Mytravel bosses appear more concerned about the negative effects of the Balearic tourist tax on tourism than the tour operator's future. The director of Northern Europe operations for Britain's largest tour operator, Christe Sandahl, gave assurances in Madrid yesterday that the tour operator, formerly known as Airtour, will get over its current problem and profits of around £50 million will be posted for this year. He admitted that the company's share value has dropped to all-time lows, following the discovery of a £50 million black hole in the company's accounts and one million unsold summer holidays, but he said that the tour firm's clients and hoteliers have nothing to fear, calling for calm and patience. Addressing the first Spanish Airline Industry Conference yesterday, Sandahl said that the tour operator has suffered a ten per cent drop in Spanish holiday bookings on its German, Dutch and Scandinavian markets this year and spelt out the main factors which have had a negative effect on the Spanish tourist industry this year, the worst being the Balearic tourist tax. In general, he said that Spain needs to take a great deal of care in looking after its image as resorts are facing more and more competition from the other resorts offering the same products, but at lower prices. Despite the tourist tax being introduced in May, Sandahl still recommended that the levy be scrapped and that the existing tourist revenue be used to fund environmental protection, not extra taxes. Apart from the three main factors, September 11, global economic down turn and the birth of the single currency, there has also been a notable increase in prices in Spain, Sandahl said, and that has not helped the tourist market either. “Before the introduction of the euro, poorer tourists from northern Europe felt rich in southern Europe, but now satellite markets consider Spain an expensive destination,” he said. The MyTravel director added that the Balearic tourist tax has had a negative impact on Spain's image as a whole as has public security. “Spain has become one of the destinations with the highest rates of crime” he said. Sandahl admitted that Spain will probably benefit if war is waged against Iraq as a number of competing destinations will more or less be forced to close because of neighbouring conflict and military action. But he advised autonomous governments, such as the Balearics, which are going out of their way in the attempt to woo quality tourism in preference to mass tourism, to be careful “it's a limited market and (such policies) could divert tourists to the Black Sea. “True, quality tourism helps the industry, but it needs to be supported by attractive prices,” he said. Equally attractive for tourists is a warm welcome and helpful staff but, according to Sandahl, the Spanish tourist industry “has forgotten how to smile at the clients.” He explained that much more care and attention, in the marketing sector as well, needs to be taken for overseas markets as it is the foreign travel agents and tour operators which sell Spanish holidays. German Porras, director of the Spanish tourist board, Tursepaña, was forced to agree with Sandahl, that there has been a change in attitude amongst Spanish society “but if it was not for tourism we would not have the infrastructure from which all Spaniards benefit,” he said. Porras believes the time has come for Spanish tour operators to organise their own packages and break away slightly from the German and British market giants.

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