If it was not for the substantial increase in British visitors to the Balearics last year, the passenger figures for Palma airport, released yesterday, would make gloomy reading. Last year, the number of Palma airport passengers fell by 1.1 per cent, in comparison to 2000 with passenger figures for December plummeting by an alarming 14 per cent. Spanish Airport and Air Traffic Control authority AENA, announced yesterday that last year, Palma's Son San Joan airport handled 169.596 flights and 19.206.621 passengers. But while 6.553.668 passengers were German, the 4.585.388 visitors from Britain indicated an increase of 7.14 per cent; not only compensating for the German decline in tourism but also cushioning the blow of a drop in passengers. The number of flights handled by the airport fell by 4.2 per cent over the year and merchant traffic dropped off by 8.42 per cent. Obviously, September 11 did not help the already troubled local tourist industry which was forced to wait until August before seeing the summer season really take off and the real damage was done in December. The airport handled 7.433 flights during the month, and 566.516 passengers, 14 per cent less than in December 2000. By contrast Spanish airports, as a whole, posted an increase in passengers for last year, but the Balearics was not the only loser. The Canaries also witnessed a five per drop in flights, but while Gran Canaria airport reported a 0.5 per cent drop in passengers, Tenerife posted an increase of 2.9 per cent and the islands are currently enjoying a bumper winter with the British market. Malaga airports also experienced a five per cent increase and Alicante airport, which serves resorts such as Benidorm, handled 8.3 per cent more passengers than the previous year. The drop in the Balearics has been similar to the 1.6 per cent decline during the Gulf War in 1990. While figures dipped little during September, most people had booked prior to September 11 and decided to fly, reality of the international uncertainty set in last October when passenger figures at Palma airport tumbled by 10.39 per cent. Up until September, the tourist industry was on course for an average year and airport figures were positive. The first quarter of the year experienced an 8.8 per cent rise in the number of British visitors, sufficient to off-set the 6.5 per cent drop in the German market, a decline which continued throughout the year. Balearic bookings for this winter in Germany were down by nine per cent at the start of December and the British short-haul market, which is starting to pick up, is for the moment ignoring the Balearics with Turkey being the big winner.
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