by Erin Wright
For many a European tourist near the end of the 20th century, Spain was the place for a summer holiday. It had all the essentials: proximity, good food and wine, sandy beaches and culture aplenty, from museums to music, dance to drama.
Visitors could fast in Madrid’s legendary Escorial monastery, flock to the Canary Islands or hit the party scene that put Ibiza on the map on the other side of the peninsula.
Or they could let down their hair — and, if they so desired, their clothes — on any of the country’s beautiful coastal areas, particularly the Costa del Sol, where the anything-goes resorts were no strangers to the sort of merriment and mayhem that annually forced the weary locals to grin, bear it and count the days to the end of the tourist season.
But tourism, like fate, is a fickle thing, and soon the throbbing dance music all but died. After a high-water mark in the ’90s, Spain was suddenly less go-to and more been-there, done-that. Those seeking the exotic headed to North Africa and the Middle East. The beachgoers turned to Greece for their fix of sun and good cheer.
The recession that gripped much of Europe, and Eurozone countries in particular, certainly didn’t help. Turkey emerged as a main travel rival, and by the time of its bank bailout in 2012, Spain was grappling with record unemployment, much of it traceable to the steep drop in tourism revenue.
But what a difference a year or three can make. Having exited its bailout program in 2014, Spain today finds itself in the midst of a tentative recovery, while Greece, for one, is making the world’s front pages for all the wrong economic reasons.
And with the rise of the Islamic State, travelers are shying and flying away from the Middle East. It stands to reason. In Tunisia, tourists have been targeted and murdered. Egypt has come under fire from I.S. fanatics, and Turkey is enmeshed in Syria’s civil war and has been hit by I.S. violence on its borders.
For Spain, it’s back to the future of its earlier visions, one awash in tourists, particularly Brits, looking to party like it’s 1999 — or at least 1979, where thoughts of sunny, boozy, carefree Spanish holidays seem frozen in time.
Except that they aren’t — for while Spain’s leaders giddily welcome a new generation of turistas, now that they’re in the driver’s seat, they have a message for newcomers: Show some class!
The Independent reports that Spain is looking to attract “a new type of wealthier visitor” to replace the hard drinkers and all-night revelers of yore.
Several of its infamous resort towns, including the popular Magaluf, in Mallorca, have enacted new restrictions — including no more drinking in the streets between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. (a former rite of passage for those barely old enough to drink in the first place), and, in hope of pinpointing accountability, tour-package leaders must accompany their charges on their wee-hour bar crawls.
Not that the new rules have had much of an immediate impact, The Independent reports. To certain foreigners, Spain remains a country full of 24/7 party towns, and the response to these strictures has largely been along the lines of: “Stop acting like we’re far from home and anyone who might know us? Yeah, sure, amigo. Starting mañana, eh?”
Still, resort officials felt they had to try. The behavior of too many visitors had spiraled from disrespectful and boorish to out of control. Couple that, they say, with the rise of the room-sharing service Airbnb — which has driven up property prices and unleashed a new flood of visitors to Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and other populous places — and the locals can’t wait to take off to the less-trampled areas of the country for their holiday.
Something had to give. That it has yet to give enough has the resort leaders vowing to keep trying to remake their towns and their clientele in their preferred image. And they just might succeed, eventually. After all, Spain is cool again — for now.