Fewer foreign tourists have come to Spain this summer season than in 2017, which was a record year for the sector. International arrivals numbered 9.98 million in the month of July, a 4.9 percent drop from the same period last year.
Spain’s biggest markets have been sending fewer visitors: the number of British tourists fell by 5.6 percent in July, while there was a 11.4 percent drop in visitors from France and 6.2 percent from Germany.
Barring natural events – such as the emissions from the Iceland volcano that paralyzed air traffic for several days in April 2010, slowing down visits to Spain by 13 percent – the figure for July 2018 represents the biggest decline in international tourist arrivals since 2009, when the economic crisis led to monthly drops of between 10 percent and 15 percent.
However, the July figure of 9.98 million international visitors is only “low” compared to last year’s all-time high of 10.5 million. The 10-million threshold has been crossed three times in recent history, twice in the month of August and once in July.
Industry leaders are also pointing to a recovery of alternative sun-and-sand destinations such as Tunisia and Turkey, whose tourism sector had suffered in recent years from terrorist attacks and regional instability. In the case of Turkey, the recent depreciation of the lira has made the country even more attractive to foreign tourists.
Also, exceptionally warm weather in northern Europe has made it unnecessary to fly to Spain to enjoy the beach. France, Britain and even Finland and Norway have experienced a hot summer, while in Russia, the temperature in June was eight degrees higher than usual.
Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto has played down the year-on-year drop from July 2017, saying that the government wants “a strategy based on quality” and “diversification” in order to avoid overcrowding.
“We are going to get behind a strategy based on quality, aware that there is going to be a slowdown in tourism flows. It is already happening,” said Maroto at a news conference in Santander recently.
But the minister also underscored that the accumulated figure for the last seven months shows 47.1 million tourist arrivals, a 0.3 percent rise from the same period last year. She also said that tourist spending has grown 3 percent so far this year.
Maroto added that her department wants to diversify the options for tourists because there are currently “very overcrowded destinations” and this is creating “problems with local residents.” The minister did not directly allude to the anti-tourist sentiment that has cropped up in parts of Spain due to the mass tourism in some city centres.
The Balearic Islands continued to top the list of favourite tourist destinations in July 2018, receiving 24.4 percent of all foreign tourists in Spain. Catalonia ranked second with 23.9 percent, followed by Andalusia with 13.3 percent. In spite of this, arrivals declined in all three regions. The Madrid region experienced the opposite trend, with a 6.7 percent rise in foreign tourists in July. The tourists who did come spent fewer days in Spain compared with other years. The average stay in July was four to seven nights.
Around 60 people who have been affected by an alleged scam in Mallorca, in which properties that didn’t exist were put on sale, say that they feel “unprotected” under current Spanish law, and are calling for new regulations so that episodes like this one cannot happen again.
The real estate company ‘Mallorca Investment’ was offering off-plan properties in a number of areas on the Balearic island, at below-market prices. Clients handed over 10 percent of the sale price as a deposit, and when the future owners had seen that the plans were filed with the local council, the alleged scammers would take advantage of the situation and ask for more money. However, time would then pass and construction would never began. When the clients demanded explanations, no information was forthcoming.
The Civil Guard has so far arrested six people from developer Lujo Casa and the real estate agency Mallorca Investment, who are accused of keeping the deposits handed over by clients. The amount of money swindled from the victims totals more than €4 million, according to sources from the investigation, which could make this the biggest scam ever perpetrated in the history of the Balearic Islands.
The owner of Mallorca Investment, a businessman identified by his initials M. P., and who is of Italian origin, is currently being held in police custody before being brought before a judge. He is suspected of offenses of fraud and money laundering. The Italian businessman posted numerous photos of his luxury lifestyle on Facebook, including trips with his family all over the world, business-class flights to Thailand, holiday in Japan, hotel stays in Dubai and car trips in Cuba.
The owner of the developer Lujo Casa, identified by his initials C. G. R., fled Spain more than four months ago, when the first complaints from fraud victims put him in the spotlight.
Claims began to arrive in the month of March, and in May some of the affected families filed a lawsuit at a court in Palma de Mallorca, demanding all bank accounts be frozen and for an international arrest warrant to be issued for the promoter, who, sources from the investigation report, is currently in a South American country.
“We suspected that we were looking at a case of fraud,” a victims’ statement reads, “after determining that construction had not begun, that a number of the plots of land were not theirs, and that any changes we wanted to the plans were possible and free. We met with a lawyer who confirmed what we already suspected: that this had the look of a pyramid scheme.”
More victims joined the initial dozen or so original claimants, with the total thought to number around 200, many of whom are from outside Spain.
The victims report that the developer first moved to Barcelona, and then to Valencia, which is where they lost all trace of him. The victims also slammed the owner of the real estate firm, who claimed that he had also been conned. “From the first moment Mallorca Investment introduced itself as a partner,” the victims said in their statement.
The average amount that each person has lost is around €30,000, although there are more extreme cases, such as a foreign man who handed over more than €200,000 on the promise of a luxury apartment close to the sea. Among the victims are young couples who were seeking their first home, retirees, and families with young children.
All of the victims say that they feel “unprotected” due to changes made to the law in 2006, ending the right for anyone who had lost money in the purchase of an off-plan property to reclaim the funds from their insurance company or bank.
“We all trusted that, by making a bank transfer to a real estate company account, our money was protected; we thought that this kind of account was controlled by the banks and that it wasn’t so easy to take money out,” the victims’ statement reads. “Although this man was moving it around as he pleased.”
The victims have called on the authorities to take measures to ensure that episodes like this one are not repeated. They argue that “the only law that protected us” was abolished to the benefit of the banks.
A British MP has stepped into a drug case after an British businessman was imprisoned two months ago for 1.5 tonnes of hashish found in airbnb he was renting.
Chichester MP Gillian Keegan has been in touch over the arrest of Robert Anthony Mansfield-Hewitt, who has yet to be charged since being arrested over drug-dealing claims in June. Mr Mansfield-Hewitt is seriously ill and has been locked up with terrorists for more than two months in Spain.
The consultant engineer, who insists he is innocent, has yet to be charged over the 1.5 tonnes of hashish police found in the garage of the villa, he rented through Airbnb. He insists he has absolutely ‘no connection’ to the drugs that were being stored at the lodging in Campamento, in San Roque.
On the other hand, according to reports in local newspapers, the owner of the villa was charged for importing cocaine into Gibraltar last year.
Mr Mansfield-Hewitt’s local MP is said to be ‘very concerned’ about the situation and was speaking to his secretary in Gibraltar, where his company has a base.
In a case that also has strange parallels to the plight of Scottish student Robbie McMiller who was arrested in October last year after six marijuana plants were found in his rental property, Mansfield-Hewitt was woken up and ‘dragged out of bed practically naked at gunpoint’ by police officers at 8.30pm on 27th June.
Colleagues and friends believe that Mansfield-Hewitt, who has a PhD and no criminal record, is an ‘innocent man’ and has been wrongfully imprisoned. They added that the Chichester-based engineer is currently in a critical condition and is being held in the medical wing at Botafuegos prison in Algeciras – a dangerous jail, which notoriously houses a number of Basque ETA terrorists.
Robert’s PA Pilar Ford told local newspapers that she had not had any contact with Robert since18th August. “We have not had any telephone calls – it’s very worrying,” she said, “Usually he calls two to three times a week.”
Robert’s lawyer, Jose Maria Castro Escudero, said that a judge was due to visit the prisoner and make a decision on whether to grant bail or not but there has been no further developments. “He is desperate,” added Castro Escudero
Spain’s first trial linked to thousands of suspected cases of babies stolen from their mothers during the Franco dictatorship wrapped up last week with prosecutors seeking 11 years jail for the elderly former gynaecologist in the dock.
Eduardo Vela, 85, a former gynaecologist at the now-defunct San Ramon clinic in Madrid, is accused of having in 1969 taken Ines Madrigal, now aged 49, from her biological mother and given her to another woman who then raised her and was falsely certified as her birth mother.
“In this country, a person who played God — changing people’s parentage, faking birth certificates like in my case and negating the right to know one’s origins — cannot remain unpunished,” Madrigal told reporters at the end of the hearing in Madrid.
She said she hoped the trial, whose verdict could come within a month, would help open “thousands of cases that are closed” even if she would never know who her real mother was.
Activists say around 2,000 similar cases dating back to General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship of 1939 to 1975 have failed to make it to court in Spain because of a lack of evidence or because the time limit to file charges has passed.
In a dark and often overlooked chapter of the right-wing dictatorship, the newborns of some left-wing opponents of the regime, as well as of unmarried or poor couples, were removed from their mothers and adopted.
New mothers were frequently told their babies had died suddenly within hours of birth and the hospital had taken care of their burials, but in fact they were given or sold to another family.
Baby stealing began after Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war pitting left-wing Republicans against conservative Nationalists loyal to the general. It was part of an effort to purge Spain of Marxist influence.
It was expanded to take newborns from poor families as well as illegitimate babies, and went on as an illegal trafficking network during democracy until at least 1987 when a new law was introduced to better regulate adoption.
Enrique Vila, a lawyer who has written extensively about the “stolen babies” scandal, said Vela’s trial could provide “moral” encouragement for other victims to bring forward lawsuits.
“There are dozens of doctors and nuns across Spain who are guilty” and who are still alive, he told Spanish news agency AFP.
During questioning in the opening session of the trial on 26th June, Vela said he could not remember details of how the clinic, which he ran for 20 years up to 1982 and is believed to have been a centre for baby trafficking, operated. He added that the signature on Madrigal’s birth certificate was not his.
Vela — the first person prosecuted over the “stolen babies” scandal which broke in the media in the 1980s — was due to return to the witness stand the following day but instead he went to hospital after falling ill. He is accused of falsifying official documents, illegal adoption, unlawful detention and certifying a non-existent birth.
The probe into the case was not without its difficulties, with a policeman declaring in court that Vela burnt his clinic’s archives.
But the agent insisted that “there was a plot to which Mr. Vela probably belonged” that consisted in taking babies from single mothers who were in shelters that were often run by religious orders.
Emilie Helmbacher, a French journalist, also testified by videoconference. In an investigation in Madrid in December 2013, she used a hidden camera to record Vela as he appeared to confess to having given Madrigal away as a “gift” in June 1969.
In the recording, he said “Ines Madrigal’s mother did not pay” for her.
Vela’s lawyer Rafael Casas criticised the hidden camera recording and said his client had “nothing to do” with what he is accused of.
Another witness, Paz Gordon, who stepped in as godmother for Madrigal’s baptism, told the court that the actual mediator in her case was a Jesuit priest.
The cases echo events that took place during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Courts there have since handed down lengthy jail terms for the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners.