Spain–– Tourism professionals on Spain’s Canary Islands expressed concern Thursday over the impact of wildfires on the travel sector, which had offered a rare ray of hope amid the country’s deep economic crisis.
Hotels were only 20 per cent occupied in Valle Gran Rey, a tourist resort on La Gomera island where more than 10 per cent of the land has been ravaged by wildfire, said Jorge Marichal, president of the tourism professionals’ association Ashotel.
Marichal called for an urgent meeting of officials and the travel sector to prevent the “collapse” of tourism on La Gomera.
The number of foreign tourists visiting Spain increased by nearly 5 per cent in the first half of this year. It then dropped slightly, but was still expected to largely compensate for a decline in domestic tourism.
Spain is one of the world’s top tourism destinations, with nearly 57 million foreigners visiting the country in 2011.
Firefighters meanwhile continued battling the blaze, which has raged on La Gomera for about two weeks. They were making progress towards getting it under control, officials said.
Only about 190 out of an initially evacuated 5,000 people remained unable to return to their homes.
Canaries government delegate Maria del Carmen Hernandez rejected allegations that the government had not provided the islands with sufficient means to fight wildfires.
Five government aircraft were helping to combat the flames on La Gomera, as well as two aircraft which had been sent by neighbouring Morocco, she said.
Wildfires devastated 132,000 hectares in Spain in the first seven months of the year, three times as much as during the corresponding period in 2011.
Last winter was one of the driest in Spain’s recent history, but critics also say that budget cuts by the central and regional governments have undermined firefighting efforts.
Spain is trying to trim its budget deficit from 8.9 per cent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 2.8 per cent by 2014, as agreed with the European Union.
Firefighting budgets were cut, for instance, in the eastern regions of Catalonia and Valencia, which have seen some of the biggest wildfires this summer.
The central government also slashed the firefighting budgets of national parks by about 20 per cent, according to media reports. Critics link the cuts to recent wildfires in three national parks, one of them on La Gomera.