After 50 years, the sun sets on Costa Brava as tour operators pull out

Fifty years after British tourists first roasted themselves under the clear blue skies of the Costa Brava, the love affair with this stretch of the Spanish coastline may be over.

First Choice, one of Britain's leading package tour operators, confirmed yesterday that it is pulling out of the region, claiming it is too old-fashioned.

"Unlike other package holiday destinations in Spain that have reinvented themselves and provided extra activities for our customers, the Costa Brava has not updated itself," Tim Williamson, the product director at First Choice, said.

The company will no longer be offering destinations such as Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar and Blanes, which were once a mainstay of package deals, in its brochure for next year.

Other operators are likely to follow. Cosmos said it was "reviewing" whether to include the Costa Brava in its 2005 brochure and My Travel and Thomas Cook also indicated they would be reassessing the region.

"The demand for bucket-and-spade holidays will always be there, but things have moved too fast for the Costa Brava," said Roger Bray, co-author of Flight to the Sun, a history of package holidays.

The Costa Brava has been a mainstay of family-holidays in the sun for millions of Britons since 1954 when Vladimir Raitz, co-founder of the Horizon holiday group, established the first package tours.

As well as introducing ordinary Britons to the joys of foreign travel and sunshine, he also helped open up a European country that had been closed to outsiders since Franco took power 15 years earlier.

But while a trip to Spain was once exotic, the numerous high-rise hotels, English breakfasts and kiss-me-quick culture have tarnished the reputation of the Spanish seaside break.

Ironically for a region that helped kick-start a revolution in mass international tourism and jet travel, the Costa Brava is also falling victim to the surfeit of cheap flights to nearby Spanish towns such as Gerona. Together with a strong euro, this has led tour operators to question the value for money a Costa Brava holiday provides.

There is also a belief that a new generation of Britons who take cheap international travel for granted are looking for more adventurous holidays.

The Costa Brava region, north of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast, is still popular with British tourists, but more so with those who book their own flights and accommodation.

Manuel Butler, of the Spanish Tourist Office in London, said: "I was there at a seminar last month and everyone was worried about this. But I think they are now taking the first steps to put everything right and I am confident they will do so."

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