Despite terror threats, biz to Spain not hurting

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NEW YORK -- Leading U.S. tour operators and retailers selling Spain are downplaying a report that a Basque terrorist group is stepping up its campaign against Spanish tourism interests.

The BBC reported that the group, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), sent a worldwide communique warning of "an open front against the tourism sector."

However, none of the 21 U.S. members of the Spain Tour Operators Association (STOA) received the warning, according to the group's president, Joaquin Pradas, director of Petrabax Tours in Rego Park, N.Y.

The same goes at the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), according to president Bob Whitley.

While ETA has killed more than 800 people -- mainly government officials and police officers -- in its four-decade terror campaign for independence against the central government in Madrid, it has in recent years targeted Spain's tourism and transport infrastructure in major cities and in resort towns along the Mediterranean coast.

Last July, the group injured 13 people, including foreigners, in twin bomb attacks in the resorts of Alicante and Benidorm.

But Spanish tourism officials downplayed the danger. "There is no special increase in risk of travel to Spain because of this," said Julio Lopez, acting director, North America, for the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago.

"If these announcements produced any effect on tourism, the terrorists would have achieved their goals," he said, adding that "fortunately, professionals who sell Spain keep it in perspective."

Liberal Lopes, president of Skyline Travel in Huntington, N.Y., and a STOA board member, said the ETA's threats have never impacted his Spain sales.

"There have been inquiries immediately following incidents, but we've never had any cancellations or had people tell us they've decided against booking because of [ETA]," Lopes said, adding that he believes "Spain's cities are probably as safe as they've ever been."

For its part, the State Department at press time had not altered its consular information sheet on Spain, which still advises visitors "to remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local developments and avoid demonstrations and other potentially violent situations" in light of ETA's recent focus on the country's tourism industry.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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