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Tue, Nov 26, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Journalists in La Coruna, Spain, boost service sector

TOURISM Fearing it would lose business from a drop in visitors as a result of a recent oil spill off its coast, the little town his instead earned big money from reporters

AFP , LA CORUNA, SPAIN

The oil spill on Spain's northwest coast may have hurt many businesses -- but the tourism industry is experiencing a sudden windfall thanks to the influx of journalists, clean-up crews and the curious.

Hotels, car hire firms and restaurants in the main port city of La Coruna were all operating at levels normally only seen during the boom summer vacation period.

"We're completely full, and it's the same story with the other major hotels in the city," said a desk clerk in the upscale Melia Maria Pita hotel near the historic centre of La Coruna.

Luis Raices said that before the sinking of the tanker Prestige last Tuesday, the hotel had been only 50 percent full, a normal occupancy level for this time of year.

"But within a day or two, we were suddenly at 100 percent," he said, expalining that foreigners -- mostly journalists -- kept the phone busy with reservation requests.

Enquiries at the other big hotels revealed identical situations there. Rooms were even scarcer Monday because of the arrival of a top soccer team here for a game.

Car firms were also making hay. Many of them no longer had four-wheel drive vehicles useful for navigating the often muddy tracks down to the beaches affected by the spill.

"Our guys coming in have had a hell of a time just getting any decent car," David Oland, a clean-up coordinator from British-based Oil Spill Response Limited, said.

The hundreds of volunteers who have arrived were getting a more modest view of the Spanish seaside.

Those who were here armed only with a desire to help were paying their own way in budget hotels or, for some Spaniards, were staying with friends.

Others with experience with previous oil spills were being put up in the city's main youth hostel, where daily briefings took place, according to Carlota Viada, a coordinator with the Spanish Ornithological Society.

On the beaches, locals and Spanish tourists were seen wandering and keeping an eye out for any of the black goo that has earned the Galicia region world headlines over the past week.

"A lot of people are coming just to have a look," said one of the clean-up volunteers, a student named David Ramos, on the Doninos beach south of La Coruna.

Jose Martinez, a tourist from Madrid, said he had made the trip to see for himself "how the beaches are."

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