Thursday, January 19, 2017

What If There Hadn't Been Tourism?

Tourismphobia appears to be a mainly Spanish concept. Indeed it seems to be almost exclusively Spanish. Put tourismphobia into Google and you don't get very far, and where you do get leads you mostly to Spain, including a scholar in Girona who's been researching the phobia. Put "turismofobia" into Google, and there's a different result: five pages convinced me that this is very much a Spanish thing.

Which isn't to say that there isn't fear or dislike of tourism elsewhere, just that Spain (certain parts anyway) is where there is an actual phobia. Despite the phobia appearing to be confined to the likes of Barcelona (and Mallorca), its existence is sufficient for the national tourism minister to refer to it. Álvaro Nadal told an audience in Madrid that there needs to be an end to talk of tourismphobia. Tourism is, after all, good for you and especially for the economy. The trouble is trying to convince everyone of the fact.

The apparent existence of this phobia prompted me to seek out evidence of its historical antecedents in Mallorca. What of phobia at the time of the great boom of the 1960s? The research will take a great deal more time than a cursory examination of Google. I am aware that there was a phobia, which then meant what it should mean - a fear rather than dislike or hatred - but documentary evidence will be thin on the ground. In the 1960s, you didn't go around announcing great protests while Fraga and Franco were overseeing things.

The phobia of the sixties for the most part wasn't a phobia. It was more a case of being jocular in a disparaging way. Dubbing someone a "turista" was used to mock. The presence of actual fear was a different thing. It's not as if everyone was blind to what was happening: the destruction of coastal environments; the assault on culture; the quasi-colonialism which tourism represented. Expressing such a fear, however, was not likely to do you any great favours.

It was during the dying years of the regime and afterwards that voices emerged who spoke of the fear. One to have done so was (and is) Miquel López Crespí, the Sa Pobla-based author. Among his output are reflections of the way in which what was once Sa Pobla's beach on the bay of Alcudia was transformed into Playa de Muro. In the process all the memories of simple August nights in the 1950s became just that - memories.

While I was hunting for some evidence, I stumbled across an article from 1984 by Climent Picornell, a professor at the University of the Balearic Islands. It is germane in the sense that tourismphobia, at its most extreme, would see tourism consigned to the bin of economic activity: a point that Nadal was making, if not in quite these words. The article wasn't written from the point of view of the fear but from a consideration of what there would have been, had there not been tourism.

Hypothetical the situation may have been in 1984 and still is today, but a fear hasn't altered over the intervening 33 years. Picornell referred to the "monospecialisation" of the economy - the reliance on one sector of activity. This is something which is widely spoken about nowadays, and within the debate there are those, such as GOB, who advance the case for greater emphasis on agriculture - a reclaiming of the land that was lost during the boom. Picornell wasn't so sure about that. He suggested that an historical emigration would have continued. People would have sought out prospects in the Caribbean and South America.

His focus wasn't agriculture, however. It was industry, and he looked at the establishment and then growth of industrial estates, such as Son Castelló and Can Valero. There were reasons why Asima, the organisation behind these estates, undertook their development. One day, tourism would come to an end, spelling economic catastrophe. There could be no waiting around for this to happen. An alternative was required. 

While the estates might have presupposed the establishment of a thriving, indigenous artisanal industry, the outcome was to prove to be rather different. Even in 1984, Picornell was able to reflect on the way in which the estates had come to serve tourism or to be littered with cash and carrys. Tourism, and all that it bred, including greater consumerism, was all-consuming, and there was of course no catastrophe.

Industry which predated tourism, such as textiles and chemicals, did largely disappear. But had it been necessary for industry, rather than tourism, to dominate, what might the consequences have been? Environmentally, they could have been more savage than anything tourism has served up. And who could possibly say that its competitiveness would have come close to that of tourism? Having a phobia is one thing, eliminating it and replacing it with something else is quite another.

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