By Humphrey Carter
THE UK's largest tourism trade fair exclusively dedicated to Spain, STEPS, opened in London yesterday with Spanish tourism bosses forecasting a slight increase in British tourists this year.

The director of Turespaña, the Spanish tourist board, Amparo Fernández said in London yesterday that during the first two months of this year, 1.6 million Britons visited Spain and that “slight growth” is expected in the British market this summer.

However, at the moment, Spanish holiday sales in Britain are 10 percent down on this time last year according to sources consulted yesterday at Travel Weekly, one of the sponsors of the fair.

Nevertheless, last year, Britain was Spain's number one market and Spanish travel bosses are keen to use the two-day trade fair to consolidate that market and, where possible, build on it this year.

The holiday industry, especially to destinations like Spain, is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge because of the boom in the independent and residential travel markets.

Tour operator package holiday figures no longer give a clear indication. Many UK travel firms are having to re-think their package holiday programmes as they are proving less and less popular with British holidaymakers heading to destinations where they consider they can take care of things themselves.

Fernandez revealed yesterday that, for the first time ever, less than half, 48.4%, of the Britons who came to Spain came on a package holiday.
The three top destinations during the first two months of the year were The Canaries, Andalucia and Valencia.
The Balearics suffered a bit over Easter because the holiday fell so early this year causing concerns about the weather.
But, last year 16 million Britons came to Spain and around 3.7 million came on holiday to the Balearics. Fernández is confident that the figures will rise again this year.

The Balearics is still the most popular destination but, like The Canaries, has lost a bit of its popularity over the past few years while Andalucia, for example, is enjoying sustained growth.

The Balearic tourist board is participating in STEPS while the only area to have “gone it alone” is Soller.
Turespaña has launched a 5.8 million euro publicity campaign in Britain this year and STEPS, which is held every year at the Royal Horticultural Halls, is just one of many promotional events scheduled over the course of this year.

The new “Smile you're in Spain” is the general slogan for this year's global campaign. Under that umbrella comes a number of key destinations such as the Balearics “Smile you're in the Balearics.” And in order to keep everyone smiling, from the resort staff to the holidaymakers, the emphasis is back on the sun and the beach, the cornerstone of the Balearics' holiday industry. Golfing, activity and sailing holidays are also being given a major push this year.

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