Spain expects tourism boost from Egypt, Tunisia unrest

Spain's Canary Islands could get 300,000 extra tourists this winter as northern European sunseekers shun Egypt and Tunisia because of the political unrest in the two nations, officials said Monday.

Both nations have emerged in recent years as cheaper alternatives to the Canaries for those seeking a winter break by the beach but the deadly political violence that erupted in both nations last month has forced tourists to flee.

Airlines have reduced the number of flights to Egypt and major tourism agencies like TUI and Thomas have given their customers the option to either cancel their trips to Egypt or to chose a different destination without incurring penalties.

"Tourism operators have said that up to 300,000 extra tourists may come in the coming months for the winter season in the Canaries, which ends in late April, although it is a situation that is changing almost daily," said the deputy tourism minister of the Canaries regional government, Ricardo Armas.

The arrival of these extra tourists will boost the occupancy rate at hotels in the Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa, to between 80 and 85 percent, he told a news conference.

He said the tourists who are exchanging resorts in Tunisia and Egypt for those in the archipelago are mostly British, German and Scandinavian "although were expect the arrival of many Italian, French, Polish and Russian tourists."

Spain is the world's fourth-most visited country behind France, the United States and China, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Egypt for two weeks calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. They blame his administration for widespread poverty, unemployment, police brutality and corruption.

The protests in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, were inspired by the uprising that ousted Tunisia's Ben Ali on January 14.

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