Airlines and tourism industry fear long-term impact on livelihoods

Heathrow's Terminal One was typically busy yesterday. British Airways' flights for Madrid were, as usual for a Friday, heavily booked. But the type of passengers travelling to the Spanish capital was sharply different from the norm. Porters pushed trolleys overloaded with television news equipment through the crowds, while journalists received instructions from their editors via mobile phones. The world's media was converging on Madrid.

Spare seats to Spain's capital were not difficult to find. Many of the usual weekenders had cancelled their short breaks in Madrid rather than trespass on the city's grief. BA, like easyJet - the other big UK airline serving Spain - is allowing passengers booked to Madrid between now and the end of the month to change their plans without charge. What worries the airlines, the UK holiday companies and the Spanish tourist officials, is the effect of Thursday's carnage on prospective visitors.

Since a German tour operator built the first modern hotel in Benidorm in 1957, Spain has become the mainstay of the package holiday industry. Franco realised that providing cheap, cheerful and sunny vacations for northern Europeans was an engine that could drag Spain out of the economic morass in which it had been mired since the Civil War.

After the death of the dictator and the restoration of democracy, tourism accelerated and diversified. In 1992, the Olympics were staged in Barcelona, the World Expo took place in Seville and Madrid reigned as European Capital of Culture. Since then, the number of cheap flights has risen at an astonishing rate: there are more than 20 per day between London and Madrid. The Spanish capital has become a leading short-break destination for the British, as has the Basque capital, Bilbao, because of the Guggenheim. Those visits helped boost UK tourism to Spain to 13 million last year, overtaking the traditional favourite, France.

The immediate effect of Thursday's attack is evident in the empty hotels and restaurants in Madrid. Longer term, the consequences will depend on who is found to be responsible for the atrocity. Tourism is highly susceptible to perceptions of a risk of terrorism - a fact first appreciated by the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru in the 1980s. The Maoist terrorists murdered only a handful of tourists, but publicity about their campaign slowed the inflow of visitors to a trickle. Subsequent attacks on tourists in Egypt, Bali and Kenya wrought severe damage to those economies.

The Basque terrorist group, Eta, has conducted a low-level campaign targeting Mediterranean tourist destinations for some years. The impact on visitor confidence has been negligible, but if Eta are responsible for Thursday's carnage, millions of tourists may stay away.

"I don't think anything else could have been thrown at us," said Peter Long, the chief executive of First Choice, on Tuesday. He is one of the most respected figures in the travel industry, and was commenting on "two years of sustained grief" in the mainstream package holiday business. At least his company's aircraft can be flown to destinations regarded by the travelling public as safer than Spain. If Eta is deemed to be responsible, the real economic losers will be the hotel and restaurant workers on the costas and in the cities.

From the Spanish economic perspective, the lesser of two appalling evils is that al-Qa'ida rather than Eta will be deemed responsible. For holidaymakers and long-term residents in the Balearics, the Costa del Sol and the Canaries, an attack on rush-hour Madrid seems a world away and presents no imminent threat of further action. But for the travel industry globally, placing responsibility for the attack on al-Qa'ida is an even worse scenario.

As with 11 September 2001, the repercussions of the tragedy will reverberate more widely than the city under attack. Americans, who once spent more than anyone else in many countries around the world, will become even more reluctant to leave their shores. A generalised sense of heightened risk will depress the demand for travel. And top of the list of countries regarded as a target for al-Qa'ida, and therefore worth avoiding, will be Britain.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US