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The Spanish Miracle. The rise of the Spanish tourist industry since Franco

As spring arrives so do the tourists, their numbers increasing as the temperature increases, both reaching a peek in August. Official figures from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism put the 2005 tally 55.6 million, an increase of 6% on 2004. The number of annual tourists almost doubling the population of Spain.

How did this success come about?

Spain’s recent history revolves securely around the Civil War the emergence of Franco and the country’s subsequent isolation. Not an obvious foundation on which to build one of the most successful tourists industries in history.

Tourist accommodation on a typical costa
Tourist accommodation on a typical costa

When de Gaulle’s 2nd Armoured Brigade rolled into Paris in August of 1944, many of the tanks were crewed by Spaniards, Teruel scrawled across their turrets to commemorate the Republican victory of the Civil War. These men had fought the fascists from Madrid to the Aragón, Paris to Berlin and were confident that they would take the fight back to Spain, but this time with the Allies behind them.

The commander of the Free Spanish forces, General Alvarez, had no doubts. At his base in Toulouse he had plans in place, but apart from a disastrous foray by 150 men into the Pyrenean foothills, the allies refused to sanction a crossing in strength.

With this failure to cross the Pyrenees, Franco remained in power. His regime and consequently the Spanish people were ostracized, forced back on their own resources. He was labelled a pariah, the last fascist dictator in Europe.

As with most things Spanish, especially politics, twists and turns predominate. The most likely outcome to any Spanish dilemma is the one that hasn’t been considered!

The advent of the Cold War in the late 1940s supplied the catalyst for Spain’s re-emergence into the post war world. American paranoia of all things red or even slightly pink put the right wing anti-communist government of Franco in a different light. In 1950 a US ambassador was appointed to Madrid. President Truman didn’t care much for Franco, particularly when he discovered that legalisation required protestant funerals take place after dark. Truman supported the view that the Franco regime was simply a self orchestrated personality cult.

Truman’s successor however, the pragmatic Eisenhower signed an agreement with Franco permitting US bases to be built on Spanish soil in return for financial aid. “Like water to the desert” was how one relieved Spanish minister described the deal. It reached $1.8 billion by the mid 1960s. The financial support and the presence of four American military bases on mainland Spain legitimised Franco’s regime. After the signing of the accord he commented “At last I have won the Spanish war”.

The tourist industry reached just under four million by 1959; state autarchy, price controls, and limits on foreign investment made this a remarkable achievement. These constraints put the continuing development of the Spanish tourist trade in question. Franco reluctantly signed the Stabilization Plan

in June of 1959 putting in place the conditions for a relatively free market. Over the next five years the number of tourists enjoying Spain increased to 14 million a year.

Over the decade tourism went through the roof, fortunes were made from the building boom along the Costa del Sol and other coastal areas, even conservative Falangists cashed in. This unprecedented growth was the confluence of many factors, some perhaps not all that obvious.

The positive aspects are all domestic.

The famed Spanish weather; Málaga having an average temperature of 22° C with over 320 days of sunshine!

For many of the first tourists it was an introduction to Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil, crispy fresh salads and a whole new gastronomic world of exotic sea foods! Where better to bring a family? Children are welcomed everywhere, they are allowed to run and run!

The negative features which helped fuel this upturn in tourism are less clear.

Those resident in Britain in the 70s and 80s, may remember that uneasy feeling of trespass one felt from having the misfortune of staying at a small sea-side hotel. These establishments existed solely to humiliate the guests and the intrusion into the hotelier’s daily life was made quite obvious. The favour of allowing these lodgers to spend time there was immense. Rules and regulations would not have disgraced a borstal. Such was the standard of low cost holiday accommodation available at the time.

After escaping the sighs and disapproving glances of the not so genial hosts, one tried to spend as much time away from the establishment as possible. This meant eating out!

Lunch in a pub of this era was a wonderful affair, crisps and a pickled egg eaten at a bar awash with the overspill from the customers’ morning ale.

Enter the Spanish package holiday, low-cost, exotic (africa starts at the Pyrenees) and with service and accommodation which left the British tourist industry with a serious problem. The quality of accommodation and pub food in Britain has improved in recent years, whether or not this is attributable to the Spanish model is difficult to prove but perhaps this is a collateral benefit, another up-side to the Spanish Miracle.

Spanish tourism is still growing with a healthy maturity which is seeing divergence, giving the industry firmer foundations. It is impossible to quantify the effect abroad but we can only assume they have been beneficial for the consumer. Only catastrophic mismanagement or political meddling could destroy the Miracle.

Let us not forget the myth that Andalucía was allowed five wishes by the Gods, only four were granted. To grant all five would have made it a paradise on earth. The fifth and un-granted wish was that of wise government!


A photo journey
through Spain


Written by:
John MacDonald
Patricia Díaz Pereda.

ISBN 978-1-909612-70-9
To order from Amazon.co.uk
Click here

by John MacDonald



Moving on a pavement artist. London. 2009



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