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Building hotels, making labor

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

The rise of hotels in colonial Cyprus emerged in response to early, and circumscribed, colonial governments’ attempts to promote the island’s socio-economic development. The very few hotels built on the mountains in the 1930s aimed to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and mainly to create poles of attraction for the elite of the Middle East. The establishment of the first hotels was ratified by colonial governments even though it never was a priority for state investments. Thus hotel ownership and management became a new field of business for local entrepreneurs; as a privately driven enterprise, it came to express community pride, transfers of capital, technical expertise, and local elites’ visions for decolonization. The construction of these resorts generated intense reconfigurations of the landscape and shifts in the economic model that conditioned Cyprus' developmental trajectory after the 1960-independence. In the era of mass-tourism, hotels continued to be among the primary outcomes of state-driven developmentalism that promoted large-scale public and private investments in coastal tourism and infrastructure also as vehicles for shaping symbols of national pride. It is from such a perspective that these projects have been mainly captured and revisited: emblems of state power and technocracy, technological advancement, modernization, and democratic values. However, what is often missing from such accounts is how the building of hotels and other tourism landscapes relied on technical expertise as much as the making of a local labor force: from architectural construction to the providing of trained staff for hotels and other services. This post highlights the ‘blind spots’ in archival narratives that fail to bring to the foreground the various forms of labor employed in the construction and development of a tourism-driven economy and the social hierarchies, gendered and racial inequalities perpetuated through the entwined processes of constructing hotels and labor.

Left: Workers involved in the construction of the Verengaria Hotel in Prodromos, Troodos, circa, 1930 Right: Local staff and tourists in Amathus Hotel, Limassol, circa, 1980 (Photo: courtesy of Elena Argyridou)

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