By Humphrey Carter
PRINCE Felipe of Spain yesterday opened the STEPS 2004 Spanish travel fair in London and praised the industry for the professional way in which it has dealt with the international threat of terrorism. The heir to the Spanish throne used the London event to thank the British, on behalf of himself and the Spanish people, for the sympathy and solidarity shown in the wake of the Madrid bombings three week ago. The prince went on to praise the Spanish tourist industry for its hard work and for having posted record growth figures last year, despite 2003 being a year “full of uncertainty, tension and international conflict.” The Prince said that the 16 million Britons who came on holiday to Spain last year, can not be wrong, adding “the image of Spain we want to continue projecting is one of a warm and welcoming country, with a good infrastructure and a rich and diverse tourist industry.” After opening the trade fair, the prince toured the stands, stopping at the Balearic stand to talk with Tourism Minister Joan Flaquer and the director general for promotion Eduardo Gamero. The Balearic stand yesterday held a special “Fiesta de Baleares” which was organised in co-operation with tour operator Thomas Cook and was attended by 450 travel agents. Before leaving the fair, the prince attended a business brunch with leading members of the British and Spanish tourism sectors.

“THE UK IS OUR BEST MArket"

THE Secretary of State for Tourism, Francisco Utrera, said in London yesterday that “so far” the Spanish tourist industry has not experienced any negative effects as a result of the Madrid bombings. Utrera, accompanying Prince Felipe to the STEPS travel trade fair, explained that within days of the terrorist attacks in the Spanish capital, the tourist sector started to closely monitor the overseas markets and how they reacted to the bombings. “For the moment, all our main feeder markets are performing the same as before the March 11 attacks,” he said.
The Secretary of State stressed the importance of tourism to Spain, pointing out that it accounts for 12 percent of the country's Gross National Product and accounts for ten percent of Spain's employment sector. He said that last year was a very positive period for tourism and that the British market consolidated its position as Spain's number one client. “The UK is out best market and, judging by the results collated so far this year, it will remain the market leader,” he said. A total of 17 Spanish regions and their respective tourist boards are taking part in the two-day trade fair which is now in its fourth year.

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