Tourism in Gibraltar - Development of Tourism in Gibraltar

Development of Tourism in Gibraltar

For much of Gibraltar's history as a British territory, its economy relied on its dual status as a key British military base and a trading entrepôt at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Tourism first became significant between the two World Wars and expanded considerably after World War II due to the opening of Gibraltar's first marina, built in 1961, as it was the first in the region and began to attract increasing numbers of yachts and cruise ships.

Gibraltar's tourist trade was devastated by the Spanish government's 1969 decision to implement a total closure of the Gibraltar-Spain border as a consequence of the political dispute over Gibraltar's status. Visitor numbers collapsed over the subsequent decade. The border was not reopened (and then only partially) until 1982 and was finally reopened fully on 5 February 1985. A flood of visitors poured into the territory after the border reopened; 45,000 people entered Gibraltar within the first week, rising to over 10,000 per day over Easter 1985. Within only six months, a million people had visited, rising to two million by the end of the year. Air traffic doubled as tour operators began offering packages combining Gibraltar with the Costa del Sol. By 1986, five million visitors a year – 60,000 weekly – were arriving in Gibraltar. The airport resumed its role before the frontier closure of acting as a gateway to the Costa del Sol; 90,000 visitors came by air annually, of whom 22,000 headed on to the resorts of the Costa del Sol.

To make room for the expected flood of visitors' cars on Gibraltar's crowded roads, 1,000 old vehicles were rounded up and pushed off the cliffs into the sea at Europa Point at the southern tip of the territory. Despite this drastic measure, parking spaces were in critically short supply as over 1,000 vehicles per day entered Gibraltar after the reopening of the border. The territory enjoyed a retail, accommodation and catering boom, though it came at the price of chronic traffic problems and threats to the environment, notably disturbances to the macaque and bird populations. The number of macaques grew very rapidly as a result of (illegal) feeding by tourists, which also led to an increase in aggressive behaviour as the monkeys came to associate humans with food. The problems culminated in 2008 with the Government of Gibraltar ordering the culling of a rogue group of monkeys that was breaking into hotel rooms and scavenging in bins in the Catalan Bay area. The cull was protested by researchers and animal rights campaigners but was justified by the Government on the grounds that the overly aggressive monkeys would frighten tourists and cause damage to the economy.

The running-down of the British military presence in Gibraltar in the 1980s and 1990s forced the territory's Government to carry out a major shift in its economic orientation, with a greater emphasis on encouraging tourism and establishing self-sufficiency. By this time, however, tourist growth had stalled with hotel bed occupancy in the territory at under 30% in 1993. Tourism became an important issue in the elections of 16 May 1996. The newly elected Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, pledged to revive Gibraltar's faltering economy by expanding the tourist trade. The new Government carried out a programme of improvements to the port facilities including the construction of a new passenger terminal to welcome cruise ship visitors. New marketing initiatives were established, such as Gibraltar joining the MedCruise Association to help promote the Mediterranean as a cruise destination and establish common standards for port facilities. £5.2 million was invested in improving the airport terminal, while Main Street was refurbished and pedestrianised. A number of old garrison buildings were redeveloped for leisure and retail use, notably the area around Grand Casemates Square, which was formerly used as a car park. The tourism improvement programme led to a major increase in visitor numbers, which rose from four million in 1996 to seven million in 2001 and overnight stays also rose by 30%. By 2006 tourism contributed more to Gibraltar's economy than any other sector, with visitors spending an estimated £279.41 million in 2011.

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