By Humphrey Carter

OVER 2'000 leading British travel agents will be descending on Palma at the end of October for the ABTA convention and yesterday, the head of corporate affairs for the Association of British Travel Agents, Keith Betton, was in Majorca to inspect the venues for the four-day event in the company of a group of travel trade journalists The convention, which kicks-off with a huge welcome party on the evening of October 30, will be taking place at the Auditorium and run all the way through until Sunday's farewell party, with the majority of travel agents flying home on the Monday. During the convention, two or three cruise ships will also be putting into Palma, specifically for the benefit of the convention guests so they can tour the ships. Betton said yesterday that everything appears on track in Palma, with hotel accommodation arranged in the capital and in neighbouring resorts. He also said that the industry back in the UK is thoroughly looking forward to coming to Majorca for the annual convention. This year's industry gathering is, however, being used to boost the spirits of the UK travel industry which, along with the travel sector across the world, has suffered a bad run over the past few years. Firstly with September 11 and the international terrorism alert, then the Iraq War and more recently the outbreak of the SARS virus. But, Betton said that the industry feels that the worst is now behind it, hence the theme for this year's conference: “Back to Basics.” “We will be assessing what has happened over the past few years, how the market has reacted and how we, as an industry, must respond to changes in the market and maximise on our experiences,” he said. “We will also be looking at Spain and the Balearics as destinations and how we can also push them a little further. Spain is still Britain's number one holiday destination and the Balearics the top location in Spain,” he added. The conference will be hosted by GMTV presenter John Stapleton, and the three guest speakers will be former newspaper editor, journalist and war correspondent Max Hastings, solo round-the-world yachtswoman Tracy Edwards and director general of the CBI Digby Jones. This is Betton's first visit to the Balearics since the local elections and the announcement that the tourist tax will scrapped. “We fully welcome and approve of the decision, it's not that we're against environmental projects, but the tax was introduced at a very inopportune moment and too quickly. “I have felt very bitter about the tax and the industry as a whole praises the new government's intentions to do away with it.” But tourist tax aside, with regards to the market, the Balearics and Spain are selling very well.
Betton said that the latest market report published by ACNeilson shows that Spanish holiday sales figures for May this year were four per cent up on May last year and 14 per cent in general. He added that for the first two weeks of June, the indications are also very good. “The British summer holiday market is doing well and people are now booking at a level on par with or slightly higher than last year. “Spain is considered a safe destination, the Basque terrorist group ETA have not made the headlines in the UK this year, so I can only presume they have been inactive, although the British are pretty resilient to terrorism anyway and of course, it's Britain's favourite holiday destination,” Betton said. He added that over the past few months, “there has been a lot of talking down about the travel industry, but it's reviving very quickly. “Britain is a nation of holidaymakers, more and more people are retiring early, with more money and more leisure time on their hands and they are going to travel, we've just got to make sure we and the destinations cater for their needs as best as possible.”

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