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Health tourism to thalassocracy: “The happy days of Puerto de La Cruz” 

Tourism in the Canary Islands and specifically in Puerto de la Cruz has come a long way over the last two centuries. In a series of articles, Javier Estévez has been looking at its evolution through the written observations of a number of its illustrious visitors of yesteryear.

Tourism in Puerto de la Cruz began in the 19th century with the presence of the British in the valley of La Orotava.

Here, there were all the ecological characteristics which motivated the establishment of thalassocracy (health of the sea). The English traveller then did not feel the need to search for the sun and the beach but was motivated by the agreeable climate and countryside.

What is certain is that literature had a great influence on the arrival of foreigners in the Canaries as the archipelago at that time had a number of elements which did not favour contact with the outside world.

“Firstly, the financial situation was not attractive to for potential investors.

Secondly, navigation was exclusively by merchant-type ships and boats en route had no cabins or other services which could cater for a large number of tourists.

Thirdly, no campaign had been formulated to tell the world about the numerous medicinal benefits of a stay in the Canary Islands. And fourthly, there was not even remotely any type of hotel which would be able to cater for future tourists.” 1

As noted by Nicolás González Lemus, “many islanders, entrepreneurs, land-owners and intellectuals were already coming to the conclusion that agricultural was not the source of inexhaustible wealth and had turned their attention to other sources of income. Many of those efforts began to be directed at tourism”. 2

Apart from Puerto de la Cruz, there were other pioneering tourism locations in the Canary Islands such as the municipality of Santa Brígida on the island of Gran Canaria.

Those who arrived for their holidays here could be described as the elite, those who could count on a good financial situation, far removed from the model of mass tourism developed after the Second World War. These early sophisticated travellers of the 19th century were the initiators of what would become the driving engine of the islands.

“On the island of Tenerife, we find one of these early hotels was an English hotel in the street of the balconies (calle de Los Balcones) which later became number two, calle de San Francisco.

In 1880 it was enlarged and completed by its new owner, Louis Camacho, originally from Funchal and married to an Irishwoman.” 3

We also found in the 19th century, the first phase of the Hotel Marquesa as well as the Hotel Martianez in Puerto de la Cruz, but it was not until the era of the mayor, Melchor Luz in 1958 where we find the establishment of the real pillars of the tourist expansion of the city.

The Hotel Taoro would constitute the most important of the hotels established in Tenerife during the nineteenth century, where the French architect Adolph Coquet would be one of the drivers in their construction, drawing up plans for the interior and exterior of the building. The work on the irregular terrain gave rise to a series of problems concerning its foundation on the plateau edge of Monte Miseria.

“The Gran Hotel Taoro had its origin in the merger of two hotel societies. On April 11th of 1886, the “Company of Hoteles y Sanatorium del Valle de la Orotava” was born. In its beginnings, it also received the name of the Orotava Grand Hotel Company Limited. Its capital was 20,000 L. E. – half a million pesetas – spread over a thousand shares of 20. L. E”. 4

What is certain is that the hotel, despite its situation with breathtaking views of the Atlantic and its architectural beauty, was not successful in terms of the arrival of tourists. The year 1929 would mark the Taoro again by a fire in one of the wings of the building and there followed recuperation measures driven by the Mando Económico. However, the hotel declined and did not prove economical for the functions it had been designed for. In the 1980s, it functioned as the “Casino Taoro”, 5, perhaps a better solution to the situation that presents now, after the transfer of the Casino to Lago Martianez and the closure of the Taoro, a closure that currently provides a painful picture of a property that falls to pieces and with it a part of our history of tourism. The hope is that a use will be found for this property which since its inauguration has represented a traditional property.

Much is owed to particular initiatives, such as those of Nicolas Benitez of Lugo in terms of taking measures to attract tourists to the Puerto de la Cruz

Where would be without the initiatives of the early twentieth century when the authorities were taking steps with regard to the impetus of the arrival of tourists. In 1905, the National Commission on Tourism was formed by the Ministerio de Fomento to promote the excursions and recreation of foreigners. In 1907, there followed in Tenerife the Centre of Propaganda and in 1912, the Committee of Tourism of the Orotava Valley and shortly afterwards, the Island Board of Tourism.6

All of these were formed with the objective of promoting the arrival of tourists, turning, little by little, the Canaries into a sector that seemed to go grow although weakly because of events such as the First World War, the effects of the crash of the economic world of 1929, the Civil War and then the Second World War. These represented years where there was a national economic recession and there was the subsequent impact on the tourism.

In spite of this, there were still several more measures, including the creation of the Patronato Nacional de Tourism in 1928, in addition to emerging new establishments such as Hotel Battenberg (called originally, The Costa Clinic and Nursing Home – 7). These years may not have been favourable for tourism but there was an improvement in communications, particularly with the inauguration of the Los Rodeos Airport in 1933 (8). Even so, the presence of the tourist in the 1940s was still in a minority until the arrival of the 1950s and the need for the Franco regime to put in motion a whole series of measures favourable to economic growth and tourism.

1 – HERNÁNDEZ GUTIÉRREZ, A. Sebastián. La Edad de Oro, 1996, p.8.

2 – GONZÁLEZ LEMUS, Nicolás. Del Hotel Martiánez al Hotel Taoro. Historia de la primera empresa turística en Canarias, p.20

3 – GUIMERÁ RAVINA, Agustín, El hotel Taoro, p. 28.

4 – GUIMERÁ RAVINA, Agustín, El hotel Taoro, p. 28.

5 – HERNÁNDEZ GUTIÉRREZ, A. Sebastián. Cuando los hoteles eran palacios, págs. 80- 85, 1991.

6- LEDESMA, Oswaldo, p. 31

7- GONZÁLEZ LEMUS, Nicolás; Pedro G. Miranda Bejarano, “El turismo en la historia de Canarias”, págs. 121-122

8- MARTÍN RIVERO, Raquel; GONZÁLEZ MORA, Yenis M; MARTIN AZAMA, Diana, “Evolución del destino Puerto de la Cruz. Un enfoque desde el modelo del ciclo de vida”, En: El Turismo en Canarias, p. 125.