Lure of Spanish sand, sea and sun is holding firm

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The Independent Online

For those who thought the allure of a Spanish holiday had finally foundered in a raging sea of tacky souvenirs, buckets of cut-price sangria and vomiting tourists, news is at hand.

Two sets of travel industry figures have revealed that despite fears to the contrary, the traditional appeal of Spanish sand, sea and most importantly sun, holds firm. As well as strong visitor numbers to the Costas, more Britons are visiting Spanish cities - particularly Barcelona and Madrid.

From humble beginnings in Franco's Spain of the 1960s, when the first charter flights deposited white-kneed tourists to the Costa Brava, the army of British visitors has grown to 12 million a year and is still climbing. Those who have turned their back on the country as a package tourist destination for the relatively uncharted territory of Turkey and Bulgaria are being replaced by the legions that have bought their own villas and apartments there.

Four out of 10 new homes built on the Spanish coasts are bought by Britons.

According to Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents, Spain has been the number one destination for 40 years thanks to great value, copious infrastructure and, at the end of the day, a beautiful country with stunning weather. "We don't ever forsee it losing its position as the number one place to go on holiday," he said.

The latest findings from the Spanish Institute of Tourist Research have revealed a 2.7 per cent growth in British visitor numbers. Some 4.7 million travelled there during the spring - accounting for 29.6 per cent of all tourists.

And according to the airline easyJet, Spanish resorts are dominating its top five tourist destinations this summer. Malaga on the Costa del Sol, close to image-challenged Torremolinos, occupies the number one spot, with 1.5 million Britons having booked a flight there since March. Second most popular is Alicante on the Costa Blanca, where 1.1 million UK holidaymakers are due before the end of October, many of them en-route to the high-rise hotels of Benidorm.

Palma in Majorca comes fourth, with 750,000 expected there this summer. The best France can offer is Nice in third place with a million, while Faro, close to the Spanish border in southern Portugal, came fifth with 500,000.

Away from the coast, some 1.1 million will have boarded the low-cost carrier bound for Barcelona by the end of the summer, with 500,000 defying the sweltering heat inland by heading for Madrid. Distinctly cooler Amsterdam remains easyJet's number one city break destination with two million passengers due there this summer.

Jamie Wortley, easyJet's consumer manager, said: "The weather is clearly having an effect, with most Spanish resorts experiencing glorious sunshine. But people are also being more adventurous. Ten years ago they would stay at the same hotel for a fortnight. Now they are doing what was once the preserve of students and arriving at a destination, booking a hire car and travelling around to two or three resorts of their choice," he said.

In 2002, visitor numbers to Spain fell by a reported 20 per cent.

Top 5 easyJet beach breaks

RESORT NUMBERS:

Malaga 1.5 million

Alicante 1.1 million

Nice 1.0 million

Palma 750,000

Faro 500,000

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