By Anna Nicholas

ALL thoughts of travel gloom and doom were robustly cast aside by the Spanish travel industry yesterday at the triumphant start to STEPS 2003, the third Annual Tourism Trade Fair dedicated exclusively to Spain, organised by The Spanish Tourist Office. This year, at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London, more than 100 exhibitors were featured promoting Green Spain, Golf, meetings and conference facilities and cultural tourism. The Baleares were represented by Tiffany Blackman, Director for Tourism at IBATUR, accompanied by Lynn Tipper Jones and Pilar Carbonell from the tourism department of Calvia Council. Also from the Baleares were independent hoteliers of the Cala Ratjada area who are now keen to bolster the British market to the eastern part of the island. There was a definite up-beat feeling as tour operators, agents, journalists and exhibitors looked to the future rather than dwelling negatively on the current Iraq crisis. All acknowledged that these were challenging and uncertain times for the industry as a whole but were optimistic of gradual improvement in the consumer market providing operators and agents showed greater flexibility and learned to adapt to the growing complexities of supply and demand. Hundreds of travel professionals arrived from the early hours to participate in lectures with economic and travel experts such as Peter Long, Chief Executive Officer for First Choice and Brian Groom, Continental Europe Editor for the Financial Times. In a Face–to–Face interview, Peter Long stressed how important it was for tour operators to offer greater flexibility in what they offered to the customer in order to compete effectively with no frills airlines. He did, however, make it clear that tour operators offered an entire holiday package not just return flights which made them very different in what they offered to the customer. Mr German Porras, the newly appointed General Secretary for Tourism, who addressed a hall packed with visitors, spoke of the continuing warm relations which exists between Britain's travel industry and Spain, two inseparable partners in tourism for 50 years. Mr Porras was keen to stress that 40 percent of all package holidays sold in the UK have Spain as their destination and that there have been two new important developments for Spanish tourism this year. These included the extra 20 percent capacity afforded by many more low cost scheduled airlines flying direct from the UK to new and existing Spanish destinations, and also the growing interest by the British in cultural tourism. In recognition of his contribution to the development of British tourism in Spain and his exceptional services to the industry, Peter Long was presented by German Porras with the STEPS Lifetime Achievement Award. Peter Long expressed delight at receiving this honour and said that his commitment to Spain extended to his personal life too, since he has a house in Majorca where he spends the best part of his summer with his family. STEPS 2003 continues tomorrow when it will feature further seminars and lectures with travel experts.
Ian Reynolds, Chief Executive Officer for ABTA will be outlining plans for this year's ABTA Conference held in Palma de Mallorca this October.


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