Spain sees tourism jump due to Arab revolts

Activity in Spain's tourism sector jumped 2.4 percent in the first quarter of the year as sunseekers shunned rival resorts in Egypt and Tunisia because of anti-government uprisings there, a trade association said Wednesday.

The Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and major cities on the mainland were the main beneficiares, thanks to the recovery of business tourism and to foreigners taking short breaks, the Exceltur umbrella tourism trade association said.

There was "a notable increase of 2.4 percent of tourism GDP in the first quarter, the biggest increase of all the sectors of the economy," it said.

"The strong and unexpected surge in activity is mainly due to the current redirection of overseas demand from Egypt and Tunisia, which has benefited the Canaries almost exclusively."

Predictions of continued instability in the eastern Mediterranean "augurs well for the second quarter in coastal areas of Spain linked to foreign demand," it said.

As a result, Exceltur said it was raising its tourism sector 2011 growth forecast 2.2 percent, almost double its January estimate.

Spain has struggled in recent years to compete with beach destinations in Egypt's Red Sea and Tunisia's Mediterranean coast which are cheaper and of a similar flying distance from its key markets like Germany and Britain.

But since the unrest sweeping the Arab world began in Tunisia in early January, tourists have been changing their travel plans and many have opted for the Canary Islands which tend to offer all inclusive packages like those in the seaside resorts of Tunisia and Egypt.

Spain slipped from third to fourth place among the world's most visited countries in 2010, behind France, the United States and China, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation.

The Spanish economy contracted 0.1 percent in 2010 after shrinking 3.7 percent in the previous year following the collapse of a property boom that had fueled growth for more than a decade.

The government has predicted the economy will grow 1.3 percent this year.

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