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The present, the past, pipe dreams and a little bit of magic 

Recently there has been a lot of news in the local press concerning the improvements being made to hotels in Puerto.

For many years, hotel owners have had to shoulder the blame, not all of it justified, for declining numbers of visitors to the town. Often described as old and dated, visitors have voted for the newer, more stylish hotels in other parts of the island.

However, things are changing, many hotels have been or are in the process of being refurbished, updated, modernised, brought up to standard, which visitors in the 21st century have come to expect. I won’t name those that have for fear of shaming those who haven’t, as many of them, we are led to believe, are in the planning stage, with renovations to begin in the near future.

So the hotels are doing their bit, at least, this is the message now being broadcast and reading between the lines, it seems they are now throwing down the gauntlet and are inviting others to take up the challenge.

They say, to all intent and purposes, you can have the best hotels on the island yet visitors will still not come unless the rest of the town comes up to their standard. Apart from people that is, who spend the entire holiday sat around the pool. Some do, I’m told, and it’s rumoured they wear bracelets which sound an alarm if they leave the confines of the hotel. I think they are called fully inclusive, what a strange name.

The hotel owners have therefore become the torch-bearers for the town and it is the turn of the Ayuntamiento, sadly lagging behind, to come to the forefront. Not an easy task, with so many stalled projects on their books; it is hard to see how they will be able to match the hotels achievement, but to be honest, it looks as if that is what is required of them.

Let’s list the essential projects. The bus station is probably number one, a ‘must have’ surely in any town. Followed by Playa Martiánez, that end of town really deserves a ‘lift’. Thirdly for me, one which might to a tad controversial is the cultural centre at Parque San Francisco. This town is crying out for an entertainments centre. That’s it, my essential list. Not very long is it? Yet all three of these projects have been on the cards for, I’ll be polite, quite a while.

The well informed amongst you will be agog. He’s missed one out, I can hear you shout. I have, of course, deliberately so, because it is my opinion that pigs will learn to fly long before work starts on Puerto’s new port. I add, should work actually start, that far from being advantageous, the many years of construction will have a detrimental effect on the town.

We have heard the promises so many times now, even been told project start dates, maybe not dates etched in stone, but “work will start this year” should surely mean something! To be honest, or if not, at least, realistic, projects in Puerto, on the whole, rely on central funding and with the best will in the world, until the Spanish Government drags itself out of recession there is unlikely to be a deluge of funds flowing this way. Still there has been a trickle and it has been spend, but has it been well spent in this difficult economic climate? Do you think so? I most certainly don’t and will give a few examples.

35 K euros spent on an ‘advertising hoarding’ to cover an unsightly building. Firstly, it only partially covers the building and secondly why bother to hide a building now when it has stood empty for years. Money well spent, or not?

73K euros spent on a footbridge at Guacimara, which became redundant even before it was finished when the decision was taken to upgrade the road. Money well spent? I wouldn’t think so.

62K euros spent on sprucing up the Cesar Manrique sculpture. Did it really need doing now? Was it in danger of collapsing? Money well spent? Money overspent more like it.

An unspecified amount on the ongoing project of underground wheelie bins. I would grudgingly support this project if only it achieved its ultimate aim, namely to hide rubbish underground, out of view. In practise it doesn’t. A quick walk around the town will confirm it. Yet this project continues with new bins going underground now. Money well spent? Sorry, but I’ll never think so.

San Telmo, ok, it might look new, nice and shiny and clean now, but that image will soon fade. Did it really need doing? Ask yourself if the money could have been better spent elsewhere. Ask yourself if the new look will bring extra visitors to the town? Realistically you don’t need my opinion on this one.

So despite the good work being carried out by the hotels it looks as if Puerto is destined to remain in the doldrums for quite a while yet.

What is wrong with Puerto? Nothing really, I love it here. What is there to do in Puerto? Now that is a more difficult one. When asked I always give a diplomatic answer by saying, it is a great base from which to explore the north of the island. It’s true, besides, it’s better than simply saying there is not a lot to do.

The problem with Puerto is that there is no easy fix. It grew up in the boom of the package holiday. It stood idly by as the resorts grew up around the south airport and took its visitors. Yet it wasn’t the visitors who deserted the resort, it was the tour companies. Closer to home it seemed blinkered to the effect of retail and commercial development on its borders. Puerto didn’t adapt to changes in visitor wants and needs. It never sold its greatest asset, the fact that it sits right in the middle of the most beautiful part of the island. It assumed that everybody wanted a sunshine holiday, which I suppose in its heyday the vast majority did, but people are fickle, they change, Puerto didn’t.

For years it continued to sell itself as an all year sunshine resort, which it isn’t, which it never was. Think about it; try to sell overcast skies, black sand and rough seas against say the golden sands and relative calm of some of the Mediterranean resorts. Pose the question to a sun worshipper and it’s a no brainer.

Thankfully that is changing now, but it is a slow process, Trekking, Cycling and Adventure holidays are the new buzz words and the town is beginning to attract visitors from a wider audience. There is a new team at the helm in the town hall, am I optimistic for the future? To be honest I am torn, I want to believe that it is going to make a big difference, but have a nagging doubt that it will a case of more of the same old same old. Time will tell.

If I had a magic wand and could make instant changes what would I do for the town? I would give the lease for Lago Martiánez to a private company, who I am sure, would make better use of the space. I would attract a private company to build and run a new municipal pool and sports centre on the ground which is designated as a sports field. I would attract private money to finish the Botanical Garden extension and to run it as a going concern. I would cease any further plans to turn roads into pedestrian walkways.

This practise has ripped the very heart and soul out of the town and in doing so has destroyed many businesses. I would scrap the reverse herringbone scheme, which I am sure was only created to keep men in gainful employment. To reverse into a parking space instead of driving in really is a backward move. Finally I would bring all the wheelie bins back to the surface as I am a firm believer in things should be left in public view and not swept under the carpet. Of course, I don’t believe in magic.

As always the views and opinions are my own and I don’t expect everyone to agree with them.