by Felicity Long
NEW YORK -- Tourism officials are downplaying a public
announcement issued by the U.S. State Department urging Americans
to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings in the Basque
region of Spain for the rest of the summer.
The announcement warned of "the potential for localized
violence" in the larger Basque cities during demonstrations by
various factions of the basque separatist movement. The State
Department further cautioned that "sporadic street violence" could
result from the demonstrations, particularly in the city of San
Sebastian. The demonstrations are in reaction to the assassination
of a Basque official by the terrorist group ETA.
Despite the announcement, Ignacio Vasallo, director of the
National Tourist Office of Spain, is not recommending that tourists
make changes in their travel plans. "Historically, neither the
tourism industry nor tourists themselves have been affected by
ETA's actions," Vasallo said "As far as we know, tour operators
have not changed any plans or programs as a result of the recent
Joaquin Pradas, president of Petrabax and of the Spain Tour
Operators Association, said, "It is regrettable that this State
Department action had to be taken, and we understand their advice
to tourists about avoiding local areas where big demonstrations are
planned." He said, however, that so far the demonstrations have
been peaceful. As far as the impact on business, there hasn't been
any. We have had no cancellations or even any telephone calls
Antonio Alonso, president of Marketing Ahead, the U.S.
representative for the country's network of paradors, also
predicted that tourism to the area will be business as usual.
Although he said he does not plan to issue warnings to
passengers about possible dangers of violence in the region, Alonso
said that tourists should use their common sense when sightseeing.
"As a general rule, we don't advise tourists to participate in
demonstrations when abroad, and we will say that to anyone who
asks," he said.
The public announcement expires on Aug. 31.