Several tourist guides in Valencia have gathered to protest against “the danger of extinction” of this profession due to the consequences of the Coronavirus crisis in tourism. photo: | Juan Carlos Cárdenas

Many a long year ago, as in 1964, ‘mass’ tourism in Majorca was in its infancy. This mass didn’t stretch to one million in the whole of the Balearics, let alone Majorca, but no one was complaining. By and large, people didn’t complain. There were new jobs to be had. Some of them were even reasonably well paid. And by comparison with the time before the mass started to appear, the wages were better. It was only towards the late 1960s that negativity began to take hold. Talk of saturation emerged, and while those were still days of the censors, debate about the impact of tourism on the way of life, on island culture, and on the coastal environment was permitted so long as no fingers were being pointed.

In 1964, it was still all pretty new, while there was the determination for Majorca to become the premier holiday destination in the Med, which it did. This desire, combined with the comparative novelty of large-scale tourism, the jobs and the great improvement to Spain’s economy, meant that holding a tourism day was something which everyone would buy into.
Hotels and restaurants were “asked” to take part, which was a euphemism for being told to, but a command wasn’t really necessary. There were games, there was sport, there was folk dance, there were special meals. Majorca and other tourist centres were displaying their gratitude, and a tourism day was the means for doing so. Manuel Fraga, the information and tourism minister, knew all about propaganda, and reports of happy tourists, happy locals and happy staff were what he had intended. Majorca and Spain were welcoming. Arms were open.

Majorca and Spain had also stolen a march on the world of tourism. There wasn’t to be a globally celebrated tourism day until 1980. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) came into being in 1974, but its statutes had been adopted four years earlier - September 27, 1970 to be precise; September 27 was to become the date for World Tourism Day.

The UN hadn’t necessarily envisaged that its day would be an occasion for festivities. There were more sombre principles of raising awareness of the role of tourism and demonstrating how tourism affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide, with the emphasis - naturally enough - on the positive effects. But festivities there were, not least in Cala Millor, where they don’t just celebrate the day, they have a whole week’s worth of celebrations. The Cala Millor tourist fiesta week started in 1983. It didn’t start at all this year. What was there to celebrate? Where were the tourists anyway? The mass, such as it has been, has been returned to the early ‘60s.

They looked to try and make the most of it, they having been politicians and tourism industry big names. Pedro Sánchez tweeted that “tourism is key for Spain and a priority on the government’s agenda”. “The recovery of tourism will offer an opportunity for driving a more competitive and sustainable model.” The words were familiar ones, while Spain’s tourism industry has been wondering quite how much a priority tourism is.

From Iberostar came a message that “tourism is a holistic reality that encompasses business, sustainability, research, innovation, talent and the union of people”. Iberostar wished to “honour the people who make tourism a strong and resilient industry”. And strong and resilient tourism is. Or has been. Tourism has never known anything like the current crisis, and in the past few days has come a warning that once more emphasises how much of a crisis there is. The European Parliament’s tourism working group of MEPs last week pointed to tourism being “on the point of collapse” and to this collapse risking the loss of 22 million jobs.

The working group took aim at the institution of the European Union. There have been six months of emergency, yet there are still not common criteria for managing and living with the pandemic. “There aren’t universal protocols for hygiene and health. There aren’t common rules for tests or for how to evaluate risks. And there is not adherence to the principle of free movement.”

The EU hasn’t had the best of crises. Hard though it may have tried to avoid this, the principle of freedom of movement has been undone. When health push comes to tourism shove, governments make up their own rules, with health shoving tourism aside. Meanwhile, the UNWTO hasn’t exactly displayed great leadership. There have of course been plenty of events for this year’s World Tourism Day, but here was an opportunity for the UNWTO to really stand up and bellow a message. Instead, the day has come and gone with a whimper, the low sound of unhappiness drowned out by the agonised screams of crisis.