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Tourism shaken in Spain

PALMA DE MAJORCA, Aug 2 – Spain\’s tourism sector, already battered by the economic crisis, now fears last week\’s deadly bomb attack on the island of Majorca could scare off more holidaymakers at the height of the season.

Majorca, which attracts millions of foreign tourists every year to its beaches and discos, was in shock over the killing by suspected Basque separatists of two policemen on Thursday in the beach resort of Palmanova.

"We don\’t deny that this attack has shaken the sector," said Pedro Iriondo, head of the Association of Travel Agents in the Balearics.

Many of the mostly British tourists at Palmanova\’s hotels, which have 30,000 rooms, were stunned by the massive security that followed the attack. Many remained in their hotel rooms for several hours afterwards.

At the time of bombing, there were some 400,000 tourists on the island, which was temporarily sealed off.

Spanish media have spoken of a "blow against the epicentre of tourism in the Balearics," where the sector is already suffering from the economic crisis and competition from cheaper Mediterranean sunshine destinations, such as in Turkey and Tunisia.

It has also lashed out at the treatment of the attack by some foreign newspapers, notably in Britain, which it said focused on the effect on holidaymakers rather than the deaths of the two policemen.

"We really didn\’t expect this attack, given that Majorca is an island," said Iriondo. But he noted that no travel agents have so far cancelled tours since the bombing.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega on Friday rejected suggestions that extensive coverage of the bombing in Britain and Germany would scare off tourists.

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"The people who visit here know that our tourist infrastructure is secure," she said.

But Spanish embassies contacted the governments of its main tourist markets, such as Britain and Germany, following the attack to reassure them that the country is safe.

As every year, the government has ordered the deployment of thousands of extra police to tourist destinations for the summer.

The Balearic Islands, which groups Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, gets 80 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism, directly or indirectly.

In 2008, it received 10 million tourists, including four million Germans and 3.4 million Britons.

Since the beginning of the year, the islands saw 12.5 percent less tourists than in the previous year, according to statistics from the tourism ministry.

Spain as a whole received 57.4 million visitors last year, a 2.6 percent drop from 2007 and the first fall since the current record-keeping system was introduced in 1995.

Last year it also lost its spot as the second-most visited country in the world to the United States, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation. France remained the world\’s most popular holiday destination.

The tourism sector accounts for about 11 percent of Spain\’s jobs and gross domestic product, with the bulk of the industry\’s income generated in Spain\’s ageing "sun and beach" destinations that dot its southern coast.

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