STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
CENTRAL Government's Minister for Tourism, Miguel Sebastian, said yesterday in Palma that he hoped that this year's tourist season would “end much better than it had begun” but that in any event, the downturn in visitor numbers would “not exceed 10 percent”.

Speaking a day after Friday's cabinet meeting chaired in Palma by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Sebastian said that the industry had been keeping its head above water “despite of the fact that Spain's key client country, the United Kingdom, had been adversely affected by a poor Sterling/Euro exchange rate and the worst economic data in 60 years.” The Minister was basing his optimism on the fact national tourism within Spain “is on the increase” with an upturn of 4 percent. Although this, he said “doesn't compensate” for the loss of British custom, it eases the impact of declining sales. Sebastian's comments came a few days before the start of August, traditionally the busiest tourist month of the year.

Sebastian, was addressing a conference attended by key figures in the hotel and tourist business industry who were anxious to know current government policy on overhauling the sector to make it more competitive with other holiday destinations. The Minister said that with the recession having seriously affected the construction industry, the government was keen to revitalise what was now the country's most powerful economic motor - tourism. He wanted to encourage a new dynamic between the captains of the tourist industry and Central Government, a “closer” relationship which he imagined would be valued by all parties concerned, even though no follow-up meetings had yet been organised.

The Minister was accompanied at the conference held at central government delegation offices in Palma by Joan Mesquida the Secretary of State for Tourism and Antonio Bernabe, director of Spain's promotional vehicle, Turespaña. Representatives attending the conference came from the powerful hotel chain groups, tourist businesses and staff unions.

Sebastian said he considered the conference had been “very positive” and that it was evident that the tourist sector wanted to back government plans to overhaul the industry. He said that the government was making plain the seriousness that it attached to its tourism policy by the fact that it was setting aside vast sums of money to invest in what it hopes to see as an all-year-round industry providing employment to millions.

Diversification into new areas of quality tourism which prove to be sustainable, said Sebastian, will be the backbone of the country's endeavours to remain as a world leader.

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