The tourist boom of the sixties owed a very great debt to the jet plane. | MDB files

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Let me take you back to the early sixties and to a bizarre manifestation of Mallorca’s tourism. It was supplied by the Majorca Daily Bulletin, which was then a recent new arrival on sale at island newsstands. There was what was seemingly a regular feature, the example that I have being from 1963. On page nine of whatever edition it was, there was a list of names headlined Holidaymakers in Mallorca.

These couldn’t have been all of them, but there were nevertheless a fair old number. And what is striking is just how many were from the USA - Mr. and Mrs. James Ettelson, Philadelphia; Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Williams, Orlando; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bach, New YoPrk. Yes, unfortunately, a capital P appeared where a capital P should not have appeared.

There were plenty of others. They came from Maryland, Chicago, Baltimore, California, Miami Beach, St. Lewis (sic). Not all of America was represented in Mallorca, but good chunks of the country were, and these American holidaymakers constituted what was a not insignificant share of the overall tourism market back then.

The American connection with Mallorca can be traced back, I guess, to the writer Gertrude Stein, though describing Stein as a tourist would be somewhat inaccurate. She was like a current-day digital nomad, so in a regard she was a sort of tourist, as tourism authorities are nowadays keen to attract temporary but long-stay remote workers and to classify them among the tourist stats.

The notorious journalist Theodore Pratt was another nomad. Run off the island for having slagged off Mallorca and the island’s people, he was symptomatic of a lousy reputation that Americans acquired in the pre-Civil War thirties. Tourist hooligans of the day were Americans (some anyway), and such were their antics that even the British disassociated themselves from them.

There were plenty who were of course highly respectful, and so despite the poor behaviour of a “type” of American tourist, Mallorca was only too glad to have the Americans. Money.

In the fifties, Temple Fielding’s travel guides opened American eyes to Mallorca and to Spain. In the same decade, the American and Spanish governments were close. Spain was a bastion of non-Communism, and it was also a country requiring significant investment to raise the economy from the basket-case level to which Franco had been determined to reduce it.

Once the Generalissimo had been persuaded, in not so many words, that he was an economic imbecile and that healthy wedges of foreign currency, especially the dollar and the pound, could work wonders, the gates opened - the arrivals gates at the airports.
The tourist boom of the sixties owed a very great debt to the jet plane. The Boeing 707 became a reality at the end of 1957 and truly introduced the jet age. In those days in the States, there were airlines whose names, while not forgotten, have long ceased to be. They were among the dominant international airlines - Pan American World Airways, Pan Am, and Trans World Airlines, TWA.

Fifty years ago, there was a news report in Mallorca which referred to the fact that the presence of American tourists was becoming ever more apparent. In reinforcing this impression, it was announced that TWA had scheduled twenty charter flights from different airports to fly to Palma. These were twenty flights for February alone.

The heyday of American tourism in Mallorca was therefore not in the 1930s and nor was it in 1963 when the Bachs and others were guests at the Hotel Fenix in Arenal. But when did it come to an end? It had nothing to do with TWA (or Pan Am) eventually going to the wall, but the decline would have started because of the oil crisis and then been hastened thanks to the increasing availability of Caribbean and Mexican resorts. It’s the demand thing, allied to airline and tour operator profitability. Why fly all the way to Mallorca when there is somewhere else closer to home?

The opening this summer of a United Airlines direct route between Palma and Newark has been latched onto as representing the start of a new beginning for American tourism in Majorca. But this tourism will have to do an enormous amount of catching-up for it to be truly relevant. In 2018, as an example, the whole of the Balearics attracted some 70,000 American visitors, around 0.4% of all tourists.

In that year, Spain received 2.96 million American tourists, so only some 2.4% made it as far as Mallorca and the Balearics.

Will Majorca ever recapture this market, really recapture it? That must be doubtful, but there is another factor in its favour. With the American AMResorts establishing itself in Majorca, the strategy includes selling to the US market. The volume won’t be huge in the short term, but the company anticipates that there will be growth.

Whatever the volume of tourists, it’s as well that no one at the Bulletin is nowadays tasked with listing them.