Tourists quit Costa del Sol for costa del drizzle

ELIZABETH NASH

Madrid

"Everything under the sun," promises the Spanish tourist poster. But that is the trouble. Spain's mighty tourist industry, backbone of the economy, is suffering an unexpected dip in its busiest season, prompting travel agents to offer discounts of up to 50 per cent. There is just too much sunshine around.

With northern Europe basking in a record-breaking heatwave, Britons in particular have spurned the surge to the south this summer in favour of equally sunny beaches at home. Travel agents in the Costa del Sol had 5 per cent of their reservations cancelled last month, mainly from Britain. And in the quintessential resort of Benidorm, special offers are being launched to fill rooms.

Many Spaniards for whom no summer used to be complete without weeks lying on a sun-drenched beach, are this year turning away from the sun to luxuriate in the exotic delights of northern drizzle. The parched Mediterranean coast is still the most popular holiday destination, despite restrictions on water because of the persistent drought. But the dour northern coasts of Cantabria and Galicia - traditionally poor relations in a sun-dominated industry - are among the few areas enjoying a bumper season.

North-west Galicia, notorious for its unpredictable weather, has always had to offer alternative attractions and this year appears to have hit the jackpot, with tourism up 16 per cent. Its emphasis on "rural tourism" - walking holidays, boating and camping, complete with verdant pastures and heavy downpours - provides forgotten pleasures.

One Galician resident tells with amusement of a party of Andalucians camping in the Galician beauty spot of Monte al Olla. "When it started to rain, flooding their tent, they were ecstatic and started dancing and singing with joy."

But throughout Spain, tourists are spending less. Bed-and-breakfast in family houses is gaining favour against full-board in hotels, and self- caterers in flats are buying sandwiches and bottles of water rather than taking long boozy lunches at beachside restaurants. In the Mediterranean area of Castellon, operators say spending is at its lowest for five years. "The only people making money are the supermarkets," they grumble.

"Unfortunately," said one restaurateur, "this year there have been no queues and no one has had to be turned away for lack of an empty table."

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