Popular Puerto but just what does the 21st century visitor want?
It is that time of the year again when I struggle to think of what to say. August is not my favourite month of the year, it is the month when everyone in Puerto seems to take their holiday and a month why very little of note happens. Don’t get me wrong, Puerto is busy, busy enough no doubt that when the visitor numbers are concocted they will announce they are better than last year. This month is traditionally the time for visitors from the mainland, here often to escape from the oppressive heat back home. This year is no different, however, it seems to me there are an awful lot of British in the town, here, I suspect, for just the opposite reasons, for a bit of sun, sea and sand. I have to say, I hope they are not disappointed.
So why are more British coming to Puerto? Is it, as Tui said recently, because Spain has reached saturation point. Are they coming here because there is no room in the South of the island where the resorts are usually more favoured by the Brits? Or is it, as the town hall would like us to believe, all down to their marketing, promotions and modernisation plan. After all ‘Puerto de la Cruz parte de ti’, Puerto is part of you, or so the slogan says. A slogan which when explained means that we as residents of the town are all its ambassadors and we should always ‘go the extra mile’ to use a British classic, to raise the profile of the town. Is that really likely to happen? Now they have added a new slogan ‘Puerto de la Cruz Mas’, one which I think is self explanatory, it means that as ambassadors for the town we are obviously not doing enough, but then should we.
Let’s talk about the modernisation plan. A plan designed to bring Puerto in line with the expectations and demands of the 21st century traveller, or at least that is the spin they put on it. So what have they done to attract all these worldly wise, travel savvy, visitors? Very little is the most obvious answer. I first visited the town in 1985 a few years before the ‘peak’ for visitor numbers, British numbers especially, and to be honest the town hasn’t changed much since then, change comes slow to Puerto de la Cruz.
The hotels haven’t changed much, more have closed than the number of new ones built or reopened, admittedly they have been modernised, but I should think so too, and more than once in the intervening years , many having been built in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They said that 5* accommodation was the future, what every-body wanted, yet the hotel companies aren’t queuing up to develop them, not in Puerto at least. Is it really what everyone wants? Are the days of the traditional ‘hotel’ holiday on the way out? Surely fully inclusive is not the future. No, there is a growing band of holidaymakers who don’t want the rigidity that a hotel offers, who prefer the flexibility renting privately offers, and there are websites waiting to accommodate them. One such site, which I’m sure you have all heard of, Airbnb, lists over 300 properties suitable for a couple in Puerto de la Cruz. Private rental is the growth market in holiday accommodation.
The plan is to move away from the idea that Puerto is a sun and sea destination, no matter that the beaches are still popular and busy. I can’t think why as the beaches are in such a poor condition. Perhaps the plan is that everyone should visit the Lago, or Costa Martiánez as they like to call it now. Playa Jardin was developed in the early 1990’s and it looks like it. Since then there has been very little spent on it. Its facilities are ‘old,’ as is the management of it. No life guards on duty before 11, bars and cafes don’t open before 10 in the morning and then close again at 6 in the afternoon, even now in the height of the summer, and when they close so do the loos, changing rooms, and showers. Perhaps this is why the beach recently lost its coveted blue flag, a much have for a 21st century resort I would have thought, or was it because of the water quality, there have been issues with it recently despite assurances of it within acceptable parameters. Is that the same as clean? We will never know the reason why as if there isn’t a photo opportunity then the information doesn’t get published, even more so if there are negative connotations which could be aimed at those responsible. So our beaches are hardly what you would expect from a 21st century tourist resort. One area where there certainly has been changes since the early days of my first visits are the roads, the town has become more pedestrian, a change, not necessarily an improvement. Each year I came another road was receiving a concrete slab make over and the practise has continue right up to the present day. Only now they have taken to digging up and relaying existing pedestrian walkways, calle San Juan being the next on their hit list. So now the town is great for visitors to walk around, if they can work out where they are going, as unlike other towns in the area there are no ‘tourist’ signposts. No indication at all of where, for instance, the tourist Information office is, or the bus station that’s a good one, or the town hall which most people don’t believe they’re standing in front of even when they’ve arrived, surely this can’t be the right building! No signage, for the post office, or the police stations, there’s more than one which can be confusing, or even to the car pound, a place many visitors need directions to. I could carry on, but I’ve made my point, No, all you see are visitors walking around clutching maps of the town, most of which they are holding upside down, but surely the sea should be at the bottom.
Another consequence of these perpetual road improve-ments has been the reduction in on street parking, almost forcing drivers to use the Muelle car park. Fair enough for residents, but what of 1st time visitors, who have probably come off the TF5 at the ‘wrong junction’ and struggled with the weird road system which seems to only take you back out of town. They have no chance of finding the free car park; there is no signage to direct you to it until you are almost on top of it. Maybe that is the plan, visitors should be encouraged therefore to use the pay for the privilege car parks. However, those who do manage to find their way then have to run the gauntlet of the car park touts, a problem we have had for years and a problem that is apparently unsolvable. There is a particularly aggressive group in residence at the moment, and they are quite selective in their targets, women drivers on their own beware. This lot even have their own office in situ, a wrecked van, the only vehicle unlikely to be towed away by the Municipal Grua, because, of course, there is no money to be made from it.
What does the 21st century visitor want? I honestly haven’t a clue. Does anyone know? What does market research say and will Puerto de la Cruz ever match up to these demands? I don’t think so, for me Puerto has had its heyday, yet, even so the town still has its place, it’s just not number one on the island, nor will it ever be again and they shouldn’t expect it to be. I like Puerto de la Cruz, it is a great little town, but I refuse to view it through rose tinted glasses, perhaps that is where I am going wrong. So Puerto de la Cruz may be part of me, I’m just not its greatest ambassador.
Will visitor numbers continue to rise; I am not so sure they will. After the Foreign office revised its advice Tunisia will soon reopen to British visitors and there have been grumbles this year from tour companies about rising costs in Spain. Couple these with the poor £ and I feel we will see a slightly different pattern next year, plus of course there is Brexit to think about. Finally if this town is serious about embracing the 21st century it needs to look a lot closer to home to make changes , on say how the town is run and on its working practises, after all nepotism is a word that doesn’t really belong in this century.