Enjoying the weather at a Torremolinos hotel. Antonio Salas
Torremolinos, the birthplace of the ‘sun, sea and sand’ holiday more than half a century ago, is host to ten per cent of all overnight stays in the region of Andalucía. Last year, tourists spent 4.2 million nights in hotels in this Costa del Sol town of just over 68,000 inhabitants.
The importance of this figure is easy to understand when compared to those of other parts of Andalucía. Overnight stays in the resort made up a quarter of all stays in the whole of the province of Malaga, almost reached the same number of nights spent in Seville province and were more than three times higher than those in the Cordoba as a whole.
The mayor of Torremolinos, Pedro Fernández Montes, claims that the figures are not accidental but, rather, the result of constant hard work, an evolving response to what visitors want and a diversification of attractions to complement the main draw of sun and sand. “We have surpassed the numbers of visits to Benalmádena by 60 per cent and Marbella by 70 per cent. The figures of 2011 are better than those of 2010 and 2009”.
In the face of a shrinking domestic market as a result of the economic crisis, it is international tourism which is injecting vitality into the resort of Torremolinos. In fact this year has confirmed the upward trend in foreign visitor numbers, with an increase of 80 per cent in the first month of 2012.
The city of Malaga received almost as many visitors as Torremolinos last year but only counted 1.7 million overnight stays, since tourists came for a short time while those foreigners who chose the seaside resort booked longer holidays.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic among them all, even to professionals in the tourism sector, is that Torremolinos’s number of overnight stays only fell short of those in the whole of Seville by 300,000. This includes visits to the province’s capital, home of Andalucía’s government and world renowned tourist site.
Similarly, it was unexpected that the resort would almost match the number of stays in the province of Granada, which had twice as many visitors as Torremolinos but only 4.8 million nights spent, just over half a million more than in the Malaga town.
These figures are proof of the enduring attraction of sun, sea and sand. They also demonstrate that, in spite of the surge in popularity of cultural venues, in particular the Alhambra in Granada, no-one should dismiss what holiday-makers really want. To this end hoteliers in Torremolinos stress that it’s foolish to devalue visitors who just want to lie on a sun-bed.
“This type of tourist generates more income because they stay for longer in their chosen destination. Also they usually choose to stay in four-star hotels right on the seafront”, says Fernández Montes.
Highest hotel occupancy
Torremolinos has between 32 and 34 per cent of all the hotel rooms on the Costa del Sol. Its hotel occupancy rates are the highest on the Costa del Sol, reaching an average of almost 64 per cent last year and over 66 per cent at weekends. This is in comparison to the 50 per cent of nearby Marbella, long considered the Costa’s jewel in the crown because of its high end atmosphere.
“In Torremolinos we are capable of holding, for example, an event like the European ballroom dancing championships, which brings five thousand people to the resort. We have also risen to the challenge of sports tourism, whose participants stay on average for 12 days. With the installation of our Olympic-sized swimming pool we are able to host the Canadian and Finnish swimming teams, who are coming to prepare for the 2012 Olympic games in London”, explains Fernández Montes.
In this way, Torremolinos, with more than 20,000 hotel beds, raises the average occupancy of rooms in Andalucía by 20 per cent. On the Costa del Sol, only Benalmádena gets near to the popularity of Torremolinos, a destination that, according to the latest statistics, is still in fashion in spite of its great age.
The birthplace of modern day mass tourism
It was George Langworthy, at the end of the first world war in which he fought as a captain, who initiated tourism in Torremolinos. Setting his sights on the Castillo de Santa Clara around 1929 or 1930, he transformed the estate into a luxurious hotel, with enviable gardens, where his numerous friends spent their holidays. Santa Clara was joined by the Parador de Montemar which was built on the Cucazorra estate in 1934 by Carlota Alesandri Aymar. She acquired the land in exchange for a loan of 100,000 pesetas to a local bullfighter.
In 1940 the hotel La Roca was added to the list of places to stay, increasing facilities for tourists in what was then a suburb of Malaga.
However, what really launched a new period in tourism was the beginning of charter flights and package holidays. The first of these, which came from Munich, was set to arrive at Hotel Las Mercedes on the 20th March 1957. It was raining, though, and since the weather wasn’t what the Germans were hoping for, they delayed their holiday until May. Also operating at the time was the hotel El Pilar, whose clientele came mainly from Finland. Another of the oldest establishments in Torremolinos was the Meliá-Costa del Sol. It wasn’t until 1959 that the first five-star hotel, the Pez Espada, opened. Then Torremolinos really began to take off and its popularity has continued to this day, as last year’s figures show.