Gabriel Escarrer of Meliá speaking with Palma mayor, Antoni Noguera, and tourism councillor, Joana Maria Adrover.

9

The chief executive of Meliá Hotels International, Gabriel Escarrer, sounded a note of caution at the World Travel Market fair in London yesterday, warning that cheaper destinations in north Africa and Turkey could be a big threat to the Balearics.

He was speaking just hours after President Francina Armengol had said that the islands had nothing to fear from Turkey. Escarrer said that it was still too early to say whether competing resorts would take tourists away from the islands, but he added that the euphoria seen over the last two years at the World Travel Market regarding the British market and the Balearics could be coming to an end.

The drop in the value of sterling and the heavy discounting by resorts in Turkey and north Africa was making them an attractive holiday destination, while the doubling of the tourist tax rate in the Balearics for next season was taking some competitive edge away from local hoteliers. He indicated that the key time for bookings was from now until Christmas and by the end of the year the islands would know how the market was performing.

His thoughts and views were confirmed by other hoteliers at the fair with reports indicating that early bookings to the Balearics for next summer had fallen in Britain.

Turning to other matters, Escarrer, whose company has hotels across the globe including two in London, said that so-called bucket-and-spade tourism was not enough and that the islands must continue to work on other segments such as sporting tourism and to continue opening up other avenues to attract tourists. He underlined the importance of the sun and the beach but stressed the fact that tourists were looking for more.

His company has invested heavily on upgrading its hotels in Magalluf and Escarrer said that they were pleased with the results. One of the jewels in the Meliá crown is the Palma Palacio de Congresos which opened earlier this year. Escarrer said that the centre was helping to bring even more life to Palma and pointed to the success of the Volkswagen exhibition which will in total be bringing 14,000 people to Palma. He announced that a similar large-scale convention will be taking place again shortly.