Salou Defends Boozy Brits

The town of Salou has hit back at criticism that an annual sports festival is attracting so many drunken British students that it’s damaging the image of Spanish tourism.

The resort, about 60 miles south of Barcelona, claims the event boosts business and creates jobs during the low season for hotels, restaurants and bars.

Spanish media coverage has focused on the number of Brits that have reportedly exposed themselves and vomited in the streets.
The weeklong Saloufest bills itself as a sporting event that draws about 5,000 students from more than 100 British universities.

“We came here to play sports, but only with a hangover,” a male business student from the University of Portsmouth told El Pais, shortly after winning an underwater sangria-drinking competition.

The paper said the “debauched atmosphere” at the festival that wrapped April 2 attracted tourists who are “rough, drunken and troubled” rather than the “quality tourism” the government seeks to promote.

Joan Mesquida, secretary of state for Spanish tourism, has voiced his concern that images of “disorder and excess” could be used to project a reality that does not correspond with the experience of the 52 million tourists who visit the country each year.

The town hall at Salou released a statement claiming the festival has been held “without incident” since it was launched in 2002 and the youths who take part in it spend most of the day at various sports events.

“The enjoyment of evening leisure activities of the English youths has not caused disorders or public scandals or cases of vandalism or unrest,” the statement said.

“These youths have caused some inconvenience due to an increase in noise in some streets which we profoundly lament.”
Saloufest, run by UK-based Ilovetours, offers students a choice of 13 sports including football, rugby and tennis. But the company’s Web page highlights Salou nightlife and promises it will leave students with “the excitement and expectation of the best night of your life bobbing around in your head.”

Spain is struggling with growing competition from cheaper sunshine destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, such as Turkey and Egypt. The drop in the value of the pound has also discouraged visitors from Britain, its main source of foreign tourists.

Spain received 52.5 million visitors in 2009, an 8.7 percent decline over the previous year, when Spain lost its ranking as the world’s second-most visited country to the United States.