Monday, November 07, 2016

Retro Promotion: Travel Fairs Of The Past

London's World Travel Market starts today. It is one of the world's leading fairs for the travel and tourism industry. Balearic representation includes, among others, the islands' tourism agency and the Council of Mallorca. It will be making a special effort to promote cultural tourism to the UK market, and top of the agenda is WoW Mallorca - Walking on Words.

Just over a year ago, I wrote about this initiative. It had been launched at Puerto Pollensa's Illa d'Or hotel. At the time, I said that it was intriguing, combining as it does the island's literary past with routes in different parts of the island which, for the most part, correspond with where the literary greats were active - Robert Graves in Deya, for instance.

The Council's London promotion of WoW is more than just an attempt to develop greater cultural tourism by remembering the past, it is also - albeit they wouldn't say so - a strong echo of how tourism promotion once was. In the early days, attendance at fairs was very much part of the plan, and the plan was heavily biased towards culture.

The fairs were initially in Mallorca. There was one in particular, which was held on three occasions between 1908 and 1911. Unsurprisingly it was in Palma, and it was called Semana Deportiva - sports week. The activities included sailing and cycling races, and while these were aimed at attracting what was then a very novel breed of tourist, their principal objective was to showcase Palma and Mallorca. Invites went out to potential interested parties on the mainland and in European countries, the UK having been one of them.

Sport was the hook. It was more understandable to those unfamiliar with the island. But behind the sport lay various other activities - cultural ones. Hence for instance, two theatres - the Balear and the Lírico (Lyric Theatre) - staged drama and a performance by Fatima Miris, an Italian actress and singer who was to travel the globe, such was her popularity. There were also what are now very familiar at a Mallorcan fair or fiesta. The idea had originally been to hire giants and "caparrots" (bigheads) from a manufacturer. When they looked at the numbers, it was realised that Palma may as well restore a pair of giants that it already had and to create some bigheads. The grand sum of 125 pesetas was spent on this.

Quite what overseas visitors made of all this is not known, but here was very clear evidence that in the first decade of the twentieth century, Mallorca was seeking to combine culture and sport as the island's main reasons for tourism existence. Sun-and-beach was as then unheard of. Sunbathing wasn't to start coming into real vogue until the 1920s. Mallorca therefore promoted its cultural heritage, such as with giants, and its sporting possibilities, like cycling. How things haven't changed.

Having had some success with bringing people to its fairs, Mallorca branched out. Initially, this was to the Iberian peninsula. Between 1910 and 1912, the island promoted itself at tourism congresses in Tolosa (the Basque Country), Lisbon and of course Madrid. The capital had started staging such congresses as a result of the founding of the first tentative tourism ministry, which was part of the much broader development ministry.

But it wasn't to be until 1923 that Mallorca went truly international. In April of that year, there was participation at New York's second tourism congress. A number of brochures were published in different languages, and pride of place was given to a collection of photos. While much is known about the way in which paintings were used for promotional purposes in those days, surprisingly little is ever said about the photography. Yet within the Mallorca Tourist Board there was a whole group dedicated to this, and one of the most revered of the photographers was Gaspar Rullan, who was a pioneer of colour photography in Spain and was also for a time the official photographer of the provincial delegation, which was the island's administrative body.

The single most ambitious project was the one of 1929. This was for the exposition of Montjuic, better known as the Barcelona International Exposition. That city's Pueblo Español was built for this expo, and one of the exhibitors was Mallorca. The island transported people and items indicative of its culture. There were, for example, xeremier pipers. But the biggest attraction of the lot was a re-creation of the Charterhouse in Valldemossa, replete with the cell that Chopin and Sand had stayed in.

There won't be anything so spectacular in London this week, but there will be much that is, if you like, retro tourism promotion. It's highly reminiscent of those early days, and as part of Walking on Words, Valldemossa will be remembered for George Sand and Frederic Chopin.

* Poster from Wikimedia Commons.

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