Bikini is the title of a short comedy film that was made in 2014 about a famous meeting between Franco and the mayor of Benidorm, Pedro Zaragoza. It was famous because the mayor went to see Franco in order to plead the case for allowing women (foreign tourist women) to wear bikinis. Zaragoza had permitted bikinis, but he then found himself in hot water with the Guardia Civil, who denounced him, and with the church - he was threatened with excommunication.
The Generalissimo’s wife, Carmen, according to the film, needed particular persuasion. Zaragoza had an idea - the Benidorm Festival of Spanish Song; that did the trick. The mayor meanwhile impressed Franco with the numbers - all the potential revenue from tourism. Zaragoza secured approval for the bikini, but he had done more than this. He had in effect set out the blueprint for tourist resorts, those of Mallorca included.
The Benidorm mayor was a Falangist, and he was to go on to be an influential figure in the regime’s inner circle. Credited with having invented “sun and beach” tourism, Zaragoza’s meeting with Franco was in 1953, some years before what we associate with the tourism boom in Mallorca. Benidorm was to be a sort of New York of the Mediterranean, but it wasn’t to be somewhere for the rich and famous. The resorts, as they were to be, couldn’t afford to be exclusive, as they were built for masses of people.
By 1955, Mallorca was paying close attention to Zaragoza’s plan. At the end of that year, there was an extraordinary session of the Balearics Provincial Deputation. On the agenda was a subject that wasn’t wholly new for Mallorca. Twenty-four years earlier, the Republican mayor of Palma, Llorenç Bisbal, had raised it. A gathering in late 1955 of individuals who were the complete political opposites of Bisbal was now being asked to contemplate what Bisbal had proposed for Palma in 1931 - a tourist tax.
Bisbal’s motivation for a tax, which was never actually levied, was to pay the town hall’s annual subscription to the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board. It was to be the Fomento who led the opposition to a tax in 1955. It would be “profoundly prejudicial” to tourism development. It would create a “bad image” of Mallorca. It would run counter to promotion of Mallorca as a “cheap” destination.
Yes, a cheap destination. Zaragoza’s vision for Benidorm, as he had pitched it to Franco, was more sophisticated than it was to become. But it was nevertheless going to be inexpensive, and it’s possible that he hadn’t realised just how inexpensive holidays were to be. The tourist board, as had been the case when Bisbal came up with his idea for a Palma tax, defended the inexpensive. Apply a tax and the cost of holidays obviously rises.
Why was a tourist tax considered in 1955? It was because the deputation was concerned by underfunding. It therefore sought to enable investment in, for example, giving the islands excellent “routes”, improving and embellishing urban centres, and restoring properties of historical and architectural importance - all with the aim of the Balearics being “the unbeatable centre for national and international tourism”.
Different purposes for the spending of tax revenue were identified. These included roads; lighting, sanitation and embellishments of urban centres, e.g. the nascent resorts; expropriation and acquisition of fincas and “picturesque places” of tourism interest. Moreover, so it was felt, the tourist tax would be a means not just of raising funds for investment in infrastructure and heritage but also of distributing wealth more evenly and avoiding fragmentation within society.
It is extraordinary to realise that an institution of Francoists had in effect come up with the blueprint for the current tourist tax, introduced by a left-wing government, and for the 2002 ecotax, also the work of the left. The Mallorca Tourist Board, with absolutely none of the power and influence it would have wielded in both 1931 and 1955, was opposed to both the 2002 and the 2016 taxes. Regardless of whether the administration was of the left or the right, it had taken the same view: a tourist tax would mean more expense for the traveller. The board had won the day in 1931 and 1955; by 2002 and 2016 it was a shadow of the body it had once been.
But what if the proposal at that session of the Provincial Deputation had been approved? It’s pure hypothesis to suggest that the tax might have lessened the boom that was to take place, but if it had been successful, the chances are that it would have become set in stone and no one would now think twice. It wasn’t approved, though. Perhaps it needed a Pedro Zaragoza to go and see the Generalissimo. That, however, would have involved a more tortuous journey than even Zaragoza’s - on a Vespa from Benidorm to Madrid and back.