Spanish resort defends hosting boozy British fest

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The Independent Online

A Spanish resort on Thursday defended hosting a British student festival that has led to drunken behaviour as the government expressed concern over possible damage to Spain's tourism image.

The week-long Saloufest bills itself as a sporting event that draws around 5,000 students from over 100 British universities.

But media coverage has focused on scenes of participants in their underwear or fancy dress, exposing themselves and vomiting in the streets of the resort of Salou.

"We came here to play sports, but only with a hangover," Eric, a business studies student from the University of Portsmouth who won an underwater sangria drinking competition, told daily newspaper El Pais earlier this week.

The paper said Thursday that the "debauched atmosphere" at the festival which wraps up on Friday had drawn "tourists who are rough, drunken and troubled" instead of the "quality tourism" the government seeks to promote.

Secretary of State for Tourism Joan Mesquida said he was concerned that images of "disorder and excess" could be used "to project a reality that does not correspond with the experience of the 52 million tourists who visit Spain each year."

But Salou's town hall hit back at the criticism, arguing the festival boosted business and created jobs during the low season at the resort located some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Barcelona.

Saloufest has been held "without incident" since it was launched in 2002 and the youths who take part in it spend most of the day at various sports events, it added in a statement.

"The enjoyment of evening leisure activities of the English youths has not caused disorders or public scandals or cases of vandalism or unrest. These youths have caused some inconvenience due to an increase in noise in some streets which we profoundly lament," it said.

Saloufest, run by Ilovetour based in Crawley, West Sussex, offers students a choice of 13 sports including football, rugby and tennis.

But Ilovetour's web page highlights Salou nightlife and it promised to leave students with "the excitement and expectation of the best night of your life bobbing around in your head".

Another 4,000 British students are expected to arrive in Salou on Monday for a second Saloufest which will run until April 11.

The secretary general of hotel confederation, Ramon Estalella, also defended Saloufest, saying it is not possible to fill Spain's hotels solely with cultural tourists.

"They tell us that what matters is drawing visitors who practice birdwatching or lovers of Roman architecture. But how many people can we attract with that?" he told El Pais.

Spain is struggling with growing competition from cheaper sunshine destinations in the eastern Mediterranean like Turkey and Egypt. The drop in the pound has also discouraged visitors from Britain, its main source of foreign tourists.

The country received 52.5 million visitors in 2009, an 8.7 percent decline over the previous year, when Spain lost its ranking as the world's second most visited country to the United States.