On 21 February 1980 a casual observer at Malaga Airport might have been forgiven for thinking that the British prime minister or an 80s pop star had arrived. Instead there were 200 British tourists.
That morning, 50 British couples celebrating their Ruby wedding anniversaries disembarked their Dan Air flight and were greeted by a crowd of photographers from the BBC. The latest stars of the Costa del Sol dazzled with their best smiles.
Arm-in-arm, the couples enjoyed their new celebrity status, being serenaded by singers and guitarists from a local ‘tuna’ group (a university music group that play in tourist areas) before they were quickly ushered away on their holidays. The BBC then prepared to snap the other 100 tourists who arrived later that evening.
Off to enjoy sun, sea and sangría in February? The couples were meant to be groundbreaking tourists, showing that the Costa del Sol was not a one dimensional summer holiday resort. The tour operator Saga Holidays had decided to turn these 100 couples into romantic stars as a publicity stunt. Jetting out the couples to the Costa del Sol demonstrated what a fabulous destination the south of Spain was for retired couples looking for a slightly more exotic way to celebrate an anniversary in the off-peak season.
The new arrivals, who came to the Costa del Sol for a full month, stayed at Hotel Fuengirola Park where they joined a total of 800 fellow Brits enjoying their holidays. Saga Holidays organised dances, dinners and drinks to congratulate these couples, who married in 1940, when their country was at war.
It not only looks like they proved Saga Holidays’ point, but they also set an example for others to follow. The Costa del Sol is today at record-breaking levels of popularity and continues in its campaigns to attract more off-season visitors.
Saga Holidays has survived long since its 200 guests of honour returned home to the UK. Dan Air, however, did not share the same fortune. It was bought by British Airways for £1 in 1992.