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Spain’s Canary Islands posts tourism jump on Arab revolts

The number of foreign visitors to Spain’s Canary Islands soared in February, official data showed Tuesday, as sunseekers shunned rival resorts in Egypt and Tunisia because of anti-government uprisings there.

The archipelago located off the coast of Morocco received 903,985 visitors last month, an 18.5 percent jump over the same time last year, bringing total arrivals this year to 1.77 million, up 13.5 percent, the tourism ministry said.

That helped bring the total number of visitors to Spain in February to 2.8 million, a 4.3 percent increase over the same month last year. During the first two months of the year Spain received 5.5 million visitors, a 4.5 percent rise.

The country has struggled in recent years to compete with beach destinations in Egypt’s Red Sea and Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast which are cheaper and of a similar flying distance from its key markets like Germany and Britain.

But since the unrest sweeping the Arab world began in Tunisia in early January, tourists have been changing their travel plans and many have opted for the Canary Islands which tend to offer all inclusive packages like those in the seaside resorts of Tunisia and Egypt.

Spain slipped from third to fourth place among the world’s most visited countries in 2010, behind France, the United States and China, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation.