On 27 April 1928, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, Spain's first National Tourist Board was founded to encourage Spanish people to explore their own country more and to attract visitors from abroad. It had a short and somewhat eventful life: it was dissolved after the proclamation of the Second Republic in April 1931, reconstituted in December the same year but disappeared completely when the Civil War began in 1936.
Short-lived it may have been, but the Patronato Nacional de Turismo was the starting point for Spain becoming the mega tourist destination it is today.
It was the National Tourist Board which opened more 'paradores', which were State-run hotels, and created 'albergues de carretera', a more modest type of overnight accommodation for travellers. It also opened museums, such as the 'Casa del Greco' in Toledo, restored monuments and produced the first travellers' guides to different provinces in Spain, complete with photographs which have since become a useful record of the history of the country.
In those days, the main focus was to raise Spain's profile abroad, rather than the economic possibilities of foreign tourism. During the early years of the Franco dictatorship, tourism was still seen as a good way of improving the country's image elsewhere, but from the 1950s the emphasis changed as the authorities realised the financial potential of attracting visitors from other countries.
The National Tourist Board was reborn with another identity in 1951, as the 'Dirección General de Turismo', which was part of the Ministry of Information and Tourism. It was in this decade that mass tourism began, but whereas in the past it was Spain's history and culture that had attracted tourists, the new visitors discovered the delights of the seaside, especially on the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava.
In 1959 Franco abolished tourist visas and devalued the peseta to make the country more attractive to foreigners. The number of tourists rose from fewer than one million in 1950 to 4.3 million in 1960, 18 million in 1967 and 30 million by 1975. Last year Spain received 82 million tourists, and became the second most popular destination in the world after France. Those tourists spent 87 billion euros, an average of 137 euros per person, per day.