By Humphrey Carter

PALMA

THE recent political unrest in Tunisia and Egypt has served to boost demand for holidays in the Balearics to the extent that some hotels have issued a “stop sell” order to UK tour operators for June because they are either fully booked or nearing maximum capacity already, according to leading British travel industry chiefs yesterday.

The swing in demand to Spain and the islands first began over Christmas, with tens of thousands of Britons, fed up with the awful winter and two years of recession, booking their summer holidays much earlier than usual.

And, the great offers available in Spain were proving to be the most attractive with hoteliers having intelligently decided to either freeze or even drop their prices for the coming season in the face of a weaker Euro against the Pound and destinations like Turkey, having hiked their prices by around 25 percent after two years of growth.

So, the surge in interest in Spain and the recent problems in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean have played into Spain's hands and given the tourist industry a much needed extra life line. “STOP SELL” Hugh Morgan, the MD Tour Operations at the Monarch Travel Group, said yesterday that the most recent market figures are very encouraging for Spain and the islands and this is the first time for at least three years that hoteliers are beginning to issue “stop sell” orders. “When you think that hoteliers were struggling to fill hotels last July and August, some are already full for June. “It's going to hit the domestic market and I know Spanish tour operators have been urged to guarantee their hotel capacity bookings now in order to guarantee availability in the Balearics for domestic holiday makers,” he added.

But, while the Balearics, with sales currently 13 percent up on this time last year, is certainly looking ahead to a very good season, Morgan said that the tourist industry needs to take full advantage of the market this year. Make sure it delivers good service, value for money and looks after its clients well in order to ensure that they return. “The industry must recognise that some of these holiday makers were destined to have gone to either Tunisia or Egypt and, once things calm down, as they are in the case of Egypt with most operators slowly starting to return to full service, may still decide to holiday there next year,” he stressed. “Egypt has already begun to hit back with the industry rolling out amazing offers to try and capture what is left of the UK and German market. But, that said, someone who wants to go on a Nile cruise is different to the average client who wants to go to the Balearics,” he said. “So, for the UK market as a whole, the Western Mediterranean is looking positive, but we, as an industry, have some tough challenges ahead in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he added.

Across the market, the UK overseas holiday industry is four percent up on last year with Spain, in general, 13 percent up.

BALEARICS

The Balearics is enjoying a similar revival with the big winner being Ibiza where holiday sales are up by 16 percent on last year followed by Minorca, 13 percent and Majorca, 12 percent.

Demand for mainland Spain is only up by six percent, but that may be because Spanish tour operators are blocking off rooms because of the lack of capacity in the Balearics and Canaries which is being taken primarily by the UK and German markets but also the French, Italian and Russian.

What is more, the Spanish market is currently more focused on Easter than the Summer.
The Canaries are enjoying a 20 percent increase in sales with Lanzarote and Tenerife up by 27 and 26 percent respectively.
So, there is no room for complacency, but the Balearic tourist industry can not rest on its laurels.
Last week, the Director of the Spanish Tourist Board in London, Ignacio Vasallo, reported similar figures for the UK market during a tourism summit in Palma.

The next big litmus test for the European tourism industry with be at the forthcoming ITB travel trade fair in Berlin where the latest booking figures and condition of the market will be revealed.