By Chris Brown

BUDGET flights lured hundreds of thousands of Britons to Spain last month, lifting that country's tourist figures despite a slump in arrivals from the United States and Germany, the Economy Ministry said yesterday. Tourist visits rose 4.7 per cent in May to 4.8 million, led by British tourists whose numbers leapt 20.5 per cent from a year earlier to 1.83 million.
Tourist arrivals will likely continue to rise in June, July and August, Spanish Tourism Secretary Juan Costa said, citing government forecasts of growth this summer between 1.5 and 3.0 percent. Spain, the world's second-most popular tourist destination, has also benefited as holiday-goers from Britain and elsewhere stick closer to home due to war in Iraq, the SARS outbreak in Asia and other global worries. Costa said Spain's airports now account for about seven per cent of all summer slots reserved for international flights, up from three per cent last year. Britons, already the largest single group of visitors to Spain, have fuelled much of the growth.
In the first five months of this year, the number of British tourists rose 18 per cent, while the total figure was up 3.6 per cent at 17.79 million.
The increase was fuelled by more aggressive air ticket pricing and the growth of low-cost airlines in recent months, Costa said.
But the Spanish tourism industry - which accounts for some 12 per cent of the Spanish economy - continued to report weaker figures from Germany, its number-two source of tourists. German arrivals fell 1.7 per cent in May, hitting the Balearics and the Canary Islands, which depend heavily on German business.
Britons have been taking up some of the slack for the Balearics, however, which posted a moderate one per cent rise in total tourist arrivals in May to become Spain's number-one tourist destination. This year, the Spanish tourist industry is also being helped by a surge in the number of Spanish nationals spending their holidays in Spain.
The results of a study carried out by Europ Assistance and released yesterday have put Spain in second place behind Austria at the top of the European “holidaying at home” league. It appears that 81 per cent of Spain will be holidaying in Spain, but 70 per cent will be leaving home.
Eighty-five per cent of Austrians will be holidaying in their own country while 65 per cent of the French will be staying in France.
This year, just ten percent of Spaniards will holiday overseas, five per cent outside of Europe, compared to 22 per cent last year.
The biggest European travellers are the Belgians, although only 18 per cent travel outside the European Union and Italy is the nation of beach holiday lovers with 76 per cent of those taking a holiday this year, heading for the beach. editorialUmajorcadailybulletin.es