Wednesday, February 01, 2017

1903 And All That: Adults-Only

The date was 17 December, 1903. The place was near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The two men involved were brothers - Orville and Wilbur. The Wright Brothers could not possibly have envisaged what they would unleash, not least the fact that 114 years later in a city across the Atlantic which back then they may or may not have been familiar with, their efforts are to be honoured in the form of an airport lounge.

This isn't any old airport lounge. Manchester Airport's Terminal 3 is to have an adults-only lounge, and it will be known as 1903. Despite the name being in memory of Orville and Wilbur, this isn't a year that otherwise carries particular and popular significance. It thus has an enigmatic, quirky, almost mysterious connotation. The anonymity of the year is what grants the name a uniqueness. Clever people, these marketing types; the use of a year is a neat trick that they often play.

The uniqueness will cost 30 quid if booked in advance or 35 quid if you just turn up on the day. This relatively modest sum will be rewarded with complimentary buffet, free booze, free, unlimited wifi and, most importantly, an absence of anyone under the age of sixteen (one assumes that the sixteen and seventeen year olds will be given a discount because of the booze; or maybe not).

Mischievously, one can already sense that a certain category of adults-only will be eyeing up the thirty quid as a bargain means of facilitating lavish pre-flight getting plastered. But adults-only aren't like that. Are they? Well, in other marketing people's worlds, they most certainly are not. The prevailing image is of couples in their late twenties with good teeth etc., looking deliriously happy as they wallow in the spas and fine wines (in very modest amounts) of their adults-only hotel environment. Thank God we booked adults-only, the images shout.

In a way, this prevailing and predominant age image reveals the adults-only to be enjoying their final flings. Rather like the lads and ladettes on tour to Maga (other untransformed resorts are now available) go through rites of passage and the entire card on a happy hour prior to one day settling down (some of them) to marital bliss, so the adults-only is (are) having their final days in the sun before THEY come along. The kids. There'll be no more adults-only for them until they reach sufficient age to qualify for the older person/senior packages and have grown grey gracefully, still retaining the teeth and the delirium.

The 1903 lounge is just a further milestone along the journey towards adults-only touristic domination. Or does it denote a return to days of yore? 1903 was notable - in Mallorca anyway - for another reason, and that was the opening of Palma's Gran Hotel. Styled on the Ritz, one of its ambitions lay with attracting the early twentieth century tourist. And one can probably safely assume that under-16s would have been in limited supply: they hadn't really invented "the family" back then.

Mallorca's adults-only establishments, of which there is an ever increasing number, are something of a throwback to the grand days of travel, when the tourist most definitely fell into the category marked "quality". It is the unabashed desire to attract this quality tourist - one who's loaded and doesn't get rat arsed - which is one of the reasons for the growth of the adults-only concept. Plus the fact that adults-only is that much more profitable. The family is thus being denigrated to a degree, certainly the degree which arrives with three-star baggage and remains cloistered in the confines of child-hell poolside all-inclusive.

One does of course have to attribute the adults-only movement to the so-called "Cupid of the Caribbean", Gordon "Butch" Stewart, who founded the Sandals Resorts and also made them the first word in all-inclusive heaven: Sandals offered first-class AI. It took a fair old time for adults-only to transport itself to Mallorca and Spain. By 2011 there were only 25 such establishments nationally. They're now all over the place, their critical number meaning that TripAdvisor can have its bests-of, and apparently the Grupotel Playa Camp de Mar is the best of the best in Mallorca.

There have been concerned voices raised about the growing proliferation of adults-only, one being that it is a form of discrimination. If societal mores are such that there cannot be discrimination on the basis of gender, religion or race, then why should children be singled out and excluded?

The marketers will say, and do, that adults-only is all about responding to social and cultural changes. And perhaps so, but if the number of hotels becomes that many, where do the deliriously happy thirty year olds go when THEY do finally come along?

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