By Humphrey Carter

CAMPAIGNING for the May 25 elections appears to be up and running with the two main contenders, defending President Francesc Antich and challenging opposition candidate Jaume Matas going head-to-head in Berlin yesterday. Antich and Matas were in Germany to help celebrate Balearic Day at the ITB international travel fair where both held meetings with leading tour operators in an attempt to try and find some solutions to the problems behind the exodus of German tourists away from the Balearics to other destinations. Balearic Day did not get off to a great start. Tourism Minister Celesti Alomar confirmed that bookings currently to Majorca are 20 per cent down on last year, which was 15 per cent down on 2001. Minorca, not a key destination for the Germans, and Ibiza are apparently showing some signs of recovery, but far from enough to cushion the Majorca blow. Antich used this year's ITB to try and re-install some confidence in the Balearics while Jaume Matas, in Germany “to send out a message of hope to the tour operators,” blamed the tourist tax for causing most damage to the region's image in Germany and few of the tour operators disagreed with him. Emerging from talks with travel industry chiefs, Matas said “in the Balearics, it appears we've taken down the welcome sign which used to greet tourists.” Antich has admitted that the region has a problem with its image in Germany, but also holds the country's recession, the attacks of September 11 and the Iraqi crisis responsible. However, despite the drop in tourism figures, Antich said that he and his government are determined to continue pushing ahead with its tourism policies so that the region “offers the best possible quality.” Alomar says that the Balearics is working on improving its image, explaining that, in association with the Spanish tourist board Turespaña, nearly three million euros are being spent on promotion and advertising in Germany. He however disagrees that the tourist tax is to blame, maintaining that if it was the tax, Minorca and Ibiza would be suffering as well. In fact, Alomar suggested that the Majorca market is levelling out after years of accommodating tourists who would normally have holidayed in Turkey or other Mediterranean destinations. On Sunday, the secretary general for tourism, Juan José Güemes, admitted that the German travel industry is still in a “complicated” situation, “but all destinations had problems last year.” Spain, on the whole, did not suffer too badly, and would have ended 2002 with a two million increase in the number of visitors had it not been for the Balearic slump caused mainly by the decline in German holidaymakers.


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