Nautical tourism in the Balearics. | R.D.


There’s a curious poster from 1971. It has three images. One is discernibly a windmill, the other two are impossible to work out. An explosion of whirls and what may or may not be someone standing (dancing?) on top of what could feasibly be a type of lollipop (but almost certainly wasn’t); what did these signify? Psychedelic art would still have been in vogue, but if it was meant to have been psychedelic, it failed.

This poster was for an event that took place over ten days in the second half of June 1971. The location was the Feixina Park in Palma, and the poster does at least make clear what the event’s title was - the First National Artisan and Tourism Fair. There were one hundred stands and seven pavilions, including the Expotur pavilion of 1,700 square metres. It was a strange collision of a fair, with tourism businesses occupying the same exhibition areas with the likes of glassware and leather products manufacturers, jewellers and clock makers.

The fair wasn’t as novel as its title suggested. In 1962, the first Feria de Muestras was held. This was a trade fair to show off Majorcan manufacture and industry. The following year, the fair’s title was extended to Feria de Muestras, Artesania y Turismo. In 1971, therefore, they dropped the “muestras” (a word with a vague meaning anyway) and added “nacional”. Palma and Majorca were thus firmly on the map in exhibition terms for both artisan manufacture and tourism, and to emphasise the importance of the fair, the minister for information and tourism, Alfredo Sánchez Bella, officially opened it.

There were great expectations for this national fair, but they were not to be realised. This was because Palma didn’t have a purpose-built space capable of accommodating what it had been hoped would have been an annually ever-expanding fair. Three years on, and the fair was no more - in Palma at any rate. But that first fair in 1971 was to prove to be of great significance, and this was as a consequence of the presence of the minister.
Going back to that peculiar poster, a stretch of the imagination might suggest that the figure on the supposed lollipop was in fact some sort of nautical representation, and a reason for suggesting that it might have been was the fact that the fair was to be a turning-point in Majorca’s nautical tourism. Sánchez Bella, who had succeeded Manuel Fraga as minister in 1969, attended a number of meetings, and he was to announce: “Of the funds that my department currently has at its disposal for the promotion of ‘puertos deportivos’, all of these funds - that is to say one hundred and fifty million pesetas - will be allocated to the Balearics in order to complete those in Majorca and to create ones in Ibiza and Mahon.”

Nautical tourism, i.e. sailing, had been central to the very earliest efforts to promote Majorca as a tourism destination. The first “Semana Deportiva” (Sports Week) was held in Palma in the summer of 1909. The showpieces were the regattas, and they were the pegs upon which other events, activities and attractions were hung. But this centrality was to disappear, and very rapidly; there were only three of these sports weeks’ promotions.

Yacht clubs were to start appearing after the Second World War, but when the tourism boom began to be crafted and experienced, sport of any kind was very low on the agenda. In 1969, the Fomento del Turismo (Majorca Tourist Board) set up a special committee for sport and for shows, and the sport at that time was pretty much confined to sailing. And so along came the minister two years later with a budget equivalent to some 900,000 euros (or somewhere around 3.2 million euros today).

In 1968, a third of all recreational and sporting boats in Spain were registered in the Balearics. To put an exact number on this, in 1969 there were 6,049. It was acknowledged that those yacht clubs and marinas which existed had done a grand job in the development of sailing and that they had done so with purely private money. In 1971, courtesy of Sánchez Bella’s intervention, the state was now taking an active and economic interest.
The potential was great, and not just in Majorca and the Balearics. To again give a figure, this one to indicate how far Majorca and Spain were lagging behind, there were at that time - it was reported - 250,000 registered boats in France. An article from 1971 (which may have been from “Ultima Hora”; I don’t have a reference) celebrated Sánchez Bella’s announcement and asked its readers “to imagine the enormous possibilities of the Balearics becoming an essential destination for recreational boats’ journeys in the Mediterranean and for being a winter refuge”.

So not only was that fair of 1971 decisive in developing nautical tourism, it also laid the foundations for what has become a flourishing nautical storage, repair and maintenance industry.