Walking through the History of the Island since its discovery until our time, one can see that that the phenomenon of Tourism is not of recent origin. Effectively, it was born in the XV century and it developed during the following centuries.
Travel literature includes Italian travel diaries (15th-16th centuries) as well as English, whose presence started already in the 17th century, dominating the publications until the 20th century, there were also French (18th -19th-20th centuries) and Germans (19th-20th centuries).
A very important consequence of the 15th century discoveries and the 15th to 18th century sea travels was the opening of the sea routes - an easy way to explore Asia, Africa and America. Thus, the Atlantic was turned into a privileged support to the commercial traffic between the new and the old continent. Madeira, due to its geographical position and the European historical situation at the time, started to register certain aspects of its geology, fauna, flora, anthropology, orography, climate and the beauty of its landscape, and receiving epithets that are still used nowadays: "Island of Love", "Corner of Paradise", "Pearl of the Atlantic", etc., which make an excellent marketing tool. This is the "touristic" side of colonialism.
In 1751, Thomas Hemberden observed in the “Philosopher Transaction” of London the qualities of the weather in Madeira, and its therapeutic virtues. Many others followed and confirmed the climate's therapeutic qualities, especially in the South part, in Funchal by the sea.
During the 19th century, Madeira became known in the international medical guides as a clinic to cure pulmonary phthisis. These guides played an important role in promoting Madeira.
This period has many testimonials from the numerous visitors to the Island. Such as doctors, specially English during the 19th century, as well as famous personalities like Prince Alexander from Holland (1848), a Princess Amelia from Brazil and foreign and national intellectuals who glorified the Island: Castilho, Júlio Diniz (who wrote in Madeira “As Pupilas do Sr. Reitor), Antero de Quental, Bulhão Pato, Afonso Lopes Vieira, António Nobre Olave Bilac, a very celebrated Brazilian writer and poet, and many others. In addition, the therapeutic "tourism" was influenced by the European history at the beginning of the 19th century, when the liberal wars in Europe blocked the access roads to spas in Southern Italy and France, redirecting to Madeira the sea travellers who were going to those areas including English, Americans, Germans and Russians.
Once peace was established in 1815, the touristic market of Madeira did not fall apart when in competition with its rivals, quite the opposite, it absorbed two touristic currents: Winter tourism and therapeutic tourism.
We can consider the existence of two periods in the tourism of Madeira: colonial (15th-17th centuries) and therapeutic (19th century and beginning of the 20th century). Each one of them related to different external historical influences, but both were equally based on the dependence of Atlantic travelling, the attraction of the paradisiacal beauty of the island and the kindness of its climate.
The development of steam engines in the 20th century poses a threat to the tourism in Madeira, as the new kinds of transport do not need wind, favourable currents and to run on coal.
The absence of material infrastructures to support the international navigation, such as ports, harbours, well maintained oil deposits, regular services between land and the ships at sea, determined the decrease of commercial navigation in the port of Funchal, making it almost exclusively a point of support to regular and tourist services.
Until the Second World War, numerous transatlantic ships visited this port, whether in regular trips from South Africa and the American Republics, or in plain tourist cruises.
Knowing that tourist activities, due to its nature, are dependent on the behaviour of international economies, we observe a stand still in the maritime movement during the Second World War, and a rupture of tourist fluxes between 1940 e 1945. Consequently closing many hotels in Madeira, including the ones in Monte, the railway line (in 1943) as its maintenance was no longer justified.
After the Second World War, the great transatlantic ships that used to stop regularly in the port of Funchal did not come back. Choosing, instead others that were better equipped (Tenerife and Las Palmas) and located in the geographical area of their sea routes.
In 1949,1960 e 1964, due to air communications, a new period begins for tourism in Madeira. The Island opens up to the modern world through international and continental flights and charters, absorbing vast numbers of tourists.
We can state that the international History of the previous centuries made Madeira the national pioneer in tourism.
Quote from 1925: “The 12 hotels in Funchal do not host more than 800 people, although some have been enlarged and others are improving their facilities.”
Funchal, since the colonial time until today, always had another kind of accommodation of a private character and sometimes even family oriented – the estate manors (quintas), which belonged to local people and also to foreign businessmen, mainly English, based on the Island. The estate manors, serving the tourism in the area of Funchal, until the thirties, were substantially greater to the number of hotels.
After the war, the small hotels chanced category and developed into guesthouses, while the estate manors serving tourism disappeared and were substituted by big hotels. This transformation, which started before the war, was continued and accelerated after the war, reaching its peak in the sixties and seventies with the development of modern hotels and guesthouses in different categories and able to host different kinds of tourists.
Until 1930, the flux of quality tourists consisted of aristocrats, finance businessmen and famous public figures, such as the Prince of Wales and Churchill, as well as some still searching the therapeutic qualities. During the Second World War, the Island was used as a service area for the transatlantic ships, and visited mainly by wealthy English and Germans escaping the international violence in search of more peaceful areas. Another kind of tourist started to visit Madeira from 1935 because of the Nazi social politics: “Kraft Durch Freude” - Power by Joy. This organization affiliated in the national-socialist party, had as its objective to offer to the German workers cultural and sports activities, therefore organizing trips using the German navy stopping in Funchal.
It was in the sixties and seventies that the Portuguese middle class acquired the practice of travelling for holidays and got interested in knowing Portugal.