The beach towel battleground shifts. The number of Germans going to the Balearic Islands has slumped, signalling an end to decades of pre-dawn races for the best sunbeds by a pool. A leisurely post-breakfast stroll is now all that is needed for the Brits to secure prime seats.

The beach towel battleground shifts. The number of Germans going to the Balearic Islands has slumped, signalling an end to decades of pre-dawn races for the best sunbeds by a pool. A leisurely post-breakfast stroll is now all that is needed for the Brits to secure prime seats.

Figures released at the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) conference yesterday indicate that German and Scandinavian tourists are forsaking Majorca, Ibiza and Menorca in favour of more far-flung destinations. There are now more British tourists - 1.2 million - to Majorca than those of any other nationality.

Some British holidaymakers have felt uncomfortable about sharing resorts with German tourists. One frequent British visitor to the island said: "It's annoying that all the menus are in German." Some brochures even emphasise individual hotels that are exclusive to tour operators in the UK.

The most senior delegate at the Abta convention condemned the continuing enmity as absurd. "This is something that started after the War," said Rene Chandler, the financial director of The Travel Club of Upminster, who began her career in travel in 1936.

But it's not all good news for xenophobic British holiday-makers. More of their cash could be going to Germany. Rumours are rife at the convention on the Greek island of Kos that a big British tour operator is a likely target for a German buyer.

Stefan Pichler, the chief executive of C&N Touristic, is known to be considering a bid for one of several companies. He told delegates: "The Germans are more efficient in the way of production, but the UK market is better at retailing."

German holidaymakers pay higher prices, on average, than their UK counterparts, and get better quality; German charter aircraft offer more legroom than British airlines, and there are fewer night flights.

Thomson Holidays was recently bought by the German company Preussag. "Guten Morgen", said Charles Gurassa, the chief executive of Britain's biggest holiday company, when he addressed Abta."Whenever people ask me if Thomson Holidays will change now we're in German ownership, I always say nein."

The consolidation is aimed at increasing productivity, by combining resources from charter aircraft to hotel rooms. But Mr Gurassa sought to calm fears from some delegates that British holidaymakers could be merged with German tour groups. "You won't find you get on a transfer bus with a German rep who says 'Right, we're off for some bratwurst und kraut'," he said.

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