MINORCANS MEET THOMSON IN LONDON MINORCAN hotel owners breathed a sigh of relief yesterday at the news that British tour operator, Thomson, has signed an agreement with the island council and ASHOME, the hoteliers' association, and will continue to bring tourists to the island, at least in the medium term. A few months ago, Thomson threatened to reduce the numbers of package tours to the island if Minorcan businesses didn't lower their prices. The tour operator claimed that lower priced destinations, such as new-EU countries, offered more competitive deals. Last week, president of Minorca's island council, Joana Barcelo, head of ASHOME, Joan Juanico and hoteliers, Francisco Mercadal and Carlos Sintes travelled to London to meet the director of contracts at TUI, David Harper, and Gerry Wilson, in charge of the European region. Two representatives from the state tourism agency, Turespaña, also attended the meeting. After a two hour meeting, both sides agreed that in exchange for Thomson's commitment to the island, Minorcan authorities promise to embark on a series of promotional activities to 'relaunch' the island to the British public. This promotion will focus both on the traditional selling points of the island, sun, sand and sea, as well as newer elements, and how Minorca has improved. With this new promotion in place, Thomson has assured it will continue to operate on the island, as long as its planes are filled. Barcelo was extremely positive that Thomson had agreed to not reduce its number of charter flights and package tours serving the island. Barcelo explained the work the island council is carrying out to improve the image of the island, to make it a more attractive location for tourists. Barcelo's commitment to increase specific promotion for the island will have implications over Minorca's relationship with IBATUR, the Balearic Tourism Institute, however, with Minorca now likely to request an increase in funding to pay for the promotion under the island's agreement with Thomson. ASHOME expressed its relief that Thomson was “receptive” to their ideas and comments. Representatives from Thomson will travel to Minorca in June, to finalise details of its commitment to the island. NEARLY four hundred Italian travel agents gathered on the island over the weekend for the 39th National Congress of the Italian Federation of Travel and Tourism Agencies (FIAVET). National figures, including the director of Turespaña, Amparo Fernandez, and Spain's secretary for tourism, Raimon Martinez were accompanied by authorities in tourism from Minorca and the Balearics. The Italian travel agents were treated as VIP guests during their stay on the island. The opening reception at Mahon's theatre last Thursday was followed by a concert by Minorca's Chamber Orchestra. On Friday night, the Italians were invited to a buffet of Balearic dishes in a marquee in Ciutadella's Born square. The agents were also invited to watch an exhibition of Minorcan dressage and see Minorcan horses at their best. On their final night on the island, the Italians attended a leaving party at La Mola which included food, fine wines and fireworks. President of FIAVET, Antonio Tozzi, complimented Minorca, stating that it was an “extraordinary destination, one which has managed to strike a balance between tourism and respect for the environment”. Aspects which Tozzi believes are “highly valued by Italian travellers”. One of the major concerns expressed by Tozzi is the lack of regular air connections, other than charter flights, between Italy and Minorca. Tozzi explained that the association is in contact with airlines to try to establish scheduled flights connecting the two. Joana Barcelo invited the Italian guests to, “enjoy our transparent waters and precious beaches, as well as our cultural aspects”, highlighting sports, congresses and the island's breed of horses. AROUND fifty of Minorca's potters, jewellers and other artisans will soon be able to add a patent stamp to their work. Minorca's island council has sought permission from the Spanish Patent and Brand Office to use the distinctive brand, Artesania de Menorca, on the island's crafts. The move, led by local politician, Antonia Alles, means that Minorcan products will now bear a guarantee stamp, enabling consumers to distinguish artisan products and to easily find locally-produced goods. Local authorities also intend to launch dedicated promotions for goods under the artisan umbrella label. Artisans will have to meet strict criteria to be able to receive the quality stamp. FARMERS from across the island joined together last weekend to celebrate San Isidro, but after a difficult year, they used the occasion to ask for greater help for their work. President of Ciutadella's farmers' cooperative, Antoni Campins, called for greater support from both the Minorcan and Balearic authorities, especially as the sector is facing new challenges, such as a likely drought this year. Campins did acknowledge that improvements have been made, such as grants to help purchase fodder. Farmers also expressed their concerns at changes to the milk quotas, and their fears that the island is gradually losing its share. Earlier in the week, the president of the National Federation of Lactic Producers, Jose Antonio Herrero, commented on the loss of milk quota from the island, describing this as an indicator that Minorcan farmers are struggling. Herrero believes that dairy farmers on the island should join forces and sell their produce through cooperatives in order to achieve better prices and to strengthen their position on the market. Seventy of Minorca's farmers have applied to the island council for compensations of up to 5'000 euros each to help fund improvements to their land. Councillor, Antonia Alles, was the first to justify these grants, “if the Prince and Princess, or if the Italian travel agents have been surprised at the beauty of the Minorcan countryside, it is because the farmers have worked to preserve it”, she stressed. AFTER a long period of restoration, Ciutadella reopened the doors of its cathedral to the public in preparation for the summer. The first visitors were Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, on their official visit to Minorca last week, where they were greeted by the island's Bishop and enjoyed a choir concert. But only the first phase of restoration has been completed. The second phase, which has an estimated cost of one million euros, will see five windows changed, the reformation of the apse, and changes to the presbytery. The cathedral's dean, Sebastia Taltavull, explained that the work will not stop there. A third and final phase is also planned, with work on the neo-classical façade, and archaeological excavations planned. Although work on the second stage of reformation will not start until October, throughout the summer, the cathedral will hold guided tours to highlight improvements made and to explain the work that still needs to be done to interested visitors. After an interruption during the first phase of restoration, mass will be held in the cathedral on a daily basis. From today, an organ recitals will be held every Monday to Saturday at 11.30 in the Cathedral.