BUSY EASTER MEANS A BUMPER SUMMER

BUSY EASTER MEANS A BUMPER SUMMER

Despite early indications suggesting that the Easter break may have been one of the quietest in some time, the reality of how busy the first main holiday break has been looks set to pave the way for an even better summer.

Prior to the start of the weekend, the DGT traffic department had already warned of an anticipated 12 million vehicle movements as residents living inland headed towards coastal towns for the holidays. Across the Valencia region, taking in the Costa Blanca and such hot spots as Benidorm, Torrevieja and Orihuela, the figure was estimated at 1,535,000, half a million of which were in the Alicante province. The figure was quoted as being the quietest since 2005, although anybody who got stuck in the countless traffic jams on the bottle neck of the N-332 in Torrevieja will testify, the reality seemed busier than ever.

Tourists coming from the UK were also expected to be particularly positive in terms of numbers, with an estimated 1.6 million Brits heading out of the UK to Spain, the most popular choice, as well as Turkey, Tunisia and Florida, according to the ABTA association.

Budget airline Easyjet announced that on Friday they were expecting their busiest day in the history of the company, since they were founded in 1995, flying more than 200,000 passengers on 1,400 flights.

Alicante-Elche airport had 2,343 flight movements scheduled for the weekend, which implies an increase of 28.2% compared to Easter last year, with the busiest day being Saturday, with around 250 scheduled flights offering nearly 44,000 seats.

In an interview this week, Oliver Dörschuck, co-manager at Europe's leading travel group TUI, which includes popular tourist brands such as First Choice and Thomson, says that “Spain is by far the most important tourist destination for TUI and its clients. We are registering an outstanding demand for all the major Spanish destinations for next summer. This means that Spain will repeat its success as tourist destination in 2014, especially Mallorca, which is TUI's first big destination. Spain is and will continue to be a key destination for us.”

It wasn´t just the plane and roads bringing people to the Costa Blanca though, during the course of the next 3 weeks, more than 8,000 cruise passengers will set foot on land at Alicante, aboard 5 ships that will be docking on the 23rd and 24th of April, and the 1st, 2nd and 8th of May, with passengers travelling with Pulmantur, Thomson and Holland America Line.

On Good Friday, 2,610 passengers already arrived at the port, on board the Holland America Line cruise ship, MS Nieuw Amsterdam. With her 11 passenger decks and 285 metre length, she was launched in 2009 and entered service in 2013, Nieuw Amsterdam is the company's 81st ship and the second largest Holland America ship to date.

Francesco Balbi, director of operations at the Terminal de Cruceros de Alicante, explained how the port is already geared up to handle such large numbers, with an information point, including health and first aid services, equipment and staff for dealing with passengers of reduced mobility, loading and unloading facilities and links with tourist and travel information and excursion companies to provide every possible facility that a modern cruise passenger my need.

The port itself is also set to undergo extensive work during the next ten years, which would allow up to 70 ships per year to dock, increasing the potential number of passengers to 250,000 per year.

As for the ever increasingly popular train link, this too was boosted, with 50,000 seats being made available, some 5,000 more than the normal schedule, with many would-be passengers still fininding it difficult to find an available ticket and even some political groups calling for an emergency increase in the service to cope with the oversubscribed demand.

Collectively, as both domestic and international tourists descended on Spain, the figures for hotel occupancy also suddenly showed signs of significant growth.

The Alicante hotel association reported an 80% occupancy figure for the Easter weekend, an 8% increase over last year, provincially. Alicante city has been more popular with international tourists than the Spanish throughout the year, with the exception being the Easter weekend, with the financial crisis being blamed for a drop in customers outside this key time.

The Benidorm hotel association HOSBEC were anticipating between 95% and 100% occupancy, with president Antoni Mayor explaining how they were increasingly close to hanging the “Completo” signs on the doors. The British, Belgian and Dutch markets have been particularly good for Benidorm, as well as a fair share of domestic visitors.

Torrevieja was looking set to be placed in between those two places, with the Hotel Doña Monse showing a 90% occupancy rate, though most of their guests were Spanish, seemingly not quite managing to reach out to the international tourist sector yet.

Translating the visitor numbers into financial figures is the most important element in the sector of course, and so time can only tell how successful the weekend has actually been. We do know however that in January, the Spanish tourist sector recorded a 2.1 billion euro surplus, an increase of 10.5% compared to the same month in 2013, whereas in February, the value was 6.1 billion euro, a similar increase of 9.1% over 2013.

The World Travel and Tourism Council has forecast a growth of 2% in the Spanish tourism sector in 2014, whilst the longer term forecast for the second half of the year has been put at over 17 million tourists, again maintaining a 9.6% growth over 2013.

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ONE IN FOUR SCHOOLS HAD STRUCTURAL DEFECTS

Luis Vives school in Valencia

In December, 2012, the roof collapsed in the Luis Vives school in Valencia, prompting the regional government to adopt a reactionary process of checking all schools for structural damage. Now, the results of the Plan de Revisión de Infraestructuras Educativas reveal that one in four schools is at risk of structural deficiency and damage.

A total of 396 schools older than 40 years have been inspected across the region, 202 of which were in the Valencia province, 119 in Alicante and the remaining 75 in Castellon. An additional 300 schools which are not yet 40 years old were checked, with inspectors looking for the most commonly occurring deficiencies.

Of those schools inspected, 170 of them require action to “ensure stability and security”, especially concerning deficiencies in the electrical installations.

The education department has set about carrying out the most urgent repairs, and in fact have worked on 120 of the most urgent faults since stage 3 of the plan went into operation in January. So far, according to data released by the ministry of education this week, 39 high priority repairs have now been completed.

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BEACH WATER QUALITY IS MOSTLY EXCELLENT

BEACH WATER QUALITY IS MOSTLY EXCELLENT

According to data released by the Valencia government, the region has some of the best quality beaches in Spain, with 90% of all beaches having “excellent” water quality, with a further 5.5% being classed as “good”.

As part of the monitoring plan for beaches, Programa de Control de la Calidad de las Zonas de Baño de la Comunitat Valenciana, 197 beaches across the region were checked, from 226 points of reference.

According to the data, 95.5% of those beaches registered as being of particularly high standard in preparation for the 2014 season, representing “the best results obtained so far”.

In the Alicante province, 94 beaches were tested, with 93 of them being classed as either “excellent” or “good”, thus totalling 98.9%. As for the province of Castellón, its 46 tested beaches have excellent quality water, but Valencia seemed to let the side down a little, with just 49 of its 57 beaches rating highly, or just 85.9%., although that is one more beach than last year.

The aim of the scheme is to verify the quality of bathing water and develop appropriate management of the beaches as a whole to prevent any circumstance that might affect bathing areas. Monitoring involves the analysis of natural and artificial channels that reach the sea in bathing areas or nearby.

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WORST YEAR ON RECORD FOR CITRUS FRUIT

Kaki

Spanish citrus growers are facing the worst year on record, as the final stages of their latest crop are coming to a close, with many of them abandoning their crops as uneconomical to harvest.

In the Valencia region, famed for quality oranges and lemons, as well as being the country´s largest clemantine production area, many crops are lacking in size and colour, resulting in research having to be carried out to try to ascertain the reasons for the poor performance. The Institute of Agricultural Research has already started looking into methods and treatments to find the cause of the problem, as well as finding ways of preventing dryness and poor calcium assimilation.

Overall, however, the main factor affecting the crops is one that may seem outside the hands of those researching the problem, unseasonal weather conditions. The mild weather through the last year alone has caused problems with both consumption and demand, resulting in a saturated market where there is too much fruit than the buyer demands, especially during February and March, and prices having to adapt accordingly.

Cheaper imports are also having a toll of sales figures, with Spanish clementines shipping for export at around 15 to 20 euro per box, those from Morocco are selling for between 12 and 13 euro. A similar situation affects oranges, with plentiful supply from Egypt pushing process down.

The demand for cheaper prices in stores has also led to some of the biggest buyers of fruit also switching to cheaper imports, as can be seen in the number of products on supermarket shelves with origins outside of Spain.

Despite some growers abandoning crops, and the belief that the acreage of land for citrus fruits will continue to reduce, there are some growers who are abandoning citrus altogether, diversifying into other fruits, with the kaki being one that is growing in favour with consumers, and a market yet to be depleted by the foreign importers.

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TRAPPED DOGS RESCUED BY FIRE CREW

TRAPPED DOGS RESCUED BY FIRE CREW

As emergency crews across Spain have been kept busy during this busy holiday period, one crew from Valencia performed a miracle rescue this week, at a finca in the town of Ontinyent.

The crew were called to rescue two dogs that had fallen into a twelve metre deep pit at the Casa de Chots finca, late in the evening.

In a two and a half hour operation that finished just before midnight the crew tirelessly tried to keep the terrified dogs calm, before using ropes to extract them.

One of the dogs was rescued using a bucket method on the rope pulley, but the second dog was too big for this procedure, and so one of the fire fighters was lowered down into the hole, and lifted him out by hand, as he and the dog were winched up together.

The dogs were both in good health, no doubt relieved that their ordeal was over, and were left in the care of volunteers at an animal rescue centre, who were also present in the rescue, until a permanent home can be found.

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ONLY ONE PERCENT OF CLASSROOMS WILL BE PORTACABINS

IES Playa Flamenca

The Department of Education in the Valencia regional government has issued a statement explaining how more than 3,000 students across the region are no longer being taught in prefabricated, portable classrooms, and are now educated in purpose built school buildings.

The announcement was made after a commitment given by the government to eliminate 75% of this type of “portacabin” school by the end of the current administration.

The spokesperson for the department, María José Català, explained that during 2013, 329 temporary classrooms were eliminated, thanks to the construction of five new schools, including the CEIP Acequión en Torrevieja, and before the end of the term, another 14 schools will be completed, including the long awaited school on the Orihuela Costa, thus eliminating a further 300 temporary classes, with the overall aim, by the end of this legislative period, being just 1.2% of classrooms operating from portacabins.

The total investment in educational infrastructure for 2014 is 47 million euro, from which more than 28 million will be allocated for the building of 14 new schools and 9 million for completion of those which are underway.

The Government of Valencia has built 27 new schools across the three provinces of the region since the beginning of their administrative term, which involves an investment of over 100 million euro. A total of 11 new schools are in Alicante, the same number in Valencia and 5 in Castellón. From those schools, there have been 103 infant classrooms completed, which must include the infant school on the Orihuela Costa which has so far not been necessary, 175 primary classrooms and 46 secondary school classrooms, plus 14 for higher education and an additional 3 for vocational training.

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ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ENFORCEMENT MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

SEPRONA

The environmental protection arm of the Guardia Civil, SEPRONA, or El Servicio de Protección de la Naturaleza, arrested 431 people and charged another 1,528 during 2013, according to data released by the group. In addition to the arrests, officers also dealt with 102,629 environmental complaints, of which 1,991 constituted criminal offences, the remaining 100,628 covered by administrative legislation.

Of the 1,959 people who were arrested or charged, 174 of them were for offences against pets, 188 were in connection with forest fires and 72 were in relation to the quality of food. However, the largest proportion of complaints were in connection with the protection of wildlife, with 49,461 of the complaints relating to both domestic and wild animals, as well as inadequate waste management, resulting in 20,102 administrative reports.

The number of actions have increased considerably, but the Guardia Civil are putting that largely down to there being more awareness of SEPRONA, and their activities, as well as an increase in citizen participation in reporting potential offences, with postcards, emails and calls adding another 1,000 investigations to the quota.

The use of illegal poison and methods were particularly high on the list of actions, with 151 animals having been killed, some by poisoned bait, with 6 people being arrested and charged for this type of activity. The animals most affected were the red kite (Milvus Milvus) and the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), with 30 and 13 copies respectively found dead by eating these illegal products.

In relation to domestic animals, 3,256 actions relating to the abuse and neglect of pets were carried out, resulting in 234 criminal offenses that led to the arrest of 40 people and the imputation of other 134.

Following the previously reported depletion of bird numbers in Torrevieja, the Compromis political group have asked SEPRONA to investigate if any criminal or administrative sanctions can be brought against those responsible for purposely flooding the salt lakes, one of many activities being carried out in the area which is already having a disastrous impact on the natural environment.

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TORREVIEJA TO PAY HALF A MILLION EURO IN OVERTIME

TORREVIEJA TO PAY HALF A MILLION EURO IN OVERTIME

Despite previously praising themselves on the savings made through staffing costs, in the next plenary session of Torrevieja town hall, it is expected that the council will approve a half a million euro payment, which has so far not been budgeted for, to enable them to pay 535,000 euro in overtime to town hall staff.

However, one of the more shocking revelations that have come from the plans to approve the payment, is that more than half of the bill, 266,772.17 euro, is to be shared between just 35 of their staff of 600. One single person alone, who is responsible for municipal contracts, is set to receive 17,881 euro in overtime, along with 7,000 euro for a secretary.

When it is considered that the current minimum wage in Spain stands at just under 10,000 euro per year, this overtime bill alone could have easily paid for an additional 26 workers to carry out the tasks covered by those individuals now set to receive such incredible boosts to their pay packet from the municipal funds.

That said, the agreement to make the payment may well smooth relationships with the local police a little, as the largest collective group who will be receiving their overtime is them, with 12 officers set to receive payments ranging from between 5,041 euro and 12,300 euro, including the chief of police, Manuel Antonio López Vera, his son, who is also a serving officer, three members of the GRO task force, and other officers.

The payment schedule is currently in the hands of a financial committee for review and approval before being presented to the town hall, with the ruling PP expected to approve the payment. It should also be noted that there are also a small group of town hall workers who have taken the decision to save the public funds from this additional financial burden, by waiving their overtime payment in exchange for time off in lieu.

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THE LATEST FROM AROUND ORIHUELA

Cala Capitan

The Councillor for the coast of Orihuela, Martina Scheurer, has explained that the application and award of the contract for the beach bars has been delayed, but, despite them not being able to operate on the beaches during Easter, she is confident that the administrative issues will be resolved within a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, a number of local business owners are expressing their delight at the lack of bars during the first of the busy seasons, as their trade has increased as a result.

Despite the lack of beach bars on the Orihuela costa, the town hall has installed toilets on the beaches, and the life guard services were in place for the Easter period, although the contract for the life guards will be terminated and put to tender once again, after the request to withdraw from the commitments of the contract were made by the company, who have provided the service for the last 2 years, on account of them facing bankruptcy proceedings.

A meeting will be held on the 24th of April between the Orihuela town hall and representatives of local surfers. The meeting has come about following a protest on the beach, in which a number of surfers challenged the fact that they were being prevented from practising their sports, due to a new sign that was installed on the beach. The councillor of the coast pointed out that this has always been the case and the regulation is not new, in fact the town hall, for the first time, made a concession to allow surfing during certain times of year, when the beaches are quieter, even going against the advice of the police, but the surfers are seemingly now making further demands which cannot be met without being of detriment to the safety and quality standards of the beaches. The new sign, paid for by the tax payer, has since disappeared.

Despite a minor delay of around 2 months, the two further pedestrian footbridges being installed on the Orihuela Costa are set to open in the middle of May. Providing a safer passage to pedestrians over the motorway at La Zenia and also near the new school, residents have been calling for the bridges for many years, and will shortly become a reality.

Footpath work on the paseo at Cala Capitán has been completed in time for Easter, marking a huge improvement to an area which has appeared run-down for many years. The footpath along the sea front has also finally been completed, as there was a significant gap between the original walkway and the beach access. The remaining features will be added shortly, as the handrails, lights and other street fixtures are due to be delivered not long after the Easter break. Bike parking will also be installed, to encourage the use of a more eco-friendly form of transport.

The Easter celebrations have been seen as a success by the Orihuela town hall, with the tourism department arranging guided tours of a number of areas of historic interest, in order to “supplement” the traditional Easter attractions of the parades, which guides in English having been made available to those wishing to learn more about the culture rich area. Similarly, the bus service laid on by the town hall from the coast to the Good Friday parade was once again a success, as residents and visitors from the coast took a trip to one of the most dramatic events of the Easter calendar.

May will be dominated by sporting events on the Orihuela Costa, with the annual Decabike event taking place on the 11th of May, whereas sporting chain Decathlon encourage everybody to get involved in an event dedicated to the two-wheel mode of transport, the bicycle. However, this year, roller skates and other self-propelled forms of wheeled transport will be included, and the police are planning to attend with their children´s training equipment to provide cycling proficiency and road safety information to children who attend. The following weekend, on the 18th, the beaches of Playa la Glea will be taken over for the second annual triathlon event. This will attract athletes from across the country for an event that will not only reaffirm the Orihuela Costa as a sporting location of international standard, it will showcase the area to those taking part, visiting and just watching the event.

The stage show Hécuba, scheduled to take place on the 25th of April in Orihuela´s Teatro Circo, has been cancelled after the star of the show, Concha Velasco, has fallen ill and has been operated on for peritonitis. Concha Velasco, full name Concepción Velasco Varona, is a Spanish film actress, theatre actress, singer, and TV presenter, born in Valladolid on November the 29th, 1939.

The councillor for social welfare in Orihuela, Emilio Zaplana, has announced the initial provision of 12,000 euro, which will be shared amongst people in need of help in paying their water supply bill. Aimed specifically at those on low income, the elderly and those caring for the disabled, the application process for the 220 euro grant is open until the 5th of June.

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SPANISH HORSE TO FEATURE IN 2000 GUINEAS

Noozhoh Canarias could become one of the world's top three-milers

'Racing in England is equivalent to playing football in the Champions League'! - Spanish based trainer Enrique Leon

Noozhoh Canarias will be the first Spanish-trained horse to run in a British Classic when he takes the field in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 4.

And Madrid based trainer Enrique Leon said racing in England is equivalent to playing football in the Champions League! “Coming to England is like playing in the Champions League - it's a dream of everybody in Spain,” said Leon, who has a string of 22 horses at Madrid racecourse.

"Noozhoh Canarias has got beautiful balance and I believe he can adapt very well to Newmarket," said Leon. After victory in late March at the Madrid La Zarzuela Premio Torre Arias track Noozhoh Canarias has been backed from 33-1 to 16-1 in Newmarket's Qipco 2,000 Guineas.

The Rowley Mile will be a big test for Noozhoh Canarias - with Aidan O'Brien's 4-1 shot Australia and John Gosden's Kingman at 11-10 favourite, leading fancies in the 2014 2000 Guineas betting. But Leon is unfazed: "We've got nothing to lose - and a lot to win - so we're going to take the chance," said Leon. Noozhoh Canarias jockey is Christophe Soumillon and Leon, 33, formerly employed at James Fanshawe's Newmarket yard, said: "He's a very simple horse to train and is very professional. “I believe this year is going to be a very strong Guineas - but we want to try. It's very tough, but he's got a big heart, he is a big fighter."

Betting: Kingman 11-10, Australia, 7-2, Toormore 7-1, Kingston Hill 10-1, War Command 12-1, Noozhoh Canarias 16-1, Outstrip 16-1,

True Story 16-1, Ertijaal 20-1, Geoffrey Chaucer 20-1, Night Of

Thunder 20-1, 25-1 bar.

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