By Sarah Morris

SPAIN needs to cut its airport taxes to help its embattled tourist industry to survive the downturn, the country's largest hotel chain Sol Melia said in an interview published yesterday. “We don't understand why they (the government) don't step in more incisively to support an industry which is so important,” Gabriel Escarrer, one of the Majorcan Sol Melia chain's two deputy chairmen was quoted as saying by financial newspaper El Economista. “For example, they could reduce airport taxes, which are the highest in Europe and among the highest in the world.” Spain, the world's second biggest tourist destination after France, relies on tourism for around 10 percent of its GDP or some 100 billion euros ($128.5 billion) a year.

The sector is being squeezed by the global crisis, which is sapping consumer spending on luxuries like holidays, and by the pound's fall against the euro which is putting Britons off some of their usually favourite Spanish resorts.

Earlier this month, tourist trade body Exceltur said one million fewer Britons, a nation representing 28 percent of all foreign visitors in 2007, had visited Spain in the last year.