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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

The reluctant president
Francisco Rodríguez Castro, president of the tourist initiative centre in Puerto de la Cruz would never have dreamed of presenting himself for office, in fact he was more or less pushed into it.


Many people return to Puerto because of the extraordinary friendliness and spontaneity of the locals
Many people return to Puerto because of the extraordinary friendliness and spontaneity of the locals

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01.01.2004 -

“I don’t regret it for one minute though, I’m happy to have accepted the position and to have joined all the people who are trying to do something about the condition of Puerto de la Cruz.”

He was born in León, in Castilla la Mancha, and worked in many different occupations including radio and the theatre.  He studied law and together with his wife came over before their first child was born, to start a new life, leaving a province where things weren’t moving as quickly as he would have liked, to take up a post as a lawyer.  He plied that trade for fifteen years, before turning to business – “Hotel and catering, construction and promotion – a little of everything.  I have always been a person with a business vocation.  As a youth I spent some of my time acting.  I was quickly given the job as director, and in my twenties I ended up managing.”  He added wryly “I degenerated into a businessmen, we all have some regrets…”

When his three daughters were young, he had to work many hours and couldn’t spend as much time with them as he would have liked, but thankfully he is now able to spend more time with his two grandchildren, and more time in general on personal things, his family and hobbies.  He and his wife enjoy travelling, especially to European cities.  They haven’t been able to travel as much as they would like, but their favourite so far is Paris.  “Walking around Paris is a real pleasure.  The flower market, the cheese markets, the oysters…”  His friends are also very important in his life.  “I love to spend time with my friends.  To tell and listen to jokes, and to laugh - that’s vital, and laughing at oneself is important, that’s great!  I like to read too, although I’m not as diligent as I should be.  I read in fits and starts, not as much as I should or would like to.  Unfortunately nowadays, I only have time to read two or three newspapers daily, then at weekends I try and read what I like – history, classic literature, poetry.  I believe it’s important, to be in contact with people, to live together in harmony.  Books can teach you how to meditate.  I like to be around people who think.”

His own business affairs these days include the position of manager within a group of investors that includes three hotels.  Amongst their investments is the four star Quinta Park Hotel and the Spa Club in Santa Ursula which is run by his daughter.  The spa was the first in the North, one of the first on the island and one of my personal favourites.  With all the luxury of a private club, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, massage etc. and a free bus from Puerto!  “It’s a fantastic place to relax” agreed the joint owner “but I dedicate more time to the CIT now than to my own companies.”

One of the things that made Don Francisco accept the post, was that he was so depressed at the condition of Puerto, but he is a lot more positive now.  “There are many people now who are tremendously enthusiastic and with the desire to do something for Puerto.  In the CIT now, there are 10 to 15 people, who are dedicating many hours from our normal jobs.  It’s not only a voluntary job without payment, but it actually cost us money, we even pay for things like taxis we use on CIT business, out of our own pockets.

“We’re still at the preliminary stage of investigation and planning, and people are asking ‘weren’t things going to change?’, but I am very exited and totally convinced that in the next two years you will begin to see the changes and that Puerto will begin to recover.  It takes time, for example, I admire Ricardo Melchior very much, I believe he is a sensible person and a great worker, but it is impossible that he will be able to finish the new Puerto de la Cruz marina before his present term of office ends in 2007.  From start to finish it will be at least ten years, and there’s no money on the table at the moment, at least from the council, they just haven’t got it.”  The project will include sports and light craft facilities with a possible daily ferry service to Las Palmas.

“The present mayor gives me the impression that he is the type of person who talks and does things.  We are supporting him I believe that we’ll see the effect of the current plans in a very short time.  We need so many things, but we must start with the small stuff.  If we can’t look after the pavements or car parks or noise disturbance in the night, how can we deal with the big stuff?

“We need more good quality hotels.  It would be great if the old Casino could be converted into a five star hotel once they have transferred to the Martianez complex, but we definitely need to upgrade our accommodation offer.  There are plans under consideration for a funicular railway (cable mountain track) between Martianez beach and the La Paz district and for an eighteen hole golf course in El Rincón.

“A pet plan of mine, which the mayor is in favour of, and we are actively looking for economic support from the island council and Canaries government, is the demolition of the Parque San Francisco, and its replacement by a new multi use centre for conferences, shows, theatre, concerts etc.  There is an important artistic, musical and cultural movement in Puerto de la Cruz which we are not giving opportunity to.  What’s more we are giving a terrible impression of Puerto de La Cruz, because the San Francisco is shameful and it’s the only public place where we can hold anything.  We now have a preliminary plan and we’re working on it.  It looks as though it will have a total capacity for 1300 people.

“Another plan is to combine a musical festival with a boost in the quantity and quality of the garden spaces in April and May.  I would also like to promote the ‘chiringuitos’ and the ‘tascas’, these little, local, family run places with simple food where the tourists really seem to enjoy themselves.”

Very much along the lines of looking after the small things first, one thing that is already in place is a programme to ‘beautify’ the streets.  Starting with the Calle Esquivel and with a high degree of local participation, they have provided Christmas decorations and planted tubs and gardens, although residents will have to see to the upkeep, “the CIT isn’t very strong financially.  People were downhearted, dejected, letting things go to rack and ruin.  They can’t compete with the big centres on price, but they can on service and surroundings.  It’s very much a job of changing local values, starting with ourselves at the CIT.  We’ve finally persuaded the new council to permanently hand over the premises where the office is.  It’s an ugly building, horrific, but we are going to renovate the façade and brighten it up with flowers and with the interior (a ground floor space of around 200 square metres), create an area for reunions, tourist information and a small cafeteria.  We have been promised the allocation, the budget will be agreed in March, so, if everything goes as planned, we will begin the work in April or May and open in December.”

 

Reintroduction of the Carnival Fancy Dress Competition and Ball

“There used to be at least three big dinner dances during Carnival and we wanted to reintroduce an old carnival favourite tradition for the local people and the tourists.  Regain a little of the lost carnival spirit.  We spoke to the Lions and Rotary Clubs and the local Women’s Institute and they were delighted to help.  On the 27th of this month we’ll be holding a huge dinner dance in the Centro de Congresos, in the Casino Taoro for between four and five hundred people in fancy dress with a great orchestra, carnival dancing group (comparsa) etc.  – anyone’s welcome!”  Tickets are on sale at 30 euros including supper from the CIT office in Puerto Calle Puerto Viejo 13, telephone 922 388777.

The police force is down to half its strength, following transfers sickness etc., but there is surprisingly little trouble in Puerto.  Real drug and drink related problems are rare and getting better according to the President of the CIT.  “We tend to get more of the nuisance makers.  People who think it’s fun to sing at the top of their voices at four in the morning.  However we are urging for the vacancies to be covered.  More police on the street will control the youngsters and give everyone and especially visitors a feeling of security.”

Don Francisco is all for the cyber revolution.  “A client will be able to visit the destination they really want to.  At the moment the tour operators control and decide.  I believe that this is going to change, that the tourist business community has to wake up and make things change, because so far the tourists have been led like a flock of sheep.  Sometimes for interest of convenience or profitability, the tourists have been deceived by the tour operators.  On more than one occasion in all three of the hotels in Puerto where I have an interest, the Receptionists tell me of previous clients, who have been placed in hotels in the South, and have come to see them to say ‘hello’ and what a shame they couldn’t come back to the hotel this year because the tour operator said it was full.  We’re at 60 per cent occupancy!

“Direct information to the client is great because it offers them more choice.  Now there are cheaper flights direct to the North too, we are very positive.  A good web page these days is essential to give more complete and truthful information to the client.

 “Many people return to Puerto because of the extraordinary friendliness and spontaneity of the locals, because they have met a receptionist or a waiter who has invited them to their homes to share a plate of ‘carne con papas’ (spicy stewing steak with potatoes).  They come back because they have made friends.”  Puerto even has an awards system for repeat visitors with bronze, silver and gold medals being given out to the ‘winners’ who have repeated a visit up to and over 30 times.  Don Francisco foresees the need to invent a platinum award!  “There are many people in love with Puerto”.  If current plans and his Presidency continue, I would say that’s a trend that will continue.

 

By Sheila Collis



Gallery: The reluctant president
Many people return to Puerto because of the extraordinary friendliness and spontaneity of the locals 
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