Tourism's problems in the 1950s
IT was in the Evening Post of 20 September 1956 that a complete page was devoted to the views of a visitor to Jersey on the Island’s tourism.
‘Is Jersey losing her place as a holiday resort? She must wake up, or pack up – says a visitor.’ So went the headline, and his very long letter was printed in full.
An introductory paragraph described him as: ‘A senior legal assistant to an important Metropolitan Borough Council, an honorary branch secretary and public relations officer of a branch of the National and Local Government Officers Association, and a member of an area advisory committee of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance – a man of solid worth, evidently (very solid).
The newspaper explained that it was giving prominence to the letter because ‘it would appear that those who guide Jersey’s tourist industry have failed to concede that “the customer is always right”.’ The views of the writer, it seemed were shared by the newspaper.
This is a summary of the points made in the letter:
Deaths and delays
- "In Tourism, what is the customer’s (visitor’s) point of view? Is he being properly and adequately looked after? I think not. Can anyone in Jersey honestly say that the Island’s publicity is adequate or experienced? I refuse to believe that whoever is responsible for publicity has the faintest idea of what he is doing.
- "What have I heard or read about Jersey so far this year? I have heard of innumerable gales in the Channel with the consequent distress to travellers to Jersey; of people being drowned on your beaches; of 400 visitors not being able to get back to the mainland and the subsequent chaos; of the disgust of a planeload of passengers for Guernsey being held up by for a whole day in your airport and being told to sleep on the floor ‘but not to dirty the carpet’.
- "Is that the kind of publicity you want?
- "As for the unfortunate loss of life on the beaches, a public inquiry should be held on the question of 'safety on the beaches'. To realise that if I was in difficulty in the water, the most I could expect was a policeman ready to pick up my body when washed ashore, would naturally make me want to visit Jersey – if I wanted to commit suicide."
With this caustic reference to beach safety in Jersey, the writer begins a biting critique on what Jersey could offer the tourist.
His next attack was on the quality of the Island’s promotional literature:
- "Before I left Jersey I called into the Tourism Office at the Weighbridge and asked whether there was any literature about the Island. I was told there was hardly any."
Not one to accept ‘no’ for an answer, on his return home he write to ‘the Town Clerk’ of Jersey, and by the same post wrote off to the town clerks of Bournemouth, Blackpool, and Douglas, Isle of Man, in order to test and compare the response and efficiency of the various towns.
All the other towns sent back promptly ‘wonderful holiday guides with pictorial photographs (some in colour)’. Jersey was the last one to reply, with a note signed, impersonally, by ‘the Chief Executive’ and containing far less interesting or illustrated material – another bad mark.
Some things may have changed, but the cost of getting to and from Jersey has always appeared to be too high in comparison to other destinations:
- "I have heard no outcry by no responsible or other person against either the boats used or the amount of the fares charged. The third class return fare to the Isle of Man from Liverpool (80 miles) is 35s; from Weymouth to Guernsey (80 miles) or Jersey by British Railway boats, which are 25 to 30 years old, the cost is £4 12s 8d.
- "If the Tourism Committee are not all set for a showdown with British Railways after such a trip, then you might just as well get down to your tomatoes or emigrate."
Much the same sort of style is still employed to complain about the cost of transport. But at least the aspect of parks and open spaces has improved:
- "Nearly every holiday resort gives prominence to the beauty of its parks and pleasure gardens, and takes immense pride in them. But what of the parks and pleasure gardens in Jersey? Have you seen them this year? Start off, as I did, at the Cliff Gardens at Havre des Pas. You will come to the same conclusions as I did: why open them at all?
- "Take a walk along West Park, the pièce de résistance of all that is not beautiful. We walked along practically all its paths, but sought in vain for the slightest evidence of beauty or even maintenance. All this is on the promenade of your main beach. Surely, as locals, you are aware of its condition? It is what I, as a visitor, came to see and admire."
And also the beaches – no ‘good beach guide’ awards would have been won in 1956:
- "Next time you are on the West Park beach, see how much coke, cinder and coal there is. But most important, take a note of some of the other 'articles' washed up by the sea. I spent many embarrassing moments evading my young daughters’ questions on the various 'articles'. Effort should be made at once to ensure that the beaches are clean.
- "St Ouen’s beach has barbed wire and notices saying “private – keep out” – not what I associate with beauty and open spaces. It is a wonderful stretch of sand completely wasted."
All the Occupation constructions are in a bad state, he says, and he suggests that something could be made of the German Underground Hospital, rather than just allowing it to rot.
One good mark:
- "On the whole we found the bus drivers and conductors cheerful and helpful."
But the bad news:
- "Oh, how uncheery is the enquiry office at the Weighbridge – bare boards and a single unshaded electric light bulb hanging from the ceiling makes the place as unwelcome as the alleged footpath to the Devil’s Hole. At night it looks like (and is often taken for) a public convenience. Get some coloured posters, get rid of those bare shelves that make the place look like a bankrupt shop that won’t die.’
He didn’t like his hotel, it seems:
- "When a visitor stays more than one week, give him fresh linen. Is there a standard of cleanliness for restaurants in the Island?"
Nor the policemen:
- "Is it impossible for your policemen to smile? And is really necessary for them to wear gumboots?"
In 1958, and probably other years, the Tourism Department issued an information digest for visitors. At the beginning of this helpful guide the committee disclaimed any responsibility for its content in the event of any changes happening. One wonders what the writer of the letter on this page thought of it