly organic. It had a natural development, aided by those who acted as cheerleaders for the "island of calm", a term first used by the Catalan artist and writer Santiago Rusiñol in 1912.

Rusiñol was in the vanguard of literary and artistic sorts who were to introduce a Bohemian element to Mallorca. If places on the island can be identified as original destinations for summer tourism, then they would be those with which these Bohemians were associated - Formentor and Puerto Pollensa and El Terreno in Palma. But most visitors in the early part of the last century were attracted less by the summer than by the winter; tourism to Mallorca was predominantly during what we would now call the off-season. It was the sunbathing trend - with the French and Americans to its fore - which was to secure Mallorca's summer future.

Going back further, Mallorca was an island that was mainly unknown and generally ignored. The first tourists to anywhere, it might be said, were the upper-class young men of the Grand Tour. For two centuries from the mid-seventeenth century they took journeys of European cultural discovery. Mallorca was not on the Grand Tour; indeed Spain was not part of the usual itinerary. Mallorca had nothing to offer. It was some island stuck in the middle of the sea.

It makes for a bit of a story, but crediting Frederic Chopin with having been the first Mallorcan tourist is somewhat far-fetched. It could be argued that he invented the notion of health tourism, as his stay on Mallorca in the late 1830s had supposedly been intended to have been for the good of his poor health. But he wintered miserably, along with his live-in lover, and wasn't about to become a regular return visitor to the island. The greater claim on having been a first-mover of Mallorcan tourism was one of those European upper-class young men: an aristocratic young man, the Archduke Louis Salvador Maria Joseph John Baptist Dominic Rainer Ferdinand Charles Zenobius Anthony of Austria. The many-named Archduke was a tour party all of his own. The Archduke, who laboured for over 20 years putting together the several volumes of his grand work, "Die Balearen", wasn't a tourist though. He was a resident. It was to be friends and associates who visited him in Valldemossa and Deyá in the later part of the nineteenth century who were the tourists. Painters, historians, naturalists, poets, ornithologists; you name them, they visited.

The Archduke, who was to be named honorary president of the Fomento del Turismo (Mallorca Tourist Board) in 1909, was undeniably important in fostering subsequent tourism in the form of Germanic generations who were to come for the sun and who were to - for all time - become the butt of jokes on account of their beach-towel behaviour. But that was to be a different type of tourism to that which his friends enjoyed. This different type - summer season tourism - can only truly be said to have started with Gerard Blitz (Club Med) and Vladimir Raitz (Horizon) at the start of the 1950s, though the role of the British Workers' Travel Association shouldn't be forgotten in the context of the development of the Mallorcan summer season. A trade-union association, its membership would have applauded the fact that Labour Day was a national holiday and the first day of the season.

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