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Tourist lobby forecasts slight growth this year

Industry frets about impact of Costa Concordia disaster although weak euro could entice influx from Americas

Spanish tourism lobby Exceltur on Monday predicted that the sector would remain one of the few bright spots this year in a depressing economic environment, but expressed concern about the possible impact of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster which unfolded over the weekend.

At a news conference to present the prospects for the sector for this year, the incoming chairman of Exceltur, Fernando Conte, said the "unfortunate" accident off the coast of Italy was "not good" for the sector.

"We will have to wait to see the impact of the Italian cruiser accident on passenger demand over the coming months," Conte said. Barcelona is a major port of call in Mediterranean cruises, but Conte said there are other facets of the tourist industry in the city that are economically far more important.

Exceltur predicted the GDP of the tourism sector this year would grow 0.2 percent after an increase of 2.6 percent last year when the industry generated an additional 2.678 billion euros and created 17,000 jobs.

Last year's performance was boosted by the transfer of tourist from North African destinations because of the unrest there. Exceltur said this factor alone accounted for 1.6 percentage points of last year's growth in output.

Exceltur said Spain should continue to benefit from concerns about destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, albeit to a lesser extent, with domestic tourism remaining depressed because of the economic crisis as Spain is poised to fall back into recession.

The lobby said it was optimistic about the prospects for the high-spending Russian market, while demand from Scandinavian countries is expected to remain firm. The weakness of the euro against the dollar could also favor demand from North and Latin America.

About two-thirds of business people in the sector expect a slight increase in their revenues this year.