Have you ever heard of screen tourism? It involves countries using international audio-visual products to promote tourism and showcase their diplomatic sophistication. Many people associate film tourism with Hollywood productions like “Roman Holiday” (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. However, what if a dictatorial country used this strategy to attract international tourists and seek recognition from the international community? Case in point, at the same period when Hepburn and Peck were filming in Rome, Spain was using cinema to spread the image of a misunderstood country eager to open up to the world and gain a foothold in the growing tourism industry.
Tourist Indoctrination and Spanish Fictional Reality
The 1940s were undoubtedly tough for the Spanish population. Politically and economically isolated, they were taught to welcome tourists through Francoist propaganda and films that often included flamenco and bullfighting. Domestic tourist magazines unashamedly claimed that tourists returned home astonished by “Spanish art, the abundance of our cuisine, Spanish chivalry, and, above all things, the peace we enjoy.” This was a convenient excuse to hide the famine that the post-war period had inflicted upon the country. While tourism wasn’t a prominent aspect of Spanish culture, the Ministry of Information and Tourism, established in 1951, sought to change this. It’s likely that dictator Franco was unaware of the concept of “soft power,” which wouldn’t be coined until the early 1990s, but this didn’t stop him from presenting a fictional reality to tourists and cinema-goers.
Cannes Festival as a Showcase for Spanish Re-Imagineering
The newly formed Ministry of Information and Tourism oversaw various activities, including tourism, performing arts, literature, and cinema. Strict censorship was enforced to ensure that these activities presented an image of Spain in line with prevailing morality, both for Spaniards and tourists. While this was easy for the captive domestic market, it remained unclear whether foreign markets would accept Francoist rules. In 1953, the Cannes Film Festival provided an ideal platform to launch a new vision of Spanish diplomacy by showcasing the flamboyance and wit of Spanish art. The national delegation presented “Magic and Mystery of Flamenco,” a non-fictional movie featuring the popular dancer Antonio, set in unique Spanish heritage, as well as “Welcome Mister Marshall,” a bittersweet comedy with overt references to the US “Marshall Plan.” Both films caused a sensation at the festival, and Spanish filmmakers were henceforth required to combine the comic and the spectacular as a new, successful formula.
Developing a Movie-Induced Tourism Strategy in Spain
Flamboyance and wit were not enough to establish the foundation of the Andalusian-based “Brand Spain”. To achieve this, the Ministry of Information and Tourism decided to implement film-induced tourism techniques that had been tried and tested internationally. The idea was to depict international actors immersed in an open tourist context, showcasing Andalusian customs and resources, and presenting experiential tourists following in the footsteps of those portrayed in “Roman Holiday” and “Summertime.” It also included highlighting the cultural contrast between modern visitors and traditional natives, emphasizing the “Spanish difference” and fostering a romantic relationship between them, as well as showcasing the transformation of tourists after their experiences. This strategy was executed on two levels: through national films and co-productions, with some nuances that should not go unnoticed.
Spain’s ‘American Friend’
Following the “Madrid Pacts” of 1953, an agreement that recognized Spain and Francoism as allies of the USA, Spanish films such as “A Sprite in Jerez” (1953), “Anything Could Happen in Granada” (1954), and “Good-bye Seville” (1955) prominently featured American tourists, a highly sought-after market. These films portrayed patriotic antagonism between the protagonists, which defined Spanish-American relations in films with tourists. In other words, a cordial love-hate relationship that highlights Spanish distance, idiosyncrasy, and difference, while showcasing the sense of humor, charm, and wit of the Spanish protagonists. Additionally, these three films incorporated three spectacular ballets that showcased the richness of Spanish art in an Andalusian version, featuring diverse backgrounds such as the grape harvest of sherry, Hispano-Muslim legends, and the traditional architecture of Seville.
Attracting Neighbouring Tourist Markets
In terms of co-productions, films like “Andalusian Nights,” “Bread, Love and Andalusia,” and “Honeymoon” stand out. These movies cater to three different tourist markets: French, Italian, and British. They also differ somewhat from the national pattern, as the sense of humor is less pronounced, and the clash with the exotic otherness is emphasized. Spain is characterized as “the land of the unexpected,” a fascinating country where anything can happen. The Francoist agenda emphasized the predominance of feeling over reason, praise for Andalusian women, and deliberate promotion of Spanish products and heritage, all conveniently reproduced in co-productions. Often, there were two versions of these films – one for Spaniards and another for the foreign market. The staging of ballets became increasingly spectacular, and the participation of Spanish personalities as ambassadors was a regular feature in these movies.
By Way of Conclusion
However, perhaps the most significant aspect of the tourist films of the 1950s, both national and international, was their early recognition of tourism as a phenomenon with the power to transform visitors’ sad lives after a brief exposure to Spanish “difference.” In the early years of the decade, this transformation was portrayed in a caricatured manner from the native perspective. However, as the decade progressed, international filmmakers approached the culmination of film tourism promotion with “Honeymoon,” a clever combination of domestic and co-produced film strategies that introduced for the first time the tourists’ perception of their transformation. After their trip to Spain, their lives would never be the same again, as millions of international tourists would discover during the 1960s.
Note: This publication is part of the project TED2021-131577B, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and by the European Union “NextGenerationEU”/PRTR
Puche-Ruiz, M. C. (2022). Flamboyance and wit. The promotion of film-induced tourism and Andalusian-inspired ‘brand Spain’under the Ministry of Information and Tourism (1953-1959). Journal of Tourism History, 14(2), 167-201. https://doi.org/10.1080/1755182X.2022.2118377