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Residential Tourism in Costa Blanca

By Zoe Dare Hall

We are flocking to Spain for our holidays in greater numbers than ever before. But forget the old annual fortnight's package holiday. Now we want to hop on a low-cost flight to our own home in Spain - preferably, for two thirds of us, on the Costa Blanca or Costa del Sol - and we want to visit it at least four times a year with friends and family. These are the findings of a new report by Lighthouse Spain, which caters for 'residential tourists': people who have shifted from spending package holidays to buying a holiday home there instead.

While the Spanish property and construction markets boom, along with local services catering for residential tourists such as furniture shops, supermarkets and restaurants, many hoteliers are hanging up their room keys in despair as they watch 14 million Brits each year head to Spain, only to see 4.1 million of them last year stay in a property belonging to friends or relatives instead of in a hotel.

"Spain is by far the number one destination for residential tourists and the Costa Blanca is particularly popular because of its excellent year-round climate, good infrastructure and extensive expat communities," says Shaun Powell, Managing Director of Lighthouse Spain, which works with a network of ethical Spanish estate agents to sell holiday homes to British and other Northern European buyers.

"In Costa Blanca, especially in the south of the region, you still have a large choice of properties available from 100,000 euros, so people who have been priced out of the Costa del Sol can still afford a Spanish holiday home on a popular coastline," adds Powell. "Home owners have the added benefit of being able to rent out their home to other holidaymakers so their property is a source of enjoyment and investment."

The Costa Blanca has been a bastion of package tourism since the 1960s. But now it has become a hub of residential tourism, with Alicante airport witnessing passenger numbers from the UK rise by 30% in 2003.

Colin Pinfold from Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire, is a typical residential tourist. Having spent many package holidays on the Costa Blanca in the past, he and his wife now want to retire there permanently and have just bought a 140,000 euro townhouse in Torrevieja through Lighthouse Spain.

"I've been looking at the Costa Blanca since the children left home and when we went out there recently the agent was brilliant. He drove us everywhere for five days, took us for meals, sorted out a lawyer and opened a bank account," says Pinfold. "We're moving out there as soon as we've sold our house in England and we'll see our kids and grandkids far more. It takes them five hours to drive to see us in Sutton on Sea. It'll be quicker for them to fly to Alicante."

Jackie Gulliford, who works at Oxford University, and her husband, a teacher, are looking at properties with Lighthouse Spain in southern Costa Blanca with good rental potential. "We used to own a property near Cadiz with another couple, but after 23 years we sold our share as they wanted to let it out and I felt there weren't enough visitors to that area to make it worthwhile. So now we're buying on our own in the Costa Blanca as prices are reasonable and it should be easy to let out. It would also be a good place to spend winters when we retire."

While Benidorm, with its long sandy beaches and year-round entertainment, remains a thriving resort for foreign and Spanish tourists, surrounding coastal and inland towns which have been little-known to the average British holidaymaker are starting to figure on the residential tourist's map.

As prices in prime coastal locations such as Calpe and Javea approach those on the Costa del Sol - with seaview villas from 600,000 euros and apartments from 350,000 euros - inland towns and villages within easy access of the coast's facilities are growing in appeal for foreign buyers.

"Hotels are becoming non-existent in some places as more foreigners buy properties as a holiday base instead," says Tom Mazn, Professor in the Sociology of Tourism at Alicante University. "There is a shift inland among foreign second home buyers who want to live in small, less developed villages with a higher quality of life, but which are well connected to the coast by motorways," says Mazn.

Funded by the Valencian Government to research the impact of residential tourism in the Alicante province, Mazn recently interviewed 1,000 foreign home owners who spend at least six months a year in the province

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