THE Balearics does have grounds to be optimistic about the forthcoming tourist season but, hoteliers spooked by Thomas Cook's decision not to pay the last five percent of the rooms contracted for August and September, were either reluctant to talk to the tour operators at the World Travel Market or, if they did, apparently began talking about increasing their rates, Hugh Morgan, the Monarch Travel Group MD for Tour Operations, told the Bulletin yesterday as he headed home to Majorca for a quick two day break.
The Thomas Cook battle between the Spanish hoteliers and the UK tour operator appears to be nearing an amicable solution but aside of the spat, Morgan said that the Balearics and the Spanish really went the extra mile this year at the World Travel Market. The general opinion from the Spanish Minister for Tourism, Joan Mesquida and his Balearic counterpart, Joana Barcelo was generally very optimistic and there appeared to be a sense of enthusiasm at the Balearic stand. As far as we, Monarch, are concerned, we bucked the trend this summer with a good pick up in sales to Spain and the Balearics and on the whole, the smaller operators have posted market growth of between 30 and 50 percent. It's the big tour operators which appear to be struggling, Morgan said. It was the large operators who claimed that this year was their toughest ever and that they don't see things getting any better. However, we and the Spanish and Balearic tourism authorities do and the fact that the Spanish Ambassador to Britain and Turespaña brought out all the big guns gave the UK market the sensation that the Balearics and Spain really mean business. Unlike Turkey and Greece, which do not have any money to fund joint promotions, Spain really paid the UK market a lot of attention and that's showing in the bookings. At the moment, the market overall to Spain is up by eight percent, year-on year, much better than the 18 percent down turn this time last year, and the Balearics is still selling at around 12 percent better than a year ago, he added. Turkey, now the number one German destination, in the UK is only up by around three percent. The Turks don't pay as much attention to the British market as the German, Morgan explained. But, the Thomas Cook incident has shaken the hotel sector and some either didn't want to talk to us, fearing we are going to follow their precedent, or those that did, wanted to start negotiating price increases and that, as we told them, is crazy. Prices for 2011 are going to be the same as this year, which is quite normal, but what the hoteliers, clearly feeling optimistic about next summer, can not do is start negotiating price hikes on the back of a positive outlook. There's still a long way to go for the travel industry to return to normal and the last thing the Balearics can afford to do is put prices up. It's still a price sensitive market and people still want value for money, he underlined. We're very pleased that the Balearics is now going to be able to juggle its airport fees like the Canaries have been doing with great success over the past few years by offering incentives for us to fly on the quieter days etc. And Joana Barcelo, with whom we have a good relation because of Monarch's winter progranmme of six flights per week all winter from Gatwick and Manchester, also told me that from May next year, the local authorities are going to be subsidising free airport to resort coach transfers. It's going to hit the taxis but it's a great idea and incentive for travellers building their own holiday packages, Morgan said. However, we also made it clear that there's no use the Ministry for Tourism releasing its promotional funding to us at the end of the season, like they did this year. We need the money by January, the traditional busy trading period, in order to promote and push the Balearics, he stressed. And the increase in the APD- Air Passenger Dutycould work in the Balearics' favour as it will make travelling to Spain and the Balearics much cheaper than flying to destinations like Egypt and the Caribbean. But, from our point of view, we've laid on the flights and the capacity, the ball is now in the hands of the Balearic authorities to make it all work, he added.