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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?