An Unsung Pioneer of Spanish Tourism
How often do the achievements of the great get overlooked with the passage of time?
Paradors of Spain are a phenomenal concept enjoyed by many national and international travellers over the last 90 years, but one man was instrumental in their creation as well as being the force behind a substantial wave of hotel and cultural development in Spain, encouraging tourism to the country and improving its image abroad.
Don Benigno de la Vega-Inclán, born in 1858, followed his father into the military and upon his passing became the 2nd Marques de la Vega-Inclán in 1898. Having served at home and overseas, he left the service in 1920 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel but by this time he had already started to influence major cultural and hospitality developments in Spain with the restoration of the Toledo home of the artist El Greco and its conversion into a museum, the recovery of the Ritz Hotel in Madrid, which had fallen into difficulties, and the development of the similarly magnificent Palace hotel nearby. Other hotels followed, such as Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, and the Marques was soon appointed to establish a Royal Tourism Commission to generate tourism to Spain from abroad, primarily from the United States and Europe and to increase awareness of Spanish culture, under the instruction of the Government of Jose Canalejas.
The Marques was extremely successful in this role and was very well received abroad, meeting various American Presidents and travelling extensively. Keep in mind that tourism in Spain was still relatively in its infancy and no hotel infrastructure was in place at this time; and the lengths that he went to as effectively a “cultural ambassador” to Spain. His journey along the Pacific coast of the States and back to Boston created a very high profile for his cultural mission with a heavy workload to achieve, before setting off by ship again for Spain in 1913.
The early roots of the Paradors could technically be dated back to 1910 although it was not until 1928 that the first Parador was inaugurated in Gredos, the birth of the hotel organisation. During those years, the Marques achieved several other major feats such as promoting Spain internationally at the summer exhibition in London in 1914, when the tag line ‘sunny Spain’ was created. The Commission had also successfully arranged the visit of the French President to Toledo the year before and he was part of the team responsible for the creation of Spain’s first social housing project with the first homes built in 1915, this model continues to be the standard throughout Spain today.
Original Promotional Material for the Parador de Gredos
In 1926 the King of Spain selected the site for the first hotel to be built by the Commission, a hunting lodge in the Gredos mountains west of Madrid, and when it was opened 2 years later, the first of what are now 97 Paradores de Turismo de España was born. More were to follow quickly, as the network of Paradors started to take shape. Its mission – to open up Spain’s regions to more cultural tourism and to provide a good standard of accommodation at very affordable prices. These objectives still stand today, 90 years later.
Our congratulations to Paradors for leading the field in Spain’s hospitality sector with their consistency, innovation, affordability and specialness; and our gratitude for the legacy of this now-departed but remarkably successful man – the Marques de la Vega-Inclán – for his drive and pioneering achievements!
Published in collaboration with Alberto Bosque Coello of the Castilla Leon Tourist Board.