THE Balearics were the top tourist destination in Spain last month, welcoming 1.5 million visitors, or 26.6 per cent of the total visiting Spain, the tourism ministry said yesterday. Figures show that the islands retain their attraction for the British, with figures up by 2.7 per cent in the first six months of the year.
Foreign tourists visiting Spain, the world's No. 2 holiday destination, totalled 5.6 million in June, up 5.5 percent from the same month a year ago on a rise in German and French holidaymakers, the ministry added. During the first half of 2006 the number of foreigners visiting Spain, the second-biggest destination after France, rose 6 percent from the year-earlier period to 25.5 million. Figures showed a growing trend towards stays in holiday homes and other non-hotel accommodation and a fall in package deals as foreigners opted for flights on budget airlines. The second most popular destination after the Balearics was the north-east Catalonia region, home to Spain's second city Barcelona and Mediterranean resort towns, which attracted 1.4 million visitors or 24.6 percent of the total. Britons were the largest group of visitors, making up 31.1 percent of the total in June. Their numbers were up 1.8 percent year-on-year, and their favourite destination was the Balearics. In second place were one million German tourists, or 18.6 percent of the June total. Their number was up a hefty 9.6 percent compared with June 2005.
The French were the third largest group of visitors, with a total of 691'000 up 12.4 percent of the total.
The number of foreigners staying in holiday homes and other non-hotel accommodation leapt 9.8 percent during the first six months of 2006 to 9 million, year-on-year. That compared with a 3.5 percent rise to 16.4 million choosing hotels. The number of visitors who did not travel with a package deal in the first half represented 62.3 percent of the total, up 12.4 percent from the year-earlier period. The number of tourists travelling on package deals fell by 4.2 percent.
But while the figures were welcomed by the industry, the chief tour operators who work with Eastern European countries, called on local hoteliers to respect their contracts. One tour operator said it was a small but promising market, and complained that while they were welcomed in the years when there was a drop in the British and German markets, the doors are being closed now that these markets are recovering.

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