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How Tourism Took Off

Friday October 23, 2009

How Tourism Took Off

The development of tourism on Lanzarote has been dramatic over the last thirty years. Creating whole new resort towns where previously there was little in the way of construction or amenities. Nowhere is the fast pace of change more evident than in Puerto del Carmen. Lanzarote´s first major tourist resort and still the engine room of the industry on the island today.

Victorian Visitors

British tourists have in fact been visiting the Canaries for well over one hundred and thirty years. As Victorian businessmen were operating in the islands throughout the latter half of the 19th Century. A trade initially fostered by the adoption of the free port system in the Canary Islands - which was a major fillip for naval commerce between Britain and the islands as it placed tax exempt status on many goods and products.

Where trade led tourism soon followed - as many shipping companies weren't slow to adapt their on-board facilities by adding passenger berths. And many well-to-do Victorians fostered a desire to discover hitherto relatively remote corners of the globe.

The first tourist dedicated hotel in the Canaries - the Santa Catalina – opened its doors in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in 1890. Helping to quickly establishing the island as a favourite winter sun destination with Victorians in search of sunshine, rest and recuperation.

However this burgeoning boom was relatively brief - as world wars – plus a civil war in Spain – effectively wiped the industry out. And whilst a small renaissance got underway in the 1950´s, the vast majority of Britons at this time were way too stretched to afford any sort of holiday at home, yet alone countenance an expensive sunshine break abroad.

Lanzarote never benefited much from this initial boom. Although a few intrepid Victorian visitors such as the novelist Olivia Stone did make it to the island in the 1890's. These rather effete guests occupy an interesting footnote in the history of the island. As they found riding bareback on camels a little hard on their behinds. Leading to the creation of the twin seated device called the English Chair, which is still used to transport tourists on the camels at Timanfaya Volcano Park today.

Air Travel Arrives

The development of larger scale tourism was also hindered by the fact that there was no airfield on the island. And so in the late 1930´s an aerodrome (as it was then known) was constructed in the area known locally as Guacimieta. Which was finally completed and formally opened in 1941. Receiving its first flight in the form of a German Junkers JU52 EC-DAM in July of that year.

However, larger scale tourism still didn't start to take off on the island until the 1970´s. Thanks in no small part to the pioneering work of César Manrique - who created a great deal of interest about the island thanks to his unique creations such as the Jameos del Agua and his own home in Tahiche (now the César Manrique Foundation). As well as the improvement of facilities at the airport in 1970 in the form of a new passenger terminal and control centre. Which meant that from March 1970 the island was now fully equipped to deal with international and domestic flights.

These improvements in island infrastructure and the creations of César Manrique helped to generate some really positive PR for the island. Even attracting famous visitors such as Peter Sellers, Rita Hayworth and Omar Sharif. All drawn to this new and exotic holiday location.

Package Holidays

They were quickly followed by travellers from countries such as Scandinavia, Holland and Belgium - nations well known for being early adopters in the area of travel. And by 1977 the island was attracting 90,000 plus visitors a year.

This was just the first wave of a much more pronounced boom though. As in the late 1970´s increasing disposable incomes in countries such as the UK and Germany enabled more and more families to holiday abroad. Tempted by the new concept of package holidays. So leading to the explosion in size of the small fishing port of Tiñosa, better known today as Puerto del Carmen.

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