INDEPENDENT traders at Palma's Son Sant Joan airport are faced with a sharp decline in business, despite the fact that more than 20 million passengers may pass through the doors by the end of this year.

This record-breaking figure follows on from the 19.2 million passengers which the airport processed in 2003, but according to one of the business leaders in the sector, the shops at the airport selling a wide variety of articles are complaining that sales “are not going so well”.

A spokesman for Son Sant Joan said yesterday that aircraft operations and passenger handling estimates for July, August and September “are good”, but this forecast is not reflected in the daily trade of the shopping areas at the airport.

Palma's main airport has registered an increase of 6 percent in the number of passengers between January and April this year. If the trend continues, the final total could reach the absolute record of 20 million by the end of 2004.

In 2000, Son Sant Joan processed 19.4 million passengers, compared to 19.2 in 2003. However, a senior figure from the Palma Airport Traders' Association (ACAP) signalled, that the situation “is worrying” as they are now selling less tobacco, clothes, “ensaimadas” and souvenirs than in other years.

Palma airport has three sections allocated to shops. June 2002 witnessed widespread closure of trade; “poor profitability” was the reason given at the time.

The decline of business was also felt by the Spanish multinational, Aldeasa, which relies on airport custom to support its stores. In 2002, it declared a profit of 22.11 million euros, 12.4 percent less than in 2001.

The sharp decline was attributed to the abolition of duty-free shopping within member States of the European Union declared in 1999. According to the Airport Traders' Association, this was the “start of all our problems”.

The disappearance of duty-free shops hallowed falling income at airports and sea ports, resulting in prices of available goods being raised to compensate.